What Are Aspects
Aspect is a word that etymologically means to look at or to regard. In the Hellenistic astrological tradition the planets’ manifestations and significations were considered in light of whether or not they could see the other planets, and the quality of that seeing. The different aspects describe in what way the planets are looking at each other. Is it a side eye? Are the planets smiling at each other? Is it a gentle smirk? A full on glare? Or are they looking together from the same point in space so they don’t see each other but see in unison from the same vantage point?
When a person pulls up their natal chart, typically on astro.com, one of the first things that typically draws their eye is the lines and geometrical patterns in the center of the chart. These lines depict the degree based relationships between the planets distributed amongst the signs of the zodiac.
The natal chart is a perfect circle, which is divided into 12, 30-degree segments. These 30-degree segments are the zodiac signs, which are the houses in themselves, if one is using Whole Sign Houses.
Counting from planet A to planet B yields a number that creates a type of angular relationship. In most traditional forms of astrology, five aspects are recognized — the conjunction, sextile, trine, and opposition. Modern forms of astrology give meaning to other aspects such as the quincunx (inconjunct) or semi-sextile. In this article series I will only discuss the five aspects named.
This particular article discusses the opposition aspect as shown in Leonard da Vinci’s chart.
Orbs are the distances between the degrees of a given set of planets that is allowable for an aspect to be in effect.
Different astrologers use different orbs. While also noting the degrees at which a planet is placed in a given sign, I always note if planets are in a ptolemaic relationship (<3) by sign more broadly.
Based on the story that a client is telling me about their lives, I may see planets in relationship with each other in the native’s life even if they are not making an aspect with a closer orb.
Even while keeping these sign-based (rather than degree based) angular relationships in mind generally, for the Sun and Moon, I use 7-10 degree orb, and 3-6 degree orbs for all the other planets.
Opposition – 180 degrees
The opposition is an aspect of Saturn. It is associated with the number two, and therefore with duality, tension, opposition, extremes, and rivalry. In modern astrology it has come to be associated with the mechanism of projection, where by disowning a feature of oneself, one sees that feature in some distorted or desirable sense externally in the world. Without this psychological analysis, it is useful to understand the opposition as an aspect that shows up externally, in a quality of being at odds.
In Leonardo da Vinci’s natal chart, there is an opposition between Mercury in Aries in the 5th house, and Saturn, retrograde and exalted in Libra in the 11th house. Both planets are in cardinal, or moveable signs, given to repeatedly initiating new activity.
For da Vinci, the planet representing education, speech, and writing, being obstructed by and finding adversary in cold and dry Saturn. This manifested in his early life as receiving an almost amputated education compared to people of similar social status. Because he was born illegitimately by the standards of his time, he received only minimal education with only a vernacular curriculum, and may have had less than the required two years of formal education before beginning his apprenticeship in art.
Psychologically, this produced a defensiveness about his intellectual abilities. Presumably his contemporaries excluded him from the vibrant intellectual discussions of the time because of his incomplete, non-standard education.
In a notebook, da Vinci exclaims:
“I am fully aware that the fact of my not being a man of letters may cause certain arrogant persons to think that they may with reason censure me, alleging that I am a man ignorant of book learning. Foolish folk! Do they know know that I may retort by saying, as did [the ancient Roman general] Marius to the Roman patricians: “They who themselves go about adorned in the labor of others will not permit me my own?” They will say that because of my lack of book learning I cannot properly express what I desire to expound upon. Do they not know that my subjects require for their exposition experience rather than the words of others?
…If indeed I have no power to quote from authors as they have, it is a far bigger and more worthy thing to read by the light of experience, which is the instructress of their masters. They strut about puffed up and pompous, decked out and adorned not with their own labors but with those of others, and they will not even allow me my own. And if they despise me who am an inventor how much more should blame be given to themselves, who are not inventors but trumpeters and reciters of the works of others? “
Saturn retrograde and exalted in the 11th house shows the elevated and cultured Florentine society in which he lived from his teenage years. Even the lower echelons of Florentines were widely literate and culturally discerning. The social waters that da Vinci found himself swimming in in his youth are signified by Saturn in Libra in the 11th house of one’s social sphere.
Leonardo’s father was a respected notary, the equivalent of a corporate and estate lawyer at the time. At the time it was traditional for a son to follow in the career footsteps of his father, but Leonardo was obstructed from doing just that, probably due to his illegitimacy. The opposition aspect, indicating frustration and obstruction, includes Saturn in the 11th, which can be interpreted as the rules and mores of society at the time. Mercury is also the ruler of Leonardo’s critical career point, the Midheaven in Virgo, which is the other piece to the astrological story of why he did not become a notary as his father.
We can also look at other features of this opposition with a more character-based slant. Mercury and Saturn are in cardinal signs. This correlates to da Vinci’s often starting new projects but not necessarily finishing the ones he had already begun. In his book on da Vinci’s youth, Larry Feinberg also notes that, in an era where the Medici family were patrons of the arts and commissioned works for artists to create, da Vinci responded better to a challenge than a timetable, which relates to Mars’ rulership over that Mercury in Aries. And of course that Mercury is staring down Saturn retrograde in Libra (timetables and contractual obligations) from across the sky.
We can undoubtedly find much more to say about this opposition aspect. For example, using derived houses, we find Mercury in the second house of his father, who made his income for the better part of Leonardo’s life as a notary to the Medici family. We could also make comments on Leonardo’s relationship life, as Mercury is the ruler of the 7th house of close romantic relationships (as well as the mentors he apprenticed himself to). Leonardo was charged with sodomy over the course of his life, and would have experienced the great weight of Saturn’s obstruction and nay-saying in the realm of relationships at a time in Catholic Florence when homosexuality was a punishable offense.
Stay tuned for the next article in this series on interpreting the aspects.
Can you see how the Mercury-Saturn opposition is playing out in Leonardo’s chart and life?
Do you have an opposition in your chart? Have you studied the opposition in the life of a person you find interesting? Let us know about it in the comments below.
The Young Leonardo: Art and Life in Fifteenth-Century Florence by Larry J. Feinberg