The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 267, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guest Levente László
Episode originally released on August 13, 2020
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: email@example.com
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released April 11, 2022
Copyright © 2022 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. This is Episode 267, and today I’m going to be talking with Levente László about his new translation project for translating all of the remaining ancient Greek astrological texts from the Hellenistic and Byzantine astrological traditions. So today is August 11, 2020, starting at exactly 1:15 PM in Denver, Colorado. So hey, Levente, welcome back to the show.
LEVENTE LÁSZLÓ: Hi, thank you for having me again.
CB: Yeah, so this is your second time on the show. The last time was a few years ago when we did an episode together talking about the early history and the origins and some of the mystery surrounding horary astrology what must have been like three years ago I think, right?
LL: Well, yes, I’d say two-years-and-a-half maybe.
CB: Okay. So in the meantime, you’ve been working on your background, and you’ve recently launched a new translation project called the HOROI Project in order to basically crowdfund the translation of the remaining ancient astrological texts from ancient Greek through people supporting you on Patreon, right?
LL: That’s right, yes. I just launched it a couple of months ago and it is still sort of in beta testing because there is no webpage for the project—no dedicated webpage, I mean. But I’m just translating texts and I’m trying to organize and I’m trying to expand the horizon of this translation project.
CB: Brilliant. And so far it seems like it’s going really well. You’ve already got a decent bit of patrons and you’re trying to go for certain funding goals, so that basically if you’re able to reach these goals in the next few months, you can fund the project and translate texts all the time basically, right?
LL: Well, yes, basically if I can reach these goals, I can spend more time translating these texts and maybe I can maintain this current release date of the 1st of September. And of course if more support comes then I can even broaden the horizon of this. So maybe I can obtain some sort of manuscripts that are really difficult to obtain and you need to pay a hefty sum for getting them, so I would like to see what sort of outcome it can have.
CB: Okay, great. So I want to talk today about some of the texts because you’ve actually been really busy since you launched this project not that long ago, in the past few months, and you’ve translated and already released several texts, and I’ll put links to them. We’re going to discuss four of these translations that you’ve either completed or are in the process of doing, and I’ll put links to them in the description below this episode; either below the video on the YouTube version, or on The Astrology Podcast website for those listening to the audio version, so that they can read along with some of these texts that you’re actually releasing.
But first, before we get to that, let’s talk a little bit about your background and just introduce people to you to talk about your credentials. So you’re actually a classical philologist from Hungary, and you’re working on your PhD right now, right?
LL: That’s right, yes. I expect to finish my PhD next year, so I still have to complete my thesis. The title of my thesis that was mentioned in the previous interview with me is “The Astrological Inceptions of the Emperor Zeno’s Anonymous Astrologer,” and these are the well-known cases of the stolen linen of a slave girl and some voyages on the sea and the taming of the small lion. So I’m just working and I’m on a new critical edition of these texts. So my thesis is going to be also sort of a comprehensive introduction to the astrological branch of inceptions in general.
CB: Okay. So that’s exciting.
LL: Yeah. And also, there is another question according to my research—and this is something I just deem to be important—the astrologer, the astrological author who is called Rhetorius of Egypt, whose compendium was published and translated into English in some form. So this compendium was actually—and this is my thesis—was actually rewritten by the anonymous astrologer of the Emperor Zeno. So Rhetorius should be another person who lived a little bit earlier, but of course this is not the topic of this conversation at the moment.
CB: Sure. So that astrologer—the anonymous astrologer—who worked for the Emperor Zeno lived in the 5th century. And one of the things I remember Pingree mentioned about him was something about the emperors around that time maybe using their secret service in order to get the birth data of other rivals to the throne and things like that.
LL: Yeah, it is highly possible, but actually we only know two certain cases that are nativities. So one of them is the unknown—the unnamed son of the Emperor Leo I and the other one was a political rival of Zeno who was the poet and philosopher Pamprepius of Panopolis. But there are some other 5th century nativities that can be dealt with, so I’m just trying to build a full argument why these nativities should also be assigned this mysterious figure.
CB: Okay. While there were a lot of texts that have been translated in the past by different either classic scholars or by people from Project Hindsight, like Robert Schmidt or Robert Hand, there’s a number of texts that haven’t been translated. And it seems like you’re going back and translating some things that have been translated already, but some of your focus is not just translating from critical editions, but actually going back and looking at the manuscripts that are not printed, that are still in handwritten in ancient Greek and translating from those because sometimes that contains additional information that the critical edition leaves out.
LL: Well, yeah, this is true partly because there are some critical editions that are faulty in so far as they don’t really include all the available manuscript witnesses—and these manuscript witnesses should also be consulted—but there are some other texts that have never been edited in critical editions. So there are many reasons for these lack of editions, but these can be really important texts in some cases.
So sometimes the logic behind editing or publishing critical editions was just there was an author whose name was known and there was a critical edition missing, and there was someone who had the time and energy and could be paid for making a critical edition. But if it came to be some anonymous but highly important text from an astrological perspective they would be just overlooked very easily just because there was no reason for the scholars to edit them.
CB: Right. So with a critical edition, the scholar sometimes would take all of the surviving manuscripts—or a bunch of the surviving manuscripts—and then try to reconstruct what they thought the original text was. But in some instances, these reconstructions themselves might be faulty, right?
LL: That’s right. Well, astrological texts are not like fine literature, like poetry, so we can’t really expect these texts to be untouched for many centuries. So in the course of centuries, they were adapted to the actual needs of the readers—sometimes shortened, sometimes expanded, sometimes modified or updated—so there are different versions coming from different eras. And we must know that the earliest Byzantine manuscript that is extant is from the 10th or 11th centuries, so there are about 5-, 600 years between the original versions and the first attested versions of some kind of texts.
CB: Right. So even though somebody like Ptolemy or Valens wrote their texts originally in the 2nd century, the earliest versions of those texts that survive only date to the 9th or 10th century.
LL: Or even later.
CB: Yes, or even later, and that’s because individual scribes had to sit down with the text and copy it by hand. So what we have by the time you get to the 10th century are just copies of copies of copies, and sometimes if there’s an era or something gets inserted into the texts that the scribe thought was interesting then the texts diverge and can start looking very different.
LL: Yeah, this is part of the story. And also, these texts survived in collections, in anthologies. So sometimes there are some portions copied from one book into a compendium and in some odd form they are copied into another compendium. And it’s just chasing a ‘will-o’-wisp’ to set a goal to reconstruct the original structure of some text. All we can do is go back to the earliest reconstructable version and put these versions next to each other to see what sort of conclusions we can draw from these comparisons.
CB: Sure. Yeah, and it’s interesting that some of these texts—like the compilations you mentioned—are these astrologer-scholars living in the Medieval period, or the late Medieval period, just going through these collections and copying down excerpts from texts that they thought were interesting, and then they would compile a whole list of different excerpts from different authors rather than just one continuous text.
LL: Of course. Yeah, that was the normal practice, so it was like setting up a notebook or a collection. So sometimes there were some scholars, for example, Isaac Argyrus, who compiled his own handbook from different sources.
CB: Okay. So all that being said, your goal at this point is to translate all of the remaining Hellenistic and Byzantine ancient Greek astrological texts. What texts haven’t been translated yet? What are you looking at doing in the future?
LL: Well, there are many different types of texts that haven’t been translated or even edited. For example, there are some authors whose texts haven’t been translated so far even though there are some editions—some semi-critical editions—most notably, for example, Maximus of Ephesus whose poem titled On Inceptions hasn’t been translated so far. Okay, this is not a complete poem because only portions of this poem have survived, but there are some exhaustive epitomes of the text, so we can have a nice overview of the content. And another example could be Anubio, the 1st century astrological poet whose fragments have been reedited recently and this could be also translated.
But what is possibly even more interesting is that there are a lot of practical horoscopes like casebook of nativities or casebook inceptions from the Byzantine era that haven’t been edited or translated. Maybe they can shed some light on the actual usage of techniques, and one of my primary plans is to bring them to the audience as soon as possible. There are a vast amount of anonymous texts dealing with inceptions, dealing with interrogations; so this is Arabic astrology basically translated from Arabic to Greek and some texts dealing with nativities.
Well, it is very, very difficult to assess the amount of the volume of these texts that are still untranslated because, as I said, there are some compendia and these compendia sometimes contain the same chapters from different collections, but we can imagine that there are some thousands or even tens of thousands of pages still waiting for translation.
CB: Okay, so there’s plenty that needs to be translated. And one of the things I like is that as you’re doing some of these translations, you’re immediately releasing to your patrons through Patreon some of the work in progress, so that the people that are your supporters can actually start reading some of this stuff right away and start understanding the process that you’re going through in translating it or giving you feedback or comments or notes. And that’s been a really interesting process to watch over the past few months, and you’ve already gotten a few texts that are nearly finished or are in a form where you’re ready to release working editions as PDFs; and there’s four of them that I want to go over with you today.
LL: That’s okay, yes. Well, I chose this form of publishing texts instead of publishing books in ready format because these are not works in the form people imagine them. So there are some collections and some different versions of the same chapter, for example, or the same topic, and sometimes there are better manuscripts that haven’t been mapped so far. Of course I can’t have access to all of these available manuscripts, so sometimes I just discover some manuscripts that contain some surprising information or a better reading. So if I just wait until I can say that, “Okay, now everything is fine,” so it is finished and the translation is also impeccable, maybe we can finish it in 50 years or so.
CB: Okay, that sounds like a good plan. All right, so the four texts that we’re going to talk about today that you’ve released—and that I’ll put links to the PDFs in the description page for this episode—the first one is Antiochus and Porphyry and their early work defining basic concepts in early Hellenistic astrology. The second one is “Rhetorius, On the Systematic Interpretation of Nativities,” the third is “Rhetorius, On Inceptions,” which is a summary of how to do electional astrology, and then the fourth is Shadhan’s “Discourses with Abu Ma’shar on the Secrets of Astrology.”
So let’s start talking about Antiochus and Porphyry. So I suggested this as being a useful starting point because it’s an early work of definitions. And other people have started with this or worked on this text—like Robert Schmidt—but you’ve been finding a lot of new manuscripts lately that other earlier translators and critical editions didn’t take into account, so you felt like you could put a kind of fresh take on this text, right?
LL: Yeah, that’s right. Well, the edition of this text was published in 1940 in one volume of the CCAG and the editors only relied on three main manuscripts as the basis. But there has been some research, not by me, but some Spanish scholars regarding the manuscripts containing the anonymous commentary to Ptolemy’s Apotelesmatics—and these manuscripts happen to contain also this introduction to Ptolemy written by Porphyry, according to the title of this text in this version—and they found that there are some other manuscript branches that are also important to be able reconstruct the immediate ancestor of this version.
And I also tried to map these manuscripts and to discover these manuscripts, and they also incorporated some of these readings into my translation, and they also found some other versions of this text. Actually I wrote an article about this topic three years ago and it’s still waiting for publication in Classical Philology; maybe next year it will come out. So this is another version which doesn’t assign this text to Porphyry, so it is anonymous. It is an anonymous text, and here, it is just a part of a larger compilation that doesn’t have a title, but the first couple of words say it’s “On the celestial disposition.” So I just called this “On the Celestial Disposition,” so OCD.
And this text version gives a slightly different version than the Porphyry manuscripts give, and it also raised my doubt regarding the authorship of Porphyry of this text because this is not really Porphyry’s style how this text is written. So this introduction to Ptolemy’s Apotelesmatics is a collection of texts of different origins and the main core of this text is a summary or an adaptation from Antiochus of Athens. So it is possible that of course Porphyry was the author in the 3rd century but equally possible that it has nothing to do with Porphyry at all, even though it was written some time before the 4th century; so between the 2nd and the 4th century.
CB: Okay, so you chose to translate only the portions from ‘Porphyry’ text that clearly go back to the original work of definitions by Antiochus of Athens who lived in the 1st or 2nd century. So you’ve translated all the different versions of that basically in this document, and what it ends up being then is a list of basic definitions of fundamental concepts in ancient astrology. So there’s a few of those that I wanted to go through today—a few of the definitions that I thought were more interesting—just to give people a taste of the text or a preview of the text and what they’re going to find.
So we’re releasing the full PDF, and the full PDF will be out there—and the link and the description—once I release this episode, but there’s the working Word document and what the PDF will look like. So the first definition I wanted to look at was the very first one that you translated; it’s just on diurnal and nocturnal stars. So I’m going to go ahead and read it. So this is from ‘Porphyry’s’ version.
LL: Yeah. Well, actually what I call ‘Porphyry’s’ version is both the version of manuscripts that attributed this text to Porphyry and the version in OCD because there are not big differences between these two versions. So when there are some discrepancies then I’ll put some footnotes to explain what the differences are.
CB: Okay. So what the text says is: When they mention ‘diurnal stars’, they refer to Zeus and Kronos by saying that these stars belong to the party of Helios since they do not often set and do not make many figures, and they rejoice when they are operational during the day and in the domiciles of the diurnal stars. And when they mention [the] ‘nocturnal stars’, they speak about Ares and Aphrodite since they classified them as belonging to the lunar party for the reason they are of many figures, and they often arrive in setting and become obscured. But they call the star of Hermes ‘common’, since in whatever state he happens to be, he assimilates to that (state) – when he is a morning star, he assimilates to Helios but when [he is] an evening star, to Selene.
So this is the basic definition of what contemporary astrologers are now referring to as the ‘doctrine of sect’ and the distinction between daytime and nighttime charts and between the ‘daytime’ team or party or sect of planets and the ‘nighttime’ team or party or sect of planets. So you’re translating sect here as ‘party’, right?
LL: Yes, that’s right. Well, the reason is very simple because this word—that is, hairesis—means ‘school of thought’ or ‘sect’ or ‘party’ or ‘religion’ or something like that that divides people. And I think in this context it has a sort of a political message because there is a governing party and there is an opposition party all the time. So diurnal stars are in the governing party during the day and nocturnal stars are in the opposition, and of course the situation just changes after sunset. So I just wanted to emphasize that in this case it is not just about sect—like different camps of different thoughts—but it’s also about a political tension between the two parties of the stars.
CB: Okay, like a political party of who’s in power versus who’s out of power in some way.
CB: Okay. And then you contrast that with this version that is the Basics, or the text that you’re calling the Basics, which has a much shortened or abridged version of that where it just says: They call Helios, Kronos, and Zeus ‘diurnal’ stars while Selene, Ares, and Aphrodite ‘nocturnal’ and Hermes ‘common’; for he turns to the side of those with whom he is [configured].
LL: Yeah. Actually the Basics is an interesting text because as I just mentioned in “On the Celestial Disposition,” this text that originally consisted of 135 chapters is a late compilation, because some of these chapters contain some versions of Masha’allah’s little work on interrogations, which I will translate soon. So this is the only known version of this; the Arabic version is not extant or we don’t know anything about the Latin version of this text.
So one part of this compilation is parallel with Porphyry’s excerpts from Antiochus’ Introduction, but the first dozen chapters constitute a sort of introduction to astrology in a form that is even more basic than the most basic Hellenistic introductions, or like Paulus, so these are very simple definitions. And in these definitions, Porphyry’s definitions are reused, recycled and sometimes rephrased, and with this document I just wanted to show that we have a full tradition of Porphyry’s Excerpts. This is a branch that has many, many connotations and many influences everywhere, and I just wanted to show that we can’t see the whole picture without taking a look at these variant versions.
CB: Yeah, that’s going to be really important here when we keep going through the passages in the different texts we look at today, just showing how sometimes comparing the other variant branches, interpretations, and copies of the same passages sometimes gives you a better picture of perhaps what the original was, or at least gives you some insight into the doctrines that these authors were trying to pass down.
LL: Yeah. And we also need to keep in mind that while of course, for example, this Basics is a later compilation, actually the age of the earliest manuscript of this Basics is basically the same as the earliest surviving manuscript of Porphyry’s version. So we are not just looking at some older or more recent versions, but we’re also trying to put together things that maybe can help us understand the other one which is nominally older, but who knows what sort of changes had been introduced during the course of the centuries.
CB: Sure. All right, one of the things I like about this passage and one of the things that’s just important about Antiochus that I wanted to mention before we move on is it doesn’t just define it like it does in the Basics, but you see embedded in it probably if not the original rationale something close to or part of the original rationale for the doctrine of sect where it both defines the concept, but also in passing it says that the diurnal stars are put on that team and they’re grouped together: since they do not often set and do not make many figures, versus the nocturnal planets. It says that they are nocturnal because: they often arrive in setting and [they] become obscured.
So Mars and Venus basically set—as well as the Moon—under the beams of the Sun frequently. And because they move more swiftly or faster than the other planets, they make aspects more often, whereas the other planets—the Sun and Saturn and Jupiter—are associated with the diurnal sect because they don’t set under the beams as frequently. And they move more slowly, so they don’t complete aspects with other planets as frequently or as regularly.
LL: Yeah. Maybe one distinction here that the text doesn’t make really clear is what sort of figures we need to consider; but I guess in this case we need to look at the solar cycles or the synodic cycles. So the figures here refer to the configurations or aspects with the Sun.
CB: Okay, so figures in terms of the stations, like stationing retrograde or stationing direct and other parts of the solar phase cycle.
LL: Also the classical aspects may be assigned here.
CB: Okay, so that’s a good recurring thing. And this is one of the reasons why this text has become so important over the past 10 or 20 years with different astrologers, including Robert Schmidt and then later with me and Demetra George and Benjamin Dykes. And especially for me and Demetra, large parts of our texts were talking about this text because it contains some of those original rationales, as well as some very early definitions of Western astrology. And I think even in Ben Dykes’ introduction to astrology, he pulls some of the definitions from Antiochus as well when comparing them to later authors—from Abu Ma’shar.
So that’s one of the reasons I’m excited about this and why you’re making a great contribution by basically making these definitions and this translation publicly and freely available. For the first time, anybody can read through these earliest definitions of the Western astrological tradition and start to wrestle with them and come to terms with or form their own understanding of this text rather than just relying on somebody else’s interpretation.
LL: Not just that, if people feel that they have some valuable insights regarding the texts or they have some feedback, I can build in certain improvements to the text of the translation or the footnotes again and I can come up with some newer versions. So it is like a work in progress all the time. So we can’t say, “Okay, this is the definitive translation and the definitive commentary and that’s that,” it can be changed anytime. It can morph into anything.
CB: Yeah, and I really appreciate that. Unfortunately, early in the process of Project Hindsight in the 1990s, they almost had a similar idea of doing preliminary translations and publishing those right away and releasing them to the astrological community and to their supporters who were financing the project, but later it seemed like Schmidt wanted to only publish things once he had final, definitive translations and had completed his entire reconstruction.
But as a result of that—because it’s always going to be a work in progress to some extent—he wasn’t able to finish what he started, and I think only published one of the final translation books of his planned, 30-volume series. So you’re kind of taking a different approach by putting all of this out early once you’ve translated it and then getting feedback from the community.
LL: Not just that, it’s also important to know that, as I mentioned before, there are tens of thousands of pages—manuscript pages—containing astrological texts, so it can easily turn out that even a lifetime is not enough to translate all of them. So if someone wants to wait until everything just builds up and comes together and you can see the whole picture together and every single aspect of the whole historical development of something—of which a large part is already lost—then of course it cannot be completed in a lifetime.
CB: Sure. Yeah, and that’s the other part of your approach that is different here. You’re trying to just translate the text and translate the different versions of the text straight as they are, as what the language says relatively literally. And you’re not doing anything in the way of trying to reconstruct any original doctrines or things like that; you’re just sort of letting the text speak for itself.
LL: Well, I don’t believe in these sorts of ideas, in these grand theories about the original astrology that was founded by someone—a big personality—and every later text is just a sort of a reflection of these original ideas. So if we take, for example, the history of science or the history of philosophy as a contrast, we can see that this just doesn’t exist. Even if we say, okay, there was a founder of a sort of Western astrology, this founder didn’t come from nowhere.
CB: Right. They were always influenced by some earlier tradition that came before them, that maybe they acted as a new starting point. So let’s say, like Plato, or something like that, but then Plato was himself influenced by Socrates and the pre-Socratics and everyone else.
LL: Yeah, and of course even the pre-Socratics were influenced by someone else, so we can go back in history. So it’s just impossible, I guess.
CB: Sure. Okay. So going back to the text, one of the other definitions that’s attracted a lot of commentary and a lot—I don’t want to say controversy—but a lot of discussion over the past 10 years, especially since Schmidt published his translation of Antiochus and Porphyry in 2009, was the basic definition that Porphyry and Antiochus gives of aspects, which they call in your translation ‘on bearing testimony’.
LL: Yeah. Well, yes, I don’t think that we need to give a very big importance for the naming of aspects in Hellenistic astrology. So actually testimony means that the stars or the planets are in some sort of a configuration. They can see each other and that’s how they can give testimony or they can witness to each other—that’s so simple. So this is what they do in a configuration or in an aspect.
CB: What’s the Greek term for aspect that you’re translating as ‘testimony’ here?
LL: Well, the word for testimony is marturíā actually, and there is another version of this, epimarturíā, that I translated as ‘bearing testimony’. Well, it looks like the early texts of Hellenistic astrology were in poetic form, so in verse form, and that’s why they often used some sort of synonyms for the very same concept, and we don’t have to give too much weight to the different words in this case. So even, for example, what the stars do in a configuration is often expressed with a visual verb, like ‘see’, ‘behold’, ‘observe’, ‘scrutinize’ or something like that. Of course these are just choices—what the translator chooses to express this Greek verb and that Greek verb, but it doesn’t look like there is much difference between the word usage.
CB: Okay, but the word originally meant ‘to bear witness’ or ‘to give testimony’ as if the planets are looking at each other and there were some sort of visual or optical ideas underlying that.
LL: Sure. Yes. Of course it has two sides. So if I bear witness to someone then of course this other star can. He or she is acting in public and there are some witnesses, and these witnesses are not just witnesses of a crime, but witnesses of some sort of a celebration, like a marriage. And of course if there is a witness, he or she is also a part of the story and not isolated from the other ones. That’s why there is this Hellenistic concept of ‘running in the void’ that can be imagined only with the Moon. And when it happens to a birth, to a nativity, it is really harmful because it means that there is some part of the personality that is unpredictable.
CB: Yeah, we’ll do that definition later. I definitely want to get to ‘running in the void’.
CB: So let’s read this one definition. It’s a little long, but it’s worth it just to show how the author—originally Antiochus—defined the concept or attempted to outline the concept of aspects. So it says: They call the mutual configurations of the stars ‘bearing testimony’. These figures are the ‘trigon’, the figure within five (signs), when there are three intermediate signs between the two (affected) signs; the ‘tetragon’, the figure within four (signs), when there are two intermediate signs between them; the ‘diameter’, the figure within seven (signs), when there are five intermediate signs; and the ‘hexagon’, the figure within three (signs), when there is one intermediate sign between them.
The configuration by trigon is sympathetic and beneficial, and when a malefic is involved, he is less harmful. The tetragonal configuration is unpleasant and inharmonious, and capable of causing distress when a malefic is involved. The diametrical configuration is adversative, but it is even more pernicious when a malefic is involved. And the hexagonal configuration is weaker. One must also see if the figures are perfect according to the degree and not only according to the sign: the trigon in 120 degrees, the tetragon in 90 degrees, the hexagon in 60 degrees, and the diameter in 180 degrees; for the stars are often configured by sign but not by degree.
CB: Yeah, so that’s it. So it’s just a basic definition. First, it defines aspects by sign and partially based on how many signs apart each of the planets would be depending on what signs they’re located in. Then it talks about the quality or the nature of the aspects and whether it’s more positive or more challenging or negative. And then finally, it also says that aspects can be measured not just by sign but also by degree, and it says that they can be configured by sign but no longer by degree.
LL: Yeah, I guess that this no longer was the original translation by Schmidt who wanted to develop it into a very specialized idea of how there’s sign-based and degree-based aspects or testimonies are different from each other. But in this case, it is very simple—there is a bigger set that is a configuration by sign and there is a smaller set that is configuration by degree. Actually this very text doesn’t tell anything about the importance of degree-based configurations, but I believe what follows here in this version of Basics adds some ideas about the importance of degree-based configurations.
CB: Okay. Do you want to read that part? Or should we…
LL: Why not?
CB: …look at the Basics? Okay.
LL: I guess it is at the end of this longish chapter.
CB: So we just read the Porphyry version and then the Basics part of it.
LL: I guess this is the end of this. So if you just go down a little bit—yeah, okay.
CB: Oh, this one right here?
LL: Right. Yeah, that’s it. That’s it.
CB: So this version in the Basics says: One must also see if the figures are perfect according to the degree and not only according to the sign since the stars configured by degree are more powerful than those configured by sign (only). Okay, and then it just defines the aspects after that. So this was the other or the later interpretation or a variant of this whole textual tradition and the notion that perhaps—at least in this version of the Basics—that the degree-based aspects were more powerful than just being configured by sign.
LL: Yes, that’s it. So I guess that this explains the main difference. So we don’t know for sure that it was just a late idea developed after writing Porphyry’s version, but it was somewhere before in the tradition. So that’s why I just find it important to publish the variant versions to see the whole picture of how they made them into some sort of concept.
CB: Yeah, and this passage—this whole definition from Antiochus and Porphyry about the difference between sign-based and degree-based aspects I think was a recurring theme in Hellenistic astrology in general. And while we see it clearly defined here in the context of just aspects and aspects by sign and by degree both being relevant, I think there was probably a similar mindset that they applied to houses where houses could be defined both by sign, as well as by degree, and that you had to pay attention to both.
And while this isn’t explained as clearly in some of the earlier authors, it seems really clear that later in the tradition—by the time of Firmicus and Rhetorius—that they’re really clearly trying to pay attention to both whole sign houses (which is houses by sign), as well as quadrant houses or sometimes equal houses (which would be house by degree).
LL: Yeah, it is quite possible. We need to bear in mind that most of the surviving horoscopes only use the sign of the stars—so the planets—so they don’t have any degrees. So we shouldn’t forget about the fact that they didn’t really have the sophisticated methods of calculating planetary longitudes down to the degree. Maybe that was too laborious, so they were just happy with sign-based aspects and sign-based house divisions, to use the expression.
LL: Yeah, but of course they had some ideas about what could make it into a more precise calculation form.
CB: Sure. So part of your point then is that most of the time—in terms of the surviving evidence, in terms of the surviving horoscopes—it seems like they’re just calculating planetary placements by sign and using whole sign houses and probably whole sign aspects. But with texts like this—at least from relatively early on—there was at least an idea that perhaps if you could calculate things by degree that would be a useful additional piece of information to factor into the interpretation.
LL: Yeah. So this is also an important subject to see what is theory and what is practice because there we can see some discrepancies between theory and practice. Theory is always more sophisticated—far more sophisticated than actual or real-life practice seems to be. So there is this plethora of different techniques in theoretical texts, but what we see in actual casebook horoscopes there are not so many different techniques being used. But I guess that’s why we need to discover both the theoretical side and the practical side because maybe the reason why they didn’t use some things in practice was simply that they didn’t have the time for these calculations, for example, but there was an idea that they would like to reach that level.
CB: Sure. Yeah. All right, that makes sense. And that’s a whole thing we could get into, but we’ll save that more for another discussion or another episode.
CB: And I did some of that in my episode on the origins of the house division debate last year, so I can link to that at some point as well. Let’s see—other definitions. Once they outline the basic aspect definition, one of the other definitions I wanted to look at—where I like your translation—was on what you translate as ‘the concept of domination’.
And I like that you used that as a translation convention. And another point is just you’re having to establish translation conventions here for your translations, and in some instances, you’re retaining and you’re using translation conventions that had been used or introduced by others; and in other instances, you’re going against that or you’re coming up with your own translation conventions in order to more correctly convey the sense of the text.
LL: Yeah, but that can be always debated. So translation conventions are questions that can never be settled to the contentment of everybody. So a lot of people say that they are disturbed by words like ‘Helios’ or ‘Selene’ or the translation or literal translations of the names of the signs or the names of the aspects. For example, they would prefer to see the modern terms, but this is one thing. And the other thing is that there can be a lot of synonyms that a translator can use. So I am always open to any sort of suggestions so I can alter the translations if someone can convince me to change this term into something else. But I try to follow the footsteps of the previous translators of Hellenistic texts, but sometimes I thought I needed to change the term because I thought that they didn’t convey the right meaning in this case.
So for example, this domination—actually the original Greek term of it is epidekateia, which has something to do with being in the 10th—all 10th things
CB: Upon the 10th. Because epi– just means ‘upon’ and deka means ‘10’ or ‘10th’.
LL: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s it. So it’s something that can’t be expressed in English in a natural way, so it’s always weird. And Schmidt wanted to use the expression ‘decimation’, but ‘decimation’ in English and in other languages—also, in Latin—means something very different. It means a sort of punishment; that every 10th soldier is killed after a lost battle or to teach discipline.
CB: And it has very negative or extreme connotations.
LL: Yeah, extreme connotations that are not used in this case. So in this case, this is just being in the 10th sign from a star. It is a special case of ‘overcoming’ actually.
CB: Right. And then the planet that’s in the 10th sign relative to another planet having a special influence, or being able to exert a very powerful influence over another planet. So that’s why I argued for ‘domination’ as the translation of this and later saw that Holden had translated it that way as well, so I was happy to see you using that here. Here, let’s read the definition really quickly and then we can keep discussing it.
So in the Porphyry version, it says: The (star) being in the tenth sign is said to ‘dominate’ and ‘overcome’ the (star) being in the fourth (sign); for example, the star that happens to be in the Balance dominates the (star) being in the Goat-Horned One, and the star being [in] the Goat-Horned One (also dominates) the (star) being in the Ram. So in other words, in the example it’s saying that a planet in Libra is dominating or is in the 10th relative to a planet in Capricorn versus a planet in Capricorn is in the 10th or is dominating a planet that is in Aries because it’s in the 10th sign relative to it.
LL: Yes, exactly.
CB: Okay, so this is tied into the notion of ‘overcoming’, which is actually the next definition after this, but it’s just a sign-based aspect of a planet that is 10 signs from another planet. And if it’s a malefic planet that’s in that position then it’s usually interpreted as being a very negative condition, whereas if it’s a benefic that’s in the 10th sign relative to another planet, it’s usually interpreted as being a very positive condition in authors like Vettius Valens, for example, where he uses versions of this in his chart examples.
LL: I guess this ‘overcoming’ and ‘domination’ is a very early concept because there are some texts attributed to Dorotheus and Anubio, for example. And Firmicus Maternus also has these descriptions about planetary configurations. And in the section about the tetragon, there are detailed descriptions of what happens if ‘Planet A’ is dominating and what happens if ‘Planet B’ is dominating. So having a square aspect between, let’s say, Mercury and Mars is not the same if they change places. And if we look at these definitions we can see that there was a common ancestor of these definitions, and this common ancestor could well have been Nechepso and Petosiris.
CB: Yeah, and that’s actually the namesake of your translation project. It’s the HOROI Project because that was the name actually of a famous lost book of definitions that was attributed to Petosiris, right?
LL: Yes. It sounded like a good name for this project.
CB: Yeah. So yeah, so maybe some of these early definitions go back to one of those early authors and then later authors drew on them and incorporated them into their work. All right, so that definition is connected to and comes right before, although sometimes I almost think that that definition of ‘domination’ should have come after the definition of ‘overcoming’.
But immediately after that, here in Porphyry, we have the definition of ‘overcoming’, and it says: Every star that is situated in the right-hand trigon, tetragon, or hexagon ‘overcomes’ the one on the left since he is moving toward the other one. For example, a star being in the Goat-Horned One [which is Capricorn] overcomes the one being in the Bull in a trigonal, [and] the one being in the Ram in a tetragonal, and the one being in the Fishes in a hexagonal figure while he is overcome [basically himself] by the one being in the Balance, the one being in the Virgin, and the one being in the Scorpion.
So it’s saying that overcoming can occur by a trine, a square, or sextile by any planet that is earlier in zodiacal order; it overcomes any planet that is later in zodiacal order. And then it goes on to say: They say overcoming is more powerful if (the stars) are either trigonal or tetragonal. For the star overcoming in this way is stronger, and if he is rising or even pivotal, then if he is a benefic, he indicates an outstanding birth, but if a malefic, (he indicates) an insignificant one. And then there’s a little stray sentence that repeats the earlier statement. It says: In general, every star that is on the right overcomes the one on the left, whom he approaches.
LL: Yeah. Well, I guess that the sentences (three, four, and five) belong to a part of this text that I had to revise and restore from the different manuscripts because they were just different versions expressing the same core idea in different ways. And it wasn’t a hundred-percent clear what the critical edition wanted to express, so I needed to look at the different versions; and I guess I was sort of successful with reconstructing the original meaning of the passage. I put my reconstruction in the footnotes and there are the indications of the readings of the other manuscripts as well.
CB: Right. So down in the footnotes, you give the different variant readings and you say which manuscript says this versus this other manuscript tradition changes the sentence to be more like this and that’s how you have this sort of running commentary about the text that you’re drawing on.
LL: Yeah, maybe this commentary is not really interesting for the reader who just wants to understand the text, but otherwise it is important to see. There is no authority that can claim, “Okay, I know everything about Hellenistic astrology. I will tell what this passage means.” So it can be always debated issues like whether this reading is correct or whether that reading is correct. And there are some differences just by using a different interpunction. Sometimes they have very odd interpunctions in the manuscripts and it just changes the meaning.
So I just want to give the readers—provided they are interested in these sorts of questions—the opportunity to decide whether they would like to follow my footsteps or have a different opinion and they think, “Okay, this should be interpreted in another way.”
CB: Yeah, because sometimes that actually makes a real difference in how you read a passage, or whether you go with one variant reading or another can have very concrete, practical interpretive differences in terms of if astrologers are trying to draw on these texts and use them to practice astrology. They might use the technique one way if they read one version versus they might use the technique a different way if they read another version. And we’ll actually get to a really striking instance of that when we get to the definition of ‘corruption’ or ‘maltreatment’ here in just a few definitions.
LL: Yeah, I guess this is the best example for that.
CB: Yeah. So before we get there, I wanted to read the definition of ‘void of course’, which in Greek it was originally called ‘running in the void’. And this is number 17 in the text, and it says: It is called ‘running in the void’ when Selene is applying to no one either by sign or by degree, either by figure or adherence, and she is not about to make an application or conjunction within the next 30 degrees. Such births are unpredictable and unable to develop.
So this is the ancient and probably oldest ancestor or version of the modern concept of the void of course Moon, except what’s always been striking to people over the course of the past 10 or 20 years since some versions of this definition were first translated from Hellenistic authors is that it defines it as being the Moon not completing an exact—either a conjunction or any other the other aspects—within the next 30°, which is actually a somewhat rare occurrence, although it does happen from time to time.
LL: Yeah, but I guess that this shouldn’t surprise people so much because we are talking about natal context in this case. And of course this is a very, very negative indication for a native to have a Moon ‘running in the void’; it means that somehow the postman or the postwoman or the post-person of this planetary influence is just isolated from the rest of the party. The Moon is supposed to bring forth the influences of the planets, and if the Moon is just confined to a place where nobody can bear witness to her, this is something where part of the soul or part of the spirit or part of the fate is separated from the rest of it. So it is not the whole building, but there is a separate part that is moving on its own.
CB: Okay. And the original Greek term is kenodromia, which means ‘running in the void’ or ‘moving in the emptiness’ or something like that, right?
LL: Yeah, or void of course. So of course it is about course or running and there is this keno– prefix, which means ‘void’ (empty); so it is ‘moving in the emptiness’ (running in the emptiness).
CB: So that’s really important then because then it means that when you go back and read ancient interpretations of what void of course means—like from Firmicus Maternus—that are very negative, this is not something that is happening like every other day according to this Hellenistic version of the definition; but instead it’s something that happens somewhat infrequently when the Moon doesn’t any aspect within basically a 48-hour or two-day period.
LL: Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, if someone tries to develop another version and a more comprehensible version of this definition then they will find that it can be defined in the way that, first, the Moon needs to be in a sign that is averted to every other planet. So this is the first condition, and the other condition is that the Moon has to have the fewest degrees possible in the sign.
And it wasn’t observed by me, but a reader of mine actually that while the Medieval definition of void of course emphasizes being at the end of the sign, in this case being at the beginning of the sign is emphasized because when the Moon enters a new sign that is averted to every other planet then at that first moment she becomes ‘running in the void’. And this just continues until she reaches the same degree as any other planet has in another sign.
CB: Yeah, back in 2010, when Demetra George—actually it’s like 10 years ago, this summer—Demetra George and Benjamin Dykes and I got together for a week, and Demetra had translated a bunch of these definitions. And we were going to look at them ourselves and see how they compared to Schmidt’s translations and interpretations and try to come to our own conclusions about them, and that was a really important turning point for the three of us.
One of the interpretations or observations that Ben made that I always liked was that this definition of void of course is almost as if you were doing a set of equal houses from the degree of the Moon and then having all of the planets being one of the places in aversion to the Moon according to that equal house system as a way of thinking about it, which would be like the 2nd or the 6th or the 8th or the 12th.
LL: Well, yes, this is the same, just it’s a different approach. But I just want to remind lovers of Arabic and Medieval astrology that there is a very similar concept in this later astrology, which is the ‘feral’ Moon or the ‘feral’ planet that is not just ‘running in the void’ or having void of course, but having void of course in a ‘feral’ way, which means that he or she—mostly the Moon of course—is in aversion from the beginning to the end of the sign, which is very similar to this Hellenistic concept. And of course it also indicates the same basically—that there is one part of the fate and of the character that is unpredictable, can’t develop, and so it can’t be addressed and dealt with.
CB: Brilliant. All right, so let’s move on to some other definitions. The next one I wanted to look at really quickly is the definition of what you call ‘neutralization’, which I’ve called, or others have called ‘counteraction’. So it says: It is called ‘neutralization’ when the diurnal stars occupy the domiciles or the exaltations of the nocturnal stars or when the nocturnal stars do so with those of the diurnal stars. And then there’s a semicolon and it gives an alternative version or definition of neutralization, and it says: or when although the stars lying on the signs are productive of good, the masters of the signs, being unproductive, are in corruption. And there’s a lot packed in there, so there’s like two different definitions; and then the second one is a little complicated because it’s taking for granted some other concepts. Yeah, so what was the term underlying this? What was the Greek term?
LL: Well, it is antanalusis, and it means resolving something in the opposite way.
LL: Well, of course counteraction could be also a nice translation. It’s just I couldn’t imagine that counteraction could be used as a verb, so counteract; it just sounded too weird for me. So after a while, after experimenting with this counteraction, I just settled with neutralization because this is actually what a master does with the ruled planet. So the ruled planet has an agenda and there is an override on the part of the domicile master; so that’s basically it.
CB: So in the second part of the definition—or the second version of it—it’s talking about generally speaking a planet that is well-placed (especially by sign and by house), but then it’s ruled by another planet; it’s in the sign ruled by another planet. And the ruler of that sign is poorly-placed in a bad house, and therefore, it drags the first planet because the ruler of that sign is in bad condition. For example, it says ‘unproductive’, so that’s achrematistikos I think, right?
LL: Yes, that’s right.
CB: So achrematistikos. The places that are achrematistikos are places like the 6th house or the 12th house. So it’s basically defining a situation where a planet is ruled by a planet that is placed in one of the difficult houses.
LL: Yes, that’s right. Well, yeah, of course it depends on the context how we interpret these sorts of conditions. And also you see that there is another part of this definition that just says, finally, if the business of a star is managed by another star that has opposite interests—because they belong to different parties—then of course there is some sort of counteraction or neutralization of the agenda, which is diverted somehow. It’s like highjacking.
CB: Mm-hmm, if it’s ruled by a planet that’s of the opposite sect.
CB: Okay. So that leads us into the very next definition that comes after that, which is the definition of what you’re calling ‘corruption’ and is sometimes in other texts—and in my book—called ‘maltreatment’ following Schmidt.
LL: Well, yeah, this is the lexicon definition of it. So of course everybody works with lexicons and the most popular lexicon to use for the Greek language the Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon. But this lexicon was actually developed for the Attic Greek—the Attic prosaic writers of the 4th century BCE—and of course it was later augmented to incorporate some of the texts, some of the words from the later period of Greek language. But the Greek language actually has a history of more than 2,000 years if we just take the so-called ‘pre-modern’ Greek into consideration. If we take modern Greek into consideration then we can easily talk about almost 3,000 years.
So 2,000 and 3,000 years of course I’m talking about, so of course it’s impossible to build up such big dictionaries. And there are some other dictionaries dealing with different periods—like dictionaries for The New Testament or patristic lexicons or Byzantine lexicons of the different ages—and sometimes translators need to work together with these lexicons and not just rely on Liddell-Scott-Jones, which is a kind of outdated lexicon from some perspectives.
And sometimes it also happens that there are some words that are not in the lexicons at all. So I just bumped into a word that can be easily interpreted because it is just a derivation of form from an adjective. But actually this is just not found in the lexicons and maybe this was the reason why in some manuscripts it was also altered to express something totally alien from the context actually.
Maltreatment. So maltreatment is the lexicon definition—Liddell-Scott-Jones’ definition of the term kakosis, which comes from the verb kakoo, which means ‘to maltreat’, ‘to harm’, ‘to ill-treat’ or something like that.
CB: To abuse or something like that.
LL: Abuse, yeah. But kakosis is an abstract noun, and kakosis can also happen by just being at a bad place at a bad time.
LL: I’m not maltreated by anyone, I’m just maltreated by being somewhere that I’m not supposed to be.
LL: And this happens to the planets. Because if we just go through the definition, we will see that in some cases kakosis happens by malefics, but sometimes just by bad location.
CB: Right. So part of the reason why you wanted to go with ‘corruption’ as the definition is that while it’s true that it is a condition where a malefic is doing something to another planet—so that you could say that it’s maltreating it and that would be a good term—sometimes, in the definition we’re about to read, it’s just a planet being poorly-positioned in and of itself. And it’s not necessarily being harmed due to another planet, per se, but it’s just a condition that the planet has, and that’s why you felt ‘corruption’ might be a better term to use.
LL: Yes. Maybe of course people can sense the difference between ‘Planet A’ maltreating or abusing ‘Planet B’ or ‘Planet A’ corrupting ‘Planet B’, but if we just remember that in the Greek form both these ideas are incorporated then we can’t make a mistake.
CB: Yeah, that sounds like a good thing to keep in mind. So let’s read the definition. So it says: It is called ‘corruption’ when a star is the target of rays cast by the malefics, or he is enclosed by them, or he is in the application or adherence of a malefic, or he is in diameter with a malefic, or he is overcome or domicile-mastered by a badly-situated malefic while he is in decline in the unproductive (places); for if he is in the productive places, he is ameliorated by the place, and the corruption of the corrupted star is removed. So that last little bit is like a new sentence and in previous translations by Demetra and by Schmidt was not included. So where did that last part of the sentence come from?
LL: Well, as I said, there are two bunches of manuscripts for Porphyry’s version, so one group doesn’t contain this sentence but there is this other group; these are the manuscripts, On the Celestial Disposition, so they have this.
CB: So you say in your footnotes that manuscripts A, D, M, S, and V are what you’re calling that. And at the point where it just stipulates the negative condition…
LL: Yeah, but that’s in Porphyry manuscripts actually, and there are some other manuscripts that still have this finishing sentence.
CB: Okay, got it. So part of the issue with this definition that’s really important is it’s tying together and it’s taking for granted a bunch of other concepts that were already defined previously, like ‘having a ray cast’ by a malefic and what that means or being ‘enclosed’ by two malefics, which is when a planet is sort of sandwiched in-between two malefic planets either by conjunction or by their rays. It’s also talking about ‘application’ or ‘adherence’, which is when a planet is applying to another planet within 3° of an exact degree-based aspect, right?
LL: Yes, and then bodily also because adherence here refers to bodily conjunction.
CB: Right. So that’s something that’s going to throw off some modern readers when they first read this text. They’re separating the conjunction and they’re treating the conjunction as a class onto itself, and then they’re treating the other aspects of the sextile, square, trine, and opposition as being in their own category that’s different from a conjunction.
LL: Yeah, but there are different expressions I use by different authors. And I guess that’s why it would be a very important and a very important project to give not just the commentary to this Porphyry text—possibly not just Porphyry’s text—but possibly to get a translation that incorporates also some other witnesses of the same core ideas of Antiochus. So what I want to say is it would be important to have a commentary that explains what is written in the text—the way I’m doing now or we are doing now—but also highlights how these concepts were used by different authors, by other authors not belonging to the tradition of Antiochus, for example.
I just want to mention something—and I don’t think that we need to go into the details. There is this argued concept of ‘casting rays’ or ‘hurling rays’ or ‘throwing rays’ at somebody, or being ‘thrown by rays’. And the definition here in this Porphyry text, the writing from here says that it is the star on the left that casts a ray on the planet on the right, so it is basically the antithesis of overcoming.
LL: Yeah, on the right, I’m just overcoming you, don’t overcome me because I will ‘cast a ray’ on you, or something like that. So the original idea of ‘casting a ray’ was from the right, but that was just a reconceptualization by Antiochus and everybody following him to say that it is the planet on the left that casts a ray. So that’s why this should be fully explained using the already available sources. And of course this commentary could be augmented or updated, upgraded as new witnesses from different texts are discovered.
CB: Yeah, I mean, it’s partially a large part of what I tried to do in my book, especially in the house division—not the house division—the aspects chapter, where I took Demetra’s translation of some of these definitions and then broke them down and commented on what they seem to me and how they were used differently in some authors. And I spent a good deal of time talking about ‘hurling rays’ or ‘casting a ray’ and some of the issues with that where it’s used in two different ways depending on what author is using it.
CB: All right, so that’s on corruption and that’s an important definition. There’s one other one that might be relevant to mention really quickly, which is just the very long section on the ‘Domicile-Master of the Nativity’, as well as the ‘Lord of the Nativity’ and the ‘Predominator’.
CB: So let’s pause really quickly for a sec.
LL: Yeah, okay. Just before we go into that I guess this is a chapter that was part of a lot of people’s imagination, but the importance of these different dominators of the nativity is it seems that this sort of conceptualization is only known from the tradition of Antiochus. So this sort of partitioning, there is the Lord of the Nativity, there is the Domicile-Master, and there is this Predominator. So these three ‘bosses’ of the nativity, this is something special to Antiochus and to his tradition.
CB: Special in what sense? I mean, it seemed like the idea of the overall ruler of the chart was something that was discussed in different authors.
LL: Sure. Yeah, of course the Domicile-Master, that is, the Oikodespotes, and the Predominator, that is, the Epikratetor, are in many handbooks of course. But the third one, this ‘Lord of Nativity’, this is always something that is, “Oh, yeah, is it a separate one, or is it just a function of the Domicile-Master?” just to take as an example; so this is a real debated issue.
CB: Yeah. So I talked about that in Episode 205 of The Astrology Podcast, titled “The Master of the Nativity: Finding the Ruler of the Chart,” but I didn’t really read a definition of it at the time. And this is the actual text that I was drawing on primarily, in addition to consulting with some other texts; but it’s one of the clearest definitions of this concept in the ancient tradition. So I don’t want to read the entire thing because it’s actually a somewhat long thing, but it’s basically the earliest set of definitions or one of the earliest set of definitions for how to find or at least attempt to find something like the overall ruler of the chart.
CB: All right, so let’s move on. So those are some of the definitions from Antiochus or from Porphyry. And people can read that full document now, and I’ll put a link to it in the description for this episode. There’s a few other texts I wanted to look at just really briefly though for the rest of this episode before we wrap up, just to give people an idea or give people a taste of some of the other texts that you’re translating, which are really interesting and really important.
So one of the other ones is “Rhetorius, On the Systematic Interpretation of Nativities.” And this is another one of the texts that you’ve released where this is pretty much a complete translation of an early summary that Rhetorius must have made—or somebody around that time, around the 5th or 6th or 7th century—about how electional astrology was done and what you’re supposed to pay attention to in the Hellenistic astrological tradition.
LL: Yeah, but I guess that when we talk about this systematic interpretation of inceptions, this is the nativities. But there is another text that is very similar, but it is about inceptions.
CB: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m confusing the two texts that we’re about to talk about. So we’re going to talk about the one that’s about how to interpret a natal chart. And it’s unique for that reason because this is “Rhetorius, On the Systematic Interpretation of Nativities.” Most of the Hellenistic authors, we have handbooks where they talk about individual topics and how to interpret charts in the context of those topics—like children or marriage or travel or what have you—but there aren’t really any texts, except for this one, that summarize and tell you how to put everything together to do a full consultation.
LL: That’s right. That’s right. And there are some interesting features of this text anyways.
CB: Okay. What are some of the interesting features?
LL: Well, first thing is if I use the common terms ‘delineation’ and ‘prediction’, people normally think that the first thing is how to delineate the text and then to go to predictions. But it seems that after an initial evaluation of the planets, the author just wants us to move immediately towards predictions and then at the end we go back to delineations, which is really surprising, I guess.
CB: Sure. So you have the name ‘Rhetorius’ in quotes here. So you think that this text—even though it’s sometimes attributed to Rhetorius, or there’s a version of it that Rhetorius may have authored—you think it was actually written by another author?
LL: Yeah. Actually I believe that this text—the original version—was authored by the anonymous astrologer of Zeno. So people will think that I attribute everything to this obscure person, but actually I guess this imperial astrologer was responsible for composing the original version of this text, I believe which is version one here. This is the first translation so it hasn’t been edited anywhere.
So I just worked from manuscripts directly to translate them, which is nice because I needed to do the same job as editors do, just to compare the different readings and decide which reading should constitute the genuine one. So I guess that this was written in the 5th century by this imperial astrologer and then later some of the Byzantine astrologers just developed it further. So there are three versions here appended and edited together; so this is everything that we have about this text actually.
CB: Okay. So you translated three different versions of it in this PDF that you’ve released.
LL: One other thing I just want to highlight is that Robert Schmidt already had translated the third version and also translated some portions of the second version. So the other versions have already been translated into English, but this is a synoptic edition here; a rich translation.
CB: So this is the first time that the first version has been translated, and it’s the first time that all three have been compared and translated in a parallel version.
CB: So you’ve got the three different versions of the text here, in three different paragraphs—paragraphs—three columns basically that you can read side-by-side. And it’s really interesting reading the different versions because you can see the differences, and this gives a really stark example where version one will keep going, for example, in talking about what Ptolemy says to do, but then version two and version three will break off and won’t contain that section, or later, there’s other sections where version two or version three will keep going in talking about something, but then version one will not contain that section.
So it’s kind of a really good example of textual comparisons and some of the frustrations with attempting to reconstruct or the idea of reconstructing an original text. Because sometimes if one were to attempt to do that you’d have to make a judgment call about what was in the original versus what wasn’t and you may or may not be right.
LL: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, it can be always frustrating because sometimes we have really different tastes than Medieval readers had. So there are hundreds of different versions of inceptions about, I don’t know, political questions, for example, and you see that this is the only surviving systematic treatment of how to analyze nativities. And even so, a scribe that had the original version one at hand just gave up after a table or just somehow the rest of the manuscript was just lost, and that’s why he was unable to copy them.
But sometimes it just happens that there is a chapter and the scribe just writes down, “Okay, look at this chapter in another book, blah, blah,” and you will never find this other book. Or there are some other scribes that leave some pages or some paragraphs blank in case they find the manuscript they need later; but of course they will never find it, so that’s why we don’t have these texts.
CB: Okay. One of the things that’s interesting about this text, to me, is that some of the versions will mention in passing some of the earlier authors that they’re drawing on, so that it’s clear that they’re kind of synthesizing the texts of earlier authors, like Vettius Valens and Claudius Ptolemy and Dorotheus; and so, it’s an attempt to bring together into a systematic approach the techniques that those different earlier authors outlined.
LL: Yeah. Well, I guess this was sort of a personal preference for this author to choose Valens and Dorotheus and Ptolemy for these reasons. And of course this is part of the reason why these are really popular and well-known authors even now because the ones who were just neglected and not revered by any later authors just got forgotten.
CB: Yeah, there’s a lot of astrological texts that didn’t survive, and then there’s certain authors that became popular for different reasons, and so their texts got propagated and copied over again and sometimes referenced. And maybe those references caused other later authors to seek them out and to try to preserve their texts or different parts of them, whereas other authors got overlooked for whatever reason.
LL: Yeah. And sometimes it is just a question of chance. For example, there is this astrological author Julianus of Laodicea whose two pieces, two chapters were translated recently and who must have been a really notable and remarkable and wise author, but unfortunately, we’ve got a dozen fragments and that’s all.
CB: Sure, so just pieces of it. Even Dorotheus, whose got to be one of the most influential astrological authors in history, we don’t actually have the full original Greek text of Dorotheus. The primary treatment of Dorotheus we have is an Arabic translation of a Persian translation of the original Greek text, as well as a bunch of different Greek fragments and quotations and paraphrases from later authors.
LL: Yeah, but I think that even if we don’t have the complete Dorotheus, it must be 90-95% that we do have.
LL: Of course the poetical form is lost, but maybe this is easier to understand now and easier to translate now.
CB: Sure. Yeah, so let me read just a few quick excerpts from this text. I’ll read from version one. So at the beginning, it says: After you have ascertained the positions of the stars to the degree, the natures of their signs, their bounds according to the Egyptians, their trigons, participations, exaltations and depressions, their decans and the faces of these decans, their individual degrees and bright degrees, their twelfth-parts, their latitudes in reference to the winds and the steps, their obliquities – that is, their distances from the Ecliptic, just as from the Meridian – their appearances, additions or subtractions or stationing, and, according to the degree, the co-risings of the fixed stars that are close to them, with reference to their magnitude, winds, and temperaments, then come to the Hour-Marker and the Midheaven, and the pivots, succedents, and declines to the degree.
And when you have already ascertained the seven stars in respect [to] their places, cast the seven lots that are subjoined in the introduction of the book, and ascertain the appearances of Selene – that is to say, the conjunction or whole moon before birth – her third, seventh, and fortieth days, and her applications and separations by longitude and latitude.
So it outlines a string of all of the basic stuff that you’re supposed to calculate and know. And it’s interesting that this author—going back to our earlier conversation—is probably coming from the later part of the Hellenistic tradition, like the 5th or 6th century, and there is an emphasis where they’re at least trying to calculate things, if you can, to the degree if possible.
LL: Yes, definitely. I guess this is why here ‘to the degree’ is always emphasized. Otherwise, I don’t think it would make sense in the context of early Hellenistic texts.
CB: Yeah. Well, it’s definitely a development by the time of Rhetorius, and to a lesser extent, even Firmicus. There’s clearly a trend where they’re moving more towards trying to calculate things to the degree and being an idea to aspire to, whereas certainly earlier in the tradition, it seems like the sign-based approach was more common. And one of the things that’s caused issues in terms of understanding what the actual practice was is a disconnect, like you were saying earlier, between the theory versus the practice.
LL: Yeah, but even if we just put aside the degree-based consideration, still I wonder how many traditional astrologers make such a detailed investigation of planetary conditions.
CB: Sure. Yeah, that’s a good point. Okay, so back to the text. Then it says: Then, after setting the general fixity of the birth and the pivots, succedents, and declines to the degree, examine the domicile-master of the birth according to the aforementioned methods. Then, after considering and calculating the conception, cast the leading and following trigonal, tetragonal, and hexagonal sides of every star to the degree, note them down separately, and keep them at hand in order that when during the interpretation of the circumambulations of the stars, we are making the adherences, we should not only take the trigonal, tetragonal, and hexagonal sides according to the sign but also to the degree; for they are more [cogent]—we had a discussion earlier about the translation of ‘cogent’—especially in the signs of short and long ascension.
After noting down all these said sides, examine the lifetime from the domicile-master of the selected releaser, but when you are making the circumambulations of all the stars, do not forget that the adherences of the stars, the Hour-Marker, the Midheaven, and the lots that occur with the fixed stars have enormous performance in accordance with their temperaments, especially if both of them have the same wind. And then he goes on and quotes a long passage from Ptolemy about, what, the fixed stars?
LL: Well, yes, it’s about the nature of the fixed stars as related to the planets. Well, actually you see that here in this paragraph the instructions say that you need to have a sort of prediction calculation first before diving into the details about the topics of the native. So I guess that this is really reasonable because, on one hand, this is a sort of a longevity consideration; and on the other hand, it’s also predicting periods with reception. Now looking at the different periods of a native can work without assessing the topics in delineation on one hand, then on the other hand, they can also be used in correcting the time of birth.
CB: Right. So it’s talking about doing circumambulations—which are primary directions here—and it’s doing them from especially important places, such as the Ascendant, the Midheaven, the Lot of Fortune, the Sun and Moon; and then actually it says the remaining five stars. So it says just do your circumambulations from everything, but then it gives specific topics. If you start from the Ascendant, it says the resulting primary directions periods will give indications for the reckoning about life and physical ailments, and you should do primary directions or circumambulations from the Midheaven, which will indicate things relative to activity, reputation, livelihood and children, and so on and so forth.
CB: It sort of harkens back to Ptolemy’s instructions in Book 3 where he talks about doing the length-of-life treatment first, so that you’re not making wild predictions in the future for somebody that won’t live to see it.
LL: Yes, this is a part of the story, and the other part is that if you have a nice detailed description of different periods of life then you can just compare it to the actual CV of the native, and you can make some minor corrections in the timing of birth maybe.
CB: Okay. So it has that long section on primary directions or circumambulations and then eventually it moves into a different section. It says: You must judge each of the stars by their peculiar nature and according to their adherences to the stars, both the wandering and the fixed ones, and the Ascending and Descending Nodes, and according to the qualities of the bounds and you must give a judgment about how they describe the outcomes in this manner.
After this subject, make the ascensions of the signs in accordance with the proper zone, the periods of the stars according to their greatest, middle, and minor years – first by making days, then months, and finally years – and then, after this subject, examine the subjects of the conception, the childbirth, and the rest as they are given below in the table.
LL: Which is missing.
CB: Which is missing, great. Okay, so the text just breaks off at this point.
LL: Here, yes.
CB: One of the things I like when it goes into this section in version one, it’s not citing authors. But what’s interesting is in version two and in version three, it actually starts citing where some of this is from, and in the parallel paragraph, it says: You must take the ascensions of the signs in Ptolemy’s methods according to the Handy Tables, [and] in the methods of the Egyptians according to the Egyptian tables, and in Valens’ methods according to Valens’ tables.
And then it goes on, and it says: Then make the examination concerning parents following the methods of Ptolemy, [Valens,]—which you have in brackets—and Dorotheus and, following other ancients, from the lots of parents, and concerning siblings, [following Ptolemy] from the third place and the lots of siblings. So it’s interesting in the second version—and to a lesser extent the third version—how it’s citing specific authors that it’s drawing on.
LL: Yeah, but it is also possible that actually the original version had this, just this version one is the closest to the original in time; but this is not the original one written by this 5th century astrologer. It can easily happen because if we take the compendium attributed to Rhetorius, we will see that even the most extensive form is faulty. So the names of the authors are often suppressed and substituted with some very, very blank expressions like, ‘one wise person’ or someone or something like that, while we can see from other versions that there was a name originally.
Just to give an example, you might remember, or other people watching this episode can remember the chapter of Rhetorius about the activities. There is a short poem quoted from Anubio and some other views of Anubio were expressed on how to assess the activities, or what a native does by looking at the different planets.
And here in the version that we can read in translation, we can see that, okay, Anubio says this. But actually this is not the original version; this is a 9th century revision. What we have actually in the manuscript of the earliest version is just something that doesn’t make sense; there is a word that doesn’t mean anything. So there was someone—a scribe or an editor—who just removed some names from the text for an unknown reason.
CB: Okay, got it. So towards the end—just to skip a little bit—there’s this nice little section I like where it starts talking about timing techniques again at the end. And version one just breaks off, but version two contains one of these last paragraphs, and it says: Before all, examine the ruler of the year and his position and testimonies, and whether he sees his domicile and how he was situated in the birth. So there it’s talking about doing annual profections and identifying the ruler of the sign that the profection has come to as the lord of the year. Then it says: Then examine the Hour-Marker of the year based on the degree of Helios’ return – that is, from the exact hour of the birth-substitute…
LL: Which is the solar revolution actually.
CB: Right. So it’s talking about the solar revolution. So it’s probably drawing on—it sounds like Dorotheus basically; like Dorotheus’ treatment of doing the annual profected lord of the year and also doing the solar return chart at the same time.
CB: Okay. So then it says: Then examine the Hour-Marker of the year based on the degree of [the Sun’s] return – that is, from the exact hour of the birth-substitute – the stars regarding the Hour-Marker, and its lord. So it’s talking about the stars aspecting the Ascendant in the solar return chart, as well as the ruler of the Ascendant in the solar return chart as being particularly important.
And this is the part that I like, it says: Then make the distributions of (the Lots of) Fortune and Daimon [or Fortune and Spirit] in the manner of Valens, the transmissions and acquisitions of the stars as Valens does, and then make the decennials as the Egyptians do, and after these, make the distribution of the year. So that first little bit was talking about doing zodiacal releasing from the Lot of Spirit and Fortune just like Valens does in Book 4 of the Anthology.
CB: So I like this because sometimes I’ve heard people say that Valens is the only author that talks about zodiacal releasing. But in fact, not only was Valens drawing on an earlier author named Abraham for zodiacal releasing, but he gets cited here by some later authors writing in Greek as one of those techniques that you should employ if you’re trying to do a comprehensive chart analysis.
LL: Yeah. Actually the author of this text was a fan of Valens, maybe the earliest one.
CB: Maybe the earliest, sure. Well, probably not because if Valens lived in the middle of the 2nd century and this person’s living in the late 5th or early 6th century then somebody passed on Valens’ text. That’s one of the funny things about Valens’ text is he makes you swear an oath three different times to keep the teachings secret and not to share them, but then evidently somebody broke the oath because his book got copied over and got passed on, otherwise we wouldn’t have it at this point.
LL: Sure. But there are some obvious signs of his book having been edited in the 3rd century first because there is a list of Roman emperors reaching to Philip the Arab I guess in the 3rd century, so of course Valens couldn’t have written this part. And there are some appendices to the book that contain some nativities from the 5th century. So it seems like someone just found Valens’ notes—which were maybe accumulated during the years—and put them together, updated some parts; and so even by the 5th century, Valens’ work had been altered many times.
LL: So that’s the point.
CB: Maybe some of his students continued passing on the books and added to them at different points over the following decades or the following centuries, and then eventually it got more widely circulated.
LL: Yeah, of course. But actually this is just a pattern that happens to us; we can say every other astrological text, including Ptolemy’s Apotelesmatics or Tetrabiblos.
CB: Okay, so that’s it for that text. It’s just an overview and a synopsis of every technique if you wanted to synthesize a bunch of different authors. And in order to do a full-on chart interpretation this would be your approach or this was this author’s approach. And it’s unique for that reason because you don’t usually see a single author trying to combine all of these different techniques in terms of how to read a chart. But let’s move on to the last two texts because I want to make sure we mention these at least briefly before we wrap up, since we’re almost at two hours here; the first one is “Rhetorius, On Inceptions.”
So this is a text from Rhetorius, but it was not translated by the previous translators of Rhetorius so far—which were James Holden and Robert Schmidt—but this is an additional piece that was probably in the Rhetorius compilation that you found.
LL: Actually it was in the Rhetorius compilation, or we have very compelling evidence for this because actually one version has Rhetorius as the author in the manuscript. So we need to remember that most of the texts attributed to Rhetorius actually don’t bear his name, but in this case, there is a very clear attribution to Rhetorius. And the extended version is on the left and Rhetorius’ version is on the right. And I got the idea that the extended version is based on Rhetorius’ version, but just to keep the sequence, I just put the newer version on the left here.
CB: Okay. So you’ve got two parallel columns, and on the left is the extended version and on the right is Rhetorius’ version for sure. And so, again, it’s a synopsis putting together a bunch of rules for practicing inceptional astrology or electional astrology. And basically if you want to pick an electional chart according to Hellenistic rules, these are the rules or the things to look for basically, right?
LL: Yeah, so this is one purpose, but the other purpose is if you are analyzing an event chart or a consultation chart then of course these are the same guidelines that you should follow.
CB: Right. So this is using the Greek term katarche, which means ‘inception’ or ‘beginning’ or ‘commencement’. And the Greek term had that dual meaning where it could either mean looking at an inception chart for an event that has already started in the past, or looking at or even picking out a chart that’s still coming up in the future.
LL: Yes, that’s right.
CB: Okay. All right, so which one should I read from, or which would you prefer I read if I read a passage from one? The Rhetorius version or the extended?
LL: Well, I guess the Rhetorius version is just okay.
CB: Okay. So it says: In every inception, examine the supervisor and the administrator, and examine whether they are not subtracting. So it says that the supervisor and the administrator—that’s the lord of the day (the ruler of the day) and the ruler of the hour, right?
LL: Yes, that’s right.
CB: So using the planetary ruler of the day, which is like Sun-day, Moon-day, Tuesday, Wednesday (which is Mercury day) and so on and so forth. So pay attention to what the ruler of the day is and what the ruler of the hour is.
CB: Okay, then it says: Then, above all, examine in what sign the Hour-Marker is: in a tropical, a double-bodied, or a solid one; and whether it is straight or crooked, moist or aquatic, and so forth. So it says then look at what the rising sign is, what sign of the zodiac the Hour-Marker is, and what the quality of that sign is.
CB: So then it goes on, and it says: Then, [examine] what appearance the lord of the Hour-Marker has: [so the ruler of the Ascendant and] (whether he is) morning, evening, or setting; adding or subtracting; being exalted or depressed; opposing (his domicile) or in his own domicile or trigon; pivotal, having declined, or succeeding; or by whom he is beheld: by a benefic or a malefic.
So a bunch of conditions there, but basically just looking at establishing what is the condition of the ruler of the Ascendant in your inception chart or in your electional chart and applying all the different core criteria that you would look at: such as whether it’s a morning star or an evening star, whether it’s setting under the beams of the Sun, whether it’s moving faster or slower than its average daily motion or even being retrograde, whether it’s in the sign of its exaltation or depression.
This one’s interesting relative to the episode from last month that you helped work on with me, which is he actually explicitly after exaltation or depression stipulates a planet opposing his domicile or being in its own domicile or trigon. So once a planet opposing its domicile or the concept of detriment had started to become fully integrated into the Hellenistic tradition, Rhetorius is using it really explicitly here in electional astrology.
CB: Then it says: Pivotal, having declined, or succeeding—[so being in angular house, being in a cadent house, or being in a succedent house, and then finally]—by whom he is beheld: [whether] by benefic[s] or malefic[s]; so if the ruler of the Ascendant is being aspected by benefic planets or malefic planets.
LL: Yes. So basically this paragraph is very similar to some instructions in the previous text, of the natal text; the difference is that nativities have a bigger importance. In this case maybe the investigation shouldn’t go as far as in the case of nativities.
CB: Okay. So then it goes on, and it says: Then, examine in what place Helios and Selene are; by whom they are beheld; in whose bounds they are; and (whether they are in) bright degrees. Then it goes on, and it says: Examine in what place[s] the domicile-masters of Helios and Selene are—[so the rulers of the Sun and Moon, or the two luminaries; you’re supposed to look at the domicile rulers]—what appearances they have; whether they are subtracting or adding; and whether they are looking upon the lights. So whether the domicile lords of the Sun and Moon, or the luminaries, are aspecting them. And, in particular, whether the domicile-master of Selene is not opposing Selene; whether he is in a bad or a good place; whether he is beholding Selene, and welcomes the presence of her.
What is the term for ‘welcomes the presence of her’? That’s kind of interesting because it almost sounds like reception, which you don’t see referenced a lot in the Hellenistic tradition, but then it shows up full-blown in the Medieval tradition. And I’ve been trying to trace where that came in.
LL: Yeah, actually in this case ‘the welcome’ could be translated as ‘receive’. The keyword is ekdechomai, which means ‘to receive’, but it can also mean ‘receive’. But there is another cognate or verb that is epidechomai, which has a very similar meaning, but it seems these rarely-used verbs in Greek have a different meaning. Well, this ‘welcome’ means simply to be bodily applied by another planet; so when there is an application from the Moon and this is the planet that is just waiting for the application. And there is the other verb that is ‘receive’, and this other verb ‘receive’ expresses exactly what is reception in the later tradition; so being a guest in someone’s domicile, but this is a different verb.
CB: When you look at the parallel from the extended version, it’s talking about the ruler of the sign that the Moon is placed in basically, and it says in the extended version: (Examine) in particular whether the domicile-master of [the Moon] is not opposing [the Moon]; whether he lies in a good place; [and] whether he is beholding her in any way, except [by] a diameter [by an opposition]; and whether he welcomes her presence. That’s pretty close to the concept of reception. So I wonder if this is where…
LL: So reception is a bigger set in this case, so we are dealing with a very special meaning, which means that it is not just reception and having the configuration, but the ruler and the Moon are together in a sign; so this is a bodily conjunction also.
CB: Okay, got it. So then the text of Rhetorius gets a little choppy and it looks like it breaks off, and it says: …and whether Selene is waxing in her light or waning; and whether she is adding in numbers or subtracting. It keeps going on: [Examine] in which place the Lot of Fortune is, and whether [the Sun] is beholding it: for it brings success and choices. Examine the lord of (the Lot of) Fortune. [And] consider the applications and the separations of Selene.
It keeps going with a bunch of different things, including looking at the nodes, but this kind of gives you a really good overview. It’s almost like Rhetorius is summarizing all of the electional rules from Book 5 of Dorotheus, which is really useful because Dorotheus does a pretty good job of going through different topics and telling you what to look at, but isn’t as clear about outlining a systematic approach for looking at every inceptional chart right from the start, at least in the surviving version.
LL: Yeah. Well, it seems that this author who wrote these texts was devoted to systemizing the whole tradition to put together texts that just tell how to do this or how to do that in a systematic way. There is a third text that is attributed to Rhetorius and this has already been translated; this is the so-called ‘tabular investigation’. I think this would be ‘examination’. ‘Tabular examination’, that would be the best translation for that. This was translated by Holden; I think it is chapter 57 in this translation. And there is another version that I found in The Book of Hermes, the Liber Hermetis, translated by Robert Zoller.
LL: And I guess there was a synoptic version translated by Robert Schmidt in one booklet, so this could be even improved. And there is also a systematic examination of the luminaries, of the trigon lords, of the basic lords of the prenatal syzygy, the lunar nodes and something like that. So it’s about the general assessment of the success and the fame and rank of the native.
CB: Yeah, that would be a great thing to translate at some point. So that’s definitely on your list of things to do one of these days?
LL: Yeah, yeah.
CB: Okay, great. All right, let’s quickly move on to our last text, and this one’s really good. We’re kind of jumping all over the place to different eras in Hellenistic astrology, first with Antiochus in the 1st or 2nd century and Porphyry—if it was even authored by Porphyry in the 3rd century or so, and then we’ve jumped to Rhetorius and Zeno’s astrologer, where Zeno’s astrologer is in the 5th century, and Rhetorius might be in the 6th or 7th century.
But the Greek texts were not just restricted to that era where we typically think of the Hellenistic tradition from the 1st century BC until the 6th or 7th century CE, but instead ancient Greek continued to be used in the Byzantine tradition for several centuries after that, and astrologers continued to write texts and copy over and preserve different texts, and in some instances even translated texts from Arabic into Greek, right?
LL: That’s right, yeah. The only problem is that in a lot of cases the original authors are not indicated. We know that there are a handful of Arabic authors appearing in these later sources, but there are many, many chapters that we suspect are coming from Arabic astrology, but we don’t know about the authors unfortunately. But in this case, we know the author and also the whereabouts of the text.
CB: Okay, so the fourth text you’re releasing today is a work in progress where it is a translation from a student of the famous 9th century astrologer Abu Ma’shar who was one of the most prolific Medieval astrological authors and influential astrological authors. And I’ve interviewed Benjamin Dykes about him last summer and probably will again before too long because Ben said in the last episode that he’s finishing his translation of Abu Ma’shar’s Greater Introduction right now.
So Abu Ma’shar lived in the 9th century, and he had this student named Shādhān who wrote this text, where it seems like he just wrote down a bunch of different anecdotes from his time studying with his teacher and some of the things that his teacher Abu Ma’shar told him; which makes it an extraordinarily unique document that you don’t usually see in the astrological tradition, but also very interesting as sort of like a behind-the-scenes look into the life and the thinking of Abu Ma’shar.
LL: Yes, that’s it. I guess this is the best description.
CB: Okay. So this text that was originally written by Shādhān in Arabic in the 9th century, at some point it was translated into Greek, right?
LL: Yeah. Well, we don’t know exactly the time of the translation and the name of the translator because these later translators didn’t want to be exposed, but we suspect that this translation was made around the year 1000; so maybe in the 10th or the 11th centuries. It is not a complete translation of the complete Arabic text. As far as I know there is no edition of the Arabic text, and as far as I know there may be two different versions of the Arabic original that is also extant.
And this Greek version is only a partial translation, but it contains about 60-70-80% of the Arabic versions according to Pingree who wrote an article about that. And this Greek version also has a Latin translation; it is extant in many manuscripts. And it is very important to look at these manuscripts because the Byzantine Greek version is only extant in three primary manuscripts and sometimes they are sort of faulty, so we need every witness to put together the whole picture of course until the Arabic is translated.
CB: So the Greek version was translated directly from the Arabic. But I think you said that the Latin version was translated from the Greek version, right?
LL: Yes, but it is not me who’s saying that but Pingree, but it looks quite obvious.
CB: Sure. I guess I was just saying in terms of the importance of having a translation of the Greek version and studying it. So I’ve been encouraging Ben to translate the Arabic version, and I think he’s going to do that at some point, but once you finish this I think this will be the first full translation of this text that’s been published. And you’ve completed about a third of it, and you’ve been slowly releasing it to your patrons and supporters through your page on Patreon over the past few months, right?
LL: Well, yes. For a while I wanted to release a new installment every week, but now I just release some new installments every second week. I’m trying to finish this text as soon as possible, but of course there are many other texts that I need to deal with.
CB: Sure. Well, I just wanted to read through a few highlights that you have so far since it’s still a work in progress. There’s a few really good parts in this, just to give people a taste for what it’s about and what the text is like; so first, I wanted to take a look at passage three. So this is funny—it’s like a classic anecdote that Abu Ma’shar told his student once about giving advice to somebody and some of the pitfalls of talking to non-astrologers. So here it is, the title is “When the Moon was in square with Mars, the traveler, to whom an inception was made, met robbers.”
So the text says: Abū Maʿshar said, “Once I was traveling to Baghdād with some fellow travelers, and in Ray, I met a friend having some knowledge of astrology, who asked me how the Moon was the following day. I told him she was in square with Mars. He replied, ‘Then you will not depart tomorrow.’ I told him, ‘Believe me, I am not at all eager to depart on a day like that, but my cattle-drivers will not listen to us.’ He suggested we test them, so I said to the drivers, ‘Men, tomorrow it is a bad day. Be patient – I shall feed you animals.’ They were not convinced, so I let them depart and stayed with my friend.
As they were about to leave, I took the Ascendant and [I] found it was [in] Taurus, and Mars was in it while the Moon was in Leo in square with Mars. So, I told them, ‘For God’s sake, do not leave in this hour!’ but they laughed at me and left. I told my friend, ‘Believe me, I feel sorry about these foolish people,’ and we sat down to eat and drink. We were still drinking when certain men of the caravan arrived wounded: they had encountered robbers, who killed some of them and wounded the others, and the robbers had driven away all the animals they were driving. The survivors attacked me with stones and staffs, saying ‘these things happened because of your superstition so that you can confirm your utterance.’ I barely survived the attack, and I swore I would never disclose any astrological wisdom to an ignoramus.”
So that’s a great anecdote. It sounds like a real-life anecdote of Abu Ma’shar paying attention to on a regular daily basis what’s going on with the electional astrology. And specifically when he gave advice to these people, and they wouldn’t listen to him, he cast the inception chart (or the electional chart) for when they departed on their journey, and he saw that Taurus was rising and Mars was in Taurus in the 1st house and that the Moon was in Leo squaring Mars. So it was kind of like a worst-case scenario in terms of electional astrology at that point.
LL: Yes, it seems. Of course we can’t exclude the possibility that Abu Ma’shar was exaggerating because this is second-hand information. So he says, “Okay, I met a friend,” this he tells to his devoted pupil Shādhān, and of course we just know it from him. Yeah, but it’s interesting to see behind the scenes I guess and to see that these practicing astrologers, even the biggest ones, the greatest ones like Abu Ma’shar himself was just like us.
CB: Yeah. I mean, as somebody who’s been doing electional astrology for the past 15 years or so, if I paid attention to charts like that, and if you have Mars in the 1st house in an electional chart and the Moon is applying to a square with Mars in a day chart, you’re going to have a bad time; and that’s a pretty straightforward electional rule that most electional astrologers I think will get onboard with pretty easily. So maybe it was a little exaggerated, but on the other hand, this could have actually been a real-life anecdote of something that I could have seen happening just because I’ve sort of seen things like that myself just in terms of my own endeavors and leaving on trips and things like that when you have no choice.
All right, so that’s one of the excerpts. Another one that I found interesting that I wanted to read is the very next one, passage four, which is titled “When Saturn is in conjunction with Jupiter, if someone is born who has the sign of this conjunction in the Ascendant or Midheaven, this one will be a great king.” So it says: Abū Maʿshar said, “The conjunctions of Saturn and Jupiter bear great mysteries: if someone is born on the day of [this] conjunction, and his Ascendant or Midheaven happens to be in the same sign as the conjunction, a great king will be born whose name will be known all over the world.”
So I thought that was really interesting of course because we are in the year of 2020 where we’re coming up on a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn really soon, and the question of what happens if somebody who was born at that time with a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction conjunct their Ascendant or conjunct their Midheaven or what have you.
LL: Well, we will see.
CB: Yeah, we’ll have to find out
LL: In 30 years maybe.
CB: Yeah, 30 years, 40 years, we’ll see what happens. All right, so another one that I wanted to read was passage 23 about if you’re going to the caliph, which is something we all find ourselves doing from time to time.
CB: Right. You did the other day? Okay. “When you’re about to go to the Caliph, who wants to use your knowledge of astrology.” It says: He also told me in Baghdād [so this is Shādhān talking; he must have been studying with Abu Ma’shar in Baghdad in the 9th century, which is just really cool to think of]. It says: He also told me in Baghdād, “If the Caliph takes you so that you serve him with your knowledge of astrology, do not make a judgment when the Ascendant is [in] Scorpio, or the angles are in movable signs, or Mars is angular, because the judgment will be mistaken, and because Scorpio is a sign of falsity.”
So I remember reading Ben’s translation of the Latin version of Shādhān’s anecdotes, and it’s like a recurring theme that Abu Ma’shar was not a fan of the sign Scorpio, and it kept associating it with deception and falsity.
LL: Yeah, but I don’t think that it was him doing it for the first time.
LL: I’m not a walking encyclopedia, but maybe there are many earlier texts, including the one that is attributed to Rhetorius about the description of signs, or the one that is present in Valens. There are different classifications of signs, and one of these classifications can be real weird, like enigmatic or obscures signs, convex signs, or I don’t know, some sort of signs; and then there can be some false signs or mendacious signs, so I guess this is also part of the story.
What is interesting is that Abu Ma’shar gives this suggestion to the student and it is not a theoretical recommendation. It is not like, “Oh, yeah, well, because of this or that.” When you go to the caliph, you’re playing with your life basically because if the caliph doesn’t like your prediction, or you give bad predictions and these are faulty then maybe your head can say goodbye to our neck. So don’t do that because you need to be careful and this is something that you need to take care of.
CB: Yeah. I mean, we’re talking about this time period when astrologers were acting still as advisers for kings and for the rulers and sometimes making really important decisions or advising them on important decisions. And they were not just doing delineations of their love life or something like that, they were timing wars and campaigns and the founding of cities; like Baghdad itself was founded based on an electional chart put together by a group of astrologers. So he’s giving indications to be careful not to give advice under certain conditions, like if Mars is angular, because your judgment, your prediction might be wrong in that instance, so you want to be paying attention to those things.
LL: Yeah, that’s right. And not just that—that was always a risky business. Because there is another chapter that I haven’t translated so far, but I remember Abu Ma’shar saying that once he was punished by the caliph for predicting something that was right, it’s just the caliph didn’t like it.
CB: Oh, right, okay. Let’s see, so there’s two more passages that I wanted to read; one of them is 24, which is “If someone wants to travel for his profit, how the horoscope should have its configurations.” It says: He also told me another secret: when you want to travel for profit, make the lord of the second house be above the earth, separate from a malefic star, or a star made infortunate, or a declining star, and apply to an angular benefic in mutual reception, because the trip will be of the greatest profit. I add the following: the lord of the second house must not be in [its] fall, burned up, or retrograde because these conditions cause hindrance. That’s interesting Shādhān giving an anecdote from his teacher, but then also adding his own observation at the end as well.
LL: Yes, sometimes it happens.
CB: And finally, the last one that I thought was interesting was passage 28. It says: He said when Saturn is in Libra and Jupiter is in Cancer, they always effect great changes in the world. And I just thought that was really interesting and weird because a few months ago, I did the episode with Nina Gryphon on the founding of the birth chart for the United States, which just weirdly happened to be founded in a year when Jupiter was in Cancer and Saturn was in Libra, which are the signs of their exaltations. So it’s interesting this 9th century astrology mentioning something like that and then you have an event like that that correlates several centuries after the author died, for whatever that’s worth.
LL: Yeah. Well, this is really remarkable I guess. But it’s interesting because in this case this is an isolated statement, so we don’t learn anything more about the background or the context. Sometimes it is really frustrating to see that these memories of Shādhān are just like, “Okay, I just heard something interesting, and I just wrote down this very sentence,” and we don’t know about the background, the why, what are the limits of these sorts of things. But still, it’s interesting to see that this is what the astrological scene looked like in the 9th century.
CB: Yeah, definitely. And it’s interesting because it’s behind the scenes; it’s not just the theoretical texts of what you’re publishing and saying this is how it works in theory. But some of it is real-life anecdotes about things that made a difference or that were learned, lived experiences perhaps that Abu Ma’shar may have had.
LL: Yes. So in the case of this present text of Shādhān’s discourses, I could have waited until Ben Dykes put this Arabic text on his schedule, but I just wanted to bring it to the people interested in the practical side of astrology to what was happening then. So of course my translation will be superseded by Ben’s translation eventually, but the very same reasons motivate me when I’m focusing on translating actual casebook nativities or inceptions that haven’t been translated or edited so far.
So for example, the nativity of the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII, there is a detailed delineation using the methods of Dorotheus and Ptolemy. So these are very important, but you see that there is a whole range from the purely theoretical to the actual practical examples that can be translated.
CB: Yeah. Well, it seems like you’re covering the entire spectrum; and especially as you go on more and more with your translations, we’ll be able to see more and more of that. I know translating some of the horoscopes of different authors, different horoscopes and delineations that are written in Greek is something you’re also very interested in. So just to wrap up the Shādhān piece, you’re about a third of the way through translating this, but like you said, every other week, you’re going to continue releasing more passages from this translation through your page on Patreon for subscribers that want to sign up for that.
So right now the goal is to fund the project, so that you can keep translating all the time. So I want to encourage everybody that listened to this episode and was interested in anything that we were talking about to go to your page on Patreon and fund it. I want to see you translate more of these texts and eventually however many years in the future have all of the surviving texts translated and then we can study them and piece through them and learn from them and recover a lot of the knowledge that’s locked away in some of these texts that has been locked away for centuries now. So patrons get early access to texts like this, as well as updates, plus other benefits. You’re still in the process of expanding the different benefits that people get at this point, right?
LL: Sure. I just wanted to start translating and releasing translations as soon as possible before setting up a devoted webpage that you can find all the translations—and you can log in and you can access them in a convenient format—and also for providing any sort of ideas or any sort of special benefits to the generous subscribers, but I’m just planning to set up different ideas.
So I’m focusing primarily on translations and of course anyone who has ever tried to translate texts must know that translation is a very time-consuming business; especially in the case of Greek texts when you just don’t sit down and start translating, but you need to compare different versions, different texts, different authors, think about the meaning of some passages. So the output of course is meager compared to modern language translations between some modern languages. So while I’m focusing primarily on translations, I’m trying to figure out how I can benefit the patrons on different tiers.
CB: Yeah, well, there’s been some exciting ideas. I mean, you’re making some of these PDFs available. You’re going to set up a library of texts that people can download eventually. You’re in the process of working on your website, which is HoroiProject.com. But in the meantime, the primary site is your Patreon page, which is available at Patreon.com/HoroiProject. You also have a page on Facebook where you release updates, and you also started an account on Twitter where you’ve been occasionally posting some little updates and snippets as well, which I have appreciated. And then eventually, in the long term, you have future plans to publish some of these translations in book form at some point as well, right?
LL: Yeah, but I guess that the time for book format only comes when there are well-established translation versions of particular texts. I’ll give an example. When, for example, we started to talking about the Porphyry text, when the Porphyry text together with the Antiochus summary and Rhetorius passages—and some other basic texts can be translated together and can be put together—and there can be a commentary that gives an insight into the usage of different concepts and different authors and those who can give some practical examples—when there is a comprehensive handbook, I think this is the time when it can be published in a book format.
LL: Or something like that.
CB: That sounds good. So besides finishing Shādhān and finishing soon the Porphyry and Antiochus translation, what are some of your other long-term projects? We talked about maybe translating Paulus Alexandrinus’ Introduction at some point since that’s a text that’s as in circulation as I might like personally; it’s another good introductory text.
LL: Yes. Well, Paulus is definitely worth translating, especially as the previous translations were made from a critical edition published in the 1950s, before the paradigm shift in making critical editions. So I guess that I can come up with some better texts than have been translated so far, but it’s just having the opportunity to look at the relevant manuscripts a little bit more closely. And I’m also planning to translate this text I mentioned related to Rhetorius about this ‘tabular examination’, and also this Basics that constitutes the beginning of On the Celestial Disposition because it is also an introductory text. During my project with Porphyry, I’ve already translated most of it, so I just need to translate a couple more chapters from that.
So I would like to have a sort of healthy balance between the different eras, different genres of these texts: so some inception, some nativities, some annual methods, some natal prediction; maybe some mundane astrology, some practical examples, this and that. So besides Paulus, I don’t have any sort of a big text in front of me that I would like to translate but maybe focusing on different minor texts that are worth looking at.
CB: Yeah. Well, there’s plenty of work to do. So you promise—if the astrological community funds this—you’re going to do your best to just translate as many texts as you can and to make them available to the world basically?
CB: You’re not going to change your mind like some other translation projects and stop publishing suddenly?
LL: Well, I don’t think so because as you mentioned at the beginning, I’m a classical philologist, and I’m doing my PhD on the topic of the textual transmission of astrological texts in Hellenistic times or late Hellenistic times, but I’m also interested in the later periods of astrology up to the Middle Ages. I think there is a vast reservoir of untouched, undiscovered texts, and this is actually my profession to deal with texts. This is what I specialize in to deal with astrological texts written in Greek or written in Latin. So I think—how can I say—this is the goal of my life.
CB: Yeah, I mean, that’s great. I think that’s a great way to say it, and yeah, I’m excited about it. I hope that people will help to fund, help me to fund this project, so we can get the rest of these texts translated. There’s the website again, Patreon.com/HoraiProject, and you can pick a different pledge level to support each month and get full access or early access to some of these texts.
Yeah, so I wish you great luck and great success in this project. And thank you already for the work that you’ve done translating some of these texts and making them available. And yeah, thanks a lot for joining me today, I appreciate it.
LL: Thank you very much for the invitation.
CB: All right, well, thanks everybody for listening to this episode of The Astrology Podcast. Be sure to check out some of the links in the description below this episode where I’ll put links to all the translations we were talking about today. And otherwise, that’s it. So thanks for listening, and we’ll see you again next time.
Thanks to the patrons who helped to support the production of this episode of The Astrology Podcast through our page on Patreon.com. In particular, a shout-out to patrons Christine Stone, Nate Craddock, Maren Altman, Irina Tudor, Thomas Miller, Bear Ryver, Catherine Conroy, Michelle Merillat, and Kate Pallotta; as well as the Astro Gold Astrology App available at Astrogold.io; the Portland School of Astrology at PortlandAstrology.org; and the Honeycomb Collective Personal Astrological Almanacs available at Honeycomb.co.
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