The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 107, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guest Benjamin Dykes
Episode originally released on May 7, 2017
Note: This is a transcript of an audio podcast. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio version, which includes inflections that may not translate well when written out. Transcripts are created by using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and the text probably contains some errors and differences from the audio version. Please submit any corrections to Chris Brennan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released February 19th, 2020
Copyright © 2016 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. This episode was recorded on Tuesday, May 2, 2017, starting around 12:00 PM in Denver, Colorado, and this the 107th episode of the show.
In this episode, I’m going to be talking with astrologer Benjamin Dykes about his new book, which is a translation of a 1st century astrological text by the astrologer known as Dorotheus of Sidon. Before we get started with the interview, just a couple of announcements about our sponsors and giveaway prizes this month.
Each month, we do a prize giveaway for patrons of the podcast who donate through our page on Patreon, with winners of each month’s giveaway being announced at the end of the month. The first prize this month is a free copy of the astrology software program called Solar Fire.
Solar Fire’s one of the most popular astrology programs on the market today and is used by many professional astrologers. In fact, Solar Fire’s the primary program that I use. Most of the charts that you see here on the podcast website for things like the monthly forecast episodes were generated using Solar Fire.
The program covers the full range of astrological techniques, including natal astrology, synastry, electional, and horary astrology. It also provides tools from a wide variety of different traditions, from ancient and classical astrology to Uranian and cosmobiology.
Listeners of The Astrology Podcast can get a 15% discount on the program by entering the promo code ‘AP15’ when purchasing the program through the Solar Fire website. You can find out more information about Solar Fire at alabe.com.
So that’s the first prize that we’re giving away this month. The second prize is a copy of the mobile astrology software app called Astro Gold. Astro Gold was made by the creators of Solar Fire, and it is essentially the mobile version of the popular desktop astrology program.
Astro Gold features natal, transit, progression, and synastry modules resulting in a remarkably comprehensive but easy to use app for doing astrology on the go. The app is clean, clear, and precise, and uses the latest Swiss ephemeris and ACS Atlas files ensuring that the charts cast using the app will be as accurate as possible.
The app is available on both iPhones and iOS devices through the iTunes store, as well as Android devices through the Google Play Store. For more information, visit astrogold.io.
So those are our two giveaway prizes and sponsors for this month. All you have to do to enter the giveaway for a chance to win one of these prizes is become a patron of The Astrology Podcast through our page on Patreon, on the $5 or $10 tier, and then you’ll automatically be entered into the drawing with winners of this month’s giveaway being announced at the end of the month.
More details about the monthly raffle and links to find out more information about each of the prizes can be found on the description page for this episode, on our website at theastrologypodcast.com. All right, with those announcements out of the way, let’s get started with the interview.
Hi, Ben. Welcome back to the show.
BENJAMIN DYKES: Thanks for having me.
CB: So you’ve been really busy over the course of the past year working on two separate translation projects, or as usual, multiple, separate translation projects, right?
BD: Yeah, it’s been multiple plus the natal course, but I had to put some of that on hold in order to work more on these translations because I realized, in a way, they needed to come first.
CB: Yeah, and I’m glad you did because this is a project that’s been a long time in coming. This is one of the most influential astrological texts ever and a few different people have talked about doing different translations. I know it’s something that you have wanted to do for a long time, and you actually learned Arabic, not specifically for this translation, but maybe it was one of the long-term things that you had in mind when you learned Arabic, right?
BD: Yeah, definitely, but I wasn’t sure when it would come about. And it was really last summer when we made some discoveries about Pingree’s translation, when I realized, you know, if I’m going to be referring to this work in my course, and we’re going to continue to use Dorotheus, it needs a new translation now.
CB: Sure. All right, well, let’s talk a little bit about the background of the work then. So who is Dorotheus of Sidon?
BD: Well, Dorotheus of Sidon lived probably in the late 1st century AD. So we’re talking about the reigns of people like Nerva and Trajan, those emperors. He was part of the Roman Empire, but he lived in and around the Levant, the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, and he’s really known for one important thing and that’s a five-part instructional poem, what they call a didactic poem, and it was one of the most important ones in traditional astrology.
CB: OK. And so, what’s his time frame approximately?
BD: Well, probably I would say as early as the 80s AD, but perhaps into the early 2nd century. There’s a couple of possibilities with the timing of one of his charts, so the later years of that 1st century.
CB: OK, so we’re talking about late 1st century CE. You argue in the introduction that it could be pushed back a little bit further to possibly the early 2nd century CE.
BD: Right. He’s writing before Ptolemy and before Valens, so he’s predating them by a couple of decades.
CB: OK, so this is a work that was originally written in Greek, in the form of a poem or an instructional poem, right?
CB: I mean, that’s probably worth talking about just briefly. It’s interesting that so many works during that time period that were astrological texts actually were in verse or were versified–that that was a means of conveying information in a way that was poetically- or artistically-pleasing. But it also had a practical value to help you memorize the material that was being presented, right?
BD: Yeah, and this was actually a pretty common way of writing instructional and philosophical texts in antiquity. I mean, there’s lots of examples of other people in Latin too and in other realms like philosophy writing these instructional poems. So it’s both information but it’s supposed to be beautiful, and the information structure helps you memorize it too.
CB: Right, and that was probably especially useful for delineation texts and stuff. And I know Stephan Heilen, in one of his papers, he argues that some of the delineation material from Dorotheus was probably Dorotheus versifying earlier delineation texts of things like Saturn trine Jupiter equals this or means this, or Mercury square Mars means this and that Dorotheus was taking prose interpretations and then versifying them for both aesthetic reasons as well as other reasons for memorization or things like that.
BD: Yeah. I mean, he tells us that he has looked at the books of people before him, and he’s selected the best material. He compares himself to a bee collecting pollen from the best flowers. But I have to say, I’m no poet, but it must have been real tedious to versify every possible planetary combination and put that into a nice-sounding poem.
CB: Right. And when they did, part of what was impressive about it is how difficult doing something like that must have been in terms of word choice and number of words and everything else. Manilius did the same thing. His was a Latin poem on astrology where he’s trying to partially impress the reader with his cleverness by versifying sometimes mathematical information about rising signs and things like that. You also have Manetho who wrote a text in verse and other such authors.
BD: Well, another feature to that is that in these poems there were certain rules about how many syllables or how long each line could be. It allows you to be creative, but it also raises the question, are there technical terms that don’t fit in the rhythm of the line so that he might change them to a different word? I mean, this can go either way. For many years, some people have been saying that there’s a big difference between saying that one planet ‘looks’ at another versus ‘scrutinizes’ another, and since these are different words in Greek, they must mean different things.
But in a poem like Dorotheus, which we have some of the original poems still, he seems to use all these words interchangeably so that he can fit all the syllables on the line properly. So it could be that the vocabulary is really more complicated but he’s simplifying, or the vocabulary’s actually very simple and there’s just an illusion of complexity when it comes to some of these terms.
CB: Sure. So this is a 1st century text. It’s written in the form of a poem. He claims to be synthesizing the works of earlier authors from the 1st century BCE, such as Nechepso and Petosiris or texts attributed to Hermes. He claims to have traveled widely in Egypt and Mesopotamia which were the two homes of astrology…
CB: …where you get different pieces of the astrological tradition. But then this text itself, despite how influential it was, we don’t actually have the original text, right? Instead, what we have is a translation of a translation of a translation.
BD: Yeah, we have Dorotheus in several different forms of different kinds of reliability. In Hephaestion of Thebes–particularly in Book 3, which Eduardo Gramaglia translated recently and we published a couple of years ago–Hephaestion preserves long sections of the poem itself, so we know in some cases what Dorotheus’ actual words were. Then we have works also in Hephaestion where he’s closely summarizing instead of quoting, so that’s kind of a second-best version. But then we have something like this work, which has gone through several stages of translation over a period of centuries. Although it is the most complete version we have, we know that there’s stuff missing, and we know that there could be misunderstandings in this version.
CB: Okay. What we have then is that the majority of Dorotheus’ text hasn’t survived despite how influential it was, but what we have is–I think you said it was two different manuscripts where we had Dorotheus’ original Greek text that was written in the form of poem. Then that text was translated into Persian at some point around maybe the 3rd through the 5th century.
BD: 3rd century.
CB: 3rd century, okay. And then that Persian translation was the basis for a few hundred years later, around the 8th century, an Arabic translation. So the text was translated from Persian into Arabic around the year 800, right?
BD: It was a little earlier than that. This is the Arabic translation of Umar al-Tabarī, the famous Umar who was one of the main astrologers in Baghdad along with Masha’allah and others. We’re learning now both through this translation and then the Theophilus volume I’ve got coming out soon and the Sahl volume there was more than one person translating Dorotheus; I think we have evidence of a prose Greek summary used by Theophilus. And then we have alternative translations in Arabic that must come from Persian that we see in Sahl. And so, there was more than one version circulating in these languages.
CB: Okay. And then the Arabic translation that was done in the 8th century is the subject of your current translation, right?
BD: Right. This is the Umar al-Tabarī translation of whatever one of these Persian editions was. And so, it’s the most complete, single, self-standing book, but it only exists in two manuscripts. Hopefully, we can find more, but we’re very lucky to have this.
CB: Right, and so, this manuscript wasn’t originally known about. You talk a little bit in the introduction about the history of the recovery of this text and how there was a German scholar in the early 20th century who wrote a book that contained all of the known excerpts and fragments that survived from Dorotheus. And then a few decades later, another scholar named David Pingree came along and he discovered that these two Arabic manuscripts existed, and he published a critical edition and a translation of them which added to Dorotheus.
And now, you’ve taken another step in both doing another translation from the Arabic in order to correct some of the errors in Pingree’s translation. But you’ve also translated a bunch of the other surviving fragments that survive from Dorotheus in Greek and Latin, right?
BD: Yes. So this is the version of Umar al-Tabarī from two manuscripts that are the same manuscripts that Pingree discovered. I’m not sure how he learned about them; there was an earlier guy named Victor Stegemann. Stegemann died shortly after World War II. He was a collector of Dorotheus fragments, but he apparently didn’t know of these two manuscripts.
Well, someone discovered these manuscripts–one’s from Berlin and the other is from Istanbul–and Pingree did his own translation of this in 1976.
What people need to know is that there’s this text, but there are two other kinds of things: one is called the Dorotheus ‘fragments’ and the Dorotheus ‘excerpts’. The Dorotheus fragments were short passages of Dorotheus that Pingree included in his 1976 book in an appendix. Then later on, there was a Greek manuscript which had quotations from some version of Dorotheus in Greek; these are called the Dorotheus excerpts. All of the excerpts have been translated in Greek for this edition…
BD: …this current edition.
CB: Okay. And you had some of those in your translation of Hephaistio a few years ago, but this represents all of them basically, right?
BD: Yes. Earlier in the Hephaestion volume, we just published the ones that pertained to inceptions or elections. But in this edition, in the appendix, we have all of them, and there’s about 60 of them.
CB: Okay. So this is material that’s never been seen before, and it really needs to be read together with the Arabic. Since the Arabic edition is two or three times removed from the original language, sometimes you have to check it against the Greek fragments in order to see if there’s any errors or misinterpretations and things like that, right?
BD: Yeah, and not only that. But because people like Sahl, he’s constantly quoting this alternative Arabic Dorotheus, because we have these Greek excerpts, that identifies material in Sahl that we wouldn’t have known was from Dorotheus. So the Dorotheus excerpts in this Greek manuscript allow us to find even more passages among the Arabic writers. Eventually, we’re going to be able to come close to what I’m going to call a ‘reconstructed’ Dorotheus, our best guess of everything that was in the original.
CB: Okay. So this isn’t the fully-reconstructed version yet, but this is the final step before we can get there because this is a newer and better translation of the Arabic and all of the surviving Greek fragments that hadn’t been published until now.
BD: Yeah, this doesn’t contain all of the Greek fragments from 1976, but we will translate those. So the Dorotheus excerpts are what we have here. But eventually, we’re going to do all of it. All of the fragments, the excerpts, the alternative translations, the more speculative passages, the lines from the poem itself, we’re going to put that all into a reconstructed Dorotheus.
CB: Okay. So let’s move on and talk a little bit about the content of the work, and then let’s talk about after that the influence on the later traditions so that people understand why this is a big deal and understand how influential Dorotheus has been over the past 2,000 years.
The book is divided actually into, the work is divided into five books. The first four books deal with natal astrology essentially, while the fifth book deals with electional astrology, or what modern astrologers call electional astrology. So this actually makes it not only one of the earliest surviving instructional manuals on natal astrology, but it also makes it one of the earliest surviving instructional texts on electional astrology as well, right?
BD: Yeah, and it was used by so many people for so many centuries, including changing the wording of some of these elections or inceptions into the form of a question, so that some of his material on inceptions did double-duty in books on horary questions.
So he’s very early, he’s relatively complete, and extremely influential. I’d put him with three other people–that if you had these four books, you’d pretty much have all of traditional Hellenistic astrology–and that would be Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, Valen’s Anthology, and Firmicus Maternus. You could probably add Rhetorius also, although a lot of his material is dependent on Dorotheus.
CB: Right. And mentioning Ptolemy is actually really interesting just because Ptolemy, out of those four authors, Ptolemy was really the only one that was continually transmitted and translated into different languages over the past 2,000 years. For a long time, Ptolemy was viewed as one of the oldest authors available. He was essentially the oldest author available, but because of that he was viewed as the standard for what ancient, Greco-Roman astrology looked like.
One of the interesting things is that Dorotheus wasn’t necessarily still around in the Renaissance tradition or the early modern tradition, while Ptolemy was, and so, Ptolemy really colored for a long time our view of what Greek astrology looked like. But now, with this recovery of Dorotheus, we can actually compare it to what Ptolemy was doing and see that, in some instances, there were similarities or overlap, but in a lot of instances, there were some major differences that really shows that Ptolemy was probably more outside of the mainstream of Hellenistic astrology compared to somebody like Dorotheus or Valens.
BD: Yeah, he was in some sense. He was a reformer and an outlier in a sense. And you’re right. Dorotheus, even though the material got passed on, it didn’t always get passed on under Dorotheus’ name. So that’s why people like Stegemann in the ‘30s only could list fragments because no one really knew what else was in Dorotheus until these manuscripts were discovered. Having Dorotheus and understanding Dorotheus is not only great for practitioners, but for historians, it’s a real revelation too.
CB: Sure, and especially in terms of traditional astrology. By the late Renaissance tradition, with authors like Lilly, because Ptolemy was the earliest author that they had access to, oftentimes, they would follow Ptolemy, thinking that he was the mainstream of the early tradition. They would compare Ptolemy with what later Arabic Medieval authors were doing, like Masha’allah and people like that.
They were using things like the Egyptian terms or the Dorothean triplicity rulers scheme, and Lilly and people like that would compare that with what Ptolemy was doing and see there was this discrepancy and then go with Ptolemy, assuming that that was the older tradition. But ironically, most of the later Medieval authors were actually drawing on Dorotheus who represented the mainstream of the Hellenistic tradition which was successfully passed on.
BD: Yeah. In many areas of life, you have to keep a close eye on the reformers because the reformers usually have an agenda, and it often means that they start rejecting things that they don’t understand because of that agenda. And so, that was a trend in the Renaissance and later of saying that Ptolemy is the standard, and if you depart from Ptolemy, there’s something wrong with you.
CB: Right, the so-called ‘back to Ptolemy’ movement I’ve heard it referred to before.
CB: Sure, and that becomes then one of the reasons why the recovery of this work is important because it shows the foundation on which most later Medieval astrology was made. Basically, this text of Dorotheus, because it was translated into Persian early on, and then the Persian translation was translated into Arabic, it became the foundation of much of the later Medieval astrological tradition, both for natal astrology, but especially for electional astrology.
Most of the basic rules that Dorotheus lays down for electional astrology, it seems like those become the mainstream rules for most electional astrology from that point forward. Would you say that’s accurate?
BD: Yes. And it’s kind of funny because if you’re used to reading a lot of horary rules or rules for elections or inceptions in later authors and then you go back and read Dorotheus, you realize these rules were there all along, so it shows a nice continuity between the older tradition and the later tradition.
CB: Sure, and maybe we should get into that because my primary access point for Dorotheus was 10 years ago, in 2006 and 2007, doing that research project, trying to understand where horary astrology came from and how far back in the tradition it went. Initially, the main point that I raised was just an observation that many people had had, which is that references to horary were surprisingly infrequent in the Hellenistic tradition compared to the later Medieval and Renaissance traditions where horary became very popular.
And so, there’s this question of why are the references to horary so infrequent in the Hellenistic tradition, and if they’re that infrequent, how widely was the subject practiced, if at all? I made the argument at the time, which you and Eduardo later pointed out or discovered was inaccurate, that horary didn’t exist in the Hellenistic tradition. But in fact, you guys were able to trace back at least one reference that goes back to Dorotheus in the 1st century where it’s clearly a reference to horary astrology that was in the original text, right?
BD: Yeah, well, I think we have to be careful because there are passages in Dorotheus that show that he was aware of the overlap between elections and event charts and horary questions; so he is aware of the issue. And that could mean that other people of the day were doing what we would call horary or questions.
I don’t see evidence of actual books on questions in the way that we would recognize it prior to the 700s, prior to al-Tabari and Masha’allah and so on. So we don’t see evidence in antiquity of books on questions, but we do see evidence that they were aware that there was a lot of overlap between these things: thought interpretation, elections, event charts, and questions.
CB: Right, and that was originally my access point. Originally, it was sort of like an inference in the 2006 and 2007 paper where I saw that Dorotheus seemed to be talking largely and almost exclusively about electional astrology and inceptional astrology. But it seemed like there were these other subcategories of inceptional astrology where they would cast a chart for the moment that a client approached an astrologer, and they would use that in the same way that modern astrologers use what’s called a consultation chart in order to determine what the focus of the consultation would be and what the client was thinking about that they wanted to talk to the astrologer about when approaching them for a consultation.
This is something that you later confirmed through some of your subsequent translations of authors like Masha’allah and Sahl, where you found that there was this whole subset of doing consultation charts or what you called ‘thought interpretation’ in both Medieval astrology, but also in Hellenistic astrology essentially, right?
BD: Yeah, we found evidence going way back. Hephaestion of Thebes, we have material from that going all the way up through these familiar Arabic-writing astrologers in the 8th century, and including Theophilus of Edessa. He has a chapter in which he does very extensive thought interpretation rules in one of his books. So this seems to have been a common practice among astrologers, but a lot of the texts have been lost or maybe they weren’t fleshed out very much, and they’re kind of sprinkled around in various books.
CB: Right. And in the later tradition, it sort of gets merged or subsumed under just the practice of horary astrology…
CB: …whereas in the Medieval tradition, it’s clear that both conceptually and procedurally, these are still somewhat separate things, doing thought interpretation versus doing actual horary and trying to determine the outcome of a specific question.
BD: Yeah, they were kept separate. There is a distinction between them, but over time, thought interpretation, it seemed to fall away and get absorbed into questions. I’m sure part of that is because the chart that you cast for the moment the client arrives to do the thought interpretation is basically going to be the same chart that you used to answer the question. And so, I think there was just generally a shift over time to questions.
CB: Yeah, and that makes sense once they realized that they could. And this is something you guys showed in your translation of Hephaistio a few years ago, which draws on Book 5 of Dorotheus, and then it became even more clear in your new translation how there’s this hierarchy where most of the rules in Book 5 are just for casting a chart for the moment that an event takes place, which will describe both the quality of the event as well as the outcome.
Typically, if a client approaches you, the instructions say cast a chart for when the event happened. And then it seems like there’s these subset rules where it says if you don’t have the chart for when the event happened, then cast a chart for when the client learned of the event. Or if you don’t have the chart for when the client learned of the event, cast the chart for the moment of the consultation when the client approaches you to ask about that specific event which took place. There’s this sort of hierarchy in some sense of symbolic moments of importance.
BD: Yeah, and Dorotheus gives two examples of that, and one of them is the runaway, the runaway slave. The person, the owner of the slave might not know when the slave ran away, so there’s no way to cast an event chart for the moment the slave ran away. So what do you do next? You have to think about, well, what about when the master heard about it, or when does he come to the astrologer.
And a similar one is the runaway wife. If a man’s wife runs away, well, he might spend a week or so waiting for her to return, and then he goes to the astrologer, and the astrologer says, “Well, exactly when did she leave?” Well, what if he doesn’t know? Then you have to find a second-best option.
So Dorotheus is making it clear that he knows that life is complicated, and you’re getting a question dropped in your lap and you need to find a way to answer it. If you can’t have your preferred chart, you have to pick a second-best chart.
CB: Sure, and it makes sense. And from that perspective, that was the thing that was really interesting to me by just seeing how horary could have then developed organically out of that process of, first, doing inception charts and electional charts, and then doing consultation charts, and then eventually, you have this whole other practice of just casting the chart for when the question is asked to you and trying to figure out the outcome based on that. By the time of the Medieval tradition, it becomes this full-fledged, fourth branch of astrology of answering horary questions.
BD: Yeah, I mean, in a way–let’s say, the runaway slave. If you just decide that you’re always going to cast a chart for the time the client comes to you then it simplifies everything. While it may be useful to find out when the runaway left generally, in a way, horary is a way of simplifying all these questions and making the consultation itself the primary moment that matters.
CB: Right, and then you don’t need to have the birth data or the birth time…
CB: …which is required for natal astrology, or you don’t have to have the ability to calculate where the planets were 30 years ago when this client was born. But instead, you just have to know the chart for right now, and in that way, it becomes a lot easier from a practical standpoint, from the astrologer’s perspective as well.
BD: I think also, doing a question chart, this naturally leads to these theological ideas about the client having the right kind of mindset and what has brought the client there, and these questions of freedom of the will or a chart being properly-rooted in the divine will that we see in later question charts. If the moment you meet the astrologer is the magical moment, not the time when the events actually happened, I think it naturally leads you to speculate about what is special about the consultation moment.
CB: Right, and it also explains the considerations before judgment and where those come from and why they were originally relevant. That was actually my access point originally for realizing that horary came from consultation charts because you still had some consultation chart-type rules embedded in the practice of horary, like the consideration before judgment that if Saturn is in the 1st house then there might be a problem with a querent or the client. Whereas, if Saturn is in the 7th house then there might be a problem with the astrologer, and maybe you should be extra careful with that consultation because you could make some sort of mistake.
BD: Yeah. I mean, if you treat questions as being more like inceptions or event charts then you’re tying the time of the chart to a real event, to the event that you’re asking about. But you can see why a person might want special rules for a question or horary chart because you want to make sure that the time of the consultation is properly tied to the meaning of the event.
But I think it’s a little more complicated than that because if you think about all the kinds of things that people ask about, they might be asking questions about events that haven’t happened yet, or maybe an event that’s begun but they want advice on what will happen if I do this.
So in a certain sense, I think the branch of questions, inevitably it would have been developed and it just happened to be developed formally in later centuries. But the kinds of things that people ask about are so complicated, and human events are so complicated that someone would have had to invent questions, it seems to me.
CB: Yeah, I just think the concept of natal astrology was more prominent in especially the early Greek tradition and the idea that the alignment of the planets at the moment of your birth sort of imprints or outlines and has something to do with an individual’s fate. There was something from a societal and a philosophical standpoint that was really overwhelmingly prevalent about that idea and that notion, and that’s why most of the rules and most of the focus in the Hellenistic tradition, most of the books that survived are very much directed towards natal astrology.
But then once you do have the further development of some of these other branches, we see them becoming much more prominent in the Medieval and Renaissance traditions, and we also see new rules being introduced at that point. Like the fact that ‘transfer of light’ or ‘collection of light’ didn’t exist as concepts in the Hellenistic tradition…
CB: …but all of a sudden we see them at the very beginning of the Medieval tradition because they’re different ways of showing how horary questions can be answered in the affirmative if there’s the profection of two different planets coming together.
So we’ve talked a lot about the fifth book, but maybe we should back up a little bit and focus on some of the majority of the work, which is Books 1 through 4, which deal with natal astrology. What are some of the different topics that are focused on in the first book?
BD: Well, there are a few short chapters on some basic concepts like the so-called ‘good’ or ‘advantageous’ places of the chart, or where the planets rejoice, that sort of thing, but it starts right off at the beginning of life. It starts out with the topics of birth and upbringing, then the parents, and then siblings, and then personal prosperity and happiness–which is not just money, but also a sense that your life is going in a certain direction. Then it turns to topics of marriage and sexuality, children. There’s illness and death. We also know that there were chapters on friendship, travel, and profession in the original, and we do have some short bits of those in various excerpts.
In Books 3 and 4 is his material on timing. Book 3 has to do with longevity, and he especially uses primary directions and ‘distributions through the bounds’. And then in Book 4, he presents his annual system of techniques, which includes solar revolutions, profections, and transits. Apart from some of the missing topics like profession and friendship, it’s really an A-to-Z discussion of life and how to use techniques to time their events.
CB: Yeah, and many different topics. Of course, it covers basically everything that you would want to cover from the perspective of a 1st century person, or from the perspective of concerns that clients of astrologers had in the 1st century. And many of those are still relevant today, some of those of course are not. I mean, we were talking about earlier casting charts for runaway slaves since slavery was something that was common in Roman society in the 1st century.
But it’s funny that you see inceptional material in that more comical chapter about casting a chart for when you get in an argument with your spouse, and your spouse leaves, and casting the chart to see if they’ll come back.
BD: Well, it shows that some things about human life just don’t change. We might talk about human evolution, but the astrologer sees the same things today that they saw back then.
CB: Right, and the concerns that humans have are still fundamentally very much the same when it comes to the fundamentals of life. And so, that’s really what he focuses on, Dorotheus, in the first few books, things like parents, health, wealth or financial matters, your home and your living situation, relationships, sickness and health, and other things like that.
I mean, that’s one of the biggest things that’s probably important for modern people to understand. And I think that when you start reading some of these texts, what becomes very clear is that the fundamentals of life are still very much the same as they were 2,000 years ago in many respects.
BD: Yeah, and it might be surprising for some people that if you have a stereotyped idea that people were just asking about marriage and money and weren’t asking about things like quality of life, no, they were asking those questions. In some of Book 1, the topic of upbringing, there are rules there for talking about your family lineage: is your family rising up in life or falling down, are you laboring under poverty or not, real-life situations. I’ve become more aware of this since I do some genealogy work too.
Rules for finding out if you’ve been raised by another family–it used to be a lot more common even 50 years for people to be raised in another household due to poverty or other reasons. And so, there’s rules in Dorotheus for talking about that and what your relationship to your parents is. All of that stuff, they were all interested in that back in antiquity because they were humans just like us.
CB: Right. And even in the instances where there’s something that is weird or is completely societally different, you can still read this text and understand what the underlying, symbolic motivation was, and there’s something useful or insightful about that even if it’s not directly applicable to you today, like learning rules about runaway slaves and things like that.
BD: But it often doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out how to translate some kind of rule or some scenario into a more modern one because the essence is just the same. One example that came to me recently–speaking of the runaway slave–is that Theophilus of Edessa, in his military astrology uses that chapter on the runaway slave to describe military situations where a local governor is trying to go independent and shake off the authority of the regional king.
So just as there’s an owner of a slave and then the runaway slave, here we have the ruling king and the local guy who’s trying to go independent and buck the regional king. Many people saw that these rules have general applicability and we shouldn’t get too bogged down in the words. We should try to figure out what’s the essence of what they’re talking about.
CB: Right. And once you do that you could apply it to a number of different contemporary scenarios and situations that would be relevant to your present-day concerns.
CB: Okay. And from a technical standpoint, one of the things that’s majorly different about Dorotheus’ approach, if you’re approaching it from the perspective of modern astrology, is in the first few books, he really emphasizes the use of triplicity lords, as well as the use of the Lots, or the so-called Arabic Parts.
BD: Yes, he early on tells us that you always have to look at these triplicity lords, so he’s known for doing that. For me, what I found really interesting about writing the introduction after translating it was I had read the whole book now, and I was able to collect together everything he ever said about a triplicity lord and figure out, well, what is a triplicity lord? What do they do? How do we understand this?
If you just pick a couple of chapters here and there, you can get misled by some of the generic language about if a triplicity lord is good or bad and this makes this area of life good or bad. You can be led to believe that it’s a very crude instrument. But it turns out that the Dorotheus text is really consistent about what it thinks a triplicity lord does and how to use them, so that turned out to be a real eye-opener.
Pingree’s translation–I’m not alone here–but Pingree’s old translation was often very confusing and hard to read. And so, it was very easy to pick up a chapter, look at something about triplicity lords and get frustrated and put it down. But I’ve written an essay in the book about what they mean and how to use them.
CB: Yeah, you drew out some specific keywords that were really great for that, for what the triplicity rulers do and how Dorotheus describes them. One of them was of things sort of rising up, or notions of increase and decrease, as well as notions of stability, right?
BD: Yeah, notions of stability, support, presence. I used some actual phrases that he employs in Arabic to draw out what these triplicity lords do. A triplicity lord always accompanies some planet or place, so let’s say the triplicity lords of the Ascendant are used specifically for what they nourishment and upbringing.
And so, you interpret the significator–the Ascendant or the Sun for the father or the Moon for the mother, whatever it is–and that gives you a kind of baseline interpretation. The triplicity lords say whether that is made stronger and more enhanced and its topic increases, or whether it has less support, is more unstable, and decreases. He has some subtle ways of using this depending on the topic.
For example, the triplicity lords of Venus–Venus is the significator of love and relationships–they can show whether your partners are suitable or not. And so, he has ways of interpreting these lords that give more detail and nuance and they don’t just say good/bad.
CB: Yeah, and that’s really interesting because it draws out a broader interpretive framework for using some of these things, what became the essential dignities. It’s not just necessarily an abstract point score on a graph or something like that, but there’s specific interpretive rules or concepts underlying it that are meant to be used in the delineations.
BD: Yeah. I mean, for example, if you’re talking about getting the inheritance of your parents, well, a bad triplicity lord might show you may get the inheritance and inherit from your parents, but it may deteriorate over time, or you may squander it. In other words, the triplicity lords are showing that the presence of that inheritance is going to decrease or be degraded or not have much support.
One way to think about it is that triplicity lords are sometimes related to friends, friends and allies. And so, if you think about any traditional society, who are your primary supports in life that allow you to sustain what you have? It’s family members; friends and family. So it’s almost as though triplicity lords are a kind of family member that allows you to be maintained in your situation.
Good triplicity lords like supportive family members will tend to enhance whatever that significator means. Difficult triplicity lords will tend to degrade or decrease or destabilize what that thing means, like a person who has no family or friends.
CB: Sure, and therefore has no support network.
BD: Exactly. Support network, yeah.
CB: All right. And the triplicity lords are also connected to timing, as you said. That was another interesting point that you emphasized in the introduction, which is that there was this distinction between the Hellenistic and the Medieval tradition. In the Hellenistic tradition, they seem to be pretty consistent about treating the triplicity lords as dealing with the first part of the life and the second part of the life and that’s it, whereas, in the Medieval tradition, it became using the triplicity lords to divide the life into three parts, or sometimes into thirds.
You reference this at one point in the introduction, but it seems like that may have developed out of this misinterpretation in this one passage of Dorotheus, where for some reason in the Arabic or the Persian version, it becomes about dividing the life into three parts. But when you compare that to one of the fragments where Hephaistio quotes Dorotheus directly, it was apparently just dividing life into two parts. That’s always raised this question for me of did that develop out of a misinterpretation or a translation error? What happened with that?
BD: Well, that is puzzling. Yes, there’s one passage in this Umar al-Tabarī version that assigns one-third of life to each of the three lords, but we know from Hephaestion, who has the same material, that it’s only the first two lords. But also, if memory serves, Sahl in his version of Dorotheus, in his natal book, he also only has the two lords.
So how is it that only two manuscripts of this Umar al-Tabarī version survive and his translation seems not to have passed on, and other people with the same passages only have two lords, and yet, somehow, this idea of all three lords became widespread? That is a puzzle. I don’t know why.
CB: Yeah, so that’s interesting that Sahl understood the earlier tradition–from what we can tell correctly–in that he also only used triplicity lords to divide the life into two parts. So that means that in the early Medieval tradition, at least some authors understood the earlier Hellenistic tradition that way…
CB: …but then later, it changed into three parts for some unknown reason.
BD: Yeah. I mean, if you have three lords, you can understand why you’d apply them to thirds of life. But if there wasn’t textual support for that, why did it become so widespread? It’s a good question.
CB: Yeah, I still sort of believe that it’s probably from that one reference where it happens in the Arabic version of this text, and then other astrologers pointed to that as their textual support for making that modification of the doctrine. But I’m not sure that it was the intention of the original author, of Dorotheus, based on that comparison with Hephaistio, but who knows more broadly.
BD: Yeah. Maybe we’ll find out some day.
CB: Yeah, with new texts coming out all the time, and with the texts that you’re cranking out constantly. So you did this translation. You’re also getting ready to publish a translation of Theophilus of Edessa, who is also an 8th century astrologer. But unlike this text, his text was written in Greek originally, right?
BD: Yeah, he wrote in Greek. Some of his material may have been translated from other languages, but it’s almost all from Greek into Greek. But I also translate for the book 14 passages in Arabic of Theophilus’ writing, which shows that he also wrote other books that we otherwise don’t have a record of. He also wrote a book of nativities, and it seems another book on questions or inceptions.
CB: Okay. And those two books, it’s like Theophilus and Dorotheus, or at least the Arabic translation of Dorotheus that was also done in the 8th century, those become some of the earliest works of the Medieval astrologica tradition, right?
BD: Yeah, it was this circle of people who were writing at this time and translating things into Arabic, who really shaped the whole rest of the tradition.
CB: That’s really wild because it’s also kind of a condensed, not that long of a period of time. We’re talking about maybe a 50-year time span from, what, 750 to about 800 in which you have Theophilus writing his works, which you’re about to publish. You have this translation of Dorotheus.
You have one or two different, or maybe more translations of Dorotheus being done in that time frame. You have Masha’allah writing some of his works on reception I think you said was written in the 770s, and that was basically one of the earliest surviving complete works on horary astrology. Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff going on in that time frame, right?
BD: Yeah. And speaking of Masha’allah, Pingree later identified other texts on questions by Masha’allah in Arabic and Greek. So he didn’t just write on reception, he wrote four books on questions. He says he wrote four books and we have most of them, so those are going to be coming out too.
This was a really, really exciting time, and it covered the first few caliphs of the Abbasid period in the last half of the 700s; a really exciting time.
CB: I mean, it seems really similar in some ways to today, where all of a sudden you have just this mainstream, contemporary astrology that’s based on more recent developments or what had survived of the tradition. But then, all of a sudden, you have this resurgence of a bunch of older material, which creates an influx of new techniques and ideas back into the tradition through translations of older texts.
BD: Yeah, and for a new generation of people who are very excited and are learning some of this stuff for the first time, and who would have had to learn a lot of new names and new jargon, but it really took off like wildfire. Yeah, so I think that’s a good comparison.
CB: Yeah, and having to understand the language and really attempting to. One of the things that struck me about your new translation is that Pingree, in his earlier translation, he would adopt some conventional terms, or almost like filler terms like ‘cardine’ and stuff like that to refer to an angle.
But it’s interesting, in your translation how you’re trying to be very clear about what word choices they used in order to translate certain concepts, in order to see not just what Dorotheus was originally saying, but showing how the 8th century Medieval astrologers understood the texts and what words they were picking in their language in order to deliberately convey some of the concepts.
BD: Yeah, so I try to bring that out in all of my translations, but I especially tried to do it for this one. Some of Pingree’s language which seemed kind of vague, or like he was borrowing from 20th century astrology, we can get down a bit more clearer and simpler and down to the real meanings of the words.
CB: Sure. And in that sense, this translation is much more readable. You don’t just use more contemporary translation conventions that you’ve been using in the rest of your translations of other Medieval and Hellenistics works, but you also have a lot of footnotes and commentary which explains and draws out what Dorotheus is actually saying, or where you point out where there’s an issue in the text and clarify what it should say, in addition to a lot of diagrams and chart examples and other visuals that help to explain what’s going on.
BD: Yeah, I wanted to make sure that this book was meant to be read and was meant for practicing astrologers. So some of it is more cosmetic–I make paragraph breaks where Pingree just went on and on for most of a page. I make little section titles, so that you can easily navigate the passages, but I’ve got lots of explanatory footnotes.
For example, in Book 3, Chapter 2, Dorotheus has a chart example, and he’s using distributions through the bounds. Well, in Pingree’s translation, he’s constantly telling you how many degrees and minutes the Ascendant was at and so on, but it’s like a mess of words and numbers that you don’t really understand what he’s doing or why it matters. So what I’ve inserted are chart images and footnotes that explain exactly how this method works, so that you can really follow along with Dorotheus himself.
CB: That’s really important. I mean, I had always thought about doing a commentary on Dorotheus in order to help students understand it better, but this really fills that role in terms of actually making the text understandable and showing you what’s going on and why he’s saying certain things, especially in Book 3 when he’s talking about primary directions and demonstrating the length-of-life technique, right?
BD: Yeah. And so, throughout, I wanted to be sure that this book could be read and used. I’m sure many listeners, including me, for years, I’ve had the book on my shelf and have occasionally referred to it. But the older translation was so difficult, and to be honest, unpleasant to read that it just became frustrating and confusing. So I’ve designed this so that astrologers can read it and understand it and follow along with the techniques, and see why Dorotheus is telling us to do something.
CB: Brilliant. One of the techniques I mentioned earlier but I forgot to go back to is a technique that is sometimes used in modern astrology–this really is the earliest text that fully deals with the topic–the use of the Lots, or the Arabic Parts, such as the Lot of Fortune or the Part of Fortune, which Dorotheus uses pretty extensively. The other technique that he’s really known for, in addition to the triplicity rulers, is the use of Lots, right?
BD: Yes, there are many Lots throughout the book and on all sorts of topics. That’s one of the very special things because in many treatments of Lots in later books, they’ll give you the formula and then just maybe say a sentence about it. But in this case, he’s doing a lot more with these Lots and giving you much more interpretive material so you can understand what the Lot is doing and what it’s supposed to show. It doesn’t answer every question about Lots, but it is one of the treats.
CB: Yeah, it’s huge in terms of if you ever wanted to know what the Lot of Fortune was used for. This is the book that really goes into some of the different applications, or how it’s used and other things like that. But he also has a bunch of other topical Lots, like for family members, a Lot for parents. There’s a Lot for marriage. There’s also a Lot for death, which involves–what is it–measuring the distance from the 8th house to something, I think Saturn.
BD: Yeah, and the Moon’s involved there too. There’s a Lot of chronic illness, which appears in other people’s works. So the material on Lots is quite extensive and interesting.
CB: Yeah, and that’s one of the areas where this represents an immediate and important correction to Pingree’s text, you and I discovered last summer when I was working on my chapter on the Lots in my book on Hellenistic astrology. I don’t know actually how that came about, if I asked you to look at some to double-check them, or if you just happened to look them up, and then you noticed that there was a major discrepancy where Pingree’s translation was saying that you should reverse certain Lot calculations. In actuality, when you looked at the Arabic text, you realized that it did not say to reverse those calculations, right?
BD: Yeah, that conversation that we had last summer is really what ultimately derailed my work on Sahl and my natal course because you had called me up to ask about one of these strange calculations. And for people who don’t know, or as a reminder for those who do, in all sorts of passages in Pingree’s translation, when he’s calculating Lots, he will have these strange phrases about how you reverse it, but then you subtract it by night and so on, and it doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
In fact, if you followed those instructions, you would end up nullifying either the projecting or the measurement between the planets. You would end up canceling out part of the calculations is what I’m saying.
BD: So this was always confusing people, and I remember Robert Schmidt was talking about this. You called me up to ask about it, and I said, “Okay, I’ll look this up,” and we discovered that these instructions about subtracting do not exist. Pingree put them in his translation, maybe with good intentions, but he didn’t tell the reader what he was doing, and it wasn’t in the Arabic. And so, that’s what made both of us realize–because we had been realizing it for awhile–Pingree’s translation had some serious problems.
CB: Right. Although it was a good first step in outlining the text and in recovering the text from being lost for over a thousand years, especially with those Lot calculations, it meant that you could have the exact opposite of the correct position if you were following the calculation as it was outlined in the text for certain charts.
BD: In Pingree’s version, yeah.
BD: So half of your Lots would be wrong.
CB: Right. So this is huge as a correction to that and in presenting the original calculation from the 1st century author. And you’ve actually had a lot of success in using some of these Lots–like different family Lots especially–over the course of the several years, right?
I remember you did a workshop here in Denver at one point, a few years ago, where I was really impressed by how you showed how some of these Lots originally from Dorotheus could be used to study different topics.
BD: Yeah, I really enjoy using Lots. It’s really nice being able to read these old rules about Lots and apply basic astrological methods to them and get really concrete information. It’s very valuable because I remember back in the ‘80s, I bought a couple of books on Lots, and there were several books that had all come out, all claiming that they knew the key, the real key to Lots and what they meant–and some of them were quite out there.
But the whole reason that people were doing that is because we didn’t really have access to the traditional texts. Most people didn’t have what we have now, so they didn’t know how they could have used it, and many of the Medieval authors I think had lost touch with how to use Lots. So recovering this material on Lots allows us access to all sorts of information and topics that, in a way, we’re now learning things that have been forgotten for centuries.
CB: Yeah, and re-reading your treatment of some of it in this translation really just reminded me or pushed the realization, or made me come to the realization again or reinforced it that the Lots really were means of assigning topics to different signs in the chart, just like the houses do, except the houses always assign the same topics to the same part of the chart: the 4th house is always parents, the 5th house is always children, and the 10th house is always career.
With the Lots, it can take a topic like parents or marriage and it can assign it to any different part of the chart, depending on where it falls based on the placement of the planets in that particular chart. And in that way, they’re a wildcard factor in some sense and that’s why they’re called Lots; sort of like a lottery in the first place. But also, it becomes almost like a competing method of house division in the sense that…
CB: …you’re assigning different topics to different parts of the chart, and that’s the rationale for saying that this part of the chart signifies marriage and this part of the chart signifies children.
BD: Yeah, it’s worth not only with Lots but triplicity lords, it’s worth asking that question. In Firmicus Maternus, in his material on Lots–I think it’s Book 6–he doesn’t speak about the Lot of the Father; he calls it the House of the Father.
BD: And it makes me wonder if there was a whole school of thought in antiquity that basically did their natal readings using Lots. So they didn’t use some of the normal houses, they would do a Lot reading. It makes me wonder if something similar could have been happening with triplicity lords because Dorotheus especially is known for triplicity lords. Could that represent a kind of competing school of thought that gets brought together in the 1st century?
If you can delineate the father with the 4th house, or you can delineate it with the Lot of the Father, or you can delineate it with the Sun and his triplicity lords, those are three different approaches, and so, there could have been multiple schools of thought.
CB: Right. Totally. Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking again earlier today, which is that this really is an alternate method of doing the houses and of assigning topics to houses that sort of got conflated. We’re used to thinking, or at least I’ve been used to thinking that it all just came from either the same school or it all came together relatively quickly early on.
But when you’re dealing with somebody like Dorotheus, it’s like he’s saying from the start–and we don’t know if he’s saying this for rhetorical purposes or if it’s true–that he traveled to Mesopotamia and traveled to Egypt, and that he’s bringing together or synthesizing…
CB: …some of these different schools of astrology. When you see things like this, how you have on the one hand the standard set of houses and their significations, and then you have this other means of assigning significations to houses, it really does make you think that these were almost like separate streams or traditions or schools of doing astrology that then get merged together or synthesized in later authors like Dorotheus and Valens and other people.
BD: Yeah. So the key for the astrologer now who wants to use this material is to figure out carefully–let’s take the father for example–how does their delineation material describe the father that’s different to how triplicity lord delineation material describes the father. Some of these schools of thought might be more or less compatible and part of the key will be figuring out what’s the language that they use. So that’s why I did this little essay on triplicity lords–here is how triplicity lords differ from other things–just as I’ve written before on Lots. How are Lots different from other things?
What’s exciting to me about that is that it’s very easy to take the later approach that a lot of Medievals did, where you say, “Okay, Chapter 10, the father,” and then you just list a whole bunch of things to look at–a house, the Sun, triplicity lords, a Lot, a whole bunch of things–and you just throw it in a pot and sort of put it on a low boil and stir it, and then you see what happens; it’s very easy to go down that road. But if you’re careful with these older works, you can see that each thing gives you different information.
CB: Yeah. I mean, I did like how one early Medieval astrologer rationalized it–I’m not sure, I want to say it was Umar al-Ṭabarī–in one of the books on natal astrology. He was sort of taking it almost as like a ‘rule of three’ and saying that if you’re looking at specific topics, if it shows up once in the chart then it’s possible, if it shows up twice then it’s more likely, and if it shows up three times, in three different ways then it’s almost for certain.
Was that Umar? I’m not sure if I’m remembering that correctly. I know I have it cited in my book at some point.
BD: It sounds very familiar. I know I’ve seen that passage. And yeah, that could have been the origin of one of those rule of three ideas, but that’s, again, a derivative of this throw everything in one pot and see what happens. But I think we can tease out the specifics of what each kind of significator means and we can get more detail and more information.
CB: Sure. That way, it’s not just tallying something up, but you’re giving actual conceptual reasons for why to use one ruler over another, or what sort of interpretive distinction you would make when the ruler of the 4th house is doing something, or when the Sun as the significator of the father is doing something versus the triplicity rulers of the Sun or what have you.
BD: Right, because not every kind of information is the same. So if I know that a Lot will give me a specific kind of information then I can tease that out. But if I’m just listing a bunch of things then all of it kind of reduces to a generic sense of good or bad, which is just the very stereotype of traditional astrology we’re trying to overcome.
CB: Sure. Well, yeah, and having access to this text and a translation that actually gets to the underlying language and is sensitive to that I think takes us really far in terms of being able to do that.
All right. Let’s see. I’m trying to think of other topics that we haven’t touched upon. The only one that maybe we didn’t touch upon yet was Book 4. In Book 4, it starts dealing with timing techniques even more so. I guess the previous book did a little bit with primary directions and the length-of-life technique, but in Book 4, it really gets into annual profections and solar returns and transits, right?
BD: Yes. Yeah, this was a fun set of chapters to work on. It’s two primary chapters in the same book but they’re kind of separated out. Once you bring them together–I was able to also use an early translation by Schmidt on this transit material–you see that he’s got a coherent theory of transits–how transits and profections work together–and it turns out to be consistent and very interesting, which doesn’t come out in the earlier translations, so I’ve got a whole mini-essay on that.
CB: Right. One of the things you say in the introduction is that one of the primary things that he seems to be using is transits as triggers of some sort, right?
BD: Yeah, he uses transits to trigger things in the natal chart, but what he’s especially doing is showing how planets can activate themselves. This is a really interesting idea. That idea of activating itself, that’s my language. I’ll use the example that I use in the book.
Let’s say you have a profection that comes to a sign like Taurus, comes to the natal Taurus, and let’s suppose that the natal Saturn is in it. So natally, Saturn is in Taurus, so the profection has come to Taurus and Saturn is in it. Well, it’s as though Saturn is primed to be activated. But in order for the natal Saturn and its meaning to be activated, transiting Saturn at the Solar Return has to be able to aspect it in various ways.
So it isn’t just a straightforward, the profection comes here, so this is what’s going to happen; you would need to bring in transits to see what will be triggered and how. There are a couple of ways in which the sign of the year and planets in it can be triggered by transits, and he gives lists of delineations. So it’s a really fascinating way of thinking about this predictive technique.
CB: And then this book contains, in addition to a bunch of other firsts, some of the earliest delineations or surviving delineations of how to interpret transits of what one transit to a planet in the natal planet actually means. It’s like the 1st century version of Rob Hand’s Planets in Transit.
BD: Yeah, exactly. He gives specific examples of what it means for one planet to be transiting another, and what does the transiting planet do to the natal planet. And so, he frames it that way as a kind of general model for understanding what to do with the transit.
CB: Sure. And even the Solar Return, one of the points that you made in the introduction is that he seems to treat the Solar Return chart as if it’s like a set of transits to the nativity, right?
BD: Yes, because what you’re doing at the Solar Return is you are calculating, along with the profection, what transiting planets are able to activate the sign of the year and its lord. So yeah, the Solar Return is like a set of transits to the nativity.
CB: So the sign of the year, you’re doing annual profections where you’re counting. You’re starting with the rising sign, and you count one sign per year from the rising sign in zodiacal order…
CB: …and it comes to a specific sign that year. And then you’re saying with the Solar Return chart, you’re supposed to see where the planets are in the Solar Return chart for a given year and how they aspect the sign that’s activated that year according to profection.
BD: Yeah, how they affect the sign of the year.
BD: It’s a very simple and consistent and straightforward set of rules from the 1st century. I had never really understood this in my previous reading of the material, but now, it seems completely obvious and clear, I think.
CB: Yeah, I think it hadn’t been that clear what the Solar Return doctrine was in the Hellenistic tradition because so much of it’s just mentioned in passing. But this translation definitely helps to draw that out more, which makes it, again, another first of the earliest texts that even talks about the Solar Return as a concept or as a technique–this is it.
BD: Later people like Abu Ma’shar have long books about solar revolutions, but you always wonder, how much are they making up, how much of it is based on previous works? I think we can see in Dorotheus that a lot of the way that they approached Solar Returns really are based on people like Dorotheus, so there’s a great continuity.
CB: Sure. All right. Excellent. Well, I’m trying to think of anything else we meant to mention. So we talked about who Dorotheus was. We talked about the importance and the influence of his text, and the fact that many early Medieval astrologers all drew on it. And then what’s interesting is after that the later Medieval and Renaissance astrologers then would draw on the early Medieval astrologers rather than on Dorotheus directly.
This translation of Dorotheus is important because it’s really about bypassing the past several hundred years’ worth of tradition and going straight back to the source of many of those rules, and in some instance, that can help to clarify why those rules existed, or where they came from, or how you can use them more effectively in some instances.
BD: Yeah, because we can see in Dorotheus a consistent treatment of all of these methods, so that you’re not just opening a book and looking at a bunch of random rules. You’re actually seeing one author carefully thinking through this material from beginning to end with consistent, understandable methods that you can practice.
CB: Brilliant. All right. And so, the book ended up being bigger than you expected, right? It’s like 5- or 600 pages.
BD: No, it’s in the 400s. I have to do the final pagination. But part of that is it’s in a more readable font than some of my books have been, so it’s a slightly larger font. Also, it’s the extensive introduction and the footnotes and explanations.
In the Pingree edition, there was not a single footnote and no explanations because it wasn’t designed to be understood or read by astrologers, and so, I wanted to change that for this volume.
CB: Well, I think it definitely opens up the text a lot. And then, of course, it’s complemented by the appendix at the back with all of the excerpts of Dorotheus, which are translated from the Greek by Eduardo and yourself, right?
BD: They’re translated by Eduardo Gramaglia, who also translated the Hephaistion book and translated the forthcoming Theophilus, but it was edited by me and correlated with source material in Dorotheus by me.
CB: Excellent. I mean, this is a landmark publication. I can’t really emphasize that enough just because of my relationship with the Dorotheus text over the past 10 years and how I’ve come back to it, and how influential it’s been for me personally and how much time I’ve spent with it. I’m personally, legitimately excited about this publication, but also, again, the hundreds of different reasons why it’s the oldest or one of the oldest and one of the most influential astrological texts in the history of the Western tradition.
This is really a huge, landmark publication and an important turning point in terms of the revival of some of these older forms of astrology. So my hat goes off to you, and I really have to thank you for what you did with this.
BD: Well, it got me excited too. At first, I just thought we need a new translation, with new sentence numbering and the different chapter ordering, but as I started doing it, I started getting really excited. So before, even last fall, Dorotheus was this dry, uncomfortable book. To me, now, I’m really enjoying it and I like it a lot. And so, I hope other people will get excited about this too, because they should. It’s an important book.
CB: Yeah, I think we’ve touched upon enough important points that should raise some interest in it. And when people actually get their hands on it, they’ll realize what a wealth of information and directly-applicable rules and other things that it contains.
So what are you working on next, after this? You’re going to publish Dorotheus and that’s coming out this month, in May of 2017, and then you’re going to follow that up with the publication by you and Eduardo of Theophilus next, right?
BD: Yeah, and that will also be in May. I’m just finishing up the introduction and doing final editing now, so that will also be in May. Then following that we’ll have the Sahl volume, which is all done from Arabic, and it will be the first translation of his huge book of nativities which even draws on some Persian authors.
Later in the summer, we’ll have a new book by Oner Doser, a Turkish astrologer. People have really liked his earlier book from a few years ago on predictive methods, and this will be a book on chart interpretation. So in quick succession, a lot of things are going to start coming out.
CB: Brilliant. And then you’re going to focus also on launching your course on Medieval and traditional astrology some time before too long, this summer or later?
BD: Probably by the end of the year, and what I’m planning on doing for that is having the Sahl book as being one of the course texts. But also, if I can finish it time, I’m translating the complete Arabic book of Abu Ma’shar on solar revolutions.
People might remember I had translated, as Persian Nativities III, the Latin version of his book which was only partial. The real Arabic book is a lot larger, and I’m going through that new Arabic material and some of it is really exciting.
CB: Nice. That’s a great project, and then there’s no absence or lack of things to translate. I know you started working at one point on Firmicus Maternus, and that’s one of my personal ones that I’d definitely like to see you translate at some point, although that’s a huge, huge job.
BD: It is. I finished translating Book 7 in December, but I got kind of bottlenecked with these projects. So once I can get a few more of them done, I will go back and do a complete Firmicus.
CB: Brilliant, and Eduardo is also still translating stuff. Do you know what he’ll do next after Theophilus?
BD: We are planning on translating Vettius Valens.
CB: Wow, that would be awesome.
BD: So a lot of really good stuff in the next three years. Lots of amazing stuff will come out; hopefully, my own natal course by the end of the year, but we’ll see. I’m really excited.
CB: All right. Well, you single-handedly now have taken the reins of the revival of traditional astrology which started 20 or 30 years ago. You really have taken ahold of things and picked up some of the slack where it seemed like it wasn’t really sure what was happening or where things were going for awhile there.
But now, all of a sudden, texts are coming out again. To me, it seems like you’re spending years and months translating some of these works. Just the pace that you’ve been doing it at has been really amazing and really admirable, so definitely keep that up.
BD: Well, it’s a kind of addiction in a way. I mean, I can’t stop doing it. And part of that is when you start translating the material, and you discover new things or you understand it in a new way, it gets you excited.
As one little example of that, in the new Sahl volume, in his book of nativities, we’ve been talking for years about whole sign houses versus quadrant-style houses and what does angularity mean and this kind of thing. Well, Sahl has in his book–probably from earlier authors–discussions about what it means if you’re angular in one system but you’re cadent in another system. What does that mean?
So he’s giving specific delineations that show they knew there was a problem, they wanted to fix the problem, and here were some of their solutions. And it’s the only time I can think of these older authors actually start addressing it. He can’t be the only one to do it, there’s got to be more. And so, I feel like I have to keep going.
CB: So they’re attempting to reconcile whole sign houses and quadrant houses essentially in the early Medieval tradition?
CB: Okay. And that’ll be in the book of nativities?
CB: Brilliant. Awesome. Yeah, that’s really exciting. I’m trying to think if there’s anything else. Do you plan to leave behind anything untranslated at this point? If somebody else comes along with any ancient language specialties, or if there’s any younger students of astrology or students of astrology in general who have an aptitude with language or want to pick up one of these ancient languages, like Arabic or Greek or Latin, do you think there’s still work to be done that you’ll leave at some point?
BD: Well, we’ll see. I mean, I’m sure there is. Although I plan in some ways on slowing down in the next few years because I need other things in my life besides translation.
BD: I still have a lot more that I want to do. But listen, the work will continue. The libraries of Europe and the Middle East are filled with all sorts of treasures that our bibliographies don’t even mention, and we don’t even know what’s there. So there’s going to be work for plenty of people in the upcoming decades–but I’m not done yet.
CB: All right. But there’s good reason for people to learn ancient languages and do what you did. I mean, you’re really impressive in that sense in that you started learning Latin in high school and continued it through college, and that’s how you were able to start translating Medieval works starting with Guido Bonatti, which you published about 10 years ago, in 2006. What was it, 2006 or 2007?
BD: 2007. 10 years ago, next month, I think.
BD: It seems strange.
CB: Yeah, I’m looking at my shelf, and you’ve done like 20 books in that 10-year period?
BD: I don’t think it’s that many, but it’s close.
CB: Okay, it’s getting up there. So you learned Latin, but eventually, a few years ago, or at least earlier in this decade, you started focusing and decided you needed to learn Arabic in order to start doing some of these translations. And how you were able to translate this book of Dorotheus from Arabic is that you literally started taking courses on this subject and learned it over the course of a few years.
BD: Yeah, I’ve gotten excited enough about the Arabic, and I have enough Arabic manuscripts now that apart from Firmicus Maternus and any second editions, I’ll do a second edition of Bonatti. But apart from Firmicus Maternus, I’m pretty much going to go full-blown Arabic from here on end because there’s just so much new and fascinating stuff to do.
CB: All right. Well, I think that about brings us to the end of this discussion. So people can find out more information about your work, and they can order the book at bendykes.com, right?
BD: Yes. I don’t know if I’ll have my new site up by the time this comes out next week; I’m hoping so. But yeah, it’ll be available.
CB: Okay, excellent. Well, thanks a lot for all of the work that you’ve put into this, both for me personally and for the astrological community, and thanks for coming on the show to do this interview.
BD: It was a pleasure as always.
CB: All right. Well, thanks everyone for listening. Check out Ben’s website at bendykes.com, and we’ll see you next time.