The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 145, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guest Levente László
Episode originally released on February 27, 2018
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released December 28, 2022
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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 Wednesday, February 21, 2018, starting at 1:30 PM in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 145th 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 astrologer and academic historian Levente László about the origins of horary astrology and the question of when and how it developed. Hi, Levente, welcome to the show.
LEVENTE LÁSZLÓ: Hi, Chris, thank you for having me.
CB: Yeah, I’m really glad and excited to have you on for this discussion because this is a favorite, as you know, and a longstanding topic of mine and something that I’ve been researching ever since 2005-2006, and it’s something that you and I both I think have spent a lot of time studying, which is this question of where does horary astrology come from and when did it develop, right?
LL: That’s right, that’s right.
CB: So tell me first maybe—or tell my audience a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? And what’s your background in astrology, and what’s your educational background?
LL: Yeah, well, originally I’m a classical philologist and, you know, I just studied the Latin and Greek languages. And I started to pick up Hellenistic and also traditional astrology around 2000; I would say it was in 2003 when I started studying it. And that was a lucky period because in those days a lot of prints of old books appeared on the internet, so they became available; and eventually also some manuscripts appeared on the internet, so I could study them firsthand. And I could see that was a really promising area of research because although there have been many thoughts on this topic, there are a lot of opportunities to do research.
CB: Sure. So your original background was in classics and the study of ancient languages, like Greek and Latin?
LL: Yeah, that’s right, that’s right. So a couple of years ago I decided to pick up some Arabic, too, but still maybe I can say that my main area is Greek and Latin.
CB: Okay, brilliant. And you’re from and you still currently live in Hungary, right?
LL: Yeah, that’s right. I live in Budapest, Hungary.
CB: Okay. So you went to school specifically for the study of this, and even though you were originally interested in just classics, you decided that the study of astrology and the history of astrology was an interesting historical topic that you decided to specialize in.
LL: Yeah. Well, at the time I started my university studies, I had already been aware of some astrological teachings. So I met astrology sometime in the early ‘90s, but, you know, of course that was modern astrology.
LL: But then I just came to realize that traditional astrology was really different from modern astrology and that it should be a field of mine, you know, to do research on.
CB: Sure. And right now you’re actually working on a PhD related to this topic or that’s broadly related to this topic of ancient astrology and the origins of horary astrology, right?
LL: That’s right. Yeah, I am doing a PhD program related to the history of science. And when we are talking about the history of science we need to define ‘science’ in contemporary terms; I mean ‘contemporary’ with the era we are doing research on. So astrology in that time was a science. It was considered to be a science even if nowadays there’s some skeptics who don’t agree with this. And this is a part of human culture and its history is really interesting, and that’s why I decided to enter this program. And my area is late Hellenistic and early Medieval astrology. So I’m dealing with texts, with manuscripts, and I hope that I can get some interesting new results.
CB: Sure. So especially focusing in on—through the study of classical philology—the surviving manuscripts of the astrological tradition and sometimes comparing them and seeing how, you know, different surviving manuscripts of the same texts are the same, or in some instances, different, and then trying to reconstruct what the original was, or trying to piece together the history of astrology based on what survived essentially, right?
LL: Yeah. Well, I guess what you are talking about is textual criticism. And this is really hard work because if someone decides to make a critical edition of these texts, they should spend a lot of time collecting manuscripts and collating manuscripts and studying them, so it’s really tough. So what I am doing actually is reading manuscripts, but not with the aim of making critical editions but with the aim of extracting some information from them that was previously unavailable.
CB: Okay, got it. That makes sense, and that brings us to our main topic today. And I was trying to figure out how to frame this topic or how to frame the issue, and I think the easiest way to do that is just to first talk about how over the past thousand years in the Western astrological tradition—especially in the practice of astrology in Europe for let’s say the past thousand years, since the late Medieval period—there’s been basically four branches of astrology: there’s mundane astrology, natal astrology, electional astrology, and what has come to known as horary astrology. And horary has been a very popular practice for centuries at least from the 8th through the 17th centuries; it seemed to be one of the major practices or one of the major branches of astrology.
But then the issue is that knowing that now in retrospect that horary was so popular, when you go back earlier to the Hellenistic tradition to the tradition of astrology that was practiced in the Mediterranean region, from the 1st century BC through the 7th century or so CE, one of the things that immediately becomes apparent is that horary doesn’t show up almost at all; rarely, if ever, do you see references to horary astrology. And this immediately raises this question—for most people that start studying that tradition—which is, why is that? Or was horary practiced at that point, or was it not practiced? Was it only developed later? And that’s really the crux of the issue that we’ll be talking about today and that you and I have been researching for more than a decade now, right? Is that basically how the issue came up to you? Was that your initial introduction to it? How did you become aware of this problem?
LL: Well, I guess pretty much the same way as you because it was also interesting for me to see that while horary astrology seems to have been prevalent in Europe—in Medieval and early modern Europe—actually if someone looks at the literature extant from Hellenistic times there are no references to horary, at least in this form as we know it. The question is a little bit more complicated than it seems to be; the main question is how we exactly define ‘horary astrology’.
CB: Right, exactly. And maybe that would be a good starting point to set a foundation for this discussion. And my basic definition of horary, or the way I think it’s typically defined is that horary astrology is the practice of casting a chart for when a question is typically posed to an astrologer, and then the astrologer tries to determine the answer or the outcome to the question based largely, if not solely, on just that chart that was cast for the moment of the question. And from a technical standpoint they often focus on using the rulers of the houses and their application or lack of application in order to answer the question and what will happen basically in the future.
LL: Yeah, I guess that’s right. I would add a third factor to this because when we’re talking about horary astrology we regard it as the fourth branch of traditional astrology. But we should ask the question whether it is a necessary condition. Should we define horary astrology only in terms of a different branch, or could we go back in time and accept the fact that it might have existed before but not as a different and separate branch?
CB: Sure. Yeah, and I think that’s the point that we’ll get to. One of our observations or one of the arguments or things—a conclusion, let’s say, that we’ve come to is that horary probably originally developed out of the third branch, which is electional or inceptional astrology. But certainly it does seem in later times that horary became eventually a well-defined or a distinct branch on its own of basically answering questions as opposed to electional astrology, which is typically more about choosing an auspicious time to initiate a new venture or undertaking or something to that effect, right?
LL: That’s right. But I’d guess that maybe this dichotomy is a little bit exaggerated because in a lot of cases when we’re talking about later branches of astrology, we oppose electional astrology with horary astrology. But if we go back in time we will see that in the Hellenistic branch—which is the common originator or the core ancestor of these branches—there is katarche or inceptions. So in this branch you will find actually both sides of the coin. I mean, on one hand you will see that it is choosing the right time for an action but also you will find event-based predictions. For example, a topic that can occur is launching a ship. Now if it has already been undertaken—so the ship is on its way—we have a fixed time, and of course we can regard this time as an event and we can make a prediction on this. But if this launch hasn’t happened yet, and it is our decision when we would like to launch our ship, then we can choose the most fortunate time for this; so this leads to elections. So basically what should be opposed in this way I guess is events and elections.
CB: Sure. And events and elections were both subsumed in the Hellenistic tradition under the broad category of inceptional astrology or katarchic astrology, from the Greek word katarche, which just means ‘beginning’ or ‘inception’. And it was about casting a chart for the moment that an event or a venture begins, under the premise that it will describe the outcome and the future of whatever is initiated at that time, right?
LL: That’s right, that’s right. Also, this expression appears, for example, in Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, referring to the beginning of the life of a human being. So I guess that the word itself has really broad meanings in Hellenistic astrology, but as a distinct branch of course it refers to everyday business.
CB: Right. I mean, essentially, that became the basic conceptual premise of astrology, or one of the fundamental conceptual premises in the Hellenistic tradition, which is just that the alignment of the planets at the moment that something begins will indicate something about both the quality and the nature of what was initiated at that time and what it will develop into, as well as its future and events that will take place in the future of whatever was started at that time; and that can be applied to both events and undertakings under the framework of inceptional or electional astrology. But even the birth of an individual is a sort of katarche or an inception because it’s the symbolic starting point of the life of an individual.
LL: Yeah. And just going back to inceptions proper, I guess we need to highlight something that is very important. When we read texts from Hellenistic astrology, and we see that there are different undertakings like launching a ship—or, for example, marriage or partnerships or lending or business like this—we should keep in mind that most of these actions could be observed from both sides: both as events and both as planned undertakings; elections basically.
CB: Sure. So the rules of that type of astrology are applicable to both because sometimes they’re being used retroactively to study an event that has already begun, and other times they’re being used proactively to pick out a date in order to do a certain type of event or action.
LL: That’s right, that’s right. There is no difference at all, but there are some other cases, for example, decambitures; or, for example, running away or theft, or receiving a letter, that cannot be planned or shouldn’t be planned actually. The techniques to analyze these sorts of events, they could be regarded as the forerunners of horary astrology.
CB: Right. So what we see when we go back to the Hellenistic tradition is in terms of the branches, we largely just see mundane astrology, natal astrology, and electional astrology, and out of those three branches natal astrology seems by far the most common in the Hellenistic tradition. And I get the strong sense that that was the primary form of astrology that was used in the Hellenistic tradition—and most of the surviving texts from the Greco-Roman period on astrology deal explicitly with natal astrology and a lot of the techniques seem like they were developed in that context—and then after that electional astrology or inceptional astrology. Maybe we should agree on a certain set of terms to use in this discussion ‘cause I feel like it’s gonna get a little muddy. ‘Cause there’s two issues: one is that it was always called ‘inceptional astrology’ in the Hellenistic tradition, and that applied, as we were just saying, to both retroactive analysis of a chart or an event that had already begun, as well as the proactive selection of an auspicious date in the future, which is more commonly referred to as ‘electional astrology’. So maybe for our purposes, would it be ‘safer’ to just refer to that from here on out as ‘inceptional astrology’, or should we continue using the term ‘electional’?
LL: No, ‘inceptional’ is the best one, I guess.
CB: Okay. And that term, electional astrology, is one apparently that came about later in the Medieval tradition from a word that basically means ‘to make a choice’ because you’re choosing a date or a moment to initiate a venture. But earlier in the tradition it was just referred to as inceptional astrology under the premise that you’re casting a chart for the inception of an event or a venture.
LL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that’s why I guess that inceptional astrology is a better term for this.
CB: Yeah. Okay, so we’ll stick with inceptional for that, and that’ll include both electional and what people sometimes refer to as event or inceptional astrology. The other one we should probably clarify as well is that although typically it’s referred to as ‘horary astrology’ today, that’s a relatively, from a historical standpoint, recent development. And earlier it seems, like in the Medieval tradition, that branch of astrology was typically referred to as the branch that applies to questions or interrogations or inquiries. And this seems to be common in some of the Byzantine Greek texts, the Arabic texts, and the Sanskrit texts where they basically all refer to that branch as ‘questions’ basically, right?
LL: Yeah, that’s right. Well, as far as I know this expression, ‘horary questions’, later abbreviated as just ‘horary’, first appears in English literature in the early 17th century, just because ‘questions’ as a word didn’t convey the real astrological meaning. So inquiry—basically whoever just goes to an astrologer to get some advice, goes just for an inquiry. So yeah, maybe they wanted to highlight that this is sort of a very dynamic application of astrological rules and that’s why it appeared in early modern English literature. But yes, if we go back to Latin translations of Arabic texts or to works originally written in Latin, we will find the words that simply mean ‘questions’ or ‘inquiries’. Yeah, that’s right.
LL: Actually also the Arabic original has the same meaning and we can track back its history I guess as far as the 5th century.
CB: Okay. So yeah, in Arabic, what were the terms? I know in Sanskrit they refer to it as prasna, which basically just means ‘interrogations’ or ‘questions’. What was it in Arabic and in very late Byzantine Greek?
LL: Yeah, actually when we see some bibliographies of Arabic astrological literature we will find a lot of titles: Kitab al-Masa’il, which means ‘Book of Questions’ or ‘Book of Inquiries’.
LL: So this name was just translated into Greek as erotesis, which means ‘questions’. But I must highlight that this expression is found in earlier Hellenistic materials. So that predates Arabic literature, but I guess we will talk about that later. But there’s some expressions like the ‘question of the inception’.
CB: Right. And what happened in the 17th century—I think that’s why it started getting phrased in that way. So William Lilly, for example, wrote the first major astrological manual in English; typically books were written in Latin up to that point. He decided to write his in English and primarily dealt with horary astrology, and he actually calls it ‘horary astrology questions’, as you said. And so, that phrase, ‘horary astrology questions’, eventually gets shortened down to just ‘horary astrology’ today. But I think the reason why he called it ‘horary astrology questions’—that word ‘horary’ just means ‘of the hour’ or ‘pertaining to an hour’ because it’s literally a chart cast for the hour that a question is posed to you, the astrologer, vs. some other generic question: the native asking, you know, a question about their birth chart or about their life or their marriage prospects or something like that. This is localized to a chart cast for that moment when a specific question is posed to you, the astrologer.
LL: Yeah, exactly. I agree with you, yeah.
CB: Okay. So that’s important and, you know, we’ll use that term a little bit. I know David Pingree liked to use the phrase ‘interrogational astrology’ to refer to this branch, and I might sort of alternate between referring to it as that vs. horary astrology just because I think sometimes some of the arguments and debates about this topic get a little bit murky, calling it horary astrology instead of the original term, ‘interrogations’ or ‘questions’; because that notion that this branch is directed towards specific questions that have specific answers typically becomes kind of crucial in terms of reconstructing its history.
LL: Yeah, that’s right.
CB: All right, so this is a question that I sort of stumbled into when I started studying horary astrology—or started studying Hellenistic astrology around 2004 and 2005. You know, it just becomes immediately apparent that you have all of surviving texts—some of them are very long, written in Greek and Latin from the Hellenistic period—and there’s little to no discussion of horary in Hellenistic and raises the question of why. So I did like a year- or two-year-long research project on this topic and published one of my first attempts at writing sort of quasi-academic paper that I published in the NCGR journal in 2007, titled, “The Katarche of Horary,” where I tried to analyze this issue and tried to reconstruct its history and make an argument about where horary came from and how it developed. And up to that point everyone basically just assumed that horary was practiced in the Hellenistic tradition, and one of the things that I was trying to do at that point was, you know, just point out that there’s so little evidence for the practice of horary that we should actually be careful about assuming that it’s always been practiced in the form that it is today. Because there’s something really significant about the lack of references to it, not just by the astrologers, but also by other people who talked about astrology during the Greco-Roman period, including skeptics of astrology who would attack or criticize it.
So there’s a number of famous skeptical attacks on astrology by Cicero, by Sextus Empericus, by St. Augustine, and all three of them, or all of the major skeptics, attack essentially all three of the major branches of Hellenistic astrology. Cicero focuses on natal astrology, but he also mentions inceptions and mundane astrology at one point. Sextus Empericus focuses on natal astrology. And St. Augustine focuses on natal, but also attacks inceptional or electional astrology. So one of the points that I made is it’s really notable that in this time period none of the people that are criticizing astrology mention horary. Because you would think that if they were aware of it, or if it was a practice that was being widely used that it would be a very easy target to criticize.
LL: Yeah. Well, maybe there were times, let’s say, that event-based application of inceptional astrology was under the radar. So the number of manuals on inceptional astrology compared to natal astrology is really small. If we look at the manuals they mainly deal with topics that are focused on elections or undertakings. So maybe this is the reason why skeptics and attackers of Hellenistic astrology—contemporary attackers of Hellenistic astrology—just didn’t take notice.
CB: Yeah. well, I mean, to me, it was additional supporting evidence, aside from the fact that it’s largely missing from the texts of the famous astrologers whose works survive from that period Ptolemy doesn’t talk about, you know, horary astrology, Valens doesn’t talk about it, Manilius doesn’t talk about it, Firmicus doesn’t talk about it, and on and so forth. It’s not just the astrologers who are silent about horary, but also all of the skeptics are silent about it as well, even though they attacked the other three branches. And I just took that as additional evidence that horary either didn’t exist or had not developed as a full-fledged practice by that point so that it would have been noticed by some of the skeptics; whereas in later periods, where you have horary being practiced commonly, it did come under criticism by skeptics like Pico della Mirandola and other people like that.
LL: Yeah, well in comparison it is really interesting because in the early modern astrological literature, at that time it seems horary astrology was widely practiced. I would use this term for this later development because somehow, you know, people in the 7th and the 16th and 17th century regarded horary astrology as an ‘Arabic development’ and they criticized it; so for example, Gerolamo Cardano and even later people like Morin criticized this. So yeah, collecting the ancient material you will see there is basically no horary material, and also you’ll see the skeptics don’t say a word about that. Then we are entitled to infer that it didn’t exist at the time, at least not in the form that we know it.
CB: Right. It starts leading you in a certain direction. I feel like a certain neutral observer would start to form an opinion at that point in the absence of references to it; and eventually we’ll get to hear some of the few scattered references that do exist in order to see if we can work that into our understanding to develop a more nuanced approach. But at least the basic starting point is when you’re reading through so much of the literature, it’s so notable the absence of discussion about this approach to astrology the first few centuries CE compared to the later Medieval and Renaissance traditions where this became just a wildly popular branch of astrology because it’s so easy to do, and it doesn’t require as much background knowledge or it doesn’t require as many things.
Like with natal astrology you need to have the birth time. You need to know, you know, when the native was born, and you need to have an ephemeris to calculate where the planets were, you know, 30 or 40 or 50 years ago precisely on the moment they were born and their precise location, and a lot of that can be kind of complicated and difficult; whereas for horary you just need to know where the planets are at right now, at the moment that somebody asks you a question. And I always assume that that was part of the reason, or that was one of the reasons why horary became so much more popular in the later traditions because of, you know, some of that ease, as well as other benefits as well. Of course it’s also a very specific and very focused application of astrology on a single, specific question and trying to get the answer to that in an affirmative or negative answer.
LL: Yeah, there are a lot of applications—you mentioned a couple—but I would add that inceptional astrology had its weaknesses. If we see that, okay, we can start with an event and the time of an event, or we can also plan some other undertaking, it’s okay. But what if we just don’t know the time of a past event? Or what if we just don’t know the time of a future event that just doesn’t depend on us? Or we just wonder if something will come true or not? For example, if a wedding will take place or not. So basically for these issues I guess inceptional astrology could provide nothing. So maybe ‘border’ astrologers went into natal analysis, but I don’t think it was worth doing this.
CB: Sure, sure. Okay, so natal astrology is clearly the primary practice, I would argue, in the majority of the…
LL: We can agree on this. We can agree on this.
CB: Okay, so that’s not even an argument…
CB: …certainly in the Hellenistic tradition. And there’s a lot of interesting background and reasons perhaps for that as well, especially in terms of the philosophy of the day. You know, it’s interesting the prevalence of Stoicism in the Hellenistic period in the first few centuries BCE and the popularity of Hellenistic astrology in the first few centuries and how focused it is on natal astrology. And the idea of, you know, one’s fate and being able to find out one’s fate so that you can accept it and all of these other things seemed to be part of the backdrop to the popularity of natal astrology in the early Roman Empire. And, you know, as further evidence, there’s also the fact that hundreds of birth charts survived from the Hellenistic tradition, from like the 1st century BCE through the 6th or 7th century CE. They’re like 95-or-98% all birth charts basically, right?
LL: Well, I would say even more. If we take a look at the surviving material we will see that maybe there are like 10 charts that can be called ‘not natal’, so not nativities.
CB: Okay, so it’s like 99% just birth charts that survived.
LL: Yeah, yeah, it looks like that, but there is one more important point. So you have just been talking about the notion of fate, about the influence of the philosophy of the day, I guess astrologers dealing with everyday issues should have competed with ordinary fortune-tellers, you know, using fortune-telling techniques, you know, of the day.
CB: Right, like other forms of divination.
LL: Yeah, other forms of divination. That’s right. So I guess somehow it was not so trendy those days. If we look at the inceptional material compared to natal material—and I’m talking about manuals and not surviving charts because this is another issue—then we will see that, well, it is not comparable. So maybe the reason was also that it wasn’t regarded as cool, as trendy, as wise-looking.
CB: Could you clarify what wasn’t regarded that way?
LL: Maybe it didn’t look so ancient, so wise, so superior.
CB: You mean astrology in general, or horary astrology in particular?
LL: No, no, no, inceptional astrology.
LL: Inceptional astrology. But we have some evidence that the basic rules of inceptional astrology go back to Nechepso and Petosiris, the forefathers and founders of astrology; but yes, it wasn’t as fashionable as natal astrology. But you mentioned the charts; that is an important thing. When we’re talking about nativities, even if the name of the native is not given, we’re dealing with the birth of a person, so maybe this has a bigger importance than just everyday business. Even later we don’t really have the collections of questions, of horary questions, published, for example. So maybe the biggest collection of horary cases is William Lilly’s Christian Astrology itself.
CB: Right. And that’s why his work is so important; there’s tons of example charts. But that’s a really good point though. One of the things I would argue is it probably stood out. The birth of the individual, the moment they were born, was probably seen as important because there was a lot of cultural and philosophical and religious doctrine that had built up at that point in the Hellenistic period about the moment of the birth of the individual and the descent of their soul through the planetary spheres, and the idea that the soul would acquire different qualities from the planet as it came through to incarnation. And then at the moment of birth the alignment of the planets at that time would describe the native’s fate, and the planets themselves were somehow the gatekeepers or the arbiters of fate. And this was very common. Drawing on texts in Platonism—like from Plato’s Timaeus and from ‘The Myth of Er’ and the Republic—or from Hermeticism—some of the doctrines of Hermeticism—and other philosophical schools, that probably provided an important part of the cultural context and philosophical and religious context to understand why natal astrology was really the primary practice in the Hellenistic period; because everybody basically believed that the alignment of the planets at the moment that you were born would say something significant about your life and your fate.
LL: Yeah, yeah, we can agree on this.
CB: Okay, so there’s that and then there’s also the practice of inceptional of astrology. And there’s not as many texts on inceptional astrology as there are on natal astrology. But there are a handful of texts basically that deal with inceptional astrology, right?
LL: That’s right, maybe starting with Dorotheus. As far as I know he can be dated to the 1st century CE, although we don’t really know this for sure. Maybe for sure we know that he worked before the 4th century CE, but he wrote a lengthy poem divided into five books. Unfortunately, we don’t know the title of this poem, although the edition by David Pingree bears the title Carmen Astrologicum, which is just simply ‘astrological poem’ just to give a title for this for additional purposes. And the fifth book of this poem deals with inceptional astrology.
CB: Right. And Dorotheus really becomes the crux of this entire issue, not completely, but a large part of the discussion really focuses on Dorotheus because of this text, which was, you know, probably, as you said, written in the late 1st century. There’s example charts contained in it that date to like the early 1st century to the mid-1st century; so we assume then that he wrote sometime not too long after that, probably in the late 1st century, around, let’s say, 75 CE. So the first four books of Dorotheus deal with natal astrology and then all of a sudden it gets to book five and gives a bunch of rules for different topics in inceptional astrology. Part of the issue that you run into with Dorotheus is that the original Greek text doesn’t survive; but instead the main text that we have that survives that tells us about Dorotheus’ work—right now the form that it’s in is an English translation of an Arabic translation, which itself was translated from a Persian translation, which was a translation of the original Greek text which was written in the form of an instructional poem. So the text that we have today is a few times removed from its original language which results in some issues with the text, as you could understand.
LL: Yeah, that’s right, that right. There were a lot of issues.
CB: From your standpoint as a philologist, what are some of the issues that come along with that when you’re dealing with this text? ‘Cause that’s one of the issues when I came into the astrological community; I was really surprised that people were reading Dorotheus and not thinking very critically about it or not realizing that there were issues with the text, and therefore, treating it a little haphazardly. I mean, from a philological standpoint, what are some of the issues with the Dorotheus text?
LL: Well, let me start from a more general point. Actually if we are talking about ancient texts we should bear in mind that it is not like nowadays. So there was no copyright at the time and also books were copied by hand, so there were some mistakes, some made by scribes. Also, we are talking about technical manuals. Scribes sometimes had the freedom or were free to make some modification, to add some passages, to delete some passages, to reorganize a text, to make some extracts, to write commentaries, in one word, to transform the text as they found suitable. So it means that if we just look at the extant works from antiquity maybe the only work that was kept sort of intact was Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, but all the other texts were modified and sometimes the earliest manuscripts that we possess now come hundreds of years later. So, for example, we can say that there are a lot of texts in Greek that of course were written in the early centuries, but the earliest manuscripts come from the 13th, 14th, or 15th century.
CB: Right. And I think the earliest manuscript that survives from Ptolemy only dates to the 8th or 9th century, right?
LL: Well, in the case of Tetrabiblos I guess there is only a partial manuscript of his from the 10th century, and the first complete manuscript—the earliest complete manuscript—comes from the 13th century as far as I remember. That’s why sometimes if we want to see the whole picture we need to rely on translations and other forms of the text. In the case of Ptolemy, for example, there is a Latin translation from a Greek manuscript that is lost now by William of Moerbeke, and this Latin translation sometimes helps us to settle some philological issues. In the case of Dorotheus unfortunately it is far more complicated because, as you have just mentioned, maybe the biggest portion that we have from Dorotheus’ output is an Arabic translation from a Middle Persian text that was in turn translated from Greek. But we don’t even know that it was the original Greek poem or if it was a paraphrase of this Greek poem because it seems that there existed some paraphrases of these texts. But we also have a lot of other sources, Greek snippets from different authors or from different later collections that don’t bear the name of the compiler or the author, or we have some other translations, for example. Just in the case of Dorotheus it’s a very interesting case because it seems that there exists a Chinese version of Dorotheus as well.
CB: Right. That’s a really interesting point, that even some version of Dorotheus was transmitted to China and showed up there and was translated into Chinese.
LL: Yeah, that’s right, that’s right.
CB: And part of your point here though is that in order to attempt to even reconstruct what the original text says, you need to take all of these different versions that survive into account and then attempt to compare them. And sometimes, with Dorotheus, for example, you have the Arabic translation of the Persian translation of the Greek translation, but then you also have some little fragments of the original text of Dorotheus that survives in Greek. You have some quotes from later authors, you have some paraphrases, and then you also have some other translations like, for example, that Chinese translation you mentioned.
LL: Yeah, that’s right, that’s right. So we need to collect as many sources of this text as possible. This is the only way we can make some educated guesses of what the original text contained.
CB: Sure. And part of the reason why this is important is because as soon as you start reading the Arabic text of Dorotheus—there’s been two English translations of it so far; one of them by David Pingree when he first discovered the Arabic text, and then more recently Benjamin Dykes has carried out another translation of the Arabic text into English that I interviewed him about, that was published just last year. As soon as you start reading this text, the Arabic version of Dorotheus, you realize that it’s kind of a rough paraphrase of what Dorotheus originally said and that there’s certain things in the text that both have been modified, where there’s sometimes errors. Other times there’s interpolations where something has been inserted into the text or changed in the text that probably wasn’t there originally, right?
LL: Yeah, that’s right. But sometimes I guess we’re prone to exaggerate the significance of these passages because sometimes part of these issues can be only translation problems. Like the fifth book of Dorotheus’ poem, the Arabic translation bears the title “On Inquiries,” or “On Questions,” or “Interrogations,” and it becomes clear after the first pages that it is not exactly the horary astrology as one would expect but the inceptional astrology of the day. But I guess maybe it was transmitted to different cultures and it was translated from one language to the other and to the other. Maybe just to help clarify the meaning for the reader this expression ‘Questions’ appeared, and we just highlighted that, “Oh, this means that somehow it is related to horary astrology,” although it is not.
CB: Right. Yeah, but in terms of other interpolations—before we get to book five—I mean, there’s a reference to Vettius Valens that’s been inserted into the text at one point, who probably lived a century after Dorotheus. And so, the assumption is that one of the scribes had the texts of Dorotheus and Valens in front of him, and he saw an interesting passage in Valens that he thought would go nicely in this chapter of Dorotheus, so he just copied over that paragraph. In other instances there’s a reference to the Indian concept of navamsas and they actually just transliterate the Sanskrit word—I think navamsa or something—into the Arabic or the Persian text. And you’re right to point out that these are, in the broader context of the overall text, relatively minor changes that have been made, and the majority of the text is still clearly very Hellenistic and very much reads like a 1st century astrological text, but it’s just the fact that there are these changes. For example, in book three I believe there’s an entire birth chart and a few paragraphs where somebody’s inserted a birth chart from somebody who lived a century or two or three centuries after Dorotheus into the text. And so, things like that kind of stand out because then it means that you can’t always take for granted, literally word-for-word, everything that’s in the text as having come from the 1st century.
LL: Yeah, but sometimes things can be really tricky. You just mentioned the interpolation from Vettius Valens, and it seems that we’ve tried to compare this part of the Arabic translation with some Greek fragments that are extant. But we’ll see that actually the passages are original or seem to be original, just the attribution is wrong.
CB: Right. It’s actually from Petosiris or something like that.
LL: Yeah, yeah, yeah, something like that. But yeah, you are right. But it also shows that readers or scribes of texts sometimes took liberty to modify the texts, and we should be extremely cautious when we are reading these old works.
CB: Sure, sure. So the issue when it comes to that is that in book five of Dorotheus the vast majority of it deals with inceptional astrology and it gives rules for either inceptional or sometimes electional rules for how to judge the auspiciousness of a chart for when something is initiated, like casting a chart for a marriage and whether the marriage will go well or poorly, or starting out on a journey, or launching a ship, or building a house or other things like this, and the vast majority of the chapters in the book deal with that. But then there are six distinct chapters where it’s talking about inceptional astrology, but then there’ll be a reference to horary astrology and casting a chart for a question rather than just an inception or an event.
LL: Yeah, so it is really hard to spot which passages are the interpolations since sometimes we can just kill some passages just because the wording doesn’t suit our understanding. But sometimes if we have the chance to compare the text with some other sources—most notably to Hephaistio’s book three, which is mostly based on Dorotheus—sometimes we are lucky to see some actual verses from the original poem; then we can see that maybe there are just some minor modifications which are maybe a little bit more implicit in the original text, made into a more explicit form. But given that the original piece was a piece of poetry—even if it was didactical poetry—then it is really hard to see the exact boundary between explication or conscious modification.
CB: Right, definitely. And,I mean, one of the issues is that in the later Medieval tradition, one of the things that becomes really clear is once horary had been developed is being practiced widely by the 8th and 9th centuries they were often drawing on earlier texts like Dorotheus and were originally clearly electional rules that were presented in Dorotheus, and they would transform the rules that were originally given for, you know, picking an auspicious chart for a marriage—in the context of electional astrology—and they would turn that into horary instructions for how to judge a question; if somebody asks you, “Will I get married?” So one of the questions is to what extent—when you’re reading the Arabic text of Dorotheus—when it mentions horary astrology, were those references in the original text? Or were some of those references added in later by the scribes once the concept of horary astrology and once the practice already existed?
LL: Well, I guess that there are at least two instances where we can see something that is very similar or is very close to horary. It is my observation—it has already been highlighted by Ben Dykes in his introduction to translation of Hephaistio’s third book—there are two passages in the Greek extant form, so in Hephaistio’s paraphrases of Dorotheus, most notably when it is about a wife who is running away. The text instructs us to look at the chart of the inquiry, when the querent goes up to the astrologer to ask about his wife.
CB: Although if first says, “If you know when the wife departed then cast a chart for that,” and that will be the chart that you judge. But then it says, “However if you don’t know when the spouse departed then you can cast a chart for the time when the client asks the astrologer about the matter.”
LL: That’s right, that’s right. And this passage is found in both the Greek version and the Arabic translation; we can suspect that it must be genuine. And also, there is another instance—this is about runaway slaves I guess; the moment when the owner learns about the running away could also be used to cast the chart. So these passages provide us three possible times for casting a chart. The first thing—and this is maybe the best scenario—is the time of an event, provided we know when it happened, the second-best option is when we just hear about an event or about an action, and the third-best scenario I would say is when someone wants to consult about this with the astrologer. And I guess that in the Dorotheus text we can see all three possibilities.
CB: Right, ‘cause this came out basically in 2013. This was the big result of the publication of the translation of book three of Hephaistio for the first time into a modern language by Eduardo Gramaglia and Benjamin Dykes in 2013 and the identification of those two passages, which were Chapter 11 and Chapter 47 of the Arabic Dorotheus. The fact that they were able to find parallel references to casting a chart for when a question is posed to the astrology confirmed that those references to some very early version of horary astrology were definitely in the original Dorotheus text, even if they were only mentioned a few times or a handful of times maybe in what was otherwise in the fifth book was largely just rules for inceptional astrology.
And that was one of the arguments that I made in my book, inferring that part of what was happening here was this hierarchy of symbolic moments of importance which seemed to be based on these two instance: one, casting a chart for, you know, when your spouse leaves you and to find out if they’ll come back, which is Chapter 11 of Dorotheus, and then Chapter 47, which is the, you know, Roman slave owner who casts a chart for when their slave runs away in order to see if they’ll come back or if they’ll be returned to them. There was clearly this distinction where the moment that something actually occurs—if you know the alignment of the planets at that inception or at that commencement—that’s the most important thing and that’s what you use within the context of inceptional astrology. But if you don’t have that then there’s these other two defaults that you can go to, which are the moment that the person involved in the event learns of its occurrence, and then finally if you don’t even have that then you fall back to the moment that the person involved in the event asks the astrologer about the outcome. And there you can start to see a sort of nascent branch of horary astrology start to develop then out of inceptional astrology.
LL: Yeah, and I guess that we can regard these instances as the beginning of horary astrology. And of course if we look at other texts from the later period, we will see how there is a paradigm shift, so to speak, because events are very hard to see and time; so it’s really hard to take the exact time of an event. So there are some other defaults I guess it is more comfortable for an astrologer to rely on.
CB: Yeah, I mean, it becomes a matter of not just convenience but, you know, seeing different potential moments of symbolic importance. Because I think the other thing that comes in here is a parallel practice—and this was part of the thesis of my horary paper in 2007—where even though my thoughts have changed and new evidence has come out that has certainly changed my conclusions, this is one part that was actually still pretty solid and I think was eventually validated. Part of my argument was that it seemed like even though horary astrology wasn’t a major practice in the Hellenistic tradition they did seem to have the concept of what modern astrologers call a ‘consultation chart’, or what Benjamin Dykes refers to as ‘thought interpretation’. They would cast an inceptional chart for the start of a consultation between an astrologer and a client under the premise that the chart cast for the moment of the consultation would describe what the client was thinking about and what they were approaching the astrologer to talk about in the consultation. And somehow the practice of that—which we can see references to in Hephaistio and other authors—is part of what morphed into partially the practice of horary astrology as well. Because once they had figured out that you can cast a chart for the moment of a consultation, and it will tell you what the client is thinking about, it’s just another conceptual step from there to then try to answer the question that the client is thinking about or to try to determine the outcome of their thoughts.
LL: Yeah, and I guess this is a really interesting case because this thought interpretation seemed to be a part of the broader inceptional concept. It could have evolved into a full-fledged, separate branch of astrology but somehow it was never able to do so. So yeah, in this case, the most interesting fact is that we are talking about an event, but this event is the consult with an astrologer. And one might ask the most obvious question, what is this thought interpretation for?
LL: So if there is a client who has some clear intention what sort of question to come up with in the presence of the astrologer then why is it so necessary?
CB: Right. What’s the purpose of doing a consultation chart or knowing this information? I mean, there’s different possibilities. I mean, we can sort of speculate, since unfortunately nobody really says for sure. But in some instances, you know, one of the things you learn as a consulting astrologer is sometimes the client doesn’t tell the astrologer exactly what they want to focus on, but instead they’ll kind of test the astrologer to see if they can infer or if the astrologer can figure out just from the chart what the person wants to know about. So it could have been to demonstrate the skill of the astrologer or to instill some sense of confidence that the astrologer actually does know what they’re talking about. Which is a little weird because then it’s almost like a parlor trick or like a magic trick that the astrologer does at the beginning that, you know, surprises the client. And then maybe the consultation goes better after that point once they have some faith that the astrologer really has some predictive ability. You know, in other instances, sometimes clients are not as open about getting to the point of what they want to talk about, or sometimes they’ll sort of dance around the thing that they really want to talk about; and so this may have been a technique for getting straight to the heart of what the client really wanted to focus on or really needed to focus on, even if the client themselves, you know, wasn’t fully clear on the issue, or something like that. I mean, those are some of the speculations that I’ve thought about over the past decade.
LL: Well, I guess I must say that I completely agree with you because my ideas are basically the same. So on one hand, we can say that a practicing astrologer wants to impress a client. And also, sometimes it is just about focusing, narrowing down what sort of areas should be checked or what sort of issues should be dealt with. Given the fact that natal astrology was the most prevalent branch of astrology in the Hellenistic times, I guess that it was a really valuable tool for an astrologer to have something that can save them from laborious work and enable them to just work with the real thing.
LL: And there is one more important thing I just want to highlight—and this is not an original idea of mine—when we look at Hephaistio’s chapter on thought interpretation we see that there are different sections with different techniques, and there is a part about the twelfth-parts which seem to focus on the content of the thought; so not predictions regarding these issues. But on the other hand we will see that there is another separate technique given by Hephaistio—and it might go back to Dorotheus, but it is not exactly clear if this is the case—that deals with the Lot of Fortune. And here we can see some clear examples of not just identifying the thought, interpreting the thought of the client, but also to give predictions on it.
CB: Right. So this is a really important point; this was a point of dispute and this was something that Benjamin Dykes and myself spent a lot of time arguing. Part of our argument about the origins of horary evolving out of consultation charts or thought interpretation was that thought interpretation and consultation charts are both procedurally, but also conceptually distinct from the later practice of interrogational astrology or horary astrology questions. Because procedurally, most of the thought interpretation information is literally just about determining what the client is thinking about and it’s not at all oriented towards making a prediction about what the outcome or the result will be; whereas horary astrology, as it later developed, was very much geared towards and oriented towards figuring out what the outcome of the querent’s question would be and what would actually happen in the future, or what had happened based on that chart.
And Ben, in his book, The Search of the Heart—what happened is I originally made this argument about horary developing out of consultation charts because I was aware of the chapter in Hephaistio where he has the twelfth-parts and the thought interpretation based on which twelfth-part is rising and what the client is thinking about; and one of the things that I saw was that in the later tradition they still had some things embedded in horary astrology that implied that the horary chart was always an exchange between a querent and an astrologer. And even though that’s changed in modern times—because nowadays many modern horary astrologers say that it’s okay to cast your own charts—there were actually rules in some of the early horary authors, like Masha’allah, that you’re not allowed to cast charts for your own question. You always have to pose it to an astrologer or to another astrologer, which may imply that it was originally conceptualized as an exchange of a question between one party and another. And additionally there were certain rules that were still embedded in the tradition, like the considerations before judgment, where it would say if Saturn is in the 7th house then that means this is bad for the astrologer—the astrologer will make a mistake—implying that the astrologer was always implicated and that the horary question was always supposed to be exchanged with an astrologer.
So that was part of my original inference that horary developed out of consultation charts. And then what happened is over the next few years Ben Dykes found a bunch of Medieval texts that were specifically written on consultation charts and thought interpretation, and he translated them, and this seemed to further demonstrate that this was a major practice, and that horary was sort of intimately connected with it, while still being somewhat conceptually and procedurally distinct. And he made a pretty strong argument in his book, The Search of the Heart—which is a translation of the work of Hermann of Carinthia—that horary and thought interpretation were conceptually and procedurally distinct. But I understand that it’s a point that some people argue because—especially in the later horary tradition—this becomes kind of jumbled or becomes kind of mixed up and there’s a lot of overlap and not a lot of distinction, where somebody could argue that horary astrology is the same as consultation charts or the same as other practices, and I know there’s some people that do argue that.
LL: Well, I guess that these consultation charts or thought interpretations in this form already appeared early in the Hellenistic tradition it seems and provided some sort of framework that could be developed later. As we have already been talking about the inconvenience of event charts and the presence of second and third defaults in this case, I guess it may be possible for astrologers to rely on consultation instead of events when they want.
LL: For example, we can see some cases—we can talk about them later—in the 5th century. But at the same time I don’t think that the eventual development of horary astrology completely eliminated thought interpretation. So it seems that it coexisted with it in the early Arabic era or even later; so it is really hard to see in detail because a lot of Arabic material hasn’t been researched yet. But yes, I do think that somehow this consultation, this thought interpretation, played a pivotal role in the development of horary. Although we must also see that when we’re talking about horary astrology, we often think of the Arabic form of horary astrology, and the techniques that were eventually developed are really, really different from the techniques of the previous era.
CB: Right. So that’s a really important point. Once we do eventually start seeing horary start to develop—well, Iguess there’s a few points there. One, the way that we understand horary today and the way that it has been since about, let’s say, the 9th century, the primary approach was looking at the ruler of the Ascendant, as representingthe querent, and the ruler of whatever the house is that matches the topic under consideration, and seeing if the ruler of those two houses are applying to an exact aspect or are separating from an exact aspect as indicating an affirmative or negative answer. And that’s what I call a dynamic approach to horary because it involves this notion of movement and application and separation as indicating what will take place in the future or what will not take place. That’s very different because we don’t see a lot of that in the Hellenistic tradition, and most of the electional rules in Hellenistic astrology are very static; and interestingly, they’re often very focused on just the four angular houses. And I’ve argued that part of the reason for that is that some of the electional rules may have started to develop in a transitional period during the Mesopotamian and Hellenistic tradition where only the four angular houses were being taken into place to some extent. It might have been something like that ‘cause Dorotheus himself claims that he was drawing on a variety of different Mesopotamian and Egyptian sources for his electional rules, and a lot of those rules seemed like they just focus on the four angular houses a lot. I mean, do you think that’s true? Am I overstating that point a little bit?
LL: No, no, no. Actually there is a book written by a German scholar, Wolfgang Hübner, and this book is on the concept of space and time and social roles in inceptional astrology. And in the appendix of this book there are a lot of conceptional charts for different topics and how different authors approached these topics in terms of the houses, to use this astrological expression, and there we will see that in most of the cases the angular houses are used for different players of the game.
LL: So I guess that you are right assuming that it was the most important part of the astrological approach. So we can say that horary astrology as we know it starts somewhere in the 8th century for us, with Masha’allah and then his students, and Umar, and some later authors.
CB: Right. In terms of looking at the perfection between the rulers of the houses.
LL: Yeah, and when it appears, it is so developed that personally I can’t resist the idea that it must have existed before.
CB: Right, ‘cause it just kind of comes out of nowhere. Basically in the Western astrological tradition the first full texts on horary are by Masha’allah and Sahl and other authors like that in the very late 8th and early 9th century. And it’s sort of fully formed at that point or at least a lot of the rules are in place and they’re looking at the perfections between the rulers of the houses and they have what appear to be new concepts like ‘transfer of light’ or ‘collection of light’ and other things like that.
LL: Yeah, but my point here is that there are some scattered pieces, some small details that tell us that maybe at the time there was also a more ancient tradition. The querent was assigned to the 1st house and the quesited was assigned to the 7th house, whatever it was or whatever they were. And assigning the different types of quesited persons or quesited things in the whole circle just came a little bit later, of course well before the 8th century.
CB: Right, so that kind of ties into your point earlier. The earlier electional rules from Dorotheus are so strange because they almost focus exclusively on the four angular houses using this concept that the 1st house or the Ascendant represents the one who initiates the action, the 7th house or the Descendant, the sign around the setting or the area around the setting horizon represents the person receiving the action, the Midheaven or the 10th house represents the action itself, and then the 4th house or the IC represents the outcome or the result of the action. And it’s almost like every electional rule in Dorotheus and Hephaistio falls into that general rubric or framework, and then what’s weird is some of the early horary stuff that starts to develop later it seem is initially put into that framework as well, which makes it look a lot different than later horary works which focus on the rulers of the houses.
LL: Yeah, that’s right, that’s right. And also, maybe we just take it naturally that when we are talking about different topics, we just look at the houses. But it is not so self-evident because if we go back into the Hellenistic tradition—and I’m talking about even the natal tradition—we will see that for different topics we had different approaches. For example, we had the possibility to look at different topics on the level of general significators, to use a later term; that is planets. Or there were lots, for example, found even in Dorotheus. But somehow it seems that the Arabic tradition or the tradition that would later become Arabic horary astrology relied on houses and house significators exclusively, and this is really interesting.
CB: Right, there was some sort of change. And this is where we get to the other references to horary that do survive in the very late Hellenistic tradition, and this is from a collection of 5th century horoscopes that survive in Greek and they were translated in the book Greek Horoscopes by Neugebauer and Van Hoesen. And that’s a collection of charts that you’ve done some significant research into, right?
LL: Yeah, actually I’m trying to write the paper on these extant horoscopes because these pieces belong to the collection of an astrologer whose name is unfortunately unknown, but Pingree thought that it was a court astrologer of the Emperor Zeno who was a Roman emperor in the latter days of the Roman Empire. And in this collection we can see 10 inceptional charts; some of these inceptional charts are extant only in Arabic sources. And while there are some cases of event charts—for example, coronations and installations—also we can see that there are some clear cases of consultation charts or let’s say horary charts.
CB: Right. So it’s mainly inception charts or electional charts, but then there’s a few really distinct instances. And one of them, one of the ones that’s the most clear cut, that seems to be a case of horary astrology or an interrogational astrology question is about a ship, and it seems like it’s about a client who approached the astrologer saying that there was this ship that was supposed to arrive from Alexandria, but it never arrived and they want to know what happened. And the astrologer appears to have cast the chart for the date and time of the question using the location that the client and the astrologer were in, which seems to clearly make it a horary chart basically, right?
LL: That’s right. Also, there are two more cases of ships and we also have some other cases as well. So yes, in the case of ships it is clear that there was someone who was worried about the arrival of a ship; so there were actually three people who were worried about this. And it is clear that they must have been horary charts or consultation charts because we don’t exactly know what was the real time for casting the chart but it was clearly not the start of the ship.
CB: Right. They may not have known when the ship departed from Alexandria. I think I recalculated it at one point and it was clear based on the Midheaven or something that they had calculated it from where they were in modern-day Turkey, in an ancient city known as Smyrna or something like that. But it was interesting looking at this chart because then they largely used almost electional- or consultation-type rules in order to interpret it; and it is not at all the later dynamic approach to horary using the rulers of the houses that we’re familiar with, but instead it’s almost like they’re taking some of those earlier electional rules and trying to apply it broadly to this chart in order to interpret it.
LL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. What’s more, the author of these cases explicitly says that it is worth examining the ancient teachings because we can learn a lot from them. And it is not just about inceptional astrology I guess but it’s also about natal astrology because natal astrology rules could also be transformed into inceptional rules because they just became handy for the astrologer. And yes, it is really interesting because there is sort of a more general approach and not this sort of ‘narrowed down to the Earth’ method that we see in the later horary charts.
CB: Right. So what we know then based on this chart is that, you know, we only have these one or two clear references to horary in the Arabic version of Dorotheus from approximately the 1st century; so there’s some sort of nascent branch of horary developing at that point. By the 5th century we have the first actual example of a horary chart that has been cast, and we know that astrologers are starting to use this then, or at least we finally have evidence that this is definitely starting to emerge as a sort of approach or a branch of astrology by the 5th century, which is actually pretty late. We’re basically getting towards the very end of the Roman Empire at this point and getting towards the end of what we usually refer to as the Hellenistic tradition, which ends around the 6th or maybe 7th century tops.
LL: Yeah, but maybe this is just coincidence because we are talking about a court astrologer, the Emperor Zeno’s astrologer. So maybe he was so proud of his successes that he just wanted to exhibit them, so that’s why these charts are extant. Don’t forget about the fact that these charts are found in different manuscripts. So maybe the only reason why we can group them and we can assign them to Zeno’s astrologer is that they are very close in terms of date. They use the same set of data. They all use Ptlomy’s tables. They all use very similar astrological concepts and some of them deal with some political personalities of the era that are related to the emperor or himself. So maybe this is the only reason why we find this late collection.
CB: Right. So the question though still is the fact that this astrologer cast a horary chart in the 5th century, is this evidence of a new development, that horary had just started or was just starting to become popular at that point, and that’s why we don’t see the first horary chart appear until the 5th century? Or is this demonstrating something that had been done all along, but simply the evidence hadn’t survived until the 5th century, even though other astrologers had practiced it up to that point?
LL: Well, unfortunately I guess there is no right answer for this question.
CB: Right, we have no idea.
LL: No, we have no idea. It is clear that even at that time when it was available interpretation was mainly based on events, but sometimes when it was more convenient for the astrologer they just relied on consultations. And I guess this is a trend that we can see from the previous centuries that would continue in the later centuries as well.
CB: Yeah, and I think that’s a really important point that you just made, just because it means there was probably something in the earlier Hellenistic tradition that held them back, where they thought of that notion of temporal moments of origin or moments of origin in time; that the closer you could get to casting a chart for the true symbolic origin of something, the more reliable that chart would be for something. And so, there was almost this conceptual tendency that pushed them more towards inceptional astrology, if you knew the correct time. And it was only sort of a backup plan, where they would fall back on something like horary astrology if they had to, whereas later on it almost gets reversed. In a lot of the later traditions they’re casting horary charts for everything and that almost becomes the primary practice in somebody like, you know, William Lilly, compared to the earlier traditions.
LL: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’d like to mention two things. One thing is that it is sort of commonplace in Hellenistic natal astrology that there is the so-called ‘Petosiris law’, which is sort of the relation between the conception chart and the birth chart. Now the question that comes is, why do we really need a conception chart if we don’t really want to deal with it? So you mentioned that the most important moment was constantly sought after, so maybe it was also true in natal astrology. And yeah, later on I guess practicality won finally, so astrologers seemed to have started to abandon event-based calculations for consultations, and yeah, it would lead to a suppression of event charts. Although even in Arabic astrology, in the handbook called The Book of Questions, we can see some instances of event charts, decambitures, for example.
CB: Sure, sure. Okay, so we talked about the 5th century charts. I do want to mention there’s two other pieces of evidence for horary in the Hellenistic tradition, or the early Hellenistic tradition roughly that we should mention briefly. One of them is there’s some manuscripts, some passages that survive that were evidently attributed to Hermes Trismegistus that were of uncertain date, that we can’t really date based on what’s contained in them. And they seem to have a Lot of Fortune-type calculation or something like that that seems to be used for something like horary astrology, although we don’t know what the dating is of this. It’s written in Greek and therefore could have been written anytime between the 1st century and the 7th century or so basically, right?
LL: Yes, but in addition to this text, Franz Cumont, the editor, had a theory about the dating because the text itself contains a reference to crucifixion; and historians claim that crucifixion was abolished by Constantine the Great sometime in the 4th century. So it means that the text should be earlier than the 4th century.
LL: So it is possible.
CB: Theoretically, as long as it’s not being copied over or something. Well, I guess the original, theoretically, if it did refer to crucifixion, it would have been written sometime prior to the 4th century. Okay, I understand your point. Okay, and that’s the Hermes text. And then finally the only other one that’s contemporary, that’s important, is the Yavanajataka, which has a bunch of chapters roughly connected to horary, although most of them are actually on thought interpretation. And that was the other major piece of evidence that I had, which is that if Pingree’s dating of this text is correct then it dates to sometime around the 2nd century, and it was drawing on an earlier Greek text from probably sometime around the 1st century. And the majority of the text deals with natal astrology, but then you get a certain ways into it and then all of a sudden it starts outlining all of these chapters for determining the thoughts of a client who approaches you for consultation. And then eventually towards the end of those chapters there are just a few chapters. There’s one that gives kind of like a mathematical formula, that’s almost like a lot-type calculation except it’s not. But it says, “If it falls in this certain part of the chart then it indicates that the fruition of the thoughts will be affirmative, and if it falls in this part of the chart then it indicates the fruition of the thoughts will be negative.” So it’s kind of giving an outcome to the thoughts, which under our earlier definition would qualify as a type of horary astrology, I think.
LL: Yeah, that’s right. The only problem with this text is that Pingree wanted to date it for the 2nd century, but another scholar named Bill Mak proposed new dating based on the astronomical chapter found at the end of this work. Now he claims that maybe this Yavanajataka, in this form, was composed sometime later. So actually it also makes it possible that it is sort of contemporary with these 5th century charts.
CB: Right. So Bill Mak says that it could be as late as the 5th or 6th or 7th century, and he doesn’t really know for sure but Pingree’s certainty surrounding the 2nd century dating should not be completely relied on.
LL: Yeah, unfortunately. Well, I’m not aware of the details but it seems that the astronomical chapter must be interpreted in a different way. Bill Mak discovered some new manuscripts for the Yavanajataka that helped to clarify some obscure passages of the text, and now he says that it is impossible to maintain Pingree’s thesis.
CB: Yeah, I mena, the only thing that Bill Mak didn’t address is Pingree, in his commentary, talked about the iconography of some of the zodiacal signs and some of the decans, which he then connected back to motifs that were there in 1st century Egypt, and that was like one of this other angles for dating the Yavanajataka in both its origin and its potential timeframe. And so, there might be some other reasons why he dated to the 2nd century that may—at least in terms of the source text it was drawing on—potentially still be valid; and I’m actually curious if at some point that part of his argument will be addressed as well.
LL: Well, we will see in the future because I know that Bill Mak is preparing a new critical edition of the whole Yavanajataka. But the important point here, the most important here, I think, is in Indian tradition it seems we see how a new branch is about to appear because it is clear that within the substructure of Yavanajataka these questions constitute a different part, and this different part would later become a different branch in Indian astrology. Well, it is not exactly clear because there might be a lot of texts that have been lost so far, but at least from the 6th century we can say that there are some cases. For example, we can see that Varāhamihira, the very famous Indian astrologer, wrote some pieces on military astrology and some chapters of this are also included in the Yavanajataka. And military astrology it seems is a fine example of some inceptional approaches because of course in this case we can see that it is natal. And his son Prithuyasas wrote a standalone work on questions titled Shatpanchasika, which refers to the organization of the book which consists of seven short chapters and has some teachings on different topics like thought interpretation, for example, in this case, running away, and topics that are known from a previous era.
CB: Right. So Varāhamihira, who lived in the 6th century, and his son especially write what we know are the first datable works on horary astrology in the Indian tradition for sure, if we take the Yavanajataka off the table as not being very certain in terms of its timeframe.
LL: Yes, we can say that the Yavanajataka is still very important. But what we see here is that there is a tendency to make this sort of inceptional issue into a new branch of astrology that would become prasna, questions, in Indian astrology. So it is not exactly clear whether it had already started with the Yavanajataka, but now, from the 6th century on, we see it clearly in Indian astrology.
CB: Right. And there’s some interesting practices in some interesting versions of horary astrology in India that developed that I’ve always been really curious about. David Pingree towards the end of his life, he actually ended up arguing that horary astrology originated in India with the Yavanajataka and that eventually it was transmitted through Persia, back to the West, and then that’s why Western astrologers started practicing it; and a large part of my paper 10 years ago was trying to trace the development of his thought in order to understand why he changed his mind. Because earlier in his career in the ‘60s and ‘70s, he was very explicit about saying horary goes back to the 1st century with Dorotheus and then eventually it’s not practiced very frequently until the Medieval period and then it becomes a full-fledged fourth branch. But then sometime in the ‘80s and ‘90s, in his written works, he suddenly changes the narrative and he says that horary was not practiced and did not originate in the Hellenistic tradition, but instead it originated in India with the Yavanajataka and then developed from there.
And, you know, while what we’ve been talking about in terms of the reference in Dorotheus seems to contradict that, I’ll forever really wonder why he changed his mind on that, because it seems like that one reference in the Arabic book of Dorotheus that’s then backed up in Hephaistio is clear evidence. And so, I wonder if he saw something in the manuscripts that changed his mind later on. The point that I was making is just that in India there’s this version of horary called Ashtamangala prasnam, and it incorporates omenology and a bunch of other interesting practices into the practice of horary astrology. And I’ve always been curious how practices like that might have developed or might have influenced the development of horary in India.
LL: Well, your question regarding Pingree’s ideas, well, we can’t exclude the possibility that somehow Pingree had more material at hand than we have at the moment. But I think we must accept the fact that for academic scholars mostly dealing with astrology from the perspective of a historian, or a historian of science, these fine distinctions between event charts, thought interpretation, consultation, or actual horary questions—when it is the querent’s discretion to decide when he wants to get the chart cast—these are not very important. And yeah, if someone just looks at different texts it is just a question of perspective on how we even weigh these texts.
CB: Sure, sure. Yeah, I was always just curious because I started writing and doing this research in 2006, and then sadly Pingree actually passed away like right around that time, right as I was becoming familiar with his work and studying his scholarship. And he really set the standard and outlined a lot of the basic research that one has to review in order to begin to tackle this question of the origins of horary.
LL: Yes, this is really sad. This is really sad for any historians of science that he passed away in 2005 and left a lot of projects unfinished.
CB: Right. Yeah, I mean, luckily, there’s new generations of academics and scholars and historians that have been coming in and sort of picking up some of that work and taking over, and so it’s good; you know, people like Stefan Heiland in the academic community, or people like Benjamin Dykes in the astrological community, and then, you know, people like yourself as well now that are focusing on this issue of the origins of horary and helping to flesh it out and reconstruct it in more detail and more publicly that Pingree was able to in his career.
LL: I guess there are some more important things nowadays that weren’t so clear previously. For example, the biggest problem I guess in the research of astrology, in the history of astrology, is that there is sort of a gap between Hellenistic astrology and Arabic astrology. I would like to exclude Indian astrology from this description, although there were some contacts between the Hellenistic world and the Arabic world and of course between the Indian subcontinent. It seems that shortly after the development of Arabic astrology and the importing of some ideas from the Arabic astrologers into India under the umbrella term ‘Tajika astrology’, somehow the development took a different course. But the biggest problem that I’m referring to is the complete disappearance of Persian astrology, of Sasanian astrology. I would prefer to use this term because we are talking about a distinct time period, about the Sasanian Empire that lasted from 3rd century CE to the 7th century CE, which during this era, a lot of astrological texts must have been composed according to our scanty fragments found in later works. But actually there are a lot of fragments found in Arabic astrological works that haven’t been exploited so far. Let me mention two names who would be really important for research on the origins of horary astrology, al-Saimari and al-Qasrani who both lived in the 9th century, and who apparently relied on a vast, now mostly lost, material in Middle Persion, and they referred to different authorities whose output is not known at all.
CB: Right. Yeah, that’s a really important point. I mean, that’s the big question and the big black hole in our understanding, which is what did the practice of astrology look like during the Sasanian Persian Empire? Which started around let’s say the 3rd century CE and lasted until about the 7th century CE. So you have Persia basically and astrology’s being practiced in Persia during this time. And then what happens is that with the advent of the Islamic Empire in the 7th century it sort of explodes out of the Saudi Arabian peninsula and takes over basically most of the Middle East and parts of the Mediterranean, and a lot of the Sasanian Persian texts on astrology that were written up to that point were destroyed. And we know that some of those texts had introduced new technical doctrines and new techniques in areas like mundane astrology, where they seemed to have introduced the technique of historical astrology and using the Jupiter-Saturn cycles in order to create clean, thousand-year periods of history, in order to break history up into dynasties and determine the advent or rulers and religious leaders and things like that. But there’s a pretty strong possibility—it’s becoming stronger and stronger—especially last year after Benjamin Dykes and Eduardo Gramaglia released their translation of the surviving works of Theophilus of Edessa.
One of the really interesting points is that Theophilus was living in the early Medieval period in the 8th century, but he was writing in Greek and he was still drawing on earlier authors like Dorotheus; but he’s one of the first authors who wrote in Greek where he was also doing horary astrology. But what’s interesting is a lot of his horary work looks like just taking electional rules and applying it to questions. He, for the most part, doesn’t have that more dynamic approach to horary that involves the rulers of the houses that shows up just a generation later in authors like Masha’allah and Sahl ibn Bishr who were contemporaries of his in Baghdad. And one of the things that was interesting in one of the texts that was translated last year in Theophilus’ work is that Theophilus says at one point explicitly that he only learned the Persian technique of using the Jupiter-Saturn cycle conjunctions in mundane astrology after he moved to Baghdad and learned it from his contemporaries. And so, that actually made me wonder if that wasn’t the only technique that was sort of unique that was coming from the Persian tradition that he might not have known about, as somebody who was only using the Hellenistic texts up to that point. But perhaps that other dynamic approach to horary astrology that also used additional concepts like ‘transfer of light’ and ‘collection of light’ and things like, perhaps that was coming from the Persian tradition that had developed over the previous century or two at that time, and that’s why it then shows up around that time period in the works of Masha’allah and Sahl as a sort of almost fully-formed approach.
LL: Well, this is a very likely scenario, I must say. But I guess a lot of more work needs to be done on this issue because it is not just about some conceptual questions like the more dynamic approaches or a more static approach of the earlier Hellenistic texts; we should see the ancestors of real, special, particular techniques to see the whole development. For example, dignities, just to talk about dignities, dignities seem to play a very important role in Arabic astrology; and it is also an interesting fact that this word seems not to exist in Hellenistic astrology, at least not in this form.
CB: Right. So they didn’t apply point scores to the dignities. That was sort of like, what, a 9th or 10th century development, right?
LL: Well, this is an interesting question because if one looks at the Yavanajataka, for example, there are some point systems that are a bit similar to this later Arabic scoring system, but of course in Hellenistic texts you can see this. My point here is that while we use this word ‘dignity’ as a well-established astrological concept and expression and term, this, in this form, just didn’t exist in Hellenistic astrology.
CB: Oh, right. Yeah, you’re right. So they didn’t refer to it as dignity, that was later. They had the concept of planets being in their domiciles, being auspicious, or planets being in their exaltations being more auspicious, but they didn’t refer to it as ‘dignity’.
LL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There were some expressions for votes, for example, or familiarity, but there was no umbrella term like dignity. Not to speak about the fact that anyone dealing with Medieval astrology knows that the fifth dignity is the face and it wasn’t regarded as such in Hellenistic astrology at all.
CB: Right. So that’s a really important point, and that’s a good one as we start to get towards the end of this discussion. Sometimes it’s extremely important to take each tradition on its own terms and not to project assumptions or other things from later traditions onto earlier ones. And that really has been the main issue that I ran into when I first started researching this topic. So many people, so many modern astrologers and modern historians just assumed that horary, as it was practiced in the later traditions, was practiced in just the same way in the earlier traditions. But in fact, you know, there were major differences and you can’t necessarily make assumptions like that, even if in some instances it seems like a natural assumption to make. I mean, the most common one I’ve seen some people make was, “Of course horary had to exist back then,” because it seems so obvious to us today, but that’s not necessarily the case. You can’t just take things for granted like that when doing historical studies, but instead you have to see what evidence survives and then try to draw your conclusions just based on the available evidence.
LL: Yeah, I guess if I needed to summarize my points on the history of horary, I would say that, yes, horary did exist in the Hellenistic times but not as horary, not with these techniques, and not on the conceptual grounds that a consultation chart is just enough.
CB: Right. Yeah, and I would agree with that and say that one of the points is just that astrology is constantly evolving and developing and changing and growing in different ways, and it’s important to try to identify the starting point for different types of astrology and to understand the conceptual and practical motivations for why different traditions and different approaches and different branches developed. And if you, you know, trace horary back you can see it starting to develop out of inceptional astrology in the 1st century and then growing until it eventually became a full-fledged fourth branch of the tradition by the Medieval period. But there was a process of growth and development and it didn’t just sort of explode onto the scene full-formed all at once necessarily.
LL: Yeah, I agree with you completely.
CB: All right, excellent. Well, I think that then starts to bring us to the end of this discussion. I’m trying to think if there’s anything else that we meant to mention or wanted to mention. So this is something where at some point in the future you’re gonna publish an article or maybe a book on this topic, right?
LL: Yeah, first I would like to publish some papers on the topic. I would like to deal with the charts of Zeno’s astrologer because although some of the charts have been put into a critical edition, it seems that some manuscripts and some translations haven’t been taken into consideration. So this is I guess a very important thing and maybe it could also be developed into a book that contains some commentary on the technical details. Also, there is another important personality of this era who is a somewhat obscure personality, Julian of Laodicea, who apparently wrote on natal topics and on inceptional topics as well; so I guess his output, his fragments should be examined a little bit more thoroughly. And also, asI have just mentioned, Arabic astrologers like Saimari and al-Qasrani are like treasuries of information, so maybe these books should also be sifted through. Of course this is a long project but I hope that I can do it in the upcoming decades.
CB: Sure. So there’s plenty of work left to be done. And, I mean, what would you say if there’s other people who are listening to this episode and get interested in taking a similar approach in terms of studying the history of astrology and studying some of these texts? I mean, what is the best way to do that? Or would you recommend that people follow the path that you have? What are the options in terms of that if they wanted to go in a similar direction as you’ve gone?
LL: Well, this is a very good question.
LL: This really surprises me. Well, actually in 2018 we are in a very lucky position because now we have a lot of translations and English translations of different ancient texts due to the efforts of scholars and astrologers, but there are a lot of manuscripts and a lot of texts left untranslated, especially because somehow it is texts, extant, with an author and with a title, are more attracting people’s, well, you know, intentions to examine them and maybe to translate them. But yeah, the main point is that if someone would like to dig deep into the history of astrology, one thing that’s very important is to learn languages and try to read the primary sources themselves. Unfortunately, in this field scholars haven’t been able to serve us; so previous generations of scholars haven’t been able to serve us with critical editions and delicacies like this. So if someone wants to find some sort of gold, they need to dig it for themselves.
CB: Sure. So maybe learning Greek and Latin at the very least, and maybe Arabic if you’re feeling adventurous as well.
LL: Yeah, well, Arabic sounds a little bit tough for a lot of people, but I can say according to my experience Arabic is slightly easier than Greek. Yeah, maybe much easier than Greek. So I guess that Arabic and Greek are the primary languages that should be used on manuscripts. Now, fortunately, more and more manuscripts are available on the internet in digital form, so there are not-so-big obstacles to study these texts like it was even a couple of years ago
CB: Right, right, definitely. All right, great. Well, I think that might be a good note to end on then. So thanks a lot for joining me for this discussion today. I really appreciate it.
LL: Thank you for inviting me.
CB: All right, well, thanks everyone for listening. I hope you enjoyed listening to this episode. Let us know what you think in the comments section below. That’s it for this episode of The Astrology Podcast. So thanks everyone for listening, and we’ll see you next time.