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Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Zodiac Man

The answer to last week's puzzle is that the image is a detail from the Zodiac Man from Poor Richard's Almanac. I specifically took this image from our 1733 Poor Richard, but it can be found in other editions as well, and versions of the Zodiac Man were a standard feature of most period almanacs.

[Benjamin Franklin], Poor Richard, 1733. An almanack for the year of Christ 1733. . . By Richard Saunders, philom.Philadelphia: Printed and sold by B. Franklin, [1732] A 732p

The Zodiac Man, or man of signs, links each astrological sign with a portion of the human body. This idea, which dates back at least to the medieval period, arises from the concept of the human body as a microcosm of the universe. In some images, including this one, the connection is underscored by having the figure seated on a globe.You can see some wonderful medieval illustrations of the man of signs at the Luminarium Encycopedia project.

According to traditional astrology, the signs could be used to time medical treatment; for example, bloodletting should be avoided when the moon is in the house of the afflicted body part. Ares, the first sign of the zodiac, is associated with "the head and face." and the later signs go with lower portions of the body (Taurus/neck, Gemini/arms, Cancer/breast, Leo/heart, Virgo/bowels, Libra/reins, Scorpio/secrets, Sagittarius/thighs, Capricorn/knees, Aquarius/legs). Pisces, the last zodiac sign, is associated with the feet. By the 18th century, more modern theories of medicine were also available, but almanacs continued to reprint the traditional guide as well.

Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.

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