Astrology—Emblematic—Heraldry. On Comets, Moons and Stars in the Book of Arms by Szymon Okolski

Magdalena Piskała


by Szymon Okolski dating from the mid-1600s. While due to a growing fascination with Neoplatonism and hermetic writings, astrology had enjoyed popularity since the Renaissance, in Okolski’s case its influence came mostly through early modern books of emblems and compendia of symbols. It is, therefore, important not only to track down astrological motifs in the works of Alciatus, Cesare Ripa, Giulio Cesare Capaccio, Julius Wilhelm Zincgref, and Diego de Saavedra to compare them with those found in Orbis Polonus but also to recognise the fact that emblematics had a great impact on how Okolski perceived the import of his heraldic work as such. The novelty of Okolski’s project consisted in treating armorial bearings as universal symbols and interpreting them not only in accordance with the rules of heraldry but also through a wide range of cultural sources, trends and  traditions. In order to make the symbolic significance hidden in coats of arms more apparent, the author tried to organise the heraldic entries in a new way. Apart from the usual parts describing the coat of arms (delineatio), its origins (origo) and the family that used it (linea familiae), he introduced subchapters dealing with its symbolic meaning. He called them “considerations,” “precautions,” or “omens” depending on which aspect of the symbolic explanation he wanted to emphasise. Especially the third of these dovetails with astrology because the symbolism of the coat of arms, including motifs derived from, or related to, astrology, is presented as the best path that should be taken by a family bearing a particular coat of arms. All the while, however, these auguries are made based on symbols as such and not on careful observation of stars, planets or comets, and Okolski is not concerned with the destiny of individual people but with more general tendencies that affect the virtue of noble families, and virtue is for Okolski the foundation of nobility.


* This study is the result of a project which has been financed by the resources of the National Science Centre allocated by Decision no. DEC2012/05/B/HS2/04124. Polish version: M. Piskała, “Astrologia – emblematyka – heraldyka. O kometach, księżycach i gwiazdach w herbarzu Szymona Okolskiego”, Terminus 17/1(34) (2015).


Publication of this paper was financed by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education uder the grant 643/P-DUN/2018.

Słowa kluczowe: heraldry, book of arms, neo-Latin literature, astrology, emblematics, symbol

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