Gore Vidal once said of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, "Of all tasks, describing the contents of a book is the most difficult and in the case of a marvelous invention like Invisible Cities, perfectly irrelevant." If describing one of Calvino's books is difficult, describing Calvino himself is more so. He was a World Fantasy Award winner and a Nobel Prize nominee. He was a translator of Italian fairy tales and an anti-fascist resistance fighter. His work was post-modern and whimsical. He was an artist, a literary hypnotist, an old soul.
I was first introduced to Calvino's work in graduate school. I was writing a novel in flash, and my advisor thought that Invisible Cities might help me understand the potential of the form. In a time when I was reading a book or two a week, Invisible Cities--all of 163 pages--took me weeks. It was winter in Berkeley, and I carried Invisible Cities with me on misty afternoons to cafes where I savored a page or two then stared unseeing out the window at a parade of black umbrellas while my mind wandered his cities of silver domes, dirigibles, magnolia gardens.
Invisible Cities saved me from being swallowed by a grim season, so it was probably inevitable that I would riff on Calvino's chart eventually, but a chance encounter with his last book Six Memos for the Next Millennium made me wonder about the man himself.
In a passage in which he mused on the ancients' understanding of mercurial and saturnine personalities, he said of himself:
Certainly my own character corresponds to the traditional features of the guild [of literature] to which I belong. I too have always been saturnine, whatever other masks I have attempted to wear. My cult of Mercury is perhaps merely an aspiration, what I would like to be. I am a Saturn who dreams of being a Mercury, and everything I write reflects these two impulses.
I knew that Calvino was a student of Tarot and that he must have had a basic knowledge of ancient astrology, given the context of the quote, so when I first looked at his chart, I looked for Saturn and Mercury right away.
Sure enough, Saturn is exactly where I expected it: in Libra, almost exactly conjunct his Sun. Venus is there, too--9 degrees away, a bit far to consider it a conjunction, but still in the 11th house with Sun and Saturn. With Venus on her home turf, Calvino was twice marked as a member of the guild of artists.
Since he said he dreamed of Mercury, I expected it to be far away. Opposition, perhaps? Maybe a square? So, I was surprised to find that Mercury is in Libra, as well. It isn't in the same house as his Sun (Mercury was in the 10th instead of the 11th), but the 10th, as an angular house, is still strongly associated with "being." So, while Sun/Saturn and Mercury are separated, I wouldn't have used the word "dreaming" to describe them. I knew it was possible that Calvino was using astrology as a metaphor to describe an experience without referencing the birth chart at all, but I suspected there was more to his metaphor than that, and I wondered what he was up to.
I pondered his chart for a long time, not seeing anything. Then I noticed his north node. There are several places where the birth chart can be said to dream, and two of them are involved here. Calvino's south node is in Pisces. Ruled by Neptune, Pisces is associated with meditative dreaming, but as host of the south node, it engages in another form of dreaming, as well. The north node is an aspirational dream, the dream that feels so distant one would scarcely dare to imagine attaining it. Calvino's north node is in Virgo. Mercury is the ruler of Virgo, which means there are two dreaming archetypes longing for Mercury in his chart. This is compounded by the fact that and Mercury and the north node share a house in Calvino's chart.
Studying his chart in light of that passage was an important reminder that, even when there are no formal aspects between planets, they are still related. Even if they are only distant cousins through rulerships, their relationships can still have the power to become a defining metaphor in a person's life.