The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 120, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guests Ben Dykes and Eduardo Gramaglia
Episode originally released on August 24, 2017
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Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released February 10, 2023
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CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. This episode is recorded on Tuesday, August 15, 2017, starting at 3:32 PM in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 120th episode of the show. For more information about how to subscribe to the podcast and help support the production of future episodes by becoming a patron, please visit TheAstrologyPodcast.com/subscribe. In this episode I’m gonna be talking with Benjamin Dykes and Eduardo Gramaglia about their new translation of the work of the 8th century astrology Theophilus of Edessa. Ben and Eduardo, welcome to the show.
EDUARDO GRAMAGLIA: Thanks for having me. Thank you very much.
BENJAMIN DYKES: Glad to be back.
CB: I’m really excited. I think I say this at the top of just about every episode, but in this episode I genuinely mean it that I’m actually very excited about this episode because this is a landmark publication that the two of you have done. And I’ve been wanting to see a translation of the works of Theophilus of Edessa for at 10 years now, since 2006-2007, especially after David Pingree died in 2005, who had been working on a critical edition of Theophilus. I kind of didn’t think we would ever see it happen any time in the near future or potentially even in my lifetime, but you guys have come through with an amzing, new, landmark translation of essentially all of the existing texts that survive from this important pivotal figure from the 8th century. So, first, I just wanted to thank and congratulate both of you for pulling this off. How long have you been working on this project? I guess it’s been a few years now.
EG: About three years, four years, Ben?
BD: I think maybe three, maybe three.
EG: Three, right, yes.
BD: We started right after we finished Hephaistion of Thebes: Book III, I think.
EG: Exactly, right after Hephaistion. I remember myself translating the first paragraphs—from 11th volume of the CCAG—the first works of Theophilus on military inceptions. That was the first thing we undertook.
CB: Right. And that translation of Hephaistio of course was also a landmark publication, which, again, was another thing where I was not sure that we would ever see it translated any time in the next few decades, and then you guys came out of nowhere with that. You guys are really taking up the mantle and picking up the slack where some translations had kind of dropped off for a while. But now suddenly we’re getting some of these very important texts to fill out some missing pieces of the Hellenistic tradition where there’s some interesting, especially in terms of horary astrology and the development of horary astrology. I feel like this work with Theophilus and the previous work with Hephaistio really helped to clarify some things in terms of that, and we’ll get into that later.
So maybe before we get started, one of the things I wanted to start with, Ben, you’ve been on the show a bunch of times, including one of my first episodes. But Eduardo, since this your first time on the show, I actually wanted to you introduce you to the audience and talk a little bit about your background because you have an interesting story in terms of your work as an astrologer and a translator. What’s your backstory? Where are you from? And how long have you been doing astrology?
EG: Well, I was born near Córdoba, in Argentina. And when it came to this city, at a young age, I remember my mother starting astrology, and I suddenly realized I really had an interest in that. And so, well, I was self-taught as most of us are, in the beginning at least. But I was following a musical career—I’m a pianist—so I’ve been in a way doing both things and practicing astrology for 20 years. Well, I started teaching astrology, and then in 2004, as far as I can remember, someone said that I should go to a congress in Buenos Aires. So I wrote about the Lot of Fortune and Lot of Spirit, an essay, and went there, and I was surprised how people listened to me. I wasn’t prepared for that. And immediately someone from Kier, the publishing house from Buenos Aires, came and told me to write a book. That was my first book on Hellenistic astrology. I called it Hermetic Astrology. And a few years before that I had been to a Hindsight intensive and I was talking to Bob Schmidt. Well, he encouraged me to learn Greek and Latin, so that’s what I did too.
CB: Do you know what year that was that you went to that Project Hindsight intensive?
EG: Yeah, in 2001. That was December 2000-January 2001, it was a Hindsight intensive in Cumberland.
CB: So that was pivotal turning point for you.
EG: Exactly, yes.
CB: Because that was your first real exposure to Hellenistic astrology. And Schmidt also encouraged you to learn Greek and Latin at that point.
EG: Well, that was the real shift from modern astrology to ancient astrology. And in a way that was very coherent with all of my background because I had always been interested in ancient languages, in ancient history, ancient music. So a thought like that really was my line of thought of research, and I could, in a way, do everything altogether. In a way, my pursuing a career in classical philology was with the aim of translating astrological texts mainly. Although in your training you learn—as one can expect—all the classical authors in Greek, in Latin. Well, there was quite an effort. I went through that and I’m about to graduate now, and it was high time I did.
EG: I really want to devote all my time to translating astrological texts. As for training, you never get trained enough; now I’ve realized this with Theophilus. In a way, something I really consider worth mentioning, compared with Hephaistio, this translation posed a different set of problems. Hephaistio, a couple of years ago, had been made from a critical edition; there was a previous editor had faced several problems that we had to face. And then with the manuscript thing and the biography books that I had to read and all that, you realize that you never get trained enough at university. I think that’s a reality in any part of the world.
CB: Yeah, and I think we’ll get to some of that in terms of the specific challenges that you guys ran into with this. But it’s good just to know in terms of your background that you went to that intensive or that conclave at Project Hindsight in 2001, and you were encouraged and sort of inspired to learn ancient languages at that point. So you went back to school and you started learning ancient Greek and studying Hellenistic astrology and studying the texts in their original languages. And then in 2007, I think that’s when you published your book on Hellenistic astrology.
EG: 2006, I think. It was December 2006, my first book on Hermetic astrology came out.
CB: And that’s pretty much the first book in Spanish on Hellenistic astrology, right?
EG: Right. As you know translations go on and it’s an ongoing process, and if I had to write a book I would do it in a very different way. But that happens—translations proceed, you change your mind on many things—but I really think that was the first book written in Spanish on the subject.
CB: Sure. So that’s very notable. And then you’ve been in the process of finishing your PhD in classical philology over the course of the past several years while working on some of these translations of Hephaistio with Ben, and then later this translation of Theophilus. And I got in contact with you, or we got in touch, I think, back in 2009 or 2010. And that’s when we started working together, when I launched the Hellenistic Astrology Website, and you did a translation that we released through that as a PDF of the works of Serapio.
CB: Right. Anyway, that sort of brings us up to the present time where you and Ben have developed this really great working relationship together. And part of the genesis of this project, or part of the background was the academic David Pingree who was sort of this towering figure in the field of the study of ancient astrology, and especially the transmission of ancient astrology and the recovery of the surviving texts in their original languages, especially in Greek and sometimes in Latin from that time period, from 2,000 years. He had announced his intention to edit all of the surviving manuscripts of Theophilus and publish them in a critical edition—I think he announced that he was working on that back in the 1960s or 1970s—but then when he passed away in 2005 that work had not been finished or published.
And so, I remember there was another scholar named Stephan Heilen who had picked up Pingree’s work on Rhetorius of Egypt, which has also not finished being edited, and he was gonna bring that to completion. And I remember asking him years ago if anybody was working on Theophilus, and he said, “No, I don’t think that anyone is.” And so, I kind of lamented that that would never be finished, but I was aware that Pingree had some of that stuff in his personal files, or he had some version of a text that he was working on. And Ben, just a few years ago, you actually found out that his papers were available, of the work that he was working on, on Theophilus, right?
BD: Yeah, there’s an American philosophical group that keeps his papers archived. And I wrote to them asking for copies of his papers on Theophilus and some other people and so they sent that to me. And it so happened that part of that was an article that he had written shortly before he died in 2001 where he started identifying some of the manuscripts that the Theophilus material was found in, many of which are in the CCAG. Well, I suppose all of them are in the CCAG, or at least are referenced there.
CB: Sure. And the CCAG is the big catalog of all of the surviving manuscripts that exist in different libraries, largely around Europe, of ancient astrological texts essentially, right?
BD: Yeah, what they did is—and I know Eduardo can talk about what it was like to translate this material. But what the CCAG does is scholars would go from library to library and they would go through the manuscripts, and they would write down titles of each chapter that was on each page and who wrote it. Essentially, a lot of the CCAG is a list of a table of contents of all the astrology works they found in all of the manuscripts they looked at all the way from Russia to Spain. And luckily, in the later volumes, when they were listing the chapter tittles for Theophilus, they would say, “See also this Italian manuscript for this chapter.” So in that way, taking a clue from Pingree’s article, we were able to put together a complete listing of all of the manuscripts that have all of the surviving chapters of all of his works in Greek.
CB: Okay. And then that made this project kind of unique. While there were some critical editions in the CCAG of some of the works of Theophilus where previous scholars had compared some of the manuscripts and then tried to reconstruct what they thought the original was, you guys, for this translation, largely worked directly from the manuscripts themselves, which were handwritten texts where copyists had copied the texts over. And this is where Eduardo’s background in philology really came in handy because you actually looked at those handwritten manuscripts and then in many instances translated directly from those. Is that right, Eduardo?
EG: Right. Well, the translation of Labors Concerning Military Inceptions was done from the CCAG, right? The famous catalog of ancient astrological writings in Greek whose chief editors were of course Franz Cumont and Franz Boll. We had a published and fixed text available already, right? People tend to think that the CCAG is a collection of texts, but as Ben rightly explains the most important section of the CCAG is the catalog, page by page, of thousands of manuscripts. So in the appendix you can find edited texts in Greek, of course, from which we drew on, right? And the first part of the works of Theophilus were translated from those texts. But of course that posed several problems, but Ben maybe remembers that we found in that monumental description of each codex, page by page, in several cases there was wrong numbering and there were problems. And I guess Ben must have hated me each time I emailed him with the news of further missing pages to be ordered and therefore waited for, right? So there was a great and heavy job to do with regards to even the translation from the CCAG.
But then the rest of the texts had to be translated from manuscripts, right? So that was a great job by Ben trying to spot and find all those manuscripts, all those pages, order them. And so, once we had them that was not so easy. I think that the concern underlying all this effort is what is called textual criticism, right? When you translate from a critical edition, you see that the editor had done the dirty work, right? So you have the fixed Greek texts with a critical apparatus at the end, at the bottom of the page where you can see the variants in several manuscripts. And sometimes you see that even Pingree had selected or made choices that didn’t have astrological sense. You don’t only have to be a translator, you have to be an astrologer to make it complete, right?
EG: So all the textual criticisms I was talking about deals with all of the uncertainties of the translation. Hephaistion was translated from a critical edition published by David Pingree himself, and it was he who helped to make all the decisions regarding the fixing of the text, which was available for us to just set about translating, right?
EG: We had to of course consider variants, and more than once we agreed that options not taken into account by a such a wonderful scholar as Pingree was made more astrological sense. But he had done the dirty work, so to speak, meaning the decoding of the handwritten text—which contained almost illegible abbreviations, symbols—and more than once we had to deal with symbols that contradict our modern ones. I remember the symbol of the South Node used as the North Node, or the symbol for the Sun with the meaning of Midheaven and all that. So with Theophilus, or with a great part of the text from Theophilus, it was up to us to proceed to decode and decipher, right?
CB: Right. And one of the nice things that you guys include at the beginning of the book is a picture of one of the manuscripts that you used, which is a Byzantine manuscript. And you can see the text in Greek, handwritten by somebody, which itself I’m sure is a challenge and is part of your training, learning how to write and how to understand different handwriting styles and how to decipher that. As if it wasn’t hard enough just to read a text in an ancient language already, on top of that you can see when they mention a planet or a sign of the zodiac, they’ll use a glyph for that. So they’ll use the symbol for that rather than writing out the word each time, which is kind of interesting and also I’m sure an additional hurdle if the symbol isn’t altogether clear.
EG: Well, as a matter of fact, the picture you see there is, I think, from the Angelicus Graecus. That’s 29. It’s a manuscript. And that’s here Pingree himself comes in because other notes that Ben got from Pingree—handwritten notes by Pingree himself—were based on that manuscript. Although it wasn’t a great use in direct sense—there wasn’t as much of Theophilus there as we thought at first—but I used that as a training ground. I think I got to understand that Angelicus Graecus and all its abbreviations and symbols thanks to those notes from Pingree. And when Ben told me about the possibility of having manuscripts to translate from, I really got frightened, I won’t deny that. Really you never get trained enough at university. But then I spoke with someone very knowledgeable about this in Buenos Aires, a professor at the university, and he told me that each manuscript is a world in itself. Once you open that codex it’s everything new for everyone. So it’s always self-training. You translate and you learn to translate by translating. It’s an ongoing process, so it’s only a matter of self-training. But those notes from Pingree really helped.
CB: Sure, sure. So you guys got the Pingree papers, and they didn’t necessarily end up being as useful or containing as much as you thought they might initially, or that we assumed that they would when we thought that he close to or had done a lot of work on the critical edition. But some of the notes that he did write still ended up being useful in terms of interpreting the text and once you actually had to do the dirty work yourself getting into it. And, Ben, that’s also something you’ve been learning over the course of the past 10 years as well, but focusing on the Arabic texts in terms of learning how to read actual manuscripts and things like that and not being able to work with critical editions, right?
BD: Definitely. That’s especially true of the Arabic manuscripts, and a lot of the Latin too. The Arabic does not really use abbreviations and symbols in the way that the Latin and Greek manuscripts do. But yeah, handwriting styles change from country to country and from century to century. There are some Latin manuscripts that I just will not translate because I hate the handwriting and I have enough things to do apart from translating them. But I wanted to tell just a little funny anecdote when I was preparing the table of manuscripts to give to Eduardo and I was sending him manuscripts. I wanted to make sure we had at least two manuscripts for every little chapter, so that we weren’t just relying on one source for some little chapter of Theophilus.
BD: And as Eduardo said sometimes the CCAG gave the wrong page number, so I would have to order new pages. Or in one case, an Italian library burned down after that volume of the CCAG was published, so you couldn’t get that manuscript. But there was one case where Eduardo was telling me the two manuscripts were saying different things and something was missing, and I didn’t understand it, so I think we got on Skype and he was telling me which page to look at. And he says, “Now do you see it?” And I said, “No, I don’t see it,” and I was looking at a blank page. And he says, “That’s the point. All that’s there is the chapter title. The entire text had been erased for some reason.”
CB: Oh, wow.
BD: And so, we didn’t know who did it. I think the CCAG people, the editors might have noted that it was missing. So these are the strange surprises that you can have. The text is supposed to be there and someone has erased everything.
CB: Right. This is actually really interesting to me. But now I’m realizing maybe we should back up a little bit and introduce who Theophilus is and talk a little bit about why this is significant, and then maybe circle back around to complete this discussion about the manuscripts and stuff, which is really interesting to me. But I want to make sure we do a good, all-around job of introducing what you guys have done here and who this text comes from, who this astrologer was from the 8th century. So, Ben, you actually wrote a really amazing historical introduction to this translation where you talked not just about what we know about Theophilus and his life, but you also talked about the historical context of the time period in which he lived.
And while normally some people might roll their eyes or might become kind of bored by the reciting of the history of that time period of the Middle Ages, in the 8th century, during the early Islamic Caliphate, this was actually interesting to me. I mean, I like history already, but I think most people would interested by this because Theophilus was actually a significant astrologer who was living in and was sort of involved in some really pivotal events that were taking place in world history during that time period in the 8th century. So could you talk a little bit about who Theophilus was, when he lived, and situate his work from a historical standpoint?
BD: Yeah, he was a Christian astrologer born in Edessa, which is in Syria, in ancient Syria. He was born about 695 AD, and this would have been during the Umayyad Caliphate; and I will give a thumbnail sketch of that. But I’m glad you liked the introduction because we don’t know a lot of hard-and-fast facts about him. He lived from 695 AD to 785, so that’s about 90-years-old. When Eduardo was translating and I was editing, I saw that so much of his material in some books had been adapted from Dorotheus, and I was a little disappointed because I thought, “Oh, everything here is just derivative.” But as I was doing the introduction, I started putting the dates together because he sometimes refers to events where he was. And I lined up the dates along with the dates of the caliphates and various wars, and the transition from the Umayyad Caliphate to the Abbasids, and put together some statements that he made and I realized, wow, he was actually a very important guy, at a very important time; a very important astrologer. He was an important astrologer to an important caliph during one of the central transition periods between late antiquity and the Crusades. Do you want me just to sketch briefly the period that we’re talking about?
CB: Yeah, just a very brief sketch of the rise of the Islamic Empire and then the transition point that he was in between the first set of rulers, or kings essentially, and the second set, and how he was essentially the leading astrologer for some of those kings.
BD: Right. So Muhammad died in 632, and he was followed, for about 30 years, by four successors—the word ‘caliph’ means ‘a successor’—until finally one branch of his family, a distant branch of his family, ruled by a certain governor in Syria, in Damascus, took over and created a dynasty. And since they claimed descent from a relative of Muhammad’s named Umayyah, they called themselves the Umayyads; so that’s where that name comes from. And they ruled for about a hundred years, 90 years, until 750 AD. So by 750 AD, Theophilus was already in his mid-50s. So he grew up during and was trained and was living during the Umayyad Caliphate.
Well, there were some problems, and the problems were that the Umayyads were ruling in the West from Damascus, they were ethnically mainly Arab, and these Umayyads and Arabs were the ones with the money and the power. And this was a problem because there were people in the East—in Iraq and Persia—who felt left out: there was no sharing of power, there was a lot of resentment, there were some civil wars. And among these people in the East was a group of people that claimed descent from Muhammad from a different relative named al-Abbas, and so they called themselves the Abbasids. So it’s two rival political families is what we’re talking about. And shortly before 750—as the Umayyads were running into lots of problems and civil wars—the Abbasids basically marched in and took over. And at a key battle, on a river called the River Zab in modern Iraq, the Abbasids won. They won a key battle and it seems that Theophilus was at that battle because we have a chronicle of his of the period, and he’s quoted in this chapter that describes the battle.
So he was already working apparently for the Abbasids during this key period. And the reason this is so pivotal is because it was the Abbasids who founded Baghdad and the rest of the Abbasid Caliphate and dynasty. This is the famous dynasty that had the so-called ‘House of Wisdom’. It was the same people who hired Masha’allah and Umar al-Tabari and Kanka, the Indian, and so on; so these were the people who were around at this same time. But for most of his working life, prior to moving to Baghdad, he was a military astrologer for, apparently, the Abbasid family, and he went on campaigns with one of the sons who later became a caliph. And so, he was helping to plan the battles and time the battles and say who would win and create records of what happened during the battle. So he had actual battlefield experience. He wasn’t just locked up in a dusty room with manuscripts in the capital.
CB: Right. And so, one of the works that you guys translate in here is titled Labors Concerning Military Inceptions, and this becomes one of the first Western astrological texts, one of the earliest texts that gives instructions for doing things like electional astrology for military matters and for war. And while some of it is clearly him—he’s basically taking earlier electional rules from authors like Dorotheus and then transforming them into ways that you can apply this to military matters. It wasn’t just theoretical. This was somebody who was actually the court astrologer that was going around with the kings at the time and was instructing them and giving them advice on timing of when to initiate battles and when to depart for major journeys and things like this.
And you actually have a really funny quote in your introduction, Ben, where you were talking about astrology during this time period, especially how someone like Theophilus would have practiced it. You said, “One did not do this for the romance of travel. Caliphs did not want to hear about the evolution of their consciousness.” and that’s it. So your point is that he’s not doing psychological astrology or Evolutionary Astrology or something like that. He’s actually giving really crucial advice for troop movements and for initiating wars and things like that to the people who are literally ruling the empire at the time.
BD: Yeah, I mean, if you’re a contemporary astrologer talking to an average person, let’s say, who’s depressed, and you get something about your prediction or your interpretation wrong, well, maybe the worst that happens is your client stays depressed for a while. But if you’re a military astrologer and you get it wrong, the army might be massacred, and there are vivid descriptions of what they would do with the captured prisoners. And yeah, you might be responsible for the caliph dying, for yourself being killed, for the soldiers being crucified by the victors. This is very serious business.
CB: Sure. And there’s actually also a humorous story, in the introduction, that survives about one of the concubines of one of the caliphs getting mad at Theophilus, which is kind of a funny story, and it actually helps in terms of dating when he died. But it’s interesting because it probably reflects the reality that Theophilus would have had a lot of control over scheduling and departures and other stuff, like trips and battles for the entire army or for the military and for the ruler. And so, it’s sort of like an ancient parallel to the modern analogy of Joan Quigley in the 1980s having a lot of control over the schedule of Ronald Reagan, US president Ronald Reagan, but this was a much more serious type of matter in the 8th century when it comes to Theophilus.
BD: Yeah, I think probably a lot more people than the concubines were angry that the caliph al-Mahdi would travel and do this or that whenever the court astrologer said, probably like with Joan Quigley.
CB: Yeah, and that’s what’s funny because the people that worked for Reagan were also pissed off that there was this astrologer that was basically controlling his schedule and was saying when they would assign important treaties and things like that. And you probably had a very similar thing with Theophilus because the king really was paying attention to when the astrologer said when to do things and when not to do things. And as all of us know—anybody who’s done electional astrology—if you want to get a good election, sometimes that has you doing things at weird hours or sooner than you might otherwise like or later than you might otherwise like. And certainly for normal people that can look very awkward or can be kind of troublesome or kind of annoying if you’re getting up at three o’ clock in the morning in order to start a journey or start writing a book or something like that.
BD: Yeah, and I just want to make sure that we will cover some of the reasons why his life is interesting—it’s what does show up and what doesn’t show up in Theophilus. I think before the book was translated we all imagined what we might find and what techniques he might use and there were some surprises. So I don’t know if you want to talk about that now or wait till later.
CB: Sure, definitely. Yeah, so two things, one, let’s mention very briefly that this is a translation of essentially all of the surviving works of Theophilus, and there’s four primary texts that you guys translated in this volume. One is titled Labors Concerning Military Inceptions, the second is titled Collection on Cosmic Inceptions. There’s a third that’s sort of provisionally titled Apotelesmatics, and a fourth titled On Various Inceptions. So a lot of it has to do with electional astrology and horary astrology. And one of the reasons why Theophilus was expected to be so interesting is because I had spent a lot time doing a research project about 10 or 12 years ago on the origins of horary astrology. I noticed, like a few other people had noticed, that there’s an abundance of people practicing horary astrology in the Medieval astrological tradition, but then if you go back earlier in the Hellenistic tradition, there’s this curious absence of horary texts.
And Theophilus was interesting because he’s one of the latest authors who’s writing in Greek, but he’s already in the Medieval period right at the point where Arabic astrology begins to take over, and right at the point where you have some of the earliest Arabic astrological texts that already have horary in them. And so, before you guys translated this text, I was excited about it because I thought it would finally answer some of the questions that we have about horary astrology and how it developed and where it came from. And to some extent that’s true, that it does, although it partially does so through an absence of containing certain things that were otherwise expected in the text. So that might be a good point of discussion in terms of other things that we meant to touch on. Or is there anything else that’s sort of preliminary that we should touch on first?
EG: Well, something that crossed my mind while you were talking is the fact that Theophilus lived during that transitional period—between the Hellenistic and Medieval traditions—has not only historical, but you can imagine, linguistic implications. Now the text is Hellenistic, in rather late Greek, to the extent of using a few words that are more likely to be found in a modern Greek dictionary than in the classical lexicon; I do not mean by this that it is modern Greek though. But in these late compilers of the tradition one should also be prepared to find quotations from more ancient authors like Dorotheus of course. And in more archaic or epic Greek, direct transliterations of words from Arabic, that is a very interesting thing. Ben put in the footnotes where we found a Greek, sorry, an Arabic word, talel. That was in, I think, On Various Inceptions, chapter 9.8, which is word that turned out to be a Greek transliteration of the Arabic daleel, as Ben indicated.
So a late text poses many problems. There are many others like there might have been scribes along the way who took it upon themselves the task of improving the composition by making marginal comments, writing what we call ‘glosses’, where the phrases will supposedly explain a word, but by doing so, they intrude into the text. In Theophilus, we came across many an instance of this kind of problem. We have long descriptions like those in Apotelesmatics, chapter 9 through 14, of planets transiting or passing through each part of the signs, for instance. Then we found that maybe one or two signs had been omitted, or even worse, one sign partially had the text belonging to the other. So you find that the one who copied the text made mistakes—the typical mistakes that even have names, French names, saute du même au même; that’s ‘jump from the same to the same’—where the scribes skipped part of the text. So there were many problems. The fact that Theophilus lived during such a transitional period in history had implications on the text, of the Greek text itself, right?
CB: Sure. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It’s hard to categorize him ‘cause he’s writing in Greek, and he’s drawing on a lot of earlier Greek astrological authors like Dorotheus and Ptolemy. So you’re not sure if you should categorize him as the last of the Hellenistic astrologers, or, conversely, the first of the Medieval astrologers. He’s basically living right at the beginning of the Medieval astrological tradition in the 8th century right when Arabic becomes the dominant language that new astrological texts are written in, and right when you see this influx and this coalescing of different astrological traditions from Greek and from Persia and a little bit from India coming back to the West as well to create the unique synthesis that resulted in Medieval astrology in the late 8th and early 9th centuries. So he’s an interesting figure because he’s kind of in-between and you’re not really sure which tradition to place him in.
BD: He’s kind of in-between in everything, whether it’s culturally, linguistically. Like Eduardo said, there’s a paragraph of Greek and then all of a sudden he’s transliterating an Arabic word. Now did he actually write that paragraph? Or is that someone else putting an Arabic version of Theophilus back into Greek?
BD: What is that? Another interesting example is we hear mainly in Medieval authors about cazimi, or being ‘in the heart of the Sun’, but there’s very little information on how do you interpret that. Well, in fact, it only appears a couple of times in the ancient Greek literature. In one of the works here—I want to say Apotelesmatics—Theophilus gives the interpretation of all three superior planets in all of the signs when they are ‘in the heart of the Sun’. He gives actual interpretations. Now he’s doing mundane astrology, but he’s giving specific delineations for each one, which you never see. But when you look at and compare the delineations, you see that he is borrowing from Dorotheus’ material on transits, so that Mars ‘in the heart’ in the sign of Venus—or let’s say in the sign of Jupiter—is different from Jupiter being ‘in the heart’ in the sign of Mars. So when you compare Dorotheus’ material on transits with this, he’s almost looking ahead to an emphasis on cazimi, or being ‘in the heart’, but he’s reaching back to use Dorotheus’ transit material for the interpretations.
CB: Right. So in that way he’s very much involved in synthesizing some of the ancient traditions with some of the newer concepts that had been introduced later. ‘Cause cazimi was a concept, as far as I’m aware, that shows up in Rhetorius for the first time, and he almost seems to treat it as if he’s the one who first observed it. And Theophilus is taking that concept and then merging it with some of the earlier delineations from Dorotheus.
BD: Yeah. And unfortunately, one of the sad things is—it’s exciting that we have Theophilus—it turns out maybe because he was considered an older astrologer from the previous era, a lot of his work was not passed onto the Arabic writers. So even though he’s using Dorotheus in many cases—he’s adapting Dorotheus to military astrology—most of that military astrology didn’t get passed on. So this is, in a way, a window into a guy’s real-life work on the battlefield that no one else really picked up on. I think that’s kind of exciting, but also sad that it didn’t get passed on.
CB: Sure. Yeah, ‘cause he was coming at the end of an era because he was writing in Greek. And his background is kind of interesting culturally. So he was from Edessa, the ancient city of Edessa, which is located in what is now southeastern Turkey in modern times, kind of near the border with Syria. And that was an interesting area where in some of the cities around there, you had the survival of a lot of pagan learning and things from earlier, during the Roman Empire, which had sort of died out in other cities at that point, right?
BD: Yeah, and one of the most notable places was the city of Harran, which still, even in Abu Ma’shar’s time, had planetary magic temples. And some of the Medieval Arab writers described that the temple of Jupiter had a geometric shape that was different from the temple to Venus or whatever. So at the time there was a still a lively tradition of pagan and Neo-Platonic magical work and astrology and astronomy.
CB: Right. And that also became a center for the production of things like astrolabes. And that then brings us to the next interesting topic that’s insightful and interesting about Theophilus, which is that in some of those cities, they had the survival of some of this older pagan learning and teaching of astrology or Neo-Platonism or magical traditions or what have you, but then sometimes it was merged with some of the prevailing religious trends in terms of Christianity or Islam. And Theophilus himself is actually really notable because he identified himself as a Christian astrologer. And so, I was trying to think back, and Theophilus really has to be one of the first notable Christian astrologers whose work has survived and that we’re aware of in the present time.
‘Cause I was trying to think of if there was anybody else in terms of Greek or Latin astrological authors from earlier centuries during the Roman Empire or during the Hellenistic tradition who we know of, but the only person I could think of was Firmicus. But Firmicus Maternus may have actually converted to Christianity later in life, and he may have given up astrology at that point—it’s not really clear—which would make Theophilus really one of the first notable astrologers who was Christian and tried to defend astrology within a Christian context. And part of the texts that you translated have some of this surviving discussions about that topic, right?
BD: Do you want to talk about that, Eduardo?
EG: Well, suddenly I remembered that introduction where he speaks about the days of creation. He quotes from the Bible, from St. Paul, from both the Old and New Testaments. And then I suddenly remembered those questions; that’s the other thing—I think you talked about that in your interview about Dorotheus. There are questions regarding other vows or prayers or even things of a magical nature not very linked with Christianity. Of course there was a great syncretism in early Christianity and everyone knows about that, right? But suddenly I remembered that many of those questions began with a phrase, ‘when someone asks you about something, such-and-such-a thing,’ and that brought up the issue of horary questions being present in the text, right? When someone asks, you decide that that’s the consultation chart, the moment you should take, and not the moment of the event, for instance. But yes, yes, regarding Theophilus’ Christianity, you find one of the great ambivalences in Theophilus. You know Theophilus is a very ambivalent author. He’s early Medieval, but very late in antiquity, in Greco-Roman tradition. But you know the Abbasids, the Umayyads—not all things correctly fit together, right?
BD: In the introduction to Apotelesmatics—is where Eduardo was mentioning—he links the biblical description of the days of creation and assigns a planet to each one as a way of putting astrology in a more cosmic and religious context. And what I find interesting about that too, is that introduction is dedicated to his son whose name was Deucalion. And he says to his son, in the first paragraph, “I know that you are more interested in mathematics and other areas, but I feel the need to explain this to you to round out your knowledge, and to make a contribution to your soul.” So Theophilus was working for these Muslim caliphs, but he believed that understanding the cosmic nature and religious nature of astrology was important for your well-being, your spiritual well-being.
CB: Right. It was kind of interesting how he was addressing these books to his son, and he was kind of encouraging or trying to get his son to take astrology more seriously despite some of the criticism he refers to, both from skeptics and from religious authorities alike. And then he tried to justify it in a biblical context by referring to things like the Three Magi and saying that they were clearly astrologers who followed a star or some sort of celestial portent to find the birth of Jesus. Then he talk a lot, as you said, about the planets associated with each of the days of week and tried to make an analogy between that and the days of creation in Genesis.
BD: Well, the story doesn’t change, does it? We, astrologers, are still defending ourselves, on the one hand, from the skeptics, and on the other hand, from the religious…
CB: Right. Yeah, we’re always in that unenviable position of getting it from both sides. But that, again, is what makes Theophilus so interesting. This is almost a thousand years before William Lilly wrote Christian Astrology, and we have one of the first astrologers who is openly Christian and trying to defend it on those terms. Although there are references to astrology, or allusions to astrology, and there’s astrological motifs in the Bible and in the New Testament—like the story of the Magi seeing an astrological portent that indicated the birth of the Savior—and there’s sort of a potential for openness or some astrological themes in Christianity in the 1st century, after the 1st century, mainstream Christianity becomes increasingly hostile towards astrology to the point that once it’s legalized by Constantine in the 4th century astrology starts getting banned. Astrologers start getting exiled and their books start getting burned and things just turn very ugly for astrologers towards the later part of the Roman Empire, which then also entered a steep decline, so that in the Roman Empire, especially in the West, it sort of disappears, and then along with that comes the loss of learning and literacy and other things that are necessary for the practice of astrology.
So Theophilus then is this unique figure because a few centuries later, or after the fall of the Roman Empire, he’s somebody who is living during the time of this new, emerging Islamic Empire that’s about to burst forth into this very productive and very celebrated period, when it reaches the height of that empire and there’s a great flowering of learning and philosophy and religion and science and everything else centered on Baghdad in the late 8th and early 9th centuries. We find this astrologer who is a Christian and who still believes in astrology and isn’t against it, but he’s trying to defend it on those theological terms. And also, the other thing that’s interesting from a historical perspective is we don’t see him resorting to what some of the later Medieval theologians and philosophers and astrologers would resort, which is trying to make some distinction between natural astrology and judicial astrology. But instead he is a practitioner of horary astrology and all of the different branches, and he’s just trying to justify it by citing Genesis and citing Matthew and other stuff like that.
BD: In terms of history, another way to frame it too is that his colleague Stephanus—around the time that Theophilus died in 785—took a bunch of books and went back to Constantinople, to the Christian Empire, the Roman Christian Empire, and reported that astrology was basically dead. There wasn’t much going on in the Byzantine Empire anymore. But when Theophilus was alive, and just before he was born, when the Muslims conquered Alexandria, and conquered the Levant, they instantly had access to all of these books of antiquity. So they adopted all of this material and it in a sense cut off access to the Byzantines to those sources. So whatever internal politics were making it harder to do astrology in Constantinople, the various invasions by the caliphs preserved a lot of the Greek texts and Theophilus had access to them. So in a way he was not touched by whatever was going on, whatever anti-astrology stuff was going on in Byzantium.
CB: Right. And it’s interesting that there was that openness during the early Islamic period to other religions of people who were ‘of the Book’, or whatever the phrase was. As long as you were practicing either Islam, Christianity, or Judaism—which were viewed as being interrelated or connected—then it was okay. And so, you see this openly Christian astrologer working for an Islamic king at that time in the 8th century. And you mentioned Stephanus. That’s interesting because if that story is true, I mean, that was actually one of Pingree’s theories as well, and it seemed like you accept it in the book. Maybe we can get into talking a little bit about some of your criticisms of David Pingree and some of his theories surrounding Theophilus because that takes us a sizable part of your introduction.
But one of his theories—I think it’s actually a contested theory because there’s some academic literature where they debate the identity of this mysterious figure named Stephanus. There’s a sort of debate over whether there was one Stephanus or whether there were a few different Stephanus’ that lived a century or two apart. But Pingree thought there was one main Stephanus who was a student of Theophilus and that he lived in Baghdad with Theophilus towards the end of his life. But after Theophilus died, his student Stephanus took a bunch of Theophilus’ books and manuscripts and moved back into the Byzantine Empire where Greek was still the common language, and that led to a reintroduction of a bunch of astrological texts to Byzantium. Perhaps including Theophilus, which could actually explain why some of Theophilus’ works survived in Greek where they didn’t necessarily in Arabic.
BD: Yeah, the Greek manuscripts that we have, a lot of them were copied in Constantinople. Isn’t that right, Eduardo?
EG: Right, right. Although they’re found in different libraries: the Vatican, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence. They’re scattered all around Europe, but many of them were copied in Constantinople, right?
CB: Sure. So it’s interesting that that might be partially due to this unique factor of a student of Theophilus taking some of his teacher’s texts back to Constantinople—leading to that reintroduction of astrology and a little flourishing during that period—and then they survive through the centuries to today.
BD: Maybe. Who knows? Maybe someday Eduardo will want to translate material by Stephanus. I don’t know how much is left of his work.
EG: Well, it’s the edition by Van Hoesen, right? It was published. There was a very famous horary question on an invasion in Greek Horoscopes, right?
BD: That’s right. But I have a feeling, if the experience with this Theophilus book is any indication, I have a feeling Pingree’s very nice, clean, linear story about Stephanus being responsible for all this might turn out to be wrong and it might turn out to be much more complicated. But there was a guy named Stephanus who said, “I arrived here in Constantinople during this year and there was hardly anyone doing astrology. So I decided to create a new ephemeris using an updated calendar so that we can practice astrology here now.”
CB: Right. And that was in the year—what was it? 795 or something like that?
BD: Yeah, maybe 796, something like that. So within 10 years of Theophilus’ death.
CB: Sure. So let’s talk a little bit about that because that takes up a large part of the introduction. Pingree—his primary background was as a philologist and he spoke a dozen different languages, including several ancient languages, like ancient Greek and Latin and Arabic and Persian and Akkadian, and a bunch of other stuff, including a number of modern European languages. But he tried to reconstruct the history of astrology as best as he could, and one of the things that he often focused on or one of his underlying theories that he explains in one of his books, From Astral Omens to Astrology, is that some of these techniques are obviously very artificial or very conceptual and not necessarily derived from obvious astronomical phenomenon or obvious naturally-occurring things, but instead they’re schematized systems that have clearly been developed or invented by somebody.
He might say the domicile rulership scheme (where you have this symmetrical assignment of each of the planets to the signs of the zodiac) or the planetary joys scheme (which assigns each of the seven traditional planets to one of the houses) are somewhat artificial. Therefore when you see things like that show up in two languages, it doesn’t mean that both of those cultures independently discovered those things, but instead it means there was an interaction where at some point that concept or that technique was transmitted from one culture to another. And he used that as kind of an overriding theory for reconstructing the history and transmission of astrology, but in the process, he often ended up focusing on singular transmissions and singular texts that were transmitted from one culture or one person to another in order to explain how astrology got from one place to another over the centuries.
And so, one of the things is he had a very elaborate story that he had developed over the course of his career, which I know you’re very skeptical about, Ben, where he thought that Theophilus of Edessa had a copy of the works of Rhetorius of Egypt—who was a late Hellenistic astrology that wrote in Egypt somewhere around the year 500 or 600—and Theophilus had his works sometime around the 750s. And then Pingree thought that Theophilus, when he moved to Baghdad, personally handed off a copy of Rhetorius to the Medieval astrologer Masha’allah. And that was how he explained why Masha’allah seemed to reflect some of Rhetorius’ techniques; it was because of this literal ‘handing-off’ of one text between two astrologers. But that was something that you specifically are critical of, and you sort of take aim at that theory in the introduction, right, Ben?
BD: Yeah, the question is if some author is clearly drawing on a previous author, where did he get the book? Well, Pingree, to make a long story short, said that there was a book written by Masha’allah, which goes, in Latin, under the name The Book of Aristotle; I translated it some years ago. And he says, “Well, there’s passages in here, they’re obviously from Rhetorius. Where did Rhetorius come from? Theophilus.” So he explains the transmission of ideas and texts in terms of a personal hand-off of a particular manuscript between two people; and there’s all sorts of problems, and this basic idea then became the framework for some other theories about the dating of Theophilus’ works and this sort of thing. Once I started putting together the chronology—and also, because I was translating Sahl’s book On Nativities at the same time—I began to be convinced that this theory is totally wrong.
CB: Sure. And so, you don’t deny that the early Medieval astrologers had access to Rhetorius, but you don’t think that Theophilus himself was the one that handed it off to them.
BD: Right. In fact, I think that no one—except maybe Theophilus—had a copy of Rhetorius. This is probably more than we can go into today, but you tell me. Let me put it this way, there’s material in this Book of Aristotle—this so-called Book of Aristotle—by Rhetorius. So whoever wrote that book had lengthy material from Rhetorius. But here’s the interesting thing—there is no Arabic book of Rhetorius.
BD: None of the Arabs ever mention him. Don’t you think they would have translated this very important manuscript handed to them by Theophilus? Well, it so happens that this Latin Book of Aristotle was translated from a lost Arabic version. It turns out that Sahl himself probably knew Masha’allah and he quotes the book at length in Arabic. And all sorts of material that we know is Rhetorius—he says it’s from a guy named al-Andarzaghar who we know was an earlier Persian astrologer. So I think it’s much more likely if we add up all the evidence—and I do this at length in the introduction—Theophilus had some version of Rhetorius. Sure. But the way that the Rhetorian material made into Arabic was because al-Andarzaghar maybe a century before had a copy of Rhetorius and wrote The Book of Aristotle himself, and it was this Book of Aristotle that was passed onto people like Sahl and Masha’allah and others. It’s a book by al-Andarzaghar. It wasn’t a hand-off of Rhetorius by Theophilus. That’s my view.
EG: Let me tell you how uncomfortable it is to talk about Pingree in the sense of suggesting that he could have distorted something. But I really agree with Ben that distilling a whole cultural transmission down to one man and one book is something that really is off the mark, right? So we all have—especially those who study philology—a great, even excessive respect for this great scholar, David Pingree, but this shouldn’t mean that he never went wrong.
BD: I’m glad you said that, Eduardo. And I hope no one—and I say this in the introduction—I hope no one thinks that I’m just trying to pick on Pingree because we all have great respect for Pingree. I think that when it came to the historical explanation, he had an idea early on about Theophilus and the idea sounded so good that he kept the idea. And maybe if he had translated Theophilus, like Eduardo did, and edited it, maybe he might have started to have doubts too. Or if he had translated the Sahl book On Nativities, he might have said, “Oh, well, maybe this didn’t happen this way.” But I think the story—and we all do this, I’m sure—the story was so good that he stuck with it.
CB: Sure. I mean, I think it’s important because we talked about this with Dorotheus as well where Pingree had already translated Dorotheus, but when you learned Arabic well enough you were able to start checking his translation. And especially a year ago, for example, last summer, when you and I went over the chapters where Dorotheus deals with the lots, we discovered that Pingree had made some major errors in his translation back in the 1960s, and that motivated you to want to do a completely new re-translation of the text in order to fix some of those errors. And that was great, and there’s nothing wrong with doing that sort of critical analysis because the problem for so long is that Pingree was like the only guy who was working in the history of astrology that new Arabic. And so, there was nobody to compare or check his work or anybody even really talking about it for decades, and so that kind of critical analysis is good. I do want to say that I still feel a little bit uncertain about whether we know for sure what happened and if some aspects of some of his theories could still be correct, simply because we don’t know.
I mean, one of the things that is interesting and presents a new thing in your book is that Theophilus himself, when it comes to mundane astrology, was off working with one of the other caliphs under the Umayyad—how do you pronounce it?
EG: Umayyad, I think, yes.
CB: So he was working with them. And then eventually things shifted, and there was this shift towards the Abbasids, who were drawing on some of the older Persian political and cultural traditions. And they created that new capital of Baghdad, and they had a group of astrologers pick the electional chart, and then that became the new capital, and then eventually Theophilus, later in his life, moved there. And in one of the texts that you guys actually translated, he starts talking about mundane astrology, and he gives this little history. about these four different ways that astrologers have traditionally done mundane yearly predictions. And the first one he talks about is one of the few that shows up in the Hellenistic texts where they make predictions based on the heliacal rising of Sirius each year. And he criticizes that because he says that’s primarily about the rising of the Nile River, and so that should only be relevant to Egypt; and then he lists others. And finally he gets to the fourth one, and he says, “This is a technique that comes from the Persians, and I just learned it after I moved to Baghdad.” And so, Baghdad was the place where you have this renaissance of different astrologers, and especially a number of astrologers that came from Persian backgrounds who were practicing astrology at that time.
And that’s really fascinating because the technique that he outlines at that point is essentially the use of Aries ingress charts, which became such a mainstay of Medieval and later Renaissance astrology, that it’s something you think was sort of always around. But instead, Theophilus himself said that this was a new technique that he learned at a specific point in his life when he moved to Baghdad and presumably started interacting with other Persian astrologers. So the question is, was that a one-way transmission where Theophilus moved to Baghdad and learned some things from other astrologers? Or could some of the other astrologers have learned anything from Theophilus at that point? I mean, is that a reasonable question to raise?
BD: Well, some of his material was translated into Arabic. And in the appendices I translated material by Theophilus from Arabic, and in some of them it shows that there were other works that he wrote that we have never heard of, so probably something was passed on. But in a way it’s a political question and a biographical question because Baghdad was founded in 762. So he would have been in his late 60s when he was learning these techniques and probably meeting these other astrologers for the first time ‘cause the had been off in the wars. So it’s an interesting speculation. What would he have thought about people like Masha’allah? Was this a strange new technique? Did he appreciate what they taught? We don’t really know.
CB: Sure. And there’s a lot of ambiguity just in terms of that and in terms of what happened and what the exchange was. And Theophilus had been working for the rival political dynasty, which met its end during his lifetime.
BD: Well, I don’t know if was. I think it’s more likely that he was always working for the Abbasids while they were still just a noble family in the East. I have a feeling he didn’t change sides, he always probably worked for them. So when they came to power, he went along with them. That’s my feeling, but we can’t currently prove that.
CB: Sure. But I think one of the quotes that you give said that he was associated with the previous dynasty by some of the biographers.
BD: It was the Umayyad period. But the Umayyad period also included the Abbasid family who happened to be in the East. So I think that bit about him being an astrologer of the Umayyad period just means he was an old-timer from the previous era.
BD: But the question of whose loyalty he had I think is a different more complicated story.
CB: Sure, sure.
BD: Can I ask Eduardo—in that work where he talks about learning the techniques in Baghdad, he gives both the Greek and Syrian names for Baghdad in the introduction that he’s writing to Deucalion.
BD: I mean, what did that say to you about the fact that he has to use two names to describe it?
EG: Well, I don’t know what to say, Ben, but I was sort of surprised at that.
BD: Maybe it reflects the fact that nobody really knew where Baghdad was and it was still very new. It wasn’t the Baghdad that we know now.
EG: Why is he trying to explain it this way? Why not just mention ‘Baghdad’? But this is the sort of thing that when you translate, there’s certain things that sort of escape consideration because you try to render the translation as best as possible. And then it’s strange because when you read it again, it’s not always easy to apply all the astrological knowledge to round it out. You try to round it out from a linguistical point of view. And, you know, Ben, that many times I have asked you many questions about what you think about what this could mean, right? I remember something about the ‘loosening of the bonds’, which maybe it sounded strange to me, but maybe I was not able to see the forest from the trees. So there are many things that I didn’t stop to consider and that’s why I have many questions about that, right?
I was thinking, while you were talking about all the new things, the unheard-of material—at least for me—that you can find here in Theophilus such as the influence of paranatellon stars in every inception. I hadn’t heard of someone using fixed stars and co-arising stars in inceptions and questions, for instance, so I translated that. And then maybe several weeks after that I wondered, “Well, what is that? Why is he doing that with all the Egyptian names for the stars, so that we had to add footnotes for the name of each star?” And the title says ‘Questions’, also, so that translation made me ask myself many questions.
CB: Sure, sure. Yeah, and that’s one of the things you’ve mentioned many times, Ben. It’s funny how once you’ve translated the work, and then you have a few months after to let it settle for a bit, then you can actually read the text and maybe start thinking about the techniques. You are translating it, and you’re making commentary and footnotes as you go, but sometimes it’s not until a little bit later that you look at the text and then can sit down and really start trying to get a grapple on the full scope of what’s there and what you’ve just produced, or what the text itself reveals.
BD: Yeah, Eduardo will send me a translation, and then I go into the editing process and I add some sentence numbers and just kind of read it for clarity. There might be questions that he asks me, and then there will be questions that I ask him, like, “What do you think this means?” But when you edit, even then I might edit several pages and then stop and think, “Well, I wonder why he was talking about all that?”
BD: Sometimes the editing comes first and then you start to think about, “Well, I wonder what all that meant? Why was he doing all that?”
EG: And actually that has to do with the way the material is presented in the manuscripts also ‘cause many of those questions arose when we were dealing with the comparison between two different manuscripts. Indeed, this thing about the manuscripts, what we’re talking about, and the problems that it posed, there aren’t always straightforward copies of complete works found; there are excerpts in anthologies, epitomes, and paraphrases. You were talking the other day that Dorotheus got passed on under Dorotheus’ name. I remember the third work of Theophilus’ On Various Inceptions which was found to be particularly disorganized and confusing in many ways. And many times we have two or three or even four copies of the same work, so you are forced to deal with sometimes very serious textual discrepancies, right?
Maybe it is not the translator, but the astrologer, as we are talking, who ends up solving problems. Astrological texts are the typical kinds of texts that are subject to alterations, right? Maybe the scribe does not know astrology, or sometimes you notice the writer himself does not seems to deeply know the tradition he was commenting on. There are other common sources of trouble, like abbreviations, as we’ve said. In antiquity, abbreviations were widely used in technical texts in commentaries. These are technical texts and they’re subject to all kinds of alterations. So sometimes you read something then the text stops and then another thing starts, and you never know what’s happening, right? So you never know what is happening here. Has a chapter I translated finished or has something new started? Is it the same thing? Maybe you don’t have punctuation marks, so you don’t know where a paragraph finishes and the other one starts.
BD: Or maybe a scribe got up and went to the window to open up the window and get some fresh air, and the breeze blew a page over.
EG: Right, right.
BD: And he just started again with the next page. There’s that kind of thing too.
EG: Right. Yes.
CB: I saw one Medieval manuscript that survives—I think it’s in a library in England—and you can see the scribe was like halfway through writing it, and then you see some cats paws in ink. Have you guys seen that?
CB: The scribe’s cat walks across the manuscript as he’s copying it. So backing up just a little bit, the two main things that this work talks about primarily are—well, there’s three main branches that he focuses on, which are mundane astrology, electional astrology, and horary astrology. And so, this seems like it may possibly technically be one of the earliest surviving works that talks about the use of the Aries ingress charts within the context of mundane astrology. And that’s a technique that was known to have been developed in the Persian astrological tradition and then it just sort of shows up in the early Medieval tradition already, and Theophilus becomes then one of the first authors who talks about it in one of the texts that you translated here. But another development that’s really interesting is it becomes one of the first Greek texts that really talks about the use of horary astrology.
So this is a long-running research project for me, and it’s something that I’ve talked to both of you about pretty extensively in the past, and it was a very important component of your last translation, which was book 3 of Hephaistio, which contained many paraphrases and many excerpts from the work of the 1st century astrologer Dorotheus. And in that text you guys actually identified one or two definite references to the concept of horary astrology that would have existed in the original Dorotheus text. And what was interesting is that as a result of your translation, we were sort of able to establish that in the Dorotheus text it seemed like the horary chart was the third- or the last-best thing that you could use if you didn’t have the inception chart for the original time that the event occurred, or if you didn’t have the original inception chart for the time that the person became aware of the event. Then the astrologer might cast a chart for the moment when a client comes to them for a consultation and they would cast that chart and then attempt to use that as a sort of last, best-case scenario in order to figure out what the outcome or what the result would be of the thing that the person was inquiring about.
So even though we have that reference already in Dorotheus, it’s not expanded upon very much, and in most of the Greek astrological tradition we don’t see a ton of discussion about horary astrology. In fact, the earliest horary charts that I’m aware of don’t show up until the 5th or 6th century where you have a few charts from the Palchus collection that shows up in Greek Horoscopes. But then suddenly in Theophilus we have him clearly talking about horary questions and casting horary charts, and that’s in and of itself a new and sort of unique development. So it makes Theophilus one of the earliest, more or less, complete works on horary astrology that survives in the Greek astrological tradition, but even as far as the Medieval astrological tradition goes as well, right?
EG: There are quite a few chapters that begin with phrases like ‘when someone asks about this matter’; that’s to say, the type of question. Now you have other chapters—one chapter in On Various Inceptions is “For the setting up of the cauldron,” and the opening phrase is ‘if you go on a military campaign’, that’s to say, the event. So you have both of them, right? But at least three or four chapters state that the chart is cast at the moment of someone asking the question.
BD: It seems maybe that horary astrology is really suitable for a working astrologer who has either one or more people always asking them questions. I can imagine Theophilus sleeping in his tent, in the winter, somewhere in Khurasan on campaign, and he gets woken up by a guard who says, “Hey, we just got this letter. The caliph wants to know if the information in it is true. Come on, cast a chart.” And you have to be ready at any time to figure out how to adapt natal and electional material to unplanned questions that come to you. So in a way doing horary is very suitable for someone in his line of work, even if he didn’t totally invent this way of adapting the material.
CB: Right. And that’s actually a really important point because this is something we see some of the early Medieval astrologers do, but it’s even more prominent in the Theophilus. A large part of what he’s doing is actually adapting rules from Dorotheus that were originally for electional astrology and how to elect different charts, or how to determine the outcome of an event based on casting a chart for when it begins. And a lot of what Theophilus is doing in this chapter is adapting those rules from Dorotheus to answer horary questions or a question that’s been posed to you at a specific time essentially. And that’s something we see a continuation of in the early Medieval tradition, right, Ben?
BD: Yeah, and he doesn’t use some of the formulaic phrases and techniques we see among the Persian and Arab astrologers. I mean, one example that I use in the introduction is we know that he was brought on campaign because a local governor in Persia by the name of al-Jabbar decided he was going to become an independent ruler on his own. He was a vassal of the caliph, but he was a rebel, so they had to go take of al-Jabbar. Well, there is a chapter in Theophilus and it’s a question of something like, “Will the king overcome the rebel?” Well, the material comes from Dorotheus and it’s something like, “Will I capture the thief?” It’s from an election on recovering stolen property and capturing a thief.
CB: Right. It’s like if a thief steals something from you, and you know the time that the thing was stolen and you cast a chart, then you can identify who the thief is and what the goods were that were stolen.
BD: And where to find him. So we don’t know that he did this, but it’s easy to believe that the caliph comes to Theophilus and says, “Hey, we have a rebel, al-Jabbar. I want to know, can we defeat him, and how do we do it?” And Theophilus says, “Well, gee, what part of Dorotheus might address something like this?” And so, he turns that electional question or event chart into a horary question.
CB: Right, and that’s incredibly important. And also, I was really excited and I’ve been looking forward to you guys completing this project for a long time because I thought Theophilus—as this transitional figure between the Hellenistic and Medieval tradition—would be the missing link that would show the final development of horary astrology before we get to Masha’allah and Sahl, where horary is like a full-blown practice at that point. And what was interesting though is that Theophilus kind of filled in the missing piece, but he partially filled it in through what’s not in the text more so than what’s in the text. ‘Cause what’s really interesting in most of the electional rules in Theophilus is that he’s still using that very old electional framework from Dorotheus where you’re primarily just focusing on the four angular houses and things associated with those four angles. And that’s how you deal with almost electional charts and by virtue of that that’s all.
So when he started converting elections into horary questions, a lot of his approaches to horary questions just involve looking at the four angular houses. So that’s much different than the later horary approach where you get a horary question, and then you look at the ruler of the Ascendant and the ruler of the house in question and you see if they’re applying to each other. That’s not very prominent in Theophilus. Instead he’s focused on this older four-angle approach. But the fact that that’s not very prominent in and of itself may be a clue about how horary developed and what tradition it developed from. The fact that you don’t have ‘transfer of light’ or ‘collection of light’ and some of those other dynamic horary-oriented concepts in Theophilus may mean that that was another one of those things that perhaps he wasn’t exposed to or was part of a tradition that he didn’t have access to until he moved to Baghdad.
And then you have astrologers like Masha’allah and Sahl using those concepts and that may mean that those concepts came actually from the Persian tradition, which is also where that other concept of the Aries ingress chart came from that Theophilus himself said he didn’t know until he move to Baghdad and was exposed to the work of the Persians. So perhaps some of those horary techniques that were more dynamic and more focused on looking at the perfection of different house rulers were also one of those things that were being developed by the Persians that Theophilus didn’t have in the major of his works up to that point.
BD: Yeah, it’s interesting to consider that. Theophilus was adapting Hellenistic inceptions to horary while it seems that the Persians separately were developing related but different techniques for handling the same stuff. They were drawing on Dorotheus too because there was a Persian translation of Dorotheus. But yeah, he was working on a form of horary that was different from what the Persians had been doing. And there could have been a third or fourth kind of tradition that we’ll never know about. Different countries and different cultures may been trying to do their own thing and accomplish the same goals, but for a variety of reasons our familiar Persian style won out.
CB: Sure. And it’s an assumption—partially on my part—that it would be a Persian approach. When I read your translation and I saw that Theophilus did not have concepts like ‘collection of light’ and ‘transfer of light’, and he was not very focused on looking at the perfection of different significators in horary—whereas a few decades later Masha’allah and Sahl have those concepts in their texts, and they’re crucial cornerstones to their approach to horary—it meant that either those concepts were older concepts that were being practiced in the Persian tradition for a century or two, maybe a few centuries prior to that, that came in through the Persians into the work of Masha’allah and Sahl through that route, or conversely, they could have been newer concepts that were developed in the 8th century perhaps not long before Sahl and Masha’allah. And that’s why they don’t show up in the work of Theophilus because they were new concepts that were introduced at that point.
I don’t think we can necessarily answer those questions, but those are two potential scenarios where it could kind of go either way. Although it probably seems more likely that perhaps it was something that Masha’allah and Sahl were drawing on from an older tradition, from the Persian tradition, just because they don’t claim to have invented those techniques. And if they didn’t invent them, but they’re already in their works, then there’s this question of, well, who did? Who did come up with those concepts?
BD: Well, like the old movie, Young Frankenstein, when the characters go down into the basement and they find a book written by the original Dr. Frankenstein, the title of the book is “How I Did It.” What we need is the book by the astrologer who invented those things called “How I Did It.” I think that might be one of the only ways that we can ever answer that question. But who knows. Just like the Nag Hammadi scrolls in Egypt, maybe some peasant somewhere will be taking out his cow for a drink of water, and the cow will kick over a stone and there will be our answer.
EG: Another set of manuscripts can be unearthed.
CB: Right. Or the original Nechepso and Petosiris manuscripts from the Hellenistic tradition.
EG: Oh, that would be great.
CB: That’s another set of lost, foundational texts that probably contained a lot of answers that we don’t know. Well, I, for one, personally hope that those missing manuscripts are discovered sometime within our lifetimes so that I can get you two to translate them while we’re all still around. ‘Cause I think you guys would do a great job if we did have a good set of manuscripts like that to translate.
EG: Well, we have a lot of manuscripts. I suppose, according to what we have talked about, I think our next project will be Valens, which wouldn’t really involve getting immersed in manuscripts. But we’ve been gathering quite a few complete manuscripts to draw on, and I think in the future it would be a great idea to undertake translations from them.
CB: Sure. So you guys have been kicking around the idea of doing Valens perhaps as your next project?
BD: Yeah, a complete Valens.
CB: Yeah, that would be great. I mean, that is the single most important surviving text from the Hellenistic astrological tradition from the 2nd century. So it would be nice to have a good translation of it that takes into account all the work and scholarship and other things that have been done in printed form and in circulation.
EG: Well, yes, Pingree. Well, there’s another one before Pingree. I don’t know what Ben would say about that.
BD: Well, I would say I’m sure you would be happy to work from a nice, beautiful, printed critical edition instead of having to work with all of the manuscripts, so Valens will probably be easier and faster because of that.
EG: Even so, going through the text edited by Pingree—when I was writing Hermetic Astrology in Spanish, I came across at least three mistakes; mistakes that depended on the choice of manuscript. But Pingree’s choice did not make astrological sense; that’s what I found.
CB: Right. There’s an error also.
EG: We really need all of the critical apparatus at the bottom of the page, maybe, who knows, to check on the manuscripts also. I don’t know. Maybe if the need turns up.
BD: And Eduardo has said this several times—yeah, I think it’s important that astrologers who think astrologically are working on this material. Because there might be word choices that make a great astrological difference, but if you’re not in tune with the astrology, you might not pick the right word, or you might translate something that doesn’t make astrological sense.
CB: Yeah, I mean, there was one error in Pingree’s critical edition—that was not in Kroll’s edition—where Valens gives the actual formulas at one point for the Lot of Eros and the Lot of Necessity that he uses, but Pingree omitted them. He bracketed them as being later insertions because they’re not the same as the Lot of Eros or the Lot of Necessity that Paulus gives. And Pingree didn’t seem to understand that there was this variant tradition for the Lot of Eros and Necessity that predated the Paulus versions, and he thought it was a later insertion or something. Anyway, we’re getting towards the end of this.
The very last little point—even though it’s kind of late to introduce it—that I wanted to touch upon just briefly that came out of this translation is there was a new development in the ‘Saturn as feminine’ saga or research project that’s been going on for like a year or year-and-a-half now, ever since our mutual friend, Charles Obert, wrote a paper pointing out that in the Arabic text of Dorotheus that Saturn is treated as if it’s feminine. He argued that this might not be an error, but it actually might make conceptual sense as an alternative or a variant tradition in the Hellenistic tradition that hasn’t been recognized up to this point. And one of the new developments that’s come now out of your translation of Theophilus is that Theophilus is one of the only other later astrologers, besides Dorotheus, who seemed to follow Dorotheus in treating Saturn as feminine at certain points as well, right?
EG: Right. Yes.
BD: Yeah, there’s a text in On Various Inceptions and in some of the Arabic passages that say that, and that goes along with a couple of passages in Dorotheus and also Sahl. And the Yavanajataka even treats Saturn as neutral. So there was some tradition of treating Saturn as feminine. And what I found also interesting when I was translating the Arabic material is that there was a scribal note where the scribe says—this was in Dorotheus, I’m sorry. He says, “This is how it reads in the source copy I’m working from, but I think this is wrong.”
CB: Right. So the scribe himself was surprised. He’s reading it and it says Saturn is feminine, and he’s like, “What is this?” And so, he says, “This is what the text says, but I don’t know what’s going on here.”
BD: So multiple authors, from multiple sources and multiple languages and cultures sometimes say that Saturn in feminine. And I think that’s really interesting and it gives a greater symmetry to the gender of the planets too, which is a very Greek kind of thing to do.
EG: Let me ask you something. That was in On Various Inceptions, right? I think that there was a sentence where you read that ‘Saturn fosters feminine births’, right?
EG: I think that it was there.
BD: Yeah, it was there, and that’s from the Greek. And then in the Arabic versions of the same material, it also says that.
CB: Although in the Arabic author that you translated, doesn’t the Arabic author make a comment saying that this is weird as well?
BD: Yeah, there’s variations, and then al-Rijal makes a comment about it. He says, “In the matter of Saturn and Mars, I say that the majority of the ancients differed on this statement about them so that they made Saturn be male and Mars female, and in that, they saw evidence for each one.” So there was a greater awareness among astrologers that not everyone agreed Saturn was masculine.
CB: Sure. And I do want to say about this that we should be cautious still. Even though Theophilus now provides us with a second major source from the ‘Greek astrological tradition’ that seems to treat Saturn as feminine, we still have this underlying question. One of the things you talked about in your introduction, Ben, is that we don’t know for sure what version of Dorotheus Theophilus was drawing on because there’s three different possibilities. He could have been drawing on, one, the original Greek text. He could have been drawing on, two, some sort of later paraphrase or version of the Greek text, or an abridgment. Or three, he could have been drawing on a Persian translation of Dorotheus, which we know contained a number of errors, and sometimes those errors caused weird deviations in the later Medieval astrological tradition, like with the triplicity rulers.
In the entirety of Dorotheus, he treats the triplicity rulers and Valens and all the other Hellenistic astrologers—they treat the triplicity rulers by dividing the life into two parts. But then there’s this one weird textual error in the Arabic version of Dorotheus from the Persian translation where it seems to say that you use the triplicity rulers to divide the life into thirds. And as far as I can tell this entire Medieval tradition of dividing the life into thirds rather than the earlier two parts comes out of what appears to be a textual error. And so, I still think we need to be very careful about this Saturn thing because if Theophilus was drawing on the Persian translation of Dorotheus, and if that was just a textual error originally, then this could just represent Theophilus himself following what was a mistaken error in the textual transmission rather than something that was widespread and independent in the Hellenistic tradition. Because so far we haven’t been able to find any other Hellenistic authors who repeat this treatment of Saturn as feminine like the Arabic text of Dorotheus does.
BD: Yeah, so if you have error in on manuscript, and everyone uses that manuscript, then the error gets transmitted.
BD: So we should be careful. But I will say that this statement about Saturn indicating feminine births, it appears in Theophilus, it also appears in the same context in al-Rijal, but the Dorotheus passages on this are in a totally different context. So this bit in Theophilus about the feminine Saturn is not taken from Dorotheus.
CB: What do you mean? But he takes hundreds of other passages from Dorotheus. Otherwise Dorotheus is the main source.
BD: But it’s not obviously from Dorotheus because that sentence does not appear in the surviving Dorotheus. Maybe it’s a Persian thing and it’s a mistake and got passed on. But it could also be a more widespread thing. We don’t know yet. We need that book that says “How I Did It.”
CB: Right, right, exactly. And I still have faith that we’ll find that book someday. I’m not saying it’s not interesting. It is very interesting and I have a little section about it in my book that I published earlier this year talking about it and talking about some of the different evidence. I don’t know for sure either way, so that’s the only reason I’m still encouraging caution because it could go either way. This could be Theophilus genuinely representing this alternate, variant tradition that was outside of Dorotheus, or it could just be Theophilus repeating a mistake that came from one of the Arabic manuscripts. We’re not quite sure yet.
EG: Well, if we’re talking about chapter 9 of On Various Inceptions, and whether the baby is masculine or feminine, this chapter is found in two manuscripts, ‘L’ and ‘Y’. It’s very interesting because those two manuscripts posed a very particular problem. One of them is found in the Vatican Library and the other one in Florence, in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana. Sorry, no—one of them is a ‘W’ philosophical one. And the ‘W’ manuscript is the one which I considered to be almost flawless in the sense that the other manuscripts had many omissions, many repetitions, and what are called ‘glosses’, and even ‘lacudi’, that’s to say, had all those little missing texts because of many reasons, right? And my first conclusion was that one came from the other. But no, they have to be copied from different sources. But both manuscripts agree that Saturn is feminine, right? So there are different sources with that concept of Saturn promoting feminine births. Although things that you can find as mistakes in one can be corrected by the other, all mistakes in ‘L’ are corrected by what you can read in ‘W’; then both agree that Saturn is feminine. And apparently I think they came from different sources. So there were different sources ascribing or saying that Saturn was feminine.
CB: Right. And to be clear, I doubt at it at this point. One of the things that’s important that you guys have now shown by publishing this translation is that Theophilus himself treated Saturn as feminine or indicating the births of females. And that in and of itself is historically significant because it means there was an astrologer later in the tradition who was following at least the Dorotheus lineage to some extent, who took that statement seriously and treated Saturn as feminine in the Medieval tradition. And so, at least by the 8th century there was some genuine tradition that was doing that. I guess the question is where did Theophilus get that. Did he get that from the original Greek text of Dorotheus, and therefore, he knew that the original Greek text of Dorotheus said that? Unfortunately we don’t have the original Greek text of Dorotheus, so we can’t check it. Or did he get that from the flawed Persian translation of Dorotheus where that could have just been a scribal error?
For example, elsewhere in the Persian translation of Dorotheus at one point it says that Saturn does better in night charts and Mars does better in day charts, at least in Pingree’s translation it said that. But that was clearly the reverse of what the actual rule is where Saturn actually does better in day charts and Mars does better in night charts. So even though it was clearly a genuine tradition that Theophilus followed, we don’t know how he came to that conclusion and if he came to it from the original text of Dorotheus or from the alternative, potentially flawed text from the Persian transmission. All right—unless you guys have any other thoughts about that—maybe that’s a good place where we can start to wrap up.
BD: Let’s just issue a call for Egyptian peasants to take their cows out more often ‘cause that’s the only way we’re gonna find the original Dorotheus in verse, Nechepso-Petosiris, and all the rest.
CB: Right. And maybe some lost chapters of Valens.
EG: That would be a miracle.
CB: Or those chapters in Ptolemy where he starts talking about the outer planets and doing Evolutionary Astrology or something like that. All right, well, awesome. So I think we’re coming up on two hours for this discussion. So we had a lot to talk about. I’m surprised that we got through as much as we did, so thanks guys for joining me today to discuss this. People can order the book. You can go to Ben’s website at BenDykes.com, and you’ll find more information about the book, and you’ll find out where you can order it. So BenDykes.com for that. And Ben kindly sent me three copies of the book that we’re gonna be giving away through a raffle to people who support the show on Patreon later this month. So if you’re one of the people who supports this show through Patreon, and you win the drawing, then I’ll be sending you a copy of Theophilus later in August. And Eduardo, where can people find our more information about your work? You have a website, right?
EG: Yes, but we’re still working on that because we’re going to change some things. So you’ll very soon hear about us. The website we still have is Collegium Astrologicum. You can write that on the internet and that’s how we’ll turn up, right? Collegium Astrologicum. This is a site that I share with another astrologer, Patricia Kesselman from Buenos Aires.
CB: Okay. And I think the URL is Astrologicum.com.ar, and I’ll put a link to that in the description for this episode as well.
EG: Thank you.
CB: All right, well, thank you both. Thanks a lot for joining me today. I really appreciate it.
EG: Thank you for having us.
CB: All right, and thanks everyone for listening, and we’ll see you next time.