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Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne
Gymnastics of the Soul
For someone whose work takes priority, the natal chart in its totality often gives us an accurate description of one’s life work. A person’s ideas, where their inspiration comes from, their philosophical framework, and the methods they use; it’s all there in the chart. We can compartmentalize parts of the chart and go deeper into them, or we can take a step back and see how the coherence of the chart symbolizes the greater patterns. The birth chart is a kaleidoscope that takes us deeper into ever-changing but self-imitating patterns, self-revealing for as long as the astrologer’s mind keeps the astrological language alive. The most valuable celestial messages are to be discovered in the eternal dynamism of the chart.
Guillaume Duchenne’s life’s work is clearly depicted in his birth chart. He was a neurologist, and inventor who sprinkled his work with artistry.
As the mutual reception between the Moon and Mars is alluding to – they are “swapping homes”, bringing the Moon into Mars’ domicile Scorpio and Mars to the Moon’s domicile Cancer - Guillaume descended from a long line of mariners. In modern astro-language, we would contribute this to Guillaume’s Moon/Neptune conjunction in a Water sign: the family legacy at sea.
The Power of Restored Visibility
Driven by a fascination with science, however, he disappointed his father who wanted him to become a sailor. Mercury, the god of experimental investigation, stationed direct within 4 days of Guillaume’s birth and very recently escaped the beams of the Sun. Mercury is moving forward again, but still quite slowly, so here, the Sun is in the process of moving farther away from Mercury, which makes Mercury visible on the eastern horizon, just before sunrise. A planet reappearing in the sky after a period of invisibility through its proximity to the Sun is a major factor in traditional chart delineation showing a planet's strength.
According to Joseph Crane, we may even consider a heliacally rising planet as if it were in the angular 1st or 10th house, and this is an insight I’ve come to find very useful. Planets located in the 1st or 10th house act as if they were handed a megaphone, and the same goes for planets that reappear from the rays of the Sun. If it weren’t for Mercury’s heliacal rising status, we might have dismissed its importance, as it seems to be weakened by its placement in the declining or cadent 12th house. Conversely, this well-dignified Mercury in Virgo, which is the sign of Mercury’s domicile and exaltation, is playing a very important role in Guillaume’s life.
Where Reason Dwells
Another testimony to Guillaume’s interest in science can be found in the close connection between Mars and Saturn. Both planets work well together in matters concerning reason and technology as they prefer to create efficient procedures and logical systems and they have an easy time separating what’s possible from what’s not. Mars cuts away superfluous data with Occam’s razor, and Saturn creates the necessary distance from the object of inquiry, which allows scientific objectivity. This duo competently supports Mercury’s intellectual pragmatism in his Earthy Virgoan laboratory.
Angular Malefics in Action
Alas, Mars in Cancer is in the sign of its fall, and on top of that, Mars is out of sect in this daytime chart. This placement expresses itself in several ways. On a professional level, Mars has denied Guillaume access to a better social status and reputation. Despite his hard work, which would let him become one of the most original clinicians of the 19th century, his peers despised him. They rejected his ideas and opinions and went as far as to humiliate him. Mocking him for his shyness, slow speech, provincial accent, short stature, and baldness, they let him feel deeply into his severe Saturn placement in the 1st house. Being an outcast was part of his identity. He was never given a hospital or university appointment, and he was never elected to the French Academy of Sciences.
The support one may receive from a friendly network of allies is typically shown by the 11th house. Venus in the last degrees of Leo is about to move into Virgo, the sign of her fall. This dynamic symbolizes a pending disappointment when some encouraging assistance is needed. On top of that, the 11th house is ruled by the Sun, tucked away in the 12th house of enemies and loss. Some of his papers were stolen by ambitious “colleagues”.
Success and True Beauty
Finally, success did enter his life after years of hard work - as forever implored by Saturn - making him more famous than any of his peers, and not only for his scientific achievements. With the help of a revolutionizing sextile between two well-dignified planets, an exalted Saturn and Jupiter in his domicile Sagittarius, he invented a needle system (Duchenne's “histological harpoon” – Mars in Cancer!) for sampling muscular tissue without the need for anesthesia. He also described various neuromuscular diseases, including Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Most intriguingly, he attempted to capture the anatomy of human emotions by electrically stimulating the facial muscles.
Mercury, as well as Uranus who’s conjoining Saturn, made use of the most fashionable techniques of Guillaume’s time. Photography had only recently been invented, and there was a popular belief that this was a medium that could capture the "truth" of any situation in a way that other mediums were unable to do. He photographed people’s “idealized expressions” and referred to them as the "gymnastics of the soul".
Although Guillaume praised the ancient Greek sculptors for attaining an ideal of beauty, he also criticized them for their failure to attend to the emotions. Saturn, exalted in the sign of the Goddess of Beauty, and making a square to Mars, swimming in the emotional Cancerian Sea and closely trining his hostess, Luna, sees true beauty in the richness of our facial expressions.
Would Niobe have been less beautiful if the dreadful emotion of her spirit had bulged the head of her oblique eyebrow as nature does, and if a few lines of sorrow had furrowed the median section of her forehead? On the contrary, nothing is more moving and appealing than such an expression of pain on a young forehead, which is usually so serene. – Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne
Guillaume’s Venus in Leo, in the 11th house with a heart of artistic dreams, created beauty in his scientific work, not only by using photography, as he was also an excellent illustrator, using his fine drawing skills to portray his patients.
To this day, the most joyous and genuine kind of smile, where the eyes fully participate in the smile, is called the “Duchenne smile”.
The Tragedy Behind the Man
Returning to the mutual reception that brings both the Moon and Mars to the signs of their fall, we can see how that has played out in his family life. Tragically, his wife Barbe Boutroy died of a postpartum infection after the birth of his only child. Sadly, his mother-in-law held him responsible for the death of her daughter, as Guillaume had assisted with the delivery of the child. She prevented him from having any contact with the boy, a separation that persisted for more than 30 years and rendered Guillaume desperate and hopeless, leading him to abandon his clinic. Before gradually returning his attention to his patients, he sought consolation in reading and playing his violin.
This happened before his trailblazing work, and I can’t help wondering if his attempts to capture human emotion was his way of projecting his emotions that were too deep and dark for him to handle. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please leave a comment.