The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 398, titled:
Ancient Egyptian Astrology
With Chris Brennan and guest Ian Moyer
Episode originally released on April 22, 2023
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released May 1, 2023
Copyright © 2023 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hey, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. In this episode I’m gonna be talking with Ian Moyer about Egyptian astrology. For the data, today is Monday, April 10, 2023, starting at 1:49 PM in Denver, Colorado, and this should end up being the 398th episode of the show. So, hey, and welcome to the show.
IAN MOYER: Hey, Chris, thank you very much for having me. It’s great to be here. I’m a fan of the podcast, and I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve learned a lot from it and from your other work and your book and excited about this—well, I guess not so new translation of Vettius Valens. It’s already a few months’ old now. So I’m glad you’ve been doing all this great. I’ve learned a ton from it.
CB: Thank you. Well, I’m a fan of your work as well. So you’re the author of a 2011 book titled, Egypt and the Limits of Hellenism, which explores the ancient history and the modern historiography of cultural and intellectual encounters between ancient Greeks and Egyptians. And I thought you would be a great person to do this episode with about Egyptian astrology because so much of what we know about Egyptian astrology really starts to come about and a lot of the documentation takes place in the Hellenistic period where we have this blending of Egyptian and Greek and Mesopotamian cultures. And so, I thought we could talk about that today and talk especially about some of the unique contributions either that the Egyptians made to astrology or different things that were culturally relevant in Egypt, where Egypt kind of helped to foster the creation of different forms of astrology at different points in time.
IM: Yeah, I’m really excited. It’ll be great.
CB: Yeah, so what’s your background and training? Just for those that aren’t familiar with you.
IM: Sure. Yeah, I’m a history professor at the University of Michigan, and I did my PhD back in the day at the University of Chicago, and I studied in a program that allowed me to combine classical studies and Egyptology to a certain extent. And that was great because I was able to really get into this world, cultural contacts and interactions, and I’ve done my best over my career to approach it from both sets of evidence, from both sides, and try and look at the cultural dialogues going on in the periods of interaction between ancient Greece and ancient Egypt trying to celebrate both cultures and their contributions to various moments of intellectual interaction and creation.
CB: Nice. Yeah, and it seems like a recurring theme that we’re gonna talk about today and that you’ve talked about in your career is just the sort of synthesis or the intermingling of cultures that come about when people from different cultures are in close proximity to each other for one reason or another, and the unique synthesis that creates or unique things that sometimes come out of that sometimes unexpectedly.
IM: Yeah, yeah, it’s an amazing way to look at culture, I think. I don’t know what it was like for you, but when I was going through high school, we tended to study ancient civilizations in isolation. You have the Mesopotamians, and they did that, and the Egyptians built the pyramids, and the Greeks brought us philosophy or whatever—but we never really stopped to consider the products of the interactions of these civilizations when I was in school. And so, when I went on in my academic career I was just blown away by the sheer amount of interaction first of all, and then just the things that in a way could not have happened without cultural interactions and exchanges in antiquity—and I certainly think astrology is one of those. It’s such an interesting confluence of different elements coming together, and at a particular historical moment of increased interactions and contacts between civilizations.
CB: Yeah, and astrology, in particular, provides such a great way of studying interactions between cultures because it’s constantly being transmitted back and forth from one culture to another, and then every time it’s transmitted it changes in some way. But also, there are different things that are added to it from whatever new host culture receives it from somewhere else, and then it transmits it again to other cultures in the future, so that you can really see the lines of cultural transmission through the study of the techniques and the doctrines associated with astrology.
IM: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s great also to think about this in the long history of scholarship. People have been studying ancient astrology, well, for a long time, forever. I mean, for thousands of years literally. But in terms of the modern history of scholarship, I think there was a tendency in the 20th century sometimes to downplay the contribution of ancient Egypt. And so, it’s exciting to kind of see new evidence that’s coming to the fore—understudied languages and texts that are now finally being published—and that’s really changing our picture of this interaction that produces things like astrology, and allows us sometimes to trace in a little bit more detail just those kinds of transmission that you were talking about. Moments when we can see a particular kind of technique or a little bit of knowledge, or a practice migrating across a cultural boundary taking on a new form, being shaped by the practitioners in the new context. And that’s just one of the exciting things about history, I think. Any kind of intellectual history.
CB: Right. That’s a really important point that for much of the past century, or most of the 20th century—since the late 19th century—there’s been the rise of the study of astrology and its history, especially in an academic context, and there was a lot of material to work with. On the one hand, you had the Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets that were discovered. And so, there was the ability—once those were deciphered—to start studying the history of Mesopotamian astrology from 2000 BCE, all the way through the 1st century CE because those were relatively durable; they were on little, baked clay tablets. So there was evidence basically that stuck around that could be studied to study the history of astrology.
With the Greek and Roman and Latin tradition there were texts that were transmitted by hand. They were copied over by hand for hundreds of years and transmitted through different scholars and different libraries and stuff that were then recovered and edited and published during the course of the 20th century. But with the Egyptian material, for a long time there was a distinct lack of evidence, or lack of similar archaeological finds until relatively recently. So there were some scholars that were really skeptical or rejected that there was much of an Egyptian contribution to astrology until recently. But then it seems like with a recent generation of scholars—as a result of recent archaeological finds—those views are being revised, and the role of Egypt and its contributions to Western astrology—as we call it generically—are starting to be looked at again and is starting to be viewed as a much more significant contribution than was thought previously.
IM: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the factors, too, that played into that is that there are different phases of Egyptian language. I will talk about that later, I’m sure. And a lot of Egyptologists, after the decipherment of hieroglyphs, really focused on the hieroglyphic sources from earlier periods, the periods that were seen as the classical periods of Pharaonic civilization: the greats like Ramses, the Great and so forth, the pyramid builders. And the later phases of Egyptian culture and language suffered a bit of neglect at times, and it’s interesting to note, for example, that the dictionary for Demotic—the late form of the language that a lot of these astrological texts are in, the ones that we have—really didn’t come together until 10-20 years ago. So imagine studying ancient texts and you don’t really have a full dictionary.
A lot of the scholarly work in just publishing and editing these texts just wasn’t being done because there weren’t a ton of people being trained in this field because of the tendency to focus on earlier periods. And that, combined with sometimes a 20th century—mid-20th century, especially—prejudice really against Egyptian culture when it was in the period governed by the Greeks, and an idea that these cultures were separate and didn’t interact much under the Ptolemies in the later periods of Egyptian history. Really it’s created all these different factors that have kind of made it understudied. The world of evidence that we have for these interactions in astrology, that stuff has been understudied, but it’s now really starting to pick up. And so, we’re starting to see new stuff, which is quite exciting.
CB: Yeah, so one point of clarification—let’s talk a little bit about the language and the three different languages that we might mention at different points here. So one point that you mentioned in passing that’s actually really important is that the ability to read the original Egyptian language was lost. And it was actually rediscovered, or at least the ability to read hieroglyphs was actually rediscovered relatively recently, like only a few centuries ago, right?
IM: Yeah, exactly. The famous image that we all think of is the Rosetta Stone. So if people have seen the Rosetta Stone, or a picture of the Rosetta Stone, that’s the document—an inscription—that was discovered during the Napoleonic expedition to invade Egypt. So right at the end of the 18th, beginning of the 19th century—oh, great, yeah, there’s a picture of it—this multilingual document was discovered that provided the key to the decipherment of hieroglyphs. So famously, Jean-Francois Champollion used this text, which was produced in three versions, to decipher hieroglyphs, and that means effectively that—he eventually did it in the 1820s-1830s—that really started to come together. And that means relative to, for instance, Greek and Latin—which have been known continuously since antiquity in scholarship—Egypt is kind of a latecomer. And so, those texts were being brought into the conversation over the last couple of centuries, and so, that’s kind of interesting. And once hieroglyphs got deciphered, Demotic was initially studied a lot, but then it kind of dropped out of view for a little while.
CB: So the Rosetta Stone—what were the three languages that were written on it?
IM: Oh, yeah. So hieroglyphic, Demotic, and then Greek. And so, if we have that picture up, you can see three broad bands there: hieroglyphic, Demotic Egyptian, and Greek. So there’s hieroglyphics, yeah.
CB: So hieroglyphics at the top.
CB: And we can see that as the pictorial language of Egypt, or the original language. And then we see Demotic, which is, what? More of a cursive style of Egyptian?
IM: Exactly, yeah. And this was developed really in the later periods of Egyptian history. It’s ultimately based on hieroglyphs, but it underwent a process of simplification and abstraction to create something that was easier to write on papyrus so that you could write documents. And it was developed primarily in the Saite Period of Egyptian history—the 26th dynasty—when Egypt was refounded and strengthened; a new period of Pharaonic rule after a period of interruptions known as the Third Intermediate Period.
CB: Circa—like, what would that be? Wouldn’t the Saite dynasty be BCE?
IM: Yeah, it starts in the middle of the 7th century BCE—
IM: And lasts until the last 6th century BCE.
CB: Okay, so 6th century BCE roughly for the development of Demotic and of this easier-to-write script on papyrus vs.—how old are the previous Egyptian hieroglyphs?
IM: Yeah, hieroglyphs go way back to the pyramid-builders and even earlier. So those are almost 3,000—sorry, those are almost 5,000 years old, so hieroglyphs go way, way back. There’s also another cursive form of Egyptian called hieratic that influenced Demotic. But Demotic was really important because—it doesn’t seem like it ‘cause it’s a very complicated script itself—it was easier to learn and write documents in. And so, it actually led to ultimately a flourishing of documentary texts; people were using contracts and legal texts more often. And so, probably a little bit of a spread in literacy came about as a result of Demotic; more people. It wasn’t by any means mass literacy, but there were certainly more people involved in producing Demotic documents.
CB: That makes sense. And so, it was able to be written more easily on papyrus vs. the hieroglyphs were designed better for the pyramids and other monuments where you’re chiseling something into stone.
IM: Yeah, exactly. And they did write and draw beautiful hieroglyphs on papyrus, but that was very labor intensive and like a calligraphic kind of art really. Demotic was meant to be a rough-and-ready language for everyday documents. But what’s interesting is as time goes on, it gets used for more and more things. Initially, the distinction was between hieroglyphs, which were used for sacred texts, esoteric knowledge of the temples and so forth, and Demotic was meant to be the language of everyday contracts, letters, legal documents, that sort of thing. But over time, narrative literature starts to be written in Demotic Egyptian. Stuff that was originally meant to be part of the secret lore of the temple started migrating into Demotic texts and being preserved there as time went on. And one of the reasons we have some of this lore from ancient Egypt preserved in Demotic texts is that its scope started to expand. People started using Demotic for more and more things. And by ‘people’ I mean largely the literate, priestly class. That is, the priests in the Egyptian temples were the ones who were primarily the ones trained in Demotic Egyptian writing.
IM: It’s not a broad slice of the population, but more and more people, or more and more scribes were able to be trained in this form of writing.
CB: Got it. And all of this will become relevant later because, as we see, there’s been some horoscopes, some birth charts that have been rediscovered recently that were written in Demotic Egyptian from the 1st century BCE. And also, there’s some instances of some symbols for the signs of the zodiac being written I think in hieroglyphs, right?
IM: Yeah, there’s some Demotic signs that may be derived from hieratic and hieroglyphic signs. So symbols that were used in Demotic texts that are related to sometimes pictorial representations that ultimately derived from hieroglyphs but they’ve been simplified.
CB: Yeah, and we’ll come back to that later. Last point, just while we’re talking about the early history, and to give people a reference point, when were the pyramids built roughly as far as modern scholars are concerned?
IM: Yeah, those were built in the third millennium BCE. So we’re talking 2500-ish BCE. I should look up the dates. That’s my period, I should know this—but much earlier. And we’re talking about a much later period in Egyptian history when we start to see astrology going on. We’re gonna talk a little bit about some things that happened before the conquest of Alexander the Great in 330 BCE—332 BCE—around that period. So we’ll talk about a few things that happened before that, but most of what we see in terms of the development of astrology in Egypt happens after the conquest of Alexander the Great. So Alexander the Great was of course this famous general from the Macedonian part of Greece who conquers the world and establishes these—
IM: Kingdoms. Oh, sorry, did you want to—
CB: Yeah, and we’ll get to some of that. I just want to establish, first, just the early history of Egypt while we’re on it, and especially the decans because those go back pretty early. At least the early use of the decans does, right?
IM: That’s right. The 9th or 10th dynasty, which was really after the great era of the Pyramid Texts. So they start showing up in coffins and things like that, I think are some of the earliest attestations. And then they make appearances in monuments, inscriptions, on temples, but also, in other funerary contexts. That is, tombs and inscriptions on coffins and so forth.
CB: Okay, so what are the decans? The decans seem like they were originally probably fixed stars that were used for calendrical and timekeeping purposes in order to time different religious rituals at night or to tell time, right?
IM: Exactly, yeah. So the rising stars or the culminating stars of the decans, depending on the context, were used to mark the hours. And this was important because various Egyptian temple rituals had to occur in a sequence of rites that were performed at particular times, sometimes through the night or sometimes during the day. And so, the stars of the decans were used to mark exactly when a certain event happened or a certain rite was supposed to be performed. And so, we have some, for instance, liturgical papyri that give instructions for the performance of a ritual from Karnak in Thebes that actually give instructions for a particular priest known as the ỉm.ỉ-wnw.t—‘he who is in his stars’—to actually mark off the correct times when certain parts of the ritual are to be performed. And this was the priest that would be responsible for sighting the stars and using, if it were a nighttime ritual, the sky’s motion, the rising and culminating stars to mark off the hours of night.
But they were also used for calendrical purposes. Each Egyptian month had 30 days and was divided up into three 10-day periods sometimes called ‘decades’, and those 10-day periods are sort of like an Egyptian week, if you will. And it was by marking which decan is having its heliacal rising, or its appearance—either just before the Sun rises or when the Sun is setting—to indicate which week we’re in and used as a kind of timekeeping method as well.
CB: Okay, so initially there were rising decans, which had to do with a certain fixed star in the morning making a heliacal rising during a certain 10-day period. So they were using it to tell time basically either by certain fixed stars rising on the eastern horizon, which is roughly what we associated today with the Ascendant, or culminating overhead, which is roughly what we associate today with the Midheaven.
IM: Exactly, yeah. So this is the basic function of the decans in the earliest periods before the periods that I mostly work in; it seems to have been calendrical. I mean, that sort of downplays it a little because there were these presiding divinities associated with these decans, but they represent particular hours of the night; they are the presiding divinities. They’re not quite of the stature of the great gods like Horus and so forth, but they preside over these clusters of stars that mark time and mark the movement of the seasons as well.
IM: And so, this is, yeah, part of the solar calendar of Egypt especially, which was quite precise, and eventually was one of the main calendars used by later astronomers and astrologers to do their calculations because it was better than many of the lunar calendars that were used in other areas in the Mediterranean.
CB: Okay, so this is important. So we’ve got a connection between the priests who are the ones using the decans in the temples in order to use these fixed stars in order to tell time. They’re focused roughly on the regions that we now associate with the Ascendant and the Midheaven in order to do this. And some later scholarship eventually—and I guess maybe we’ll circle around to this later—because of this connection with the decans either rising or culminated have suggested that this may have been a precursor to the later development of the idea of the Ascendant as an astrological concept, or the Midheaven, and then by extension, a precursor to eventually the concept of the 12 houses or sectors of a chart.
IM: Exactly. This is something you see over and over again in Egyptian astronomical texts is a great emphasis on rising and culminating. It’s also an important part of solar mythology. So the course of the Sun god Ra’s solar barque through the sky is marked by points of rising and culminating and descending. And these all have their own mythological function in the life cycle of the Sun, and also, the travel through the underworld. So there’s a very intense interest in the solar cycle in Egyptian mythology and marking these initial culminating, descending, and also, times of either stellar or solar invisibility—when these stars and the Moon and so forth are under the Earth, or appear to be under the Earth.
CB: Right. And it’s tied also partially with the division of the day into hours, and also, some notions of both sunrise and sunset, but then also the Sun moving through different sectors when it’s under the Earth during the course of the night.
IM: Right, exactly. There’s a lot of mythological texts that discuss the travel through the underworld, the underworld journey of the Sun. Those hours are marked by looking at the stars. When is the Sun, and its particular point—especially in liturgical texts—when is the Sun, in that part of its journey, in the underworld? Well, that can only be told of course by looking at rising and culminating stars.
CB: Okay. And some of this is told partially almost through the use of what we refer to today as mythology. There were mythological aspects to some of these different astronomical things that are being described, right?
IM: Yeah, exactly. So the Sun itself was viewed as a god. Various stars were really important. We’ll see these come up again and again as we have our conversation. For instance, the star Sirius was really important because its heliacal rising was a sign that the great inundation of the Nile was coming. And so, various divinities—like Isis and Hathor and other divinities—were associated with that star and were thought to be interchangeable sometimes. Sometimes this is viewed as divinity itself. Sometimes stars take on the attributes of these important goddesses in cosmological cycles.
And there’s other stars as well that are important in earlier texts like the Pyramid Texts, famous texts that were inscribed on the inside of pyramids as funerary texts for pharaohs. Certain constellations appear like Orion and the Foreleg in Egyptian constellations. And particularly important in those texts were the circumpolar stars which never set. So the symbolism of the sky takes on religious meaning in various Egyptian texts. So the circumpolar stars that never set, never dip below the horizon are seen as immortal spirits, for example, the Akhem. To go back to the question of the dating on the emergence of the decans, there were constellations and a lot of stellar lore in the Pyramid Texts, but not yet quite the decans.
CB: Okay. And to linger on that point a bit—and then I want to go back to Sirius—you’re contrasting the fixed stars and the ones that never ‘die’ with the Sun, which rises and is ‘born’ in the morning each day and then ‘dies’ in the evening, right?
IM: Yeah, exactly. So there are gods associated with some of the constellations for sure. Horus is associated with Orion and so forth, and there’s different kinds of associations. Now what’s interesting is there are names for the planets in early Egyptian texts, but they don’t seem to take on huge mythological roles. The planets that we see in astrological texts later do have names associated with the gods, but many of them are actually associated with the same god, Horus, which is interesting, and sometimes Thoth. But these may be as a result of Egyptian interpretations of stuff that they’re getting through other channels—from Greek or Mesopotamian interpretations of the planets.
CB: Sure. Yeah, and I guess the main point was just that there’s some sort of very early mythology surrounding the Sun and the notion of being ‘born’ in the east each day and then ‘dying’ in the west at sunset each day essentially, right? I think it’s just interesting from a later perspective because then in the Hellenistic tradition eventually, once the concept of the houses comes about, we have a notion of the native or the person who’s born at a specific moment in time being associated with the east and with the Ascendant, and then later concepts of death being associated initially with the 7th house, but then eventually that gets moved up one sector to the 8th house but still roughly associated with the western side of the horizon.
IM: Yeah, exactly. And there’s even different sorts of symbolic and mythological representations of these different moments. So just to choose the example of the Ascendant—this is often the horizon—Akhet, sometimes Horus is associated with the rising Sun; Horus on the horizon and Akhet. But also, the beetle, the scarab beetle, is sometimes shown raising the Sun up. And the beetle was the hieroglyph for Khepri, which means ‘to become’ or ‘becoming’. So there was a very rich symbolism associating different moments in a solar cycle with different mythological episodes, and the culmination was always the divinity in the prime. Then there’s birth, the decline to death and the underworld, and then the good burial in the afterlife, which was associated with the underworld journey of the Sun.
CB: Okay, so that’s really important because the 4th house in the Hellenistic tradition—in the Greco-Roman tradition—becomes associated with death or the concept of death in a practical sense. But already relatively early on in the Egyptian tradition, through some of the solar mythology, we have notions of the underworld, or the Sun being under the Earth being associated with death in a mythological sense.
IM: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, so there’s a really predominant solar mythology that pervades all aspects of it. As I said, it’s part of temple liturgies, but also part of everyday funerary practice. Well, not everyday. But at least for people who could afford elaborate burials, the symbolism of the solar journey becomes an important part of birth-death-rebirth in the underworld in the afterlife.
CB: Okay, that seems really important just because it highlights some of the ambiguity that will come up later when we get into debates about what constitutes astrology, and at what point are the Egyptians starting to do ‘astrology’. Some of these early ways in which they were mythologizing or creating mythological stories surrounding astronomical phenomenon—like the daily cycle of the Sun—and the way in which we can see a sort of resonance between that and very specific astrological doctrines that would develop many, many centuries later during the Hellenistic tradition, there’s a little bit of an ambiguity there where you might wonder at what point does it move from being something that we might label as mythology and at what point does that become astrology at a certain point, if that makes sense.
IM: No, that’s a great point actually. And one of the things that I find exciting about looking at something like astrology that crosses cultural boundaries is that it can take on multiple meanings in different contexts. So the system of the stars in astrology, as I’m sure a lot of your listeners know from your work and other work, starts to get integrated into various philosophical systems and natural philosophy systems in the Hellenistic and Roman world, where Stoics have this well-developed sense of cosmology and a ‘divine mind’ pervading the universe, directing the courses of the stars and giving signs to people; an idea of sympathies between planets in the heavens and what’s going on on the Earth. But the same system in a sense of the stars in astrology can also have different meanings in different contexts. So in an Egyptian context, if they were still in touch with a lot of the old mythological traditions, someone living in Egypt might as well associate the same stars with gods and divinities.
And I think one of the fascinating things about astrology in antiquity is that there are multiple, different accounts of why the influences of the stars or the planets might affect people on Earth. You can have kind of a natural philosophical, Aristotelian sort of approach. You can have a Stoic philosophical approach. But you can also have an understanding of the stars as divinities that have an effect on it. And so, I think to draw too hard a line between mythology and astrology can maybe obscure some of those ways in which astrology was interpreted or understood, in terms of one’s cosmology, differently in different cultural contexts—or even in the same cultural context really. Different people had different explanations for why astrology worked.
CB: Yeah. And also, when we see resonances of that with the early Egyptian tradition and some of the solar mythology with some of the later practical, ‘scientific’ astrology of the Greco-Roman period—or the Greco-Egyptian period—just realizing that some of those later applications of astrology may have drawn inspiration from some of those earlier cultural and cosmological motifs that were based around astronomy and mythology and all these things. All right, so one of the questions that comes up eventually is that the decans basically are an indigenous form of astrology from Egypt that go back at least a thousand or 2,000 years BCE. If anybody wants to understand and really research—as far as we know in terms of the archaeological record—the actual indigenous astrology of Egypt, this would be it.
And this is prior to the development of natal astrology. So this is prior to the concept of birth charts, and the decans are just being used, early on at least, for these calendrical and timekeeping purposes. But then in the academic scholarship recently there’s been a debate about at what point did the decans start being used astrologically. Because we can see in the Greek and Latin texts that eventually the decans start showing up in horoscopes and start being used in the context of natal astrology. And so, there’s this question about at what point did they start being used explicitly for an astrological purpose, or did each of the decans start being ascribed individual meanings that could be interpreted astrologically. And this is where an important archaeological discovery comes in, and the discovery, through some underwater archaeology, of the Naos of the Decades starts becoming relevant at this point, right?
IM: Right, right. I would just add a few observations that we might also make as we go along. I think the decans are certainly a contribution to later astrology that nobody would dispute in some way because they do work alongside the zodiac. And I guess I would say that the decans could be understood as the Egyptian zodiac. That is to say that they were the band of stars that marked positions in the sky in a way similar to the way the zodiac was developed in Mesopotamia. But there’s also other little pieces that came along which used the stars but not really in the same way. Maybe we’ll talk about these as we go along. But there does seem to have been some interest in omens, celestial omens of a kind. So whenever Sirius, the Dog Star—or Sothis—rose, sometimes omens were taken at that moment, and they were interpreted for the health of the kingdom that year or something like that. Or whether there would be a good inundation, and therefore, prosperity in the kingdom.
So the decans were a kind of zodiac. But at least in early stuff, there doesn’t seem to have been a lot of emphasis on the use of the decans for these kinds of predictive purposes. I think the early things we have actually mostly go back to omens around the rising of Sothis. There were calendars of lucky and unlucky days, but that’s more like a hemerology as they call it; seeing certain days in the calendar often because of their mythological associations with a mythical event or festival or something as being lucky or unlucky. So there’s a kind of a set of loose connections. There’s a background in what you might call divination that’s connected with time and timekeeping to a certain extent, the rising of stars. But then, like you say, this Naos of the Decades has been a focal point for debates about maybe the emergence of something a little bit different or evidence of something a little bit different, more astrological, right?
CB: Well, and that’s a good point. Though before we get there, the annual rising of the Nile at the beginning of the Egyptian year was associated with the heliacal rising of the fixed star Sirius. And they could see that around the time that Sirius made a heliacal rising and appeared from under the beams of the Sun that that roughly coincided with when the Nile started to rise, and therefore, they tied their calendar to that.
IM: Exactly, yeah. So that’s a fascinating point about the calendar. As I said earlier, it was quite an accurate solar calendar, but it was still a 360-day calendar. So it did shift a little bit; so there was an ideal solar calendar that however shifted over time relative to the seasons. But it appears that the Egyptians were aware of this and they used a lunar calendar quite often that was a little bit more tied to the rising of Sirius, which kept pace with the seasons. And they continued to use this lunar calendar often for celebrating festivals at local temples and so forth, so there’s a kind of an interesting disconnect there. We’ll get to the Ptolemaic period in a second, but remind me to point out that there was actually an attempt to create a leap-year system already in the Ptolemaic period.
CB: Okay. Yeah, so that’s important though. And one of the things I try to do is not take anything for granted or not assume my audience knows anything and not take anything for granted. So maybe a good point to clarify here is, why was the flooding of the Nile important?
IM: Oh, yeah. No, great, great point. Everything in Egypt depended on the Nile. So this was a river valley civilization, and all of agriculture depended on the flooding of the Nile to irrigate lands on either side of the Nile in the valley. And they developed a fascinating system of irrigation to catch the water and retain it in basins and then distribute it. Not only that, it also brought fertile soil; it would replenish the soil each year. So there’s a famous quote from the Greek historian Herodotus saying that, “Egypt was the gift of the Nile.” And that is often quoted because it’s in many ways true. All of the fertility and agricultural productivity of this country for thousands of years was entirely dependent on the cycle of flooding and replenishment of Egypt’s fertility. And so, you can see why the whole cosmology and the mythology of Egypt was very closely tied to the land and an understanding of the land and its natural cycles.
CB: Yeah, and we can kind of see this from this picture from space of just all of the greenery and the things that are growing in Egypt are growing along the Nile, as it’s stretching across the southern parts of Egypt as a line. And then eventually you get to the Nile Basin and you see many different smaller parts where the Nile breaks off, but you just see greenery growing all around those areas.
IM: Yeah, exactly. And that was also a big part of Egyptian understanding of geography. There was the Nile land, which was thought of as the ‘Black Land’, the fertile land, where everything is moist and fertile and crops grow, and then the ‘Red Land’ of the desert, the Deshret, the lands to the sides, which were the lands of the dead. And, again, just to go back to the solar point while we’re on the geography, the ‘Land of the West’, the ‘Land of the Setting Sun’ on the west bank of the Nile was usually understood as the ‘Land of the Dead’, and the great necropolis collections of tombs of the kings were usually on the west bank of the Nile, in the desert, in that dead land where the Sun sets. So everything is tied together cosmologically.
CB: That’s very interesting.
CB: Yeah, that’s very interesting.
IM: Yeah, it’s a whole world that we’re inhabiting. And as we go along, we’re gonna see really interesting connections between the geography and cultural geography—the cultural understanding of the land of Egypt and then how that was related to this newly-emergent system of astrology.
CB: Yeah. Okay, and then just to close out that point and that section, this is why the Nile was so important. And the fact that they were tying the annual rising of the Nile—when the Nile would rise and everything would flood and then eventually start growing for the growing seasons—they were tying this into the Sun and the rising, the heliacal rising, or the appearance of a specific fixed star, Sirius, or Sothis—which was also associated with one of the decans—and tied into the beginning of the calendar. This means that there was just an intimate relationship between Egyptian culture at a very fundamental level and some astronomical cycles.
IM: Yeah, absolutely. And so, we see this playing out in lots of interesting ways, both in terms of the whole country, the Pharaonic kingdom of Egypt, but also, on a more personal level sometimes in thinking about one’s place in the cosmos.
CB: Okay, okay.
CB: That seems important. All right, so that sets a pretty good foundation. So then eventually we fast-forward several hundred years, they’re not using the zodiac at this point. The zodiac is actually something that was developed in Mesopotamia, which roughly coincides with modern-day Iraq. And the Mesopotamians are developing a zodiac, and they’re also developing a complex mathematical astronomy focusing on the planets—the five planets, as well as the Sun and the Moon. And then also in Mesopotamia, they eventually developed the concept of natal astrology, which we’ll get into. But for our purposes a really important point in terms of the decans is we have this surviving stone structure that’s been discovered recently which indicates that there was some sort of—what we might call broadly—astrological associations with the decans at some point in their history that were developed.
IM: Yeah, exactly. This is a monument that parts of which were known earlier, even as early as the late 18th century. Then other bits were discovered more recently, around 1999, as a result of Franck Goddio’s underwater excavations in the region of Canopus, which is a region just to the west of Alexandria. And Alexandria itself is in the northwest corner roughly of the delta of Egypt. And so, various bits and pieces of this had been discovered previously but they were assembled. A few years ago now—I think it was 2008—a full publication of all of the fragments together was put together and allowed gaps to be filled in and presented some interesting results for understanding how the decans were viewed in a mythological, cosmological context that may have anticipated, to a certain extent, the idea that the decans could be indicators or agents of particular effects in the world of Egypt.
CB: Yeah. So here’s a picture of the book. So it’s titled, The Naos of the Decades, by Anne-Sophie von Bomhard. And you can see it as this stone structure that’s broken into pieces. They had the top of it quite a while ago, but the bottom pieces were basically rediscovered underwater. And what is a naos?
IM: Yeah, that’s a great point. Naos is actually a Greek word for ‘a temple’, but it gets used in Egyptology as well to indicate shrines of various kinds. And actually the naos that we saw in those pictures—it’s a black basalt miniature shrine basically. It’s not that big. It’s not like a huge temple, but it was used to house a sacred image of the god. In this case, the god Shu, the god of the atmosphere and air, if you will, in the form of a lion. And I think if we have pictures of it, one of the pictures of it shows the lion seated there. That’s right, seated in the shrine. And I believe it is understood that that picture engraved in the shrine would be a representation of the actual statue that was placed within the shrine. So the shrine was like a little house for the statue, which was given worship and reverence by the Egyptian priests within the inner sanctuary of the temple. And this—
IM: Yeah, go ahead.
CB: So this whole stone structure itself would have been placed in the temple or somewhere central in the temple itself?
IM: Exactly, yeah. They were very popular, interestingly, in the time when these were created. We know from the inscriptions on this particular one that it dates to the reign of Nectanebo I. So it’s about 380-362 BCE, so in that earlier part of the 4th century BCE. So, again, we’re before the conquest of Alexander, which set up the Ptolemaic period (Ptolemaic rule, Ptolemaic dynasty), which is when most of our astrology is gonna happen. This is before that in the early 4th century BCE.
IM: And they were a very popular kind of monument, these kinds of black basalt shrines throughout this whole dynasty.
CB: Ironically, Nectanebo I was the last Egyptian pharaoh before Alexander and before the Greeks and the Macedonians came in and conquered Egypt.
IM: Actually it’s confusing. There’s two names here. There’s Nectanebo I and Nectanebo II, and the second one is the one just before Alexander.
CB: Is the last one? Okay.
IM: Yeah, so Nectanebo I is earlier in the same dynasty though, and Nectanebo II is the one—in Egyptian, they actually have different names, but this is just the Greek transliteration of them which is confusing.
CB: Got it.
IM: So I just wanted to point that out because it’s confusing.
CB: Yeah, I’m glad you clarified that. So this is towards the end of the succession of pharaohs in Egypt that had been going on for thousands of years, and we have this stone monument that is made for the center of a temple. And so, for those listening to the audio version, it’s like this stone structure that looks like a little house and in the center of it there is this engraving of a lion. And you were saying that there probably would have been a statue of the same lion that would be placed in the middle?
IM: Yeah, and it was probably a valuable gold statue—gold and silver statue—or wood covered in gold and silver. So it probably went missing at some point.
IM: And that’s why we only have the naos, the black basalt shrine.
CB: And there was something important in terms of the religious context about statues and things surrounding that, right?
IM: Yeah, yeah. I mean, there’s lots to say about statues in ancient Egyptian religion. They were believed to be living images or living representations of the gods. And they were very secret. They were very pure. They were protected—especially in the later periods of Egyptian history—with all kinds of purity restrictions on those who could enter into their presence and handle them and so forth. They were always put in the innermost part of the temple, except on some occasions some of the statues would be brought to the wider population in a special shrine carried in what looks like a boat, a kind of barque shrine. And it would come out of the temple and then the general populace could offer worship and adoration. Is that what you meant, or you had another—
CB: Yeah, just because I know there’s some things that kind of pop up a little bit later in some of the Hermetic traditions about the notion of statues being alive or something like that that goes back very early in the Egyptian tradition.
IM: Absolutely. Yeah, I mean, you could do another—I think you have done some podcasts on Hermeticism and astrology. Is that right? Yeah.
IM: A really fascinating thing that’s been discovered through Egyptology too is there are some arguments being made that some of the Hermetic theories and ideas about theurgy and the creation of divine living statues that are in texts like Iamblichus and so forth may go back in some ways to ideas that were part of the ‘House of Gold’ as it was known in an Egyptian temple, which was the craft workshop where the sacred statues were made and the kinds of rituals that were used to bring them to life. One of the most common being the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ritual, which is a ritual that allowed the statue to kind of come to life and breathe and so forth. So these statues, these Egyptian statues, that would be housed in a naos were exactly that kind of ‘living image’ of the god. So this is a very important piece of sacred architecture that’s protecting this divinity.
CB: Right. Okay, so that’s really important.
IM: And so, we should, I guess, move on to some of the astrological elements, but there are little relief sculptures on parts of this little naos temple that have protective divinities on it as well to protect the statue and keep it safe, to ward off harm and evil influences.
CB: Okay. All right, yeah, so let’s talk about that and some of the things. So this stone structure, you can see, is inscribed with a bunch of different figures, a bunch of different characters, as well as text. But the most important thing for our purposes is that inscribed on it are figures for each of the 36 decans, right?
IM: Exactly, yeah. There’s 36 decans, and then another representation for the five days; the five so-called epagomenal days, which go between the end of one year and the beginning of the next. In order to get up to 365 obviously you need five days. 36 decans (decades) of 10 days, and then there’s five extra days as a representation of those as well. So it’s a full representation of the Egyptian calendar year in astral terms.
CB: Okay, got it. Because the decans were associated with certain fixed stars that would arise every 10 days and then it would change every 10 days, eventually that was transferred into being 10-day periods of the calendar itself.
IM: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, so it’s a bit confusing. People usually use the term ‘decade’ to refer to the 10-day periods and then decan to refer to the constellation, the star, the astrological symbol. But they’re related concepts obviously ‘cause one is used to mark the other.
CB: Got it.
IM: That is, the stars are used to mark the decades, the 10-day periods.
CB: Got it. So what’s really important about this is that it doesn’t just list the decans, but in terms of Egyptian history it’s unique because it starts associating specific effects or manifestations or outcomes or ideas of what might be broadly associated with what we might call mundane astrology—things that are supposed to represent or relate to large groups of people astrologically—and we start seeing individual interpretations basically associated with each of the decans in this stone monument.
IM: Yeah, exactly, that’s the interesting part here. Each decan is laid out as a little square with some figures we’ll talk about in a sec. But then next to it is a set of hieroglyphic texts in columns that then detail what this decan does, as it were, what it does. And do you want to pick one out and just read an example or a sample? Do we have one?
CB: I think that would be great. Do you happen to have one? Like I’m trying to get one together right now.
IM: We could flip to one at random, and it’ll be like some sort of random lot. Let’s hope it’s not too bad.
CB: Yeah, some bibliomancy.
IM: Right, exactly. We’ll do some bibliomancy here.
CB: It’s gonna say something like, “You will have a terrible podcast.” If it says that then close the book.
IM: Yeah, I’ll preview it first.
IM: Let us find a—here we go. Let me find a nice full one that also will not curse this podcast.
IM: So here’s the translation for one of them for ‘Decade Number 9’, which is the third month of Akhet, Day 21 to Day 30, associated with a particular decan. Then it says, “The Great God at the beginning—[this is Sophie von Bomhard’s translation].” “The Great God at the beginning, it is He who causes massacres, who brings war, carnage, fury, and turmoil. It is He who sends miasma to all foreign countries after having defeated them by fighting with tenacity. It is He who brings the rain from the sky and who kills all the small cattle of the desert.” So kind of negative, kind of negative.
CB: Right. And a lot of them are kind of negative, but they’re broadly relating to disasters or other things in a mundane astrological context, sort of referring to the population as a whole.
IM: Exactly, yeah. So most of them refer to the emergence of diseases or wars or famines. Sometimes political events, sometimes things striking Egypt, sometimes things striking neighboring countries of Egypt. Very few of them are positive, one or two actually. Interestingly, the ones near the new year, the beginning of the cycle, when the inundation is coming, that’s one of the few where there’s mention of that decan being, I believe, the ‘Lord of Life’ or a life-giving kind of sign, but most of them are quite negative. And that’s been a little bit hard to explain because the decans in later practice don’t seem to be all universally negative. Often they’re assigned different rulerships or different planets that they’re associated with, some of which are benefic and some are malefic, but these are mostly pretty negative.
CB: Yeah, I think I was reading that von Bomhard speculates that maybe it had something to do with the protective function of the decans for the country as a whole or something like that, and there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding this text and what function the decans are serving, and also, how they might be used in different ways in that period.
IM: Yeah, exactly. I think there’s two things going on here. This shrine—we know from the inscriptions—was originally placed actually in the eastern delta (way on the eastern edge of the delta) at a place called Saft el-Henna, which was a borderland region. And the god Shu there was associated with the god Soped who was a protective god that protected the frontiers of Egypt. And in the mythology that’s described in this text—in addition to the texts or the decans—there’s a mythology text that describes the god; it seems that there’s an association between Shu and this protective god. And so, one of the roles of the decans, which are under the power of the god Shu, is a protector of Egypt. And so, that’s one of the reasons they might be negative. A lot of this is like these fierce divinities that are protecting Egypt against adversaries.
But there’s a couple of others—this often happens in Egyptian mythology—there’s multiple mythological structures that are referred to in the same text. And there is also part of a text that’s a creation text that’s inscribed on it, which describes a creation myth; and there were several in Egypt. But this is part of a creation myth in which the god Shu separates Nut, the sky, from Geb, the Earth, and kind of raises it up. And some allusions in the text, as the editor points out—the translator of the text points out—some allusions in the text seem to refer to a moment in the creation myth of the Egyptians in which there’s a rebellion against the Sun god Ra by humanity and they are destroyed. And so, it may be that also in the context of this particular naos—because it involves Shu—the role of the decans as beings that bring certain things to Earth is a role that sees them punishing humanity in various ways.
IM: So there’s a mythological context that makes it make sense that these are largely hostile and negative effects that are described.
CB: Got it. And the god Shu was associated with the winds.
CB: And I know that the translator and the author of the book, von Bomhard, says that the reason the god Shu is so prominent here with the decans is because of that association with the winds, and because the winds were thought to be what was carrying up the Sun and the other stars, and the decans themselves, and sort of causing in a way the diurnal rotation of rising and culminating and setting each day.
IM: Exactly, yeah. The winds of Shu kind of carry the stars and planets and the Sun and Moon along, almost as if they’re sailing through the air, which is a very common image in Egypt. So that’s also interesting that fragmentary Egyptian astrological texts often make connections between winds and stars, and sometimes predictions of an astral kind also involve references to winds blowing at certain times when a certain phenomena comes along, and that may be related to this kind of idea perhaps. So, yeah, what’s interesting also is in this cosmological text, we get something of a mythological definition of the role of the decans, which I think is quite fascinating. They are really seen as agents of the gods. They are referred to in different points in the text as ‘workers’ basically. And, in fact, the term baktiu is related to the Egyptian word bak, which means ‘a servant’ or ‘a worker’.
And so, the decans seem to be subordinated to these higher gods, like the Sun god and Shu, and do their bidding basically. So they’re sort of intermediaries between the higher gods and Earth, and sometimes they’re referred to in this text as ‘carrying out the decrees of the god Thoth’ or ‘being his emissaries’. Sometimes they’re ‘agents of Shu, the gods of the air and the atmosphere and the winds’, and sometimes they’re referred to as just the ‘souls of the gods’. And so, that gives us kind of an understanding of the place where they fit in the cosmology of ancient Egypt.
CB: And that’s of course really interesting and relevant because later in some of the Hermetic astrological texts—which may have been influenced by some Egyptian ideas later in the Greco-Roman period, in the 1st and 2nd and 3rd centuries—the decans become associated with spirits or daimons, and those are said to be intermediaries between the sub-lunar sphere world where humans live vs. planets and the other gods in the fixed stars.
IM: Exactly, yeah. Occasionally sometimes these figures are loosely translated—that is, the decan figures are sometimes loosely translated as demons or daimons because they play that kind of messenger role that is behind the idea of the daimon in Greek tradition. So, yeah, I think there’s some interesting connections and translation between earlier Egyptian ideas of the functions of these gods and what we see in later texts.
CB: Yeah, and there’s also something really important here that’s embedded in this text that von Bomhard brings out and she doesn’t emphasize in terms of the later tradition, but immediately struck me coming from the perspective of later Hellenistic astrology several centuries later. She has these sections talking about the decans and when they do work—when they come to the Ascendant or the Midheaven, or what we would associate with the eastern horizon or when they culminate overhead. They’re said to be doing work because that’s when you can use them in order to tell what time it is, as if they become more active when those astronomical sectors of the sky.
And that’s very, to me, reminiscent of the later Hellenistic concept in Greek called chrematistikos, which is different sectors of the chart, or the different houses—which are primarily the 1st house and 10th house—where planets are said to become ‘busy’ or said to become more active in some way in terms of their ability to either produce astrological effects or in terms of being able to just be prominent in terms of indicating certain things about a person’s life in their birth chart.
IM: Yeah, absolutely. That’s one of the other interesting revelations about this text. In each of these representations of a decade, there are also these different figures. According to von Bomhard’s interpretation, one seems to represent the heliacal appearance of the decan and then the others represent these different cardinal points. And there’s some debate between different interpreters on this ‘cause there’s just pictures and very terse little captions next to them, so it’s a little hard to interpret. And different scholars have come to different conclusions about which is the most effective part and what’s doing what, but all the scholars seem to agree that there’s some relationship between these cardinal points and the effects of the decans; that they have particular effects or are more effective at these times.
So that debate will continue, I’m sure, but there’s a concept there. A concept of angles or points being more effective. And you mentioned the 1st and the 10th house. Of course that would be the rising and the culminating house, right? And it seems to be that the rising, descending, culminating at Midheaven and the 4th house—I guess what we would call the ‘point of invisibility’ in terms of the way the decans are talked about—those are the ones that are represented in this little breakout chart of the decans and their positions.
CB: Right, that’s part of her interpretation. ‘Cause she tries to connect with a later text that we know of from Hephaistio that’s this mysterious text that was said to be associated with the decans and does mention the rising and culminating and setting, and anti-culminating decans in particular as being particularly important for some reason. And there’s some possibility that that could have been tied in with this earlier tradition associated with the Naos of the Decades.
IM: That’s right. Yeah, there’s a dispute about this. There’s always debate as people try to arrive at different interpretations of these very terse and difficult-to-read texts, so some people will have different theories about it. But it does seem that in some way—I don’t know if it’s the right word—but ‘angularity’ sort of plays a role, if you will.
CB: Right, right.
IM: That is, being close to one of these points seems to have an effect on the power or the effect of the decan.
CB: Yeah, and there was one other point—and I might have to get my copy of the book to look this up really quickly—but it was something von Bomhard emphasizes about there being a ‘poking’ or a ‘stinging’ notion associated with those places where the decans are doing work. Do you remember that point, or remember what that was about?
IM: I’m afraid I don’t remember it.
CB: All right, let me grab my book really quickly ‘cause this is kind of an important point. I’ll be right back. So one of the things that’s relevant is just that she also brings in another book that she says is important and tied into all of this, which is called The Fundamentals of the Course of the Stars, formerly called The Book of Nut. Are you familiar with that work?
IM: Yeah, yeah, this is a text that has a long tradition. There was a publication several years ago now by Alexandra von Lieven of this book on the papyrus version, but it seems to be commenting on inscriptions that are on monumental sites; temples, for instance. And they are representations of the sky goddess Nut and the passage of the stars through Nut and in the sky. And so, this is where there’s a mythology of the stars passing through the body of Nut and then coming out and being visible again that explains their visibility and disappearance, and this includes the movement of the decans as well. So what’s fascinating is that, again, this Demotic text, I believe, dates to the Roman period, but it’s commenting on relief sculptures and inscriptions depicting the sky goddess Nut that go back almost a thousand years earlier.
CB: So that’s a really important point, the sky goddess Nut. ‘Cause we should be mentioning some of those mythological things as we go, ‘cause I know those are gonna come up very prominently when we start looking at, for example, the ceiling zodiacs from different temples. But what was the goddess that was associated with the sky?
IM: Yeah, that’s Nut. N-U-T. This is a goddess of the sky. And so, there’s the higher upper sky and then Shu who’s kind of like the atmosphere and the winds and so forth, and then Geb is the Earth. And so, in these depictions they vary sometimes, but Shu was sometimes shown holding up Nut as the kind of ‘dome of the sky’, and then Geb is the Earth; so it’s a kind of a representation of cosmology or a description of the world. But the stars are sometimes in these texts imagined as disappearing when they enter the body of Nut and then reappearing when they emerge from the body of Nut. And that is one of the ways they explain visibility and invisibility of stars.
CB: Okay, so when we see some of the representations later on, when we get to some of the coffin lids that contain zodiacs, and we see a female figure in the middle of the zodiac signs, that goddess is what we’re seeing?
IM: Exactly, yeah. That’s exactly right.
CB: Got it, okay. All right, so I pull out the book, and it’s in the appendix. But one of the things von Bomhard’s pointing out is she says, “The culmination of the decans in the middle of the sky lasts approximately another four months for the Egyptians. The main interest of the decanal stars is that they permitted the determination of the hours of night in order to regulate rites. Only during the time of the culmination does a decan assume this function of marking the hours.” And that notion of marking the hours is really important because that comes up later in the Hellenistic tradition. The term for the Ascendant was horoskopos in Greek, which literally translated means ‘hour-marker’. And so, there’s some sort of connection there between what became the primary Greek or Hellenistic term for the Ascendant and this earlier Egyptian tradition of using the decans to mark the hours, or to designate what the hour is essentially. And that also became tied in with the Egyptian name for some of the priests that did that, that became at some point that same term, right? Like ‘hour-marker’?
IM: Exactly, yeah. This is the priest known as an ỉm.ỉ-wnw.t, which just means sometimes ‘he who is in his hours’ or ‘overseeing the hours’. So the ‘hour-priest’ has a specific function in liturgies of observing the stars, marking the hours as they passed; and so, observing when they reach their culmination point. And they use these very basic sighting sticks to just measure the elevation of the stars and see when they have reached their culminating point. And once they had, it was the precise moment of the hour represented by that decan.
CB: Okay, so that specific role of the priests of telling time and being able to tell time. ‘Cause nowadays it’s something we take for granted and it’s easy to look up the time. But back then that wasn’t necessarily such an easy thing to do, and especially if there’s certain religious rituals that should only be done at certain points in time that actually becomes a very crucial role to be able to be the one who’s able to tell definitively what time it is, or what time it will be in order to prepare for certain things.
IM: Exactly, yeah. And they also devised various devices for this. We have water clocks attested that used draining water over time to mark the passage of hours. And those are marked with various kinds of symbols in fact for these hourly figures that we were talking about. And there’s also sun dials that are attested from Egypt. But ultimately it was the responsibility of this ‘priest of the hours’ to make these observations and to determine the correct hours.
CB: Okay, so that’s really important. And then that becomes eventually an astronomical role, and it’s those priests that eventually have some astronomical training in this period that we’re talking about roughly or start having some astronomical role by the time of the Naos of the Decades.
IM: Yeah, they go back even further. But also from around this period we see that there’s a statue, sometimes called the ‘Statue of Harkhebi’, which is a statue of one of these priests. And the texts on this statue celebrate his roles both in terms of timekeeping—that is, his ability to know when the stars are rising and count the hours and the months and so forth—but there’s a few passages in his biographical inscription that also praise ability to possibly foretell things on the basis of the rising of Sirius, again. So this is another piece of evidence that suggests that there may have been something of astrological tradition in Egypt, or a tradition of prediction based on stellar phenomena that was carried out by a certain member of the priesthood.
CB: Okay. You don’t happen to have his—I wish I had written down what he said.
IM: I can probably find it. It might take me a moment. But let me just see if I can find that text. Yes, here it is. I have it. Or did you find it? ‘Cause I found a copy of a translation of his text that we can read and get a sense of the tenor of it. Would you like me to read that?
CB: Yeah, I’ll have you do it ‘cause I will absolutely butcher all pronunciations, so you take it.
IM: All right, great. Yeah, this is a translation; there’s several available. This is a translation by Andreas Winkler in an article he published recently, and this is his biography. It says, “The prince, governor, and unique friend, who is educated in the sacred script [that is, the (mdw-nṯr)], who has seen all that is visible on earth and in the sky, who is educated in observing the stars, among which there is no erring, who announces the rising and the setting in their time together with the gods that foretell the future.” So that’s one of the significant passages there. So we have in this biography him talking about his usual duties as one of these hour-priests, but he’s also talking about the stars, the gods that foretell the future.
And then it goes on, “After he has purified himself for them in their days of coming forth, when the Effective One (ꜣḫ) was beside the Phoenix [so this is probably a reference to a creation story] above them so that he is able to pacify them with his utterances, the one who sees the rising of every star in the sky, who knows the coming of…[and there’s a gap in the text]. [Something to do with] the great inundation and everything which will come into being in a perfect year, the one who foretells [once again] the coming forth of Sothis in the beginning of the year, seeing her in her first feast, who calculates her trajectory to the times of touching the ground, who observes all that she makes so that everything that she foretells is in his hand, the one who knows the northern and southern path of the sun disk, who announces all its omens and…their revelations,” and so on. I think those are the main references.
So he had a couple of references to omens having to do with celestial phenomena, and prominent among those was of course, once again, the rising of Sothis. Not only the rising of it, but also, this is something, along with the timekeeping you were mentioning earlier that we take for granted. One of the great skills of an astrologer in antiquity was actually simply predicting the movements of the planets themselves and the stars themselves, knowing when a particular phenomenon was gonna happen. Part of their learning and their lore was simply being able to calculate when something was going to happen. And so, knowing the precise time and being able to calculate the precise day when something as fixed and regular as the rising of Sirius was gonna happen was more than we might think it was. So this was their skill. They could not only predict what the movement of the heavens were gonna be, but they could also predict what they foretold and what they signified.
CB: Yeah, which is really important. ‘Cause that was actually much more complicated back then and involved much more mathematics and calculation and sort of high-level skills in doing something that’s not necessarily easy. So one of the things about this is that this author—‘cause you could also read this very emphatically or dramatically, that he’s really talking about all these things that he’s capable of doing as part of his role as the temple astronomer. And that’s one of the reasons why in later times, in the Greek tradition, one of the words for astrologer came to be mathematikos, which means ‘mathematician’ because of all the calculations and all the math that’s involved.
IM: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I think you recently did an episode on doing charts by hand, right? Yeah.
IM: And that involves a certain amount of mathematics, but it’s not too difficult. You can do it with paper and some basic formulas, and you can calculate it out. All ancient astrologers of course had to do this. They had to do it from less-good tools as well, and they had to use various kinds of tables that were the equivalent of an ephemeris table that a modern astrologer used in the 20th century primarily, where you take the position of planets and so forth at a particular point and then have to interpolate for the correct time between two points. And those are pretty close to the same kinds of calculations that a lot of astrologers would have to do themselves. And so, the skill in being able to do it, and do it correctly, was a huge part of their art in antiquity.
CB: Yeah, and this is really important. Especially determining the positions of the planets was something that was only figured out when they started developing models for being able to predict accurately where the planets would be in the future or in the past, especially during the course of the first millennium BCE, from like 1000 BCE until about, let’s say, 1st century CE. This was something that took different cultures a long time initially—especially in the Mesopotamian tradition—to do based on many centuries of going out every night and observing the positions of the planets which look like different stars, and observing that they would move sometimes very slowly from night-to-night, and writing that down, and then eventually recording that and starting to notice periods in which those placements would recur. So noticing that Saturn, every 30 years, will come around to approximately the same position, or noticing that Venus will go retrograde in the same position roughly every eight years. And building up these large libraries of observations eventually led to them being able to come up with different models for planetary movement, which led to the development of a complex or advanced mathematical astronomy.
IM: Yeah, exactly. And what’s interesting is we’ve just been talking about the Naos of the Decades, and we just brought up this Statue of Harkhebi, which has an inscription describing him and his skill. Harkhebi’s statue is dated to probably the reign of the second Nectanebo we were talking about, or to the early Ptolemaic period. So somewhere right in this transition just before Alexander the Great; that’s the scholarly consensus anyway. So these are all from roughly the same period, 4th century BCE, this Naos of the Decades and the statue. And it’s also around this time, just a little bit earlier than this, that horoscopic astrology seems to be developing in Babylonia, right? So we have, some people would argue, some elements that go way back earlier of course with omens. But some of the first zodiac as we know it, some early kinds of natal horoscopic astrology, or proto-horoscopes is developing around the same time too.
CB: Yeah, and it depends on what you define as ‘horoscopic astrology’, and that’s a debate and a definition thing that we’ll get into. But really quickly, to wrap up the Naos of the Decades section, the last thing that von Bomhard said was just, “This period of culmination and marking the night hours represents the ‘work’ of the decans over a total of 120 days. Following this last culmination, the star’s ‘work’ is done, and it moves west of the meridian and begins to decline.” But on the very next page, on page 237, she has this point about Sirius and some of the different names, and maybe you can help me with this. But she says, “Both of the names for Sirius, but also for one of the forms of Shu, as associated with the decans,” she says, “Both names are spelled with a pointed thorn, a hieroglyph that represents the idea of pointed, stinging, acute, but also, ready, prepared, and providing.” And then she says, “The sense of ‘stinging’ particularly fits the warrior god Shu-Soped and the notion of providing that Sirius is the herald of the Nile flood.”
I just wanted to draw attention to that ‘cause that’s really important. There’s like a resonance, or there’s a possible connection there that immediately comes to mind for me, which is later in the Hellenistic tradition, this term for the angular houses—for especially the eastern horizon and the Midheaven—as kentron, which means ‘center’. But it also means ‘anything that is pointy, that pokes or prods something into action’, like a cattle prod. And that was the Greek term that was used for the angular houses, and one of the reasons why the angular houses were thought to make the planets busy was because they sort of like prodded or goaded them into action. And there’s something interesting here about how she’s seeing some similar theme there perhaps in the earlier Egyptian tradition.
IM: Yeah, yeah, this was a common thing to see in Egyptian texts, this kind of wordplay between similar-sounding things or things with similar signs. So, yeah, Sopedu is the Egyptian word for Sirius or Sothis as it’s transliterated into Greek, and that’s very similar to Sepde(t), as it would have been pronounced without the ‘t’ at the end in later Egyptian; and so, there’s a set of connotations here. To connect it with the decans and angularity, I guess the Sopedu marks a real transition point, the beginning. Sothis rising is the beginning of the annual cycle in a way. In a way, I guess it’s a sort of annual rising or an annual Ascendant for the entire cycle. And so, that might be the connection there. Like it says earlier in the text, Sirius heralds the rise of the first decan, and so, it’s the ruler of the decans. Although they don’t say this explicitly in the text, I think we have to be clear; it’s sort of like the Ascendant of the whole cycle, if you will.
CB: Sure. Yeah, I just wasn’t sure. So you’re saying what the connection is with Shu, and Shu being the god that was associated with all of the decans in this text, partially because it’s carrying each of them to the places where they do work, especially the Ascendant and the Midheaven.
IM: Exactly, yeah. So Shu directs the decans and is seen as kind of the ruler/director. So there’s a lot of other mythological associations there too, in that Shu is also the one who persuades the goddess Tefnut to come back from her exile, and that myth is associated with the rising of Sirius and the inundation. We’ll get into that a little bit more I think when we talk about the ‘Hathor’ ceilings. But Shu is often associated with a warrior god, but also plays this role of persuading the goddess to come back, to return, because she’s being distant, and therefore, restart another cycle of inundation and creation. So there’s a bunch of tightly-interlocked mythological references going on here where different elements are playing multiple roles.
And that’s sort of important too, because the goddess is also associated with the Eye of Ra, the eye of the Sun god. And of course at the summer solstice, which is not far from the rising of Sirius, that’s when the Sun’s course starts to change in its apparent path through the sky. It shifts and starts moving the other direction as you change the seasons, so there’s a bunch of interesting parallels there. The ‘kentron/goad’ thing is very interesting, but I don’t know how to make the connection between those mythological references and the decans and their various culminating points except through Sirius, which serves as a kind of beginning point. And that’s not nothing because I think we’re gonna take a look a little bit later on at the so-called Thema Mundi, or the chart of the nativity of the world where there’s an important Ascendant position associated with Sothis.
CB: Right, okay. Yeah, I just wasn’t sure if there was a connection through, like you said, homophone, which is like a play on words sometimes that connects different terms. What is that again?
IM: Yeah, Egyptian scribes and scholars—and just Egyptians in general—seemed to have loved homonyms, things that sound the same. And so, connections were often made between names of gods or things, or anything really that sounded similar, and so, there’s an association between them that’s created. But also, writings, visual writings of things can be playful and make references between two different things, and it’s kind of partly poetic. But also in the Egyptian system of representation these kinds of connections took on a more important significance. They were entirely just wordplay. There could be sometimes a sense that there was a more intrinsic connection between two different things because of either the similarity of the writing or the sound when they were spoken verbally.
CB: Yeah, like a sympathy. It makes me think of the later concept of sympathy or how that comes up sometimes in astrology, where astrologers then would later make connections between things through similarity of meaning.
IM: Yeah, exactly. So it’s a very Egyptian thing to engage in that kind of wordplay. You sort of see it everywhere.
CB: Yeah, well, that’s important. And then there’s also a microcosm-macrocosm concept that exists earlier in ancient Egyptian thought. But really quickly before we move on this point, she says that the form of Shu that’s associated with the decans is spelled with a pointed thorn. Is that true, as far as you know?
IM: Yeah, I think we’d have to flip around in the book and find one of the hieroglyphic writings. Oh, wait, there’s Figure 59. Yeah, yeah, right in the illustration below there, there’s at least Sopedu. I don’t know if you can see in the upper-left of Figure A-4, there’s a little conical-looking thing.
IM: And that’s the ‘pointy thorn’ thing.
CB: Got it, okay.
IM: Yeah, so it’s true. It is true that there’s a point. Egyptians might have connected it. I’d have to trace through and find texts to see if there’s a connection that’s made by Egyptians between angularity—like culminating points—and these spellings of the different names.
CB: Yeah, and there’s no documented connection at this point. And I don’t think I’ve seen anybody else either in ancient texts or in modern texts make that connection. It’s just a resonance that I noticed. I wonder if that’s accidental, or if there was something there, that maybe there was some sort of connection in terms of those concepts. So it might be worth exploring more at some point.
IM: Yeah, it’s an interesting idea.
CB: We’ll see.
CB: All right, so, to wrap up this section with the Naos of the Decades—I’ll want to take a little break, and then we’ll come back and move on—this text at this point is describing mundane astrology. As far as we know this is not—as far as we can tell at this point it’s not related to individual birth charts, like nativities, but instead it’s just referring to large groups of people, such as cities and nations, as well as natural phenomenon, and some sort of potential connection between the decans, or the fixed stars, and things that are happening on Earth. Which in the broadest sense we would associate with astrology, or one could argue that that’s essentially some form of astrology at this stage in Egyptian history.
IM: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think there is a connection between the stars up in the heavens and their influence down on Earth. And if mundane astrology counts as astrology then it’s kind of related to that. It’s not natal astrology, as you said, but it’s a version of relating beings in the heavens to their action on Earth, and those beings are associated with the stars. And I think it’s also really interesting that it gives us a glimpse into, once again, how the mechanisms of astrology were thought to work in this period. These are divine beings that have power over the world below, and that’s what we’re seeing here.
CB: Sure. And we don’t exactly know what the mechanism is and if this is a matter of celestial influences, or if this is a matter of just signs, of them being omens and not necessarily causes of those things, even if they signify something happening. So we don’t have to get into questions about the mechanism of astrology that come up later in the Hellenistic period, where we start having notions of change being sent down from the planets to the sublunary cosmos and then influencing the elements, and all of this more complex, mechanistic stuff that gets involved with Greek philosophy. But at least there’s some sort of connection between the decans and events that are happening on Earth. And to the extent that that’s true then I think at this stage we definitively by, let’s say, the 4th century BCE have some astrology; some legitimate form of astrology that’s occurring in the Egyptian astrological tradition.
IM: Right. And in addition to Egyptian astrology—I guess we can talk about this after the break too—there’s a few other signs that Egyptian scribes and scholars are already interacting with from the wider world of astrological ideas that are coming from Mesopotamia in this period, and that’s also interesting. So we have both Egyptian ideas starting to emerge—at least according to this interpretation of the Naos and Harkhebi—but also, we have stuff coming from elsewhere that may be part of the fertile mixture that’s taking place in Egypt.
CB: Right. Yeah, that’s very important. All right, well, let’s take a little bit of a break.
CB: All right, so we’re back from our break. Before we get started with the second part of this, I wanted to just briefly give a shoutout to and mention some of the different scholars that we’re drawing on and different papers. I know we’ve already mentioned a couple of people such as Anne-Sophie von Bomhard who wrote the book on the Naos of the Decades. And I might put on the description page for this episode on The Astrology Podcast website a list of some resources, or some of the different scholars that we drew on who were influential on this talk. Because it’s more of a discussion, we’re not necessarily doing citations every time there is something from different people but we still want to give credit. And we also want people to know where they should go to learn more and to research more of the things that we’ve been researching in preparation for this episode. I know earlier you mentioned a paper by Andreas Winkler. And I know both of us have been really impressed by and influenced by his work recently on Demotic astrology over the past decade. Do you know what the title of that paper was that you were drawing on earlier?
IM: Yeah, it was called “Stellar Scientists,” I believe. And it’s a great overview of astrology as it was practiced in the Egyptian temple contexts. So those priests that we’ve been talking about—I quoted a section of his translation of the Statue of Harkhebi, also known as Harentebo. There’s different ways of reading his name, and Winkler actually prefers Harentebo.
CB: Got it, okay. So, yeah, his paper titled “Stellar Scientists: The Egyptian Temple Astrologers” is out there. And he has a number of other papers, some of which we’re actually gonna mention later in this episode, so we can talk about that later. Who were some of the others? I know, for example, Marina Escolano-Poveda is another person that’s done work on Demotic astrology that we may mention later, so we want to give her a shoutout. I was reading—I was rereading actually and re-impressed by some discussion that I want to bring up here in a little bit once we get into natal astrology and the Egyptian god called Shai, the god of fate. And I was rereading some of Dorian Greenbaum’s discussions and coming to a much better understanding of actually how impressive and interesting some of her work on all of that has been, and how she was doing some good stuff in terms of connecting some of the earlier Egyptian concepts with some of the other concepts that eventually developed in Hellenistic astrology. So that’s another one that I wanted to give a shoutout to.
IM: Absolutely. Yeah, I love her work on Hellenistic daimon. That’s really great. And another person that we draw a lot on who’s just produced an enormous amount of stuff on astrology is Joachim Quack, a Heidelberg professor of Egyptology who really specializes in the texts of the Late Period and Demotic. Also, Alexandra von Lieven has produced really excellent stuff on The Fundamentals of the Course of the Stars that we were mentioning earlier and many other works as well on astrology. There’s a lot of stuff out there emerging over the last generation or so from these Egyptologists working in this material. Who were some of the other people we were gonna mention?
CB: There’s Alexandra von Lieven, somebody you mentioned earlier that you’ve drawn on with The Course of the Stars. I showed a picture early on of the decans from the work Egyptian Astronomical Texts by Otto Neugebauer and Richard Parker, which is a huge, major, landmark publication that has just a tone of stuff for astronomy and astrology of Egypt.
IM: Yeah, yeah, really fundamental early work that put a lot of this stuff out there for scholarly and other audiences to work with. Really great stuff. I think there’s some texts that have been published by Kim Ryholt, a Danish scholar, also working in these late Demotic texts. We’ll try and mention people as we go, but it’s great for everyone out there listening to know that there’s all these scholarly resources that you can turn to and really dig in deeper if you want with this material we’re talking about.
CB: Yeah. Also, did you mention Christian Leitz?
IM: Oh, yeah, Christian Leitz has also written a ton of stuff on ancient Egyptian calendars and astronomy and astrology and so forth, so that’s another important scholar that we’ve encountered in our work.
CB: And then finally Stephan Heilen—
CB: Who has a lot of important work on Hellenistic astrology, especially for the discussion we’re about to have about Nechepso and Petosiris. He compiled a new sort of list of all the different references and fragments to those authors. And then recently Levente Laszlo has been translating those fragments from Greek and Latin into English as part of his HOROI Translation Project, which is like a crowdfunded translation of ancient astrological texts through his page on Patreon.
IM: Yeah, I’m glad that’s coming out. It’s really hard sometimes to find translations of these texts, so it’s always a service to do that work.
CB: Yeah, for sure. All right, so, I think that’s good for now, and then we’ll try to mention anybody else as we go. So backing up to the discussion we were just finishing up, there’s some debates amongst different scholars and different academics where there’s still a tension about whether the Naos of the Decades is ‘astrological’ or to what extent it’s astrological. And sometimes I’m nervous about some of the discussions I’ve seen on some of the later definitions of astrology from the Greco-Roman period, especially ones that involve planetary causation or natal astrology or the complex techniques that they use—that some of that’s being almost anachronistically used as the reference point of what something has to be in order to be astrological; that something has to be up to that similar scope. And I think sometimes that goes a little bit too far in holding some of the earlier Egyptian astrological tradition up to that because there’s just many different ways that astrology can be conceptualized or used from a technical standpoint that I think still are broadly astrological, even if they are more basic or early forms of things that would eventually develop later.
And I think it’s kind of important to recognize that, and I think that that’s something that’s been changing over the course of the past century of doing studies into Egyptian astronomy and astrology, especially with the Naos of the Decades. Because one of the things that Quack points out is that that was probably based on earlier texts or was probably something that was drawing on earlier tradition, and we don’t fully know how far back that tradition stretches exactly. But if that’s true, it just means there was a little more of an indigenous astrological tradition in Egypt a little bit earlier than people may have previously thought or suspected.
IM: Yeah, that’s a great point. And I think that we mentioned earlier The Fundamentals of the Course of the Stars, formerly known as The Book of Nut, or The Book of the Sky Goddess, that Alexandra von Lieven has done so much work on. That tradition goes quite deep. And we are always in antiquity dealing with an incomplete record, and so, we don’t know what might have been antecedent to this. And I think one of the things Quack points out about the Naos of the Decades is that it’s in quite an earlier, archaic form of the Egyptian language. And that, to him at least, suggests that the text that it may have been based on, copied from perhaps, derived from was part of an earlier tradition. And what we’re seeing is only this later part of it as it pops up into view because this monument happened to survive. And that’s a common thing with a lot of this ancient literature that will give us a moment that is possibly the latest point at which this tradition emerges, but may represent an earlier tradition that just isn’t visible to us because the evidence hasn’t survived.
CB: Right, okay.
IM: It’s speculative, but it’s an important point to bear in mind, I think.
CB: For sure. Yeah, I think that’s a really important point about how academic scholarship is done and what the approach is. You look as best as you can at what evidence is available and then you try to base your conclusions only on that evidence that’s available. And while sometimes inferences can be made, you try to avoid going too far in making any inferences that aren’t directly based on actual textual evidence or other archaeological evidence. And it seems like a simple point, but it’s an important point to make because it’s kind of different—since this is an astrology podcast—compared to, let’s say, the early 20th century, some of the Theosophical discussions or New Age discussions about things like Egypt and other things like that that were not necessarily always based on evidence, and sometimes there’s a lot more speculation or other things or other things that go on. So some people, if they’re watching this episode from that background, they might not understand as much why we’re focused more on the specific textual things and how that approach is a little bit different.
IM: Right, exactly. And this material will have different significance for different audiences, which is great. But what we’re trying to do is figure out historically where did certain ideas emerge, or what’s the evidence for it, and what are some of the debates around it, ‘cause it’s often settled. We were mentioning earlier how a new piece of evidence can change our picture quite a bit. Something that was just not known, and then a text emerges, and somebody is able to decipher it and translate it and bring it out into public view, and the facts literally are new, and we have new ideas. And that’s really one of the fun things about all of this, and especially what’s been going on in the last generation or so with these studies of early Egyptian texts.
CB: Yeah, for sure. Even though you would think everything has been around for so long, it’s like everything that historically is gonna be known about certain periods is already known. But that’s actually not the case. There’s actually new things being discovered all the time. There’s new inferences being made that are sometimes being confirmed. In this case, we’ve been talking about the Naos of the Decades, which was literally discovered in the water, in a submerged part of a city. Not too far from Alexandria is where it was discovered, right?
IM: Correct, correct, yeah. Underwater archaeology techniques have developed, and it’s become possible to do things in ways that were just impractical before. And so, new discoveries are being made all the time.
CB: And actually similar to that, I was recently watching a lecture by Alexander Jones—the academic of ancient astronomy and astrology—about the Antikythera Mechanism, which was discovered over a century ago, submerged in water from a shipwreck. And it’s like this mechanical device with a bunch of gears, but for most of the past century, they couldn’t see more than just a little bit of it. But through advances in X-ray technology suddenly they can actually see so much more of the gears that were previously hidden, as well as a lot of the text that previously obscured under layers of grime and dirt. And all of a sudden they’ve been able to reconstruct this complex mechanical calculator essentially or device that previously they only had a little bit of an understanding of.
IM: Yeah, that’s really exciting stuff. It’s an amazing device, and it’s like there’s one of them. And if we hadn’t discovered it, we wouldn’t know this amazing sophistication of a mechanical calculator basically.
CB: Yeah, recently there was another discovery that Alexander Jones was involved with, where there was a work of Ptolemy—a piece of not papyrus, but I think it was something else, a writing surface—and in the Middle Ages, a scribe had erased it and written another text over it. And they had known for more than a century that this text existed and there was other text underneath it, but only through being able to use X-ray technology recently they were actually able to see and reconstruct that it was a lost work of Ptolemy’s. And this was just announced really recently I think in the past few weeks.
IM: Yeah, I remember hearing the news about that as well. That’s really exciting. New imaging techniques are developing. X-ray tomography. Multi-spectral imaging where they use different wavelengths of light and then recombine the images to get the fullest possible amount of data out of a surface. Palimpsests are a great source for these kinds of things. But what’s amazing—and I’ll mention this multiple times—one of the amazing things about the Demotic Egyptian material, which is mostly on papyrus, is that many of these things have already been discovered, and they’re already sitting in libraries and museum collections, but there just hasn’t been the scholarly workforce to actually work through them and translate them. So few people actually study these languages and develop the skills needed to work on them, and there are just piles and piles of things waiting to be published. Many of them may be fragmentary and they might not all pan out. Sometimes it’s a little bit more frustration than anything, but it’s really exciting that there’s this material out there.
There’s lot of references in the astrological literature by people that we were just mentioning to publish texts of Demotic astrology. And it’s such a difficult thing to publish because you need the Demotic language skills and the ability to read the script, but you also need to kind of know what’s going on in terms of the astronomy and astrology of it to really kind of get the context, or reconstruct the context of a fragmentary text. You sort of have to know what it might be saying in order to make educated guesses at reading some of this material. And so, really I think one of the lessons in terms of scholarship for this is collaboration, getting more people to work together on these kinds of things. ‘Cause one person, in many ways, can’t master all of the skills needed to work on such a complex topic as astrology in the ancient world. There’s so many different languages, technical specializations, and knowledge of how astrology works that I think really the way forward is to work collaboratively on this.
CB: Yeah, for sure. And I’d like to encourage more people listening to this episode, if this is something that interests you or gets you excited—going back sometimes in a university setting, trying to get advanced degrees in some of the different training that is necessary to work with some of this material—that could be an access point. And I’m sure there’s a lot of work still to be done there, and if this sort of intrigues somebody enough to pursue it that would be the way to go.
IM: Yeah, absolutely.
CB: Look at classics, archaeology, other things like that.
IM: I think if you wanted to acquire the language skills, you could start with a classics program. Those are getting harder and harder to find, and it’s not available at all at institutions, which is tough. I mean, only certain colleges have these language programs. Egyptology is even more rare, but I think you can find these things. There are more and more resources available online too, and special courses where you can take a summer course in ancient languages sometimes, more institutions are offering those. So I think these days one need not necessarily commit to a full bachelor’s degree to get the language skills. You could study other fields and then take these languages on the side.
Another thing I would like to just point out, I think a lot of thinking right now is going on in academic institutions about how to make this kind of training more accessible to more people ‘cause, to be honest, it’s been very exclusive. It’s been dominated by wealthier institutions and the barriers to access to these institutions are often very high. And I think a lot of folks in academia are doing a lot of soul-searching about how do you make this knowledge or training or access this knowledge accessible to more people. And so, I think there’s lots more work to be done. Those who are seeking can find these things, but I think also there’s a responsibility to the world that academics take a more active role in making this kind of knowledge more accessible.
CB: That makes sense.
CB: All right, so, going back to the Naos of the Decades to wrap that up, something Quack says in one of his articles that I wanted to mention is that he said that there was some basic idea in the Egyptian tradition already, before Hellenistic astrology, of cosmic harmony and a relation between macrocosmos and microcosmos that he says was traditionally present in Egypt, and this is part of a longer paper. But I was curious if you could explain that a little bit or expand on that.
IM: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a lot of different ways to think about that. But the Egyptian cosmological system was based on a principle of cosmic order—actually one way to think about it—and that cosmic order had the name Ma’at, which is a term that’s sometimes translated as ‘justice’. But it’s also order and justice and right conduct, the proper function of things, all rolled into one. And the obligation of the pharaoh in Egypt and the priests who were the delegates or representatives of the pharaoh was to maintain right relations with the gods and perform the correct rituals in order to maintain Ma’at, which is not just justice, but also a cosmological order that pervaded the whole universe; and it was necessary for the security of Egypt, the continuing fertility of the Nile Valley for human beings to prosper in general and the state of Egypt to prosper in general.
And so, there was a central idea of the harmony of the cosmos, and it was a two-way street. Human beings had an important role. Especially the priests and the pharaoh had an important role to play in maintaining this cosmic order as a principle of harmony within the universe. And it comes up in lots of different ways, from very grand conceptions of the performance of rites that commemorated but also reenacted the creation of the universe and its divine ordering, to right down to actually even more humble, ethical obligations. Something I’m working on in some of my other research is about the meeting of law courts at the gates of temples. The temples were a site of justice and the creation of harmonies on Earth between people in terms of their disputes, and that was thought to reflect larger mythological and cosmic principles as well. They were all quite intertwined.
So there’s a lot of ways in which there seemed to be connections between what was happening in Egypt, on Earth, and what was happening in the heavens. And, conversely, there were times when there was disorder and disharmony in the cosmos. When Ma’at wasn’t functioning properly everything that was supposed to be as it was was reversed and inverted and disrupted. So it’s almost too big to talk about really, in a way. It’s an enormous pervasive concept. But you can see I think how principles of cosmic order and the relationship between the heavens and what’s going on in the heavens, and what’s going on at a large scale in the state of Egypt, right down to personal interactions, might be seen as all connected within this very large cosmic framework of Egypt.
CB: Sure. Yeah, and even if it’s not astrology, per se, it at least sets up some sort of cultural connection—I’m trying to think of a better word than ‘obsession’—between astronomical events in the sky and the functioning of society in some sense, like a cultural precursor to astrology. And we could see maybe why astrology—once it was developed—would grow because there was a very fertile soil there to grow in once those seeds had eventually been planted.
IM: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a number of specific concepts that we mentioned earlier about the signs in the heavens and their relationship to the gods and how those are transmitted to Earth. But there’s also this general cosmological concept of order and divine order in the cosmos which connects all things.
CB: Yeah, and there’s also another interesting concept with some of the gods that may have been relevant from earlier that also set up some interesting cultural things once astrology had been developed. And one of the ones that I was interested in that I was reading about today was the Egyptian god named Shai. S-H-A-I. And this was the Egyptian god associated with fate.
CB: And Dorian Greenbaum has a whole very extensive treatment of this in her book on Hellenistic astrology and the lots.
IM: Right, yeah. That’s another important antecedent. I’m glad you brought that up. I usually say ‘Shai’, but I think that’s ‘tomato-tomato’; it’s one of those things.
CB: Shai, okay.
IM: Shai, yeah. It’s an Egyptian word that is a complicated term, and I think Greenbaum does a great job in wrangling all the elements of Shai, in showing how they are connected to the idea of the fortune and the daimon and so forth, and fate. But basically it’s a very old concept. There’s some early representations in funerary papyri, for instance, the Ani Papyrus, which goes all the way to the 13th century BCE. Oh, you have it. Do you have it there? Oh, great. Fantastic.
CB: The British Museum has it up on their website.
IM: Yeah, fantastic. And there’s a representation of Shai there as a human figure with a bull’s tail. Yeah, I think that’s the figure standing—if you zoom in just a little bit. I think that figure standing under the balance there—you can’t see the tail, but it’s kind of along his back leg there.
CB: It’s the one on the left?
IM: Yeah, that guy. And then the hieroglyphs clinch it for sure ‘cause he’s labeled there. The hieroglyphs that he’s looking at, his face there, that just spells out Shai. And so, that’s an early indication of this idea of divinity or a being. It’s almost kind of like a guardian being or a being that appears at a birth. They’re these beings that serve as gods who oversee the birth of an individual and protect them through life, often paired sometimes with another goddess named Renenutet who’s sort of a goddess of fortune, or Meskhenet. These are similar female divinities that are often understood as fortune. And they’re kind of connected with birth and the outcome of one’s life as divinities, but then they start becoming incorporated and fused with astrological concepts later on. And I think we’ll see some of those as we go forward.
CB: Yeah. Just in the early stages, this god is associated with decrees—like what is decreed about a person’s life—and eventually notions of laws of that decree being a law, and that somehow they’re present at the beginning of life and then also at the end of a person’s life. And the one that we’re looking at, is the end of a person’s life depicted? Or what gods—maybe I should ask—are being depicted on this?
IM: Sure, absolutely. This is a scene from a funerary papyrus. Literally, A Book of Going Forth by Day, one of the variants of the funerary texts that were buried with people actually; in this case, someone called Ani. And what you see there is the ‘weighing of the heart’ against a feather, which is the scene of judgment in the afterlife. And the heart is the heart of a person of course; the ib it was called in Egyptian. But then on the other side of the balance, on the scale, is this feather, which is also the sign for Ma’at itself; this concept I was referring to earlier, which is a concept of justice. So there’s a kind of rich iconography here of the ‘weighing of the heart’ against justice and being hopefully found to be in the right state to have acted correctly during one’s life. In any case, there seems to have been ritual ways of getting around it if you didn’t quite do what you were supposed to. So one of the points of a funerary papyrus is to ensure that you make it through this rite and have a happy afterlife. But, yeah, there’s an early representation of Shai, your fate, not just in life, but also, potentially our afterlife fate in this case.
CB: Got it. And we see over here on the right side another important god that’s present here as well, right?
IM: Oh, yeah. Right, I forgot about that. That’s Thoth himself, eventually the Hermes of later Hermetic tradition. Hermes in the Late Period started to be called ‘Hermes, the Thrice-Great’, but also in Egyptian texts, Hermes Paa-Aa-Aa-Aa, which means ‘Hermes, the Great, Great, Great’. And he’s writing in his book, writing down the decrees of fate and so forth there. Yeah, this is a whole typical scene. That’s the monster that then devours those who are found wanting there.
CB: That’s the crocodile on the right?
IM: Yeah, yeah, sort of a hybrid beast, the devourer who devours who didn’t quite make it through the ritual, through the judgment scene.
CB: And who was Thoth in the early Egyptian tradition?
IM: Yeah, Thoth is the scribe of the gods. And so, you can see him there writing with a writing palette he’s holding up in front of him. And he’s got the ibis head, the bird with which he was associated. And so, Thoth is an important figure for scribes and is often connected in later texts with many things: calendrical lore, but also, astrological lore eventually.
CB: Okay, so he’s the scribe of the gods, he gets invoked a lot. And I guess—okay, we’ll come back to that later. Anyway, I was just interested that there’s a preexisting concept in the Egyptian tradition of fate and almost of a person’s personal fate. And then it was also tied in with both the beginning of the person’s life and what was decreed, but also, the end of the person’s life and potentially the length of a person’s life.
CB: And I think that’s an extremely interesting and important idea that the god associated with fate was particularly tied in with the notion of the length of life because that would become a major preoccupation in the Hellenistic tradition with the development of Greco-Egyptian astrology. And especially the Nechepso and Petosiris text I think was one of the earliest texts in the Hellenistic tradition that really developed a technique for attempting to predict the length of a person’s life. And so, when I was reading some of that today in Greenbaum’s work, I was just struck by that, and how that may be relevant again as an early Egyptian cultural notion that then shows up in the later Greco-Egyptian or Greco-Roman tradition.
IM: Yeah, absolutely. And we should bear that in mind as we move forward because we’ll see that pop up in some of those horoscope texts that we have that are coming to light recently from Athribis. So we’ve seen that a lot of these really important Egyptian concepts have quite deep traditions, deep roots in Egypt, going all the way back. But it’s also the case—and I think it’d be great to make this point—that even before Alexander the Great shows up and we get the Hellenistic period in Egypt, there were of course contacts between Egypt and other parts of the world. And so, we have some early evidence that Egypt was in contact with other traditions and adapting and adopting those traditions to their use and practice within Egypt. Unless there’s other concepts we’re missing that you wanted to talk about in terms of the Egyptian background.
CB: No, I think that’s great. This is the point where we should start talking about the Mesopotamian tradition. So it’s like we have this long tradition of using the decans for different purposes; at the very least for calendrical and timekeeping purposes by the priests in Egypt for over 2,000 years, starting back around, let’s say, 2000 BCE. Over in Mesopotamia, we also have a very long astronomical and astrological tradition that built up through many centuries and many generations of observing the stars and recording their movements, as well as making predictions and recording omens based on the alignment of certain celestial events with events on Earth. So they had mundane astrology that was predicting events for large groups of people; it certainly became super popular by the 7th century BCE.
But then eventually, by the 5th century BCE, we get the standardization of the zodiac with 12 signs of 30° each. And we also have the introduction of the concept of natal astrology with the oldest-surviving birth charts dating to 410 BCE in some cuneiform tablets that have been discovered. And here’s actually a picture of that tablet from 410 BCE, from the book, Babylonian Horoscopes, by Francesca Rochberg. Because it was published by the American Philosophical Society, you can actually read it for free through Google Books. So this is the picture of that tablet. And then she has several others where, starting in 410 BCE, we start seeing the concept of natal astrology where they’re recording the alignment of the planets for the day a person was born, and then starting to make predictions about the person’s future from that point forward. So this is a really important development in astrology in general at this point in time in Mesopotamia originally.
IM: Yeah, exactly. And I’m not an expert in that, but it’s fascinating that as this really starts coming to a head, we also start seeing some of our earliest signs of contact between that tradition and the Egyptian tradition. There’s a papyrus that was published a long time ago by Richard Parker—a Demotic papyrus that was of the Roman period—but this is a text that almost certainly had earlier origins. And this is a text that has a whole list of solar eclipse omens of various and lunar omens. And because it makes certain equations between Egyptian months and Babylonian months, and actually uses Babylonian months in it, we know that it came from a Mesopotamian tradition, and it lists various eclipses and what they mean when they happen in these months.
And this text was originally thought to have a reference in it to the Achaemenid Persian king, Darius I. But recently Kim Ryholt has offered another interpretation—that the name in question may be a reference to Ny-ksw-ps-sr, or Nechepso, who was famous in the later astrological tradition. So what this text shows is a tradition not yet of natal astrology but probably of mundane astrology because they seem to refer to events happening in various lands rather than events associated with persons. That body of practice and knowledge seems to have made its way to Egypt probably at some point in either the Saite period—around when Demotic was being invented, that we talked about earlier—or possibly in the Achaemenid Persian period. And this is actually when Egypt was conquered by the Achaemenid Persian Empire and incorporated into it for quite a long period, from 525 BCE down to about 404. And then the Egyptians revolted and were able to shake off Achaemenid Persian rule just a little bit after the time when the first evidence of natal astrology that you were just talking about, Chris, is showing up.
So what’s interesting about this is that Egypt has at many times in its history been part of a wider international network of intellectual exchanges, and they kind of ebb and flow to a certain extent depending on imperial histories of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. But certainly when the Achaemenid Persians ruled Egypt this was a time when there would have been communication between Persia, Mesopotamia, the so-called Near Eastern world, down into Egypt because that was the territory that Achaemenid Persia covered. And so, it seems like this text was probably transmitted at some point during that period and then copied over and over again within Egypt to preserve this lore of eclipse and lunar predictions. And they even kept the month names from Mesopotamia for all this period.
CB: Right. So the important point is just that by this period, by the 5th and 6th centuries BCE, there are these major connections between Egypt and Mesopotamia, and some of the Mesopotamian astrology and astronomy starts getting transmitted to Egypt and incorporated into some of their own astrology at that point. And so, we start seeing texts at this point that contain mundane astrology related to eclipses and, yeah, also eventually relating to the signs of the zodiac, which I think are also transmitted at some point in the next several centuries.
IM: Exactly. So this is a point of contact. Since they’re using the month names, it seems like maybe the zodiac wasn’t as significant by this point, or wasn’t being used in the same way—I’m not sure—but there’s definitely a kind of mundane astrological connection there. And there’s one or two other things that suggest—like we were saying earlier—that we can suspect this bit of evidence might be the tip of the iceberg of broader connections that we just can’t document. And there’s an interesting text published by Friedhelm Hoffmann that describes a method for calculating—well, it gives a chart for the lengths of day and night over the changing seasons, and Friedhelm Hoffmann has shown that it’s based on a Mesopotamian arithmetical calculation scheme for doing this, and so, that’s another thing. And there’s little bits of evidence like this that there was intellectual contacts anyways between Mesopotamia and Egypt.
CB: Yeah, I mean, one of the points I think that David Brown makes in the paper we were reading together recently is just that, like you just said, the Persian Empire was in control of Egypt for a long period of time. So obviously in the time period we’re talking about there’s gonna be major cultural interactions taking place as a result of that, and this entire time period becomes one of the primary means of cultural interaction and synthesis when there’s one countries that’s invading and taking over another country, and then the subsequent blending of cultures as a result of that.
IM: Right, right. It was more than a century that the Persians were occupying and controlling Egypt. And we know that there must have been intellectual contacts because we have Aramaic texts—which was the administrative language of the Achaemenid Persian Empire—on papyrus that have been discovered in Egypt. And so, there’s a good chance that an Aramaic text could have made its way to Egypt, being translated into a Demotic Egyptian form at some point, because there were scribes working in both of these languages. It’s kind of a foreshadowing of what we’re gonna see in the Hellenistic period with the Ptolemaic context of the emergence of astrology.
CB: Yeah. And so, the Persian Empire, they were in control, you said, for a century. But then they lost control of Egypt briefly for a period of time, right?
IM: Right. They lose control of Egypt, and this is when we start getting the last few dynasties of Egypt—the 28th, 29th, and 30th dynasties—which are relatively short. And the 30th is the one that includes Nectanebo—both the Nectanebos that we were talking about earlier.
CB: And that’s the one that the Naos of the Decades was dedicated to.
IM: Exactly, right. And then there’s another brief period of Persian rule once again before Alexander the Great starts his famous world historical conquests. He’s really launching his campaign at that point against the Achaemenid Persian Empire, and Alexander drives the Persians out of Egypt. In fact, he defeats them in two major battles before he even gets to Egypt. So he enters Egypt without a fight basically. And it’s from that point forward that you eventually get the establishment of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Greco-Macedonians who rule Egypt for the next 300 years or so.
CB: Right. So Alexander the Great takes an army of Greeks and Macedonians out of Europe, from Greece, and then storms down through modern-day Turkey, initiates a war with the Persian Empire that’s in control of both Egypt and Mesopotamia and Persia at that point. And then Alexander proceeds to conquer—going downwards first—Egypt by 332—sorry, 321 BCE, and then eventually goes over and conquers Mesopotamia and dethrones the Persian Empire and goes as far as the western-most portions of India, before eventually turning back and going back to Babylon where he promptly dies. And then the land that he conquered is then divvied up by his generals basically who divided it into different Greek-speaking kingdoms that we know as the different Hellenistic regions, and this is the start of what we call the Hellenistic period.
IM: Yeah, exactly. One of Alexander’s generals by the name of Ptolemy captures Egypt as the place that he governs notionally as regency for Alexander’s son, but eventually it develops into an independent kingdom. Interestingly, Ptolemy actually hijacks the funeral procession of Alexander’s body, which was supposed to be going back to be buried maybe in Macedonia or somewhere, and he hijacks it and take to Egypt and has Alexander buried in Alexandria eventually as a kind of sign of his continuity with the great conqueror. I think we don’t necessarily need to get into all the details of political history, but it’s a major moment of course. Another moment that connects Egypt with a new network of cultural contacts and the circulation of goods and the circulation of people and ideas. So it’s another high point in Egyptian global connectivity, if you will. So just as the Achaemenid Persian Empire, for its area and context, was a global empire virtually, Alexander’s empire takes over the Achaemenid Persian Empire basically and becomes the new empire, and that facilitates all kinds of migration between different spots. So huge numbers of Greeks, especially in the 3rd century BCE, migrate into Egypt to serve various roles in the new administration of the Ptolemies because they created a Greek-language administration.
CB: Right. So Ptolemy takes over Egypt, and he sets himself up as pharaoh in Egypt, and then he founds a dynasty of rulers, of Greek-speaking rulers, that rule over Egypt for the next 300 years, all the way until the 1st century BCE, that famously ends with Cleopatra VII and her suicide when she loses a battle against the Roman Empire. And the Roman Empire takes over Egypt from that point forward. But that’s really important that Ptolemy starts this 300-year dynasty of Greek-speaking people that are in control of Egypt, and then right around the same time we have the founding of the famous city of Alexandria, which is like a multicultural city that’s blending many different traditions and cultures. And we also have the foundation of the Museum and Library of Alexandria.
IM: Exactly, yeah. Alexandria becomes a major cosmopolitan center patronized by the Ptolemies as a center of learning: Greek-learning, but also, the translation of other texts and languages as well. One of the things that Alexandria is famous for is a really significant translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek that was used by diasporic Jewish populations often in Alexandria. But it was, according to the legends anyways, created to be a text for the library at Alexandria by sages that were requested to be sent from Jerusalem to Alexandria to carry out this translation. And so, that’s kind of an emblem of the types of intellectual and cross-cultural exchanges that were going on. One could debate the details of the story, but that’s what the historical record says.
And we know that other activities were going on there as well. I’ve done a lot of work on this Egyptian priest who wrote a history of Egypt in Greek, but based on Egyptian sources, and so, translated a lot of ideas about Egyptian history into Greek for the Greek rulers of Egypt and the court, in order that these new Greek-Macedonian pharaohs would have an idea of Egyptian history, and also, the ideas of pharaonic kingship, which are implicitly discussed in various ways in this history. So it was a huge hub of cultural interactions, immigration. It grew up very quickly. By the later Ptolemaic period, it was the largest city in the world, and it was only eventually eclipsed by Rome, people estimate. But it was an enormous city, with an enormous population that brought together people from all parts of the Mediterranean into close contact with one another.
CB: Okay, so in Alexandria there are Greeks. There were of course native Egyptians. There was a Jewish community.
CB: There were probably still Persians or people from Mesopotamia. Yeah, so it was a huge, multicultural blending pot. And during this time, this 300-year period, during the Hellenistic era, we have a lot of blending especially of Greek and Egyptian culture it seems.
IM: Yeah. The details are debated by various scholars about what the nature of the interactions were, but I think it’s now generally agreed that it was really important for the Ptolemies to have a strategic partnership especially with the elites of Egypt, which were these priests who were the literate figures in society, who often, in addition to being priests, held posts in the Egyptian government as administrators because of their literacy skills. And so, the Ptolemies, when they came in, really couldn’t run Egypt without the priests. There was no way of doing it. And so, they had to have come to an understanding between their ideas of kingship, which were based largely in Alexander and his rule, and traditional Egyptian understandings of kingship, which were based on the long traditions of pharaonic rule.
So there was a lot of work to try and find a middle-ground between these traditions, and that involved complex processes of translating ideas back and forth, finding ways in which the different traditions could harmonize around certain points. And all of that translation activity which was going on at the top level also had analogues further down the line in different parts of society as members of immigrant communities of Greeks—for instance, mercenaries or soldiers that were often hired and brought to Egypt—found themselves settled amongst Egyptian populations. There were often people that formed families. A lot of these immigrants were mercenaries, and so, they would marry into Egyptian families locally. And so, there’s an extraordinary amount of cross-cultural interaction, and out of these various levels of society new ideas, new ways of doing things, new bodies of knowledge were generated.
CB: Sure. And one of the things we see at some point in the next few centuries during the Hellenistic era is we eventually start to see the Mesopotamian concept of the 12 signs of the zodiac get merged with the Egyptian concept of the 36 decans. So that eventually the decans seem to become subdivisions of 10° segments of the zodiac itself. And even though the dating is much later, that’s when we start to see things like the famous ‘Zodiac of Dendera’, right?
IM: Exactly, yeah. So that’s probably a good thing to take a look at now. It’s probably one of the earlier bits of evidence for the zodiac in Egypt. There’s a Demotic text that’s fragmentary, but it has an equation of different Egyptian months with zodiac signs, which is probably dated to maybe 2nd century BCE. But after that it’s really these temple zodiacs which are some of the earliest evidence that the zodiac has really fully arrived in Egypt and is being used, and in a big way. I mean, it’s really important. We should take a look at that.
CB: Yeah. All right, so here’s the famous Zodiac of Dendera, which you can see in the Louvre. And just to describe it for our audio listeners, it’s this big stone square block that was cut out of a ceiling in a temple in Egypt. And in the middle you can see a circle that has the zodiac, and it has the 36 figures that represent the decans around on the outside. And then on the inside, you can see different figures that represent the different signs of the zodiac, like a scorpion. Elsewhere, you see a lion for Leo, or you see a crab for Cancer and so on and so forth.
IM: Yeah, yeah. And this was on a chapel, I believe, on a roof of a Dendera Chapel devoted to the god Osiris. The main temple was devoted to the goddess Hathor, and we’ll talk about her in a moment. So that dates it probably to the 1st century BCE. Oh, that’s great. That’s a beautiful picture of the temple. It’s one of the most spectacular and well-preserved temples of ancient Egypt because it was largely built in the later Ptolemaic period and into the early Roman Empire. So 1st century BCE into the 1st century of the common era, broadly speaking. Yeah, that’s the front of it. So a spectacular temple if you ever get a chance to travel to Egypt. It’s a glorious place.
And, Chris, I want to take a look at that zodiac in a moment, which is really exciting. But also, do you happen to have that one with the labels on it? There’s a zodiac sign. At least the video viewers can take a look at the zodiac. There it is, yeah. That’s the one. And so, this is a picture of the ‘Dendera Zodiac’, the round one that Chris was just saying is preserved in the Louvre, and I’ve added some labels. So you can see that in addition to the zodiac signs, there are divine figures that represent the different planets, and the five visible planets are all associated with the zodiac signs that are their exaltations in later tradition. And I know you’ve worked a lot on the exaltations, so maybe you could say more about that and what’s interesting about this.
CB: Yeah, I mean, I’ve always known about the Zodiac of Dendera, and I saw it at the Louvre when I was in Paris in 2007. And it’s really a funny story ‘cause I went there looking especially for that. That was like the one thing I wanted to see when I went to the Louvre—or the primary thing, I should say. And I got there, and I get to the section where it’s supposed to be, and then I see on the wall there’s a plaque for it, but I don’t see it. There’s like an empty space on the wall, so I think it’s missing. So I’m actually sitting there for a few minutes—
IM: Oh, no.
CB: Kind of depressed and kind of sad. I think it must be getting cleaned or something like that, and it just doesn’t happen to be there the day that I’m visiting. So I’m standing there like an idiot for a few minutes, and then I keep seeing tourists come by and then look up and start taking pictures of the ceiling. And then eventually, luckily, I looked up and it’s right there on the ceiling above, just as it was in the temple. Right above, you look up, and then you see this big square stone thing that’s kind of massive, that has the signs of the zodiac right above you, and then representations of the decans and each of the planets.
IM: Yeah, fantastic. And that’s great to see it that way because that’s where it was originally, like you say, in the temple. And that’s a really typical thing—we’ll say this a number of times—that Egyptian temples were in many ways models of the cosmos. It’s not obvious unless you’re reading all the signs, but this one is. This is the dome of the heavens really put over you as a roof. For people standing in the temple, it’s like you’re in a cosmological model or an architectural representation of the world with the stars above you.
IM: And this is a—oh, sorry, go ahead.
CB: And I didn’t know until a few years later when I was reading Neugebauer and Parker’s book, Egyptian Astronomical Texts—and they start talking about the representations of the planets on it—they point out in the diagram, based on their identifications, that the figure for Saturn is very close to the figure, the symbol for Libra. And the figure that represents Cancer is very close in proximity to the figure that they’ve identified as Jupiter; Mercury is right next to Virgo and so on and so forth. So when you do the full scheme, it actually ends up representing or being a visual representation of the planets in their signs of exaltation from Hellenistic astrology. Which is just really striking and really amazing because that’s a concept that’s basically existed in Western astrology for over 2,000 years now. Here’s a diagram with the planets and their signs of exaltation from traditional astrology. And just the fact that this happens to be in this representation is just really striking and really amazing that they had created this and put this in an Egyptian temple, and that it was that important that they wanted to create something that would be so permanent and so lasting to represent it.
IM: Yeah, yeah, it’s really remarkable. And I guess I should point out that there are some scholars who interpreted other elements of this to suggest that there was a particular date that was represented. Some people have argued that there’s an eclipse represented that may have happened specifically around 51 BCE. But there’s others that argue that actually this is a schematic representation and that’s why the planets are shown in their exaltations. So this is interesting on many levels, just as you were saying, but one of the levels is that an astrological doctrine is basically being encoded in the heavens here, in this temple.
And that’s one of the things that people have actually pointed out about Egyptian temples of these later periods. Through their inscriptions, through their decorations, they were often ways of encoding and canonizing and preserving knowledge in the architecture themselves, and so, that’s kind of what you have here. Also, we have to bear in mind—we’ve mentioned a couple of times this figure, Nechepso, I think, who’s often regarded by many of our later Hellenistic sources as a wise king who was an author of early astrological texts that are only preserved in fragments. Depending on who you ask, these fragments at the earliest probably date to maybe the middle-or-late 2nd century BCE into the 1st century BCE. And here’s this temple not long after that that’s already got this important monument of an astrological idea or doctrine embedded in it.
CB: Yeah, yeah, that’s really important. Once this system of Hellenistic astrology had been established, it became so popular and it became so widespread in the Egyptian temples—from, let’s say, 1st century BCE forward—that it wasn’t just the Zodiac of Dendera, this one we’re looking at now, but there’s also other representations of either the exaltations or of the planets in their domiciles in other temples as well.
IM: Right, yeah. A Roman period temple at Esna has the same system of exaltations. I believe a now lost temple that was north of the existing temple at Esna also had a representation of the exaltations. And then there’s also various tombs that have zodiac ceilings occasionally. So it’s really remarkable how this starts to become incorporated into really some of the most traditional spaces of Egyptian culture and learning that is the temple and also tomb architecture. These are not wild-and-crazy spaces where you just do whatever you want. Clearly there’s a sense that this lore and learning was integrated into Egyptian practices in some way.
CB: Yeah, and especially amongst the Egyptian priests and their previous work with astronomy for sure and timekeeping. Eventually they also developed astrological interests and roles potentially as well. So I guess before we move off of that, we have the Zodiac of Dendera, which we’ve talked about the planets being in their signs of exaltation. There’s also sometimes debates about whether it represents an actual time period in it based on signs that may represent eclipses around the 1st century BCE, or other debates about whether Neugebauer and Parker’s identifications were correct in that it represents the planets in their exaltation. But the fact that there’s other temple illustrations that show the planets in their exaltation or domiciles, to me, is part of the compelling thing that makes it clear that this version of Dendera does actually represent the planets in their exaltations probably. And I think you have some pictures of some of the other ones with some identifications as well, right?
IM: Yeah. What’s interesting about Dendera—maybe we could focus on those because we can stay in the same place, and I think they’re particularly interesting—is there’s a second zodiac ceiling. So Dendera actually has two. Yeah, that’s one of them. There’s a plan that shows—actually could you show that picture that you had just a minute ago of the front of the Temple of Dendera? And then we’ll start there and get a sense of, for people, where this is actually located. There was a temple you showed of the front, with the columns of the temple.
CB: Okay, hold on a second. Here it is.
CB: There it is.
IM: This is great. Perfect, yeah. So this is known as—they use a Greek architectural term, I’m not sure why—the pronaos, or the ‘front naos’, kind of a porch or portico space. It’s a columned hall, sometimes called a hypostyle hall, and Egyptians call the hnty, or ‘forehall’ sometimes. And this is the preliminary space that probably at some times ordinary people would be able to enter like on certain festival occasions. And inside the roof of this structure—like right up inside the roof—there’s another zodiac on either side of the hall, on the far ends of it. And I think we have a picture that shows where they’re located. They’re on the far west and east ends of the hall, and there are zodiac bands. This, that you’ve got on the screen here I think is a different part of the inscriptions. There. There’s a good spot. This is one of the zodiac bands that are on the ends of the hall. And I think you can see in that upper register, the upper band there, well, what else would that be but our friend, the centaur, Sagittarius with the bow and everything.
IM: But the iconography is amazing. He’s got a kind of a pharaonic Atef crown, and he’s got this winged feature, which looks a little bit more Mesopotamian. What do you think, Chris?
CB: Yeah, I mean, what’s really striking is that what you get is this blend of some of the iconography from some of the Mesopotamian representations of the zodiac figures, but also, there’s sometimes Egyptian adaptations of them, or different Egyptian features either are merged with that or completely replace the Mesopotamian versions.
IM: Right, right. I think I have some other ones with the figures labeled. Oh, yeah, this is good though. You can also see Capricorn there, I think.
CB: Right, the goat-fish.
IM: Right, the goat-fish. And below them, these are the decans as well. So it’s similar to the round zodiac at Dendera. You have kind of an outer band with the decans and then an inner band with the zodiac signs. And so, you’re seeing that in an Egyptian temple the fusion of the zodiac taken over from Mesopotamia through these cultural contacts and the very longstanding Egyptian tradition. And then this goddess here—now that we’re zoomed out—you can see this goddess stretching over. It’s just a very typical representation of the goddess Nut that we’ve been mentioning several times, the sky goddess.
CB: Got it. All right. And then let me pull up your—so you also have a broader plan that you made. Here’s the image.
IM: Yeah, so this is an image of a plan basically of the roof, and there’s a central column, the aisle of the main entry, and two bands of other processions of divinities. But on the far ends there’s zodiac and decan bands, and they split the zodiac in an interesting way. So, unlike the circular one that’s in the roof, it’s not a round band like we’re used to seeing with a series of zodiac signs. But it’s been split so that half is basically Pisces to Cancer, and the other half is Leo to Capricorn.
CB: Right. ‘Cause we’ve got a rectangular temple, and then on the far side of the temple, one side has one half of the zodiac and then the other side of the temple has the other half of the zodiac.
IM: Exactly, yeah. And Christian Leitz and others have argued that this way of splitting the zodiac is significant because it puts emphasis on the two solstice points, ‘cause those are the dividing points; that is, the winter and the summer solstice. And in the context of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera, this is particularly significant because Hathor was in many texts associated with an important myth that’s connected to the new year’s cycle, the annual cycle of the year, the new year’s festival, and the return of the inundation. So in this picture we have here, we have the two halves once again from Pisces to Cancer and from Leo to Capricorn and all of the different divinities.
And I’ve labeled the different signs of the zodiac. It’s also worth pointing out that there’s other traditional Egyptian constellations that are interspersed in these as well—so they haven’t abandoned some of these older traditions—and there’s also the decans. But there’s also other figures as well that are important, like planetary figures. And also, back up in the upper-left corner there—there we go—with Cancer, we see the star Sothis—or Sopedu, or Sirius, the Dog Star—that rose just before the inundation came. It’s heliacal rising was just before the inundation, and it’s represented right next to gods associated with the inundation—Anukis and Satet right there. So it’s very much a zodiac, but it incorporates all of these Egyptian elements as well.
CB: Yeah, so we’re seeing like a real blending of Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultural and astronomical factors basically in here. And then also interestingly and important for our purposes, the planets are also represented here as well, and they happen to be in very specific positions.
IM: Yeah, exactly. So here we have a section of the panel, so you can see better the images. You can see Gemini there, which, again, is another interesting adaptation. We’re used to them being the Twins. In Egyptian representations, they are often Shu and Tefnut, who are brother-sister gods, and they’re represented right there as a pair extending their hands to one another. But then to the right of them is a representation of Mercury in the form of a human-headed divinity. And it’s hard to tell otherwise, except he has a star on the top of his head to show that he’s a star, a planet. But in the hieroglyphs just above his head and to the right that he’s facing towards, the Egyptian name of Mercury—Sebek or Sebku—is written there so you know who it is.
CB: So we have Mercury—in this temple illustration or relief—in proximity to Gemini.
IM: Exactly, yeah. Then likewise here’s Taurus. Very easy to recognize, but given a kind of lunar disc maybe above. And then a couple of figures over is Venus, or Pi-neter-tuau, as Venus was known, which just means ‘the morning god’. So they had different names based in earlier Egyptian tradition for the planets and the divinities associated with them, but they were blending that with these Mesopotamian traditions of the zodiac. Obviously, the other point is that these are the planets in the signs of their domiciles.
CB: Right. So Venus is basically in Taurus in the diagram. And then it turns out that if you go through all the other planets that all of the planets are in their domiciles according to the traditional—or at least the system that came about in the Hellenistic period and then was used from that point forward for assigning each of the seven traditional planets to one or two of the signs of the zodiac—which I have a diagram for right here. So here’s the domicile scheme with the two luminaries assigned to Leo and to Cancer, and then the rest of the planets assigned, flanking out from there based on their relative speed and distance from the Sun.
IM: Right, yeah.
CB: That’s really cool. This is, again, another illustration. So we have one illustrating the exaltations and then we have another that’s illustrating the domicile scheme.
IM: Yeah. And this ceiling with this columned hall, where this zodiac was placed, would have been built later than the other one, the other zodiac, which was in the Osiris temple most likely. But it’s still relatively early, so it’s probably more like the 1st century CE, I think, when this was put together. And so, I think another fascinating incorporation into the architecture of the temple of an astrological doctrine—it’s not just representing the sky—the placement of these different planets in later tradition is associated with the whole idea of the nativity of the world, or the Thema Mundi, right, Chris? That’s the thing that we start to see in Firmicus and other texts. It seems to explain—although there’s debates about this, I imagine—it seems to explain the placement of the planets in their houses with reference to a chart of the nativity of the world.
CB: Right. So here’s the diagram that shows the Thema Mundi with Cancer rising. It has the Ascendant in Cancer, and then the Moon in Cancer, the Sun in Leo, and then the rest of the planets assigned in zodiacal order, which is counter-clockwise, based on their relative speed and distance from the Sun: first starting with Mercury, which never gets more than one sign away from Sun, assigned to the sign next to it, which is Virgo, and then Venus, which never gets more than two signs away from the Sun assigned to Libra, and then Mars to Scorpio, and Jupiter to Sagittarius, and Saturn to Capricorn. And this was said to be the nativity or the birth chart for the world basically according to Firmicus Maternus who ascribes it to Nechepso and Petosiris, as well as Asclepius and Hermes. So these mysterious, supposedly Egyptian figures—there were some texts that were ascribed to them during the Hellenistic period, where this diagram—this one, and the exaltations—served as these foundational points for a bunch of different astrological doctrines based on these hypothetical charts for the founding of the world.
IM: Yeah. And we don’t know necessarily for sure where these doctrines originated, but what’s interesting about how they are incorporated in the Temple of Hathor at Dendera is that they make a lot of sense from an Egyptian perspective. They’ve integrated astrological concepts into the Egyptian cosmology of this temple. And I don’t know if we have that diagram again with the labels, with the two bands of the zodiac, and the signs labeled. Yeah, that one or the next one maybe where it shows in closeup the two bands with the label. Yeah, this one here is perfect. So these are line drawings of those zodiac ceilings. And you can see that there’s Cancer represented, interestingly, as maybe a crab or maybe a scarab beetle, I don’t know. It’s a little bit iconographically a mixed bag, but it looks crab-like maybe, or something.
IM: But right next to it, as we were saying earlier, there’s Sothis and these inundation gods. And what’s interesting is that, as we’ve said a couple of times, the heliacal rising of Sothis happens when the Sun is there in Cancer roughly, and this is when the inundation arises. And according to many cosmologies, or accounts of creation in ancient Egypt, the creation was the emergence of the first mound of earth from the primordial waters of the flood. And so, the flood is an initial stage in the creation story of the Egyptians according to different versions. And so, what we seem to have here is a representation of the planets in their domiciles in a visual representation that emphasizes the solstices—maybe including the summer solstice with this placement of Sothis—and so, seems to make a connection between the idea of the Thema Mundi and the placement of the planets in their domiciles with an Egyptian creation story, which is kind of interesting.
CB: Yeah, one of the things about the Thema Mundi is that all of the scholars have always noted that having Cancer rising and the Sun in Leo seems to portray an Egyptian influence on the concept, because that connects it to the heliacal rising of Sirius and the flooding of the Nile, which occurs every year, which had always been such an important thing in Egypt. And it’s really anchored or really focused here in the Thema Mundi with these positions and with Cancer rising.
IM: Yeah, I’m sorry, I misspoke. I think I said that the Sun was in Cancer, but it’s not. It’s in Leo. And the Moon—you could even take this maybe a step further in that if the Moon is there close to the Sun, just in the next adjacent sign, it would have been the start of a new month, I think, or just about to start a new month. And so, this would represent the moment in the lunar calendar as well which was key to Sothis when a new month was about to start; the first month of the year perhaps, or the last month was just ending and the new month was about to start. And so, you have a new year’s vibe whether you’re looking solar or whether you’re looking at a lunar calendar, I think. And I only mention that because the lunar calendar would have been the calendar for temple festivals.
And so, this all happens, again, just at the Temple of Hathor at Dendera because of Hathor’s association with Tefnut and other goddesses who were seen as these distant goddesses who went away and then returned around the time of the new year, bringing the inundation and a return to life once again after being away at a period of low water and potential danger in terms of reduced fecundity and so forth just before the inundation starts again. It may be that this particular creation story and the connection with the zodiac was chosen particularly because of this temple and the main goddesses’ association with that cyclical myth of regeneration and creation in Egyptian thought.
CB: Okay. So backing up, it’s like these monuments that we’re talking about—the temple illustrations of the domiciles and the exaltations—these are late. These are probably dated to the 1st century BCE or the 1st century CE when we’re talking about Dendera, as well as the Esna illustrations. And I had one picture of the Esna ones from Neugebauer and Parker where they show the signs of the zodiac, and then Neugebauer and Parker point out where the planets are and that the Moon is depicted as being above Taurus, the bull, the Sun is depicted as being above Aries, the ram. We see Venus next to Pisces, the fishes, and we see Mars—the figure for Mars—next to Capricorn, the goat-fish, and so on and so forth. So it’s like Esna—Esna A at least, as it’s called—is depicting, again, the planets in their signs of exaltation.
Anyway, the important point is that the domicile and the exaltation schemes—especially the domicile scheme—is one of the systems of astrology that emerges and that we become aware of by the 1st century BCE as part of this seemingly new and complicated system of astrology, especially of natal astrology and interpreting birth charts, that’s part of this fourfold system of the planets and their meanings, the signs of the zodiac and their unique meanings, the doctrine of aspects or configurations, and also, the doctrine of the 12 houses or places, the dodekatropos. And that fourfold system kind of emerges and we see evidence of it show up by the 1st century BCE when we start seeing both instructional texts that tell people about this system and how to use, as well as we start seeing birth charts or horoscopes that use this new technical system also showing up in especially Greek and Demotic sources in the 1st century BCE. So we assume, or all of the scholars assume or infer that this new type of astrology must have developed at least by the early 1st century BCE or late 2nd century BCE. So around 100 BCE by the latest this system would have developed, but its origins are mysterious. Because we can see elements from the Egyptian and from the Mesopotamian and from the Greek cultures that have all sort or coalesced in order to contribute to or create this new system of astrology that shows up in the 1st century BCE that we call Hellenistic astrology.
IM: Yeah, yeah, it’s a really remarkable cosmopolitan fusion of ideas that all comes together in a short period of time. I marvel when I think about this, that there were these antecedents for sure. But then suddenly in maybe, I don’t know, the space of a century—I mean, that’s a long time I guess. But I’m used to dealing in ancient history, so that seems short to me, but it comes together as this coherent system. And the texts of this Nechepso, sometimes associated with Petosiris, that are cited by later astrological authors, we can’t always be sure how early those texts go, but they seem to cover most of the major topics of astrology. You have natal astrology. You have mundane astrology. You have a lot of familiar doctrines that are already present, like the Lot of Fortune and the Lot of the Daimon; a whole set of doctrines that seem to be part of that tradition.
And then we also have this temple architecture suggesting the emergence of these astrological doctrines and their use for a different purpose, but an awareness amongst these temple builders of these astrological doctrines also dating to this period. And they really are an amazing kind of translation of concepts, recombination of concepts, and the generation of something that’s really more than the sum of all of its parts into this new system. That’s what I find really, really extraordinary. And a lot of it—I know parts of it could also be happening elsewhere in the Hellenistic world because we have a lot of early Hellenistic astrological authors that are also from other places as well. But a good bit of it seems to be happening in Egypt—maybe in Alexandria in particular because of its cosmopolitan location—but also probably in the temples of Egypt as well, outside of Alexandria.
CB: Yeah, so we have this new system of astrology that shows up on the scene, by the 1st century BCE. It has all these abstract technical concepts that seem to be playing the role of a theoretical construct when you have things like the domiciles and the exaltations, as well as the interrelationship and interconnection of those concepts together. They’re not necessarily isolated concepts, but instead the domiciles and exaltations and the doctrine of aspects and the doctrine of the 12 houses have these weird interlinking conceptual structures that are linked together in this really weird and really mysterious, and yet, elegant way that I’ve talked about in other episodes, as well as in my book. And, additionally, a lot of these concepts are attributed to an earlier set of texts that we don’t have access to anymore that are attributed to Hermes, to Asclepius, and to Nechepso and Petosiris; these quasi-Egyptian-sounding figures that had actual texts floating around with their names on it.
So there’s a lot of debate. For example, a lot of the older scholars argued or believed that these originally were Greek texts by Greek authors who adopted Egyptian names, but were not necessarily Egyptians themselves; but instead either used that as a sort of contrivance, or, alternatively, incorporated some Egyptian concepts but ultimately it was a product of Greek learning somehow. More recently some scholars are arguing that these may have actually been the product of some of the Egyptian temples and some of the Egyptian temple astronomers and astrologers who produced this in the centuries perhaps after the conquest of Alexander the Great, in this two- or three-century period where we don’t really know what’s going on; and so, there’s a question of was this new system of astrology actually produced by Egyptian temple astrologers. Alternatively, there’s other people that say that we know large parts of this system were already being practiced in Mesopotamia and that they already had natal astrology by 410 BCE, and perhaps some of these concepts were introduced in the Mesopotamian tradition and we just don’t have full documentation of that yet, and then that system got transmitted to Egypt and incorporated and adopted and ‘Egyptianized’. So there’s a mystery surrounding this. But we know at the very least that somehow it’s a product of the synthesis of these three different cultures.
IM: Yeah, that’s a great way of putting it. The other thing that I’d like to add from the point of view of the Egyptian context, what I know more about, is that by the time we’re getting to the development of this astrological literature—if we can trace it all the way back to maybe the late 2nd century BCE—this is a time when Greeks and Egyptians and other populations as well had been living in Ptolemaic Egypt side by side, sometimes coming into conflict with one another but working together for a long time. And some of the cultural and ethnic divisions that people sometimes imagine were often blurred because there were definitely bilingual individuals much earlier on. I mean, there were definitely already bilingual individuals; there had to have been in the 3rd century. And we have this figure that I had mentioned, Manetho, writing Greek texts, although he’s an Egyptian priest. But we also have these figures later who we can tell from various documents—whether they’re contracts or translations of texts or family genealogies or whatever—that are bilingual individuals and seem to be well-versed in both cultures.
So these different strands of concepts and practices and ideas all come together in the Ptolemaic Egyptian milieu, and then you add on top of that the fact that many individuals themselves were multicultural, bi-cultural, multi-ethnic individuals who were leading multiple cultural lives. One of the things I like to point out is that in Ptolemaic Egypt some people had double-names and would sometimes have an Egyptian name, as well as a Greek name, and would use their Greek name in a Greek context and use their Egyptian name in an Egyptian context. So within the temple, when they’re carrying out their liturgy, they might be known as Petese or something like that, and then in a Greek context, they might be known as Apollonius. And those names sometimes translate to one another. So we have this very complex and connected cultural milieu in which this develops, and I think it’s very much a product of that combination of traditions and interaction. Not to say that it was always peaceful. There were certainly conflicts within Ptolemaic Egypt, and I don’t mean to gloss over those, but it was extraordinarily generative in this moment as well.
CB: I know we’re gonna talk about the coffin lids from the 1st and 2nd and 3rd centuries in Egypt that mixed Greek and Egyptian concepts, and maybe this would be a good opportunity to do so to illustrate what we were talking about with the Soter family and some of their different generational blending of Greek and Egyptian culture.
CB: So here’s an image of one of the famous coffin lids that has been discovered where it has a picture or an illustration of the sky goddess in the middle, and then surrounding her are the different figures that represent the different signs of the zodiac, again, with a blending of Greek, and especially Egyptian iconography.
IM: Right. Yeah, it’s really fascinating. Just like the iconography of the zodiac signs in the Temple of Dendera, you see the combination of animal or the zodion that is the sign, but also, some Egyptian elements mixed in. Here we have the Twins again, and there was Pisces. Actually I saw something cool on the Leo that I just noticed as you were going by. This figure of Leo here—you see that little thing that it’s kind of standing on that looks a little bit like a lightning bolt?
IM: That is probably a hieroglyphic sign that is one of the sounds that goes into the spelling of the lion, mȝỉ in Egyptian. And so, it looks like there’s been a kind of combination, for instance, of a lion—a typical symbol, universal across the zodiac—but also, a hieroglyphic sign that would be part of the spelling of the name of Leo in Egyptian, or mȝỉ.
CB: Okay, cool. So this is the coffin lid of a woman or a girl named Cleopatra that they’ve dated to the 2nd or 3rd century, but it was actually part of a family of coffin lids. Her father, as well as other people in her family were also discovered as part of the same discovery, I guess.
IM: Yeah, yeah, this was a group associated with, I believe, a reused tomb in Thebes, and it’s a Roman period family with a fascinating array of different names. Just to go back to the point we were making earlier, I don’t know if you have that genealogy that I think I uploaded. This is from a study of this done several years ago by Van Landuyt, and it shows the Soter family. And the scholar has put the names in their hieroglyphic form and their Greek form as they appear, and some of these are actually names that appear in Demotic. So the whole genealogy of this family and the labels on the coffins and their funerary inscriptions are written in multiple languages, and some of the people have very Greek names like ‘Soter’ and ‘Cleopatra’, and some of them have Roman names like ‘Cornelius Pollius’ who’s the father of Soter there.
But the mother of Soter is Phimutas or Pimutas, which ‘she of Amut’, which differently interpreted could be ‘she who belongs to the goddess Mut’ who’s kind of a mother goddess in the Theban region; or ‘she who belongs to death’. I don’t think the Egyptians would name someone that way. But what you see here is a continuation into the Roman period of what we also saw in the Ptolemaic period of families with multicultural and multi-ethnic identifications. And we know that Soter—who we also have a coffin from—was the Archon (a Greek word), ruler of Thebes. And this probably means he was either kind of the mayor of Thebes or the governor of the Theban region. And so, this was an important official who was possibly bilingual and possibly in contact with both Greco-Roman traditions and Egyptian traditions.
CB: Yeah, I think this is his coffin lid, which also has the goddess Nut in the middle, and then it has the signs of the zodiac around the outside.
IM: Yeah, exactly.
CB: So it’s really cool because his coffin lid has the signs of the zodiac around it, and then his daughter, Cleopatra, has the signs of the zodiac around it, and they both have Greek names. But then his wife has a mixed Greek and Egyptian name, right?
IM: Right. One of the individuals is called Kandake, or Candace, when we transform it into English.
CB: Yeah, that’s Cleopatra’s mother, and that’s Soter’s wife.
IM: Right, there you go. And that’s a name that’s taken on a Greek form, but most people now believe it was a Nubian royal title, like the ‘queen mother’, that eventually made its way into Greco-Egyptian. And there’s a famous Kandake queen of Meroe that appears in literature. Meroe is the name for the Nubian kingdom to the south of Egypt. And so, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a Nubian, but it might. It might mean someone who got a Nubian background, so further up the Nile Valley. So we start counting up and maybe we’ve got at least four different names that could be traced to four different cultural ethnic origins: between Greek, Latin, Egyptian, and possibly Meroitic if you consider this name. That’s not impossible because Thebes of course is to the south in Egypt, and there was lots of contact across the border between Egypt and Nubian civilizations. In some periods there were Nubian rulers in Egypt. So it’s an amazing family that represents some of the mix of late Egypt.
CB: Yeah, and it’s like Cleopatra’s brother, and Soter’s son, had a Greek name, Ammonius, but it says that he went by an Egyptian name, which was Petamenophis. Is that right?
IM: Yeah, that’s a great example of these double-names that we were just talking about. So Padiamenophis literally means, translated from Egyptian, ‘he who was given of’ or ‘he of Amenhotep’. So that means ‘Amen in peace’ or ‘Amen is pleased’. And so, if you literally translate the name, and then you take his name Ammonius—and that’s a Greek way of saying ‘belonging to the god Amun’—the two names are actually sort of counterparts of one another. Or Ammonius is maybe a translation of the Egyptian name Padiamenophis.
So it’s, again, this translation back and forth between different cultural milieu. And perhaps this Ammonius would have used a Greek name when dealing with the largely Greek-speaking officials of Roman Egypt, but maybe residing in his community in Thebes and with all the Egyptians that were there, he would use his Egyptian name. We don’t know. I think we don’t have any evidence about whether these were bilingual individuals, but it’s a pretty good clue when you’ve got this double-naming that this is someone who’s working in two different cultural contexts.
CB: Yeah. And so, it’s just a good microscopic representation of a larger theme that had been going on for several centuries at that point. In that instance, with that family, where you have an individual that might have a Greek father and an Egyptian mother, you can just imagine the child would have both cultural contexts that they would have grown up in essentially, including different things in terms of the mythology or the religion and different influences that would have been blended together in the child, as well as just the cultural context that they grow up in in terms of maybe having different friends or different associates or whatever else that come from either and Egyptian or a Greek context. So we can understand Hellenistic astrology and this new system of astrology once we become aware of it in the historical record, in the 1st century BCE—two or three centuries after the conquest of Alexander over Egypt, and after two or three centuries, this intense cultural blending that had been going on there up to that point.
IM: Right, right, yeah. And it’s just so relatable too to see a family like this. I mean, so many people in our modern world live in families of mixed cultural and ethnic backgrounds and racial backgrounds. And it’s really interesting to see an example of that and then to see it manifesting also in the traditions around burial and the astrological signs and symbolism that they’re using in their burial in this context. And we can call it Greco-Egyptian—I think it’s not a bad term for some aspects of Hellenistic astrology. And it’s also interesting to see how that plays out in the iconography and symbolism of the coffin. If I remember correctly, and if I saw it correctly when we were looking at it, the coffin has the same split of the zodiacs into the two sides, between the solstices. Is this our Soter sarcophagus, again? I can’t remember.
CB: So I think this is Cleopatra, his daughter. But I think—
IM: Yeah, it is. Oh, sorry, go ahead.
CB: I think that’s Leo in the top-right. And then there’s Cancer over in the top-left.
IM: Right. Can we skip ahead to the Soter one? Or maybe you can see it in this one. But I think the Soter one, if you look at the foot panel of the Soter one down at the bottom, I believe that is a representation of Sothis as a recumbent cow—just like a cow that’s kind of laying down—which is one of the ways that Sothis is represented in the hieroglyphic inscriptions at Dendera. So we may have a similar pattern of representation as that zodiac ceiling at Dendera, which would be not that far from Thebes really. I think some scholars have suggested that maybe the pattern of these coffin lids has been influenced or inspired by the Dendera zodiac ceiling. And you have the same cosmological importance then of the recreation or the moment of birth and rebirth and the annual cycle centered around Sothis rising, the coming of the Nile, and the regeneration of the world. But in this case, it’s put in put in a funerary context, and so, it’s symbolizing the rebirth of the individual into a blessed afterlife.
CB: Right. Yeah, so they’re incorporating different Greek and Egyptian concepts, and that was a really good point that you made. I know I was reading Francesca Rochberg who referred to it as ‘Greco-Egyptian astrology’, and I think there’s a really strong argument for that, of referring to Hellenistic astrology as that. And that’s one of the reasons I referred to it as ‘Hellenistic astrology’ instead of ‘Greek astrology’ in my book, and why I titled it that because I wanted to make it clear that it was a product of the Hellenistic era, and it was the type of astrology that developed in the Hellenistic age when you did have that different blending of cultures of Greek and Mesopotamian and Egyptian, instead of just calling it ‘Greek astrology’. There’s so many different elements being drawn from Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures that it would be a little misleading to just call it ‘Greek astrology’.
IM: Right. It’s a particular form of Greek cosmopolitan culture, largely in a Greek language, that’s related to this period, which draws on lots of traditions and translates them. Greek, after Alexander, becomes a kind of international language of the Mediterranean and the Middle East in many ways because of this political world.
CB: Yeah, and we’re needing to talk about this because this really is the continuation of the Egyptian astrological tradition that we saw earlier. It continues right into the Hellenistic tradition and there are many elements that get imported into it. Anyway, there’s a lot of cultural blending that’s going on. And we also see that come up recently actually with a new discovery that was just made about a tomb that was discovered for an astrologer from the 2nd or 3rd century, a woman named Heliodora. And on the tomb there’s an inscription in Greek just below it, and it refers to her as a mathematike, which is the Greek word that was really commonly used in that period, which means ‘mathematician’; but it was really commonly used to refer to astrologers because of all the calculations involved.
IM: Right, right. It’s a really fascinating find. I believe it’s from Terenouthis. Is that the site where that was originally from? It’s in a museum collection now, I believe. It’s just been recently published. But it’s definitely one of these Greco-Egyptian towns. We have a few funerary stelae from the same place in our collections at the Kelsey Museum in Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan, and some of them also show these blendings of iconographies: showing people reclining in a kind of symposium pose with their drapery on, but then there’ll be an Anubis figure or something like that nearby, so it was very much the same kind of mixed milieu. Oh, yeah, I think that might be an Anubis figure there to the left of our reclining figure there. I can’t quite see it.
CB: That’s what they interpret it as, I believe, in the commentary in the paper.
IM: Right. But also important—as you pointed out when we were talking about this—this is the first attested female astrologer that we have in antiquity. So it seems like a practicing astrologer there in Egypt who was a woman.
CB: Yeah. ‘Cause I had written a small section on this in my book about how there’s references in Juvenal to women consulting with astrologers in the 1st century, in the Roman Empire, so often that they became astrologers themselves or started seeing clients. It was a piece of satire, so it was kind of mocking or making fun of that, but it was probably pointing to something that was legitimately occurring to some extent by the 1st century at least. But then I pointed out in the book how we didn’t otherwise know the names of any specific women who were astrologers, and that the earliest one we knew of, who could have had some training in astrology would be Hypatia in the 4th or 5th century. We know that she had some training in astronomy, and her father was a famous astronomer; although we don’t have much that survives from her to know what she would have done or been familiar with. And then the other earliest person besides that is Queen Buran of Baghdad in the 9th century who some astrological legends are associated with, and I did a whole episode on in the past. But this is a big discovery just ‘cause it’s the first woman we know of by name who would have practiced astrology and identified as an astrologer.
IM: Yeah, that’s fantastic. Yeah, I’m glad we have that information now. And it helps flesh out the world of astrology a bit more.
CB: Yeah. And even though it’s 2nd or 3rd century, it comes from, again, Greco-Roman Egypt and that tradition of Hellenistic astrology, and the blending of Greek and Egyptian cultures is where we find this person.
IM: Yeah. Often we can’t tell what kind of cultural or ethnic background a figure might have had because of the name choices. Now ‘Heliodora’ could be a Greek name, and the person could have an Egyptian name as well, we don’t know. But it’s a fascinating document, and it’s great to see, and I think it also leads into the question of the practice of astrology a little bit. And one of the things that we also have from Egypt are of course the materials that astrologers used sometimes to consult with clients. And so, if Heliodora was a practicing astrologer, she might have used some of the materials like we have preserved on papyri and ostraka, or on pot shards, that are one of our most important sources of information for astrology. And I just wanted to bring attention to that briefly ‘cause that’s an area where there’s been some new discoveries that are really exciting and interesting. Some of the scholars that we mentioned earlier have discovered some new ostraka. Did you want to talk about those now?
CB: Let’s talk now, in order to round this out, about some of the Demotic material that’s being rediscovered at this point. For the longest time, most of our understanding of Hellenistic astrology was based on the Greek and the Latin texts that have survived from that time period, from about the 1st century BCE until about the 6th or 7th century CE. But recently, especially over the past several decades, there have been some discoveries of some Demotic texts written in that sort of cursive Egyptian script that we talked about earlier that are actually astrological texts. And that’s been a really fascinating discovery and they’re still making new discoveries even very recently.
IM: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there have been Demotic materials published before, some of which we’ve mentioned, and a few materials like the ones that are coming out now. But I think we’re on the verge of some new and exciting materials coming out and some new data, new information about some of the earliest horoscopes that we have. And what we’re talking about are a series of ostraka, which is the word for these pot shards that were used as writing materials in Egypt. It was easily available, pots were always breaking. And it was cheaper than papyrus, so they were used as a writing material.
CB: So you’d write directly on this broken piece of pottery basically, either on the front or sometimes on the front and the back.
IM: Exactly, yeah. Yeah, so papyrus had to be made and manufactured, but ostraka were made by breaking pots; it was easy. And they were used for all kinds of things, but they were often used for smaller texts or things that you didn’t want to spend a lot of money on, like a tax receipt or something like that. We have lots of ostraka that are like simple economic documents. But it seems like they were also used fairly frequently for horoscopes, for writing down horoscopes. And this is really interesting I think ‘cause it gives us a little bit of a window, an insight into the practice of astrologers who were consulting with clients.
IM: They did use papyrus sometimes, but a lot of them are preserved on ostraka.
CB: Here’s a blog article by Andreas Winkler who’s one of the scholars that’s working on the Demotic material, and he has a blog titled, “A New Look at an Old Horoscope” that people can Google. But it shows, first, a piece of papyrus that has survived that has a birth chart written on it in Greek, and how tattered it is in surviving, and then below, he has a picture of one of horoscopes that have survived on a piece of ostraka. And you see this little broken piece of a pottery shard, and it has Demotic writing on it, which turns out when translated from the Demotic to be the positions of the planets in a birth chart. It lists the planets in each of the signs of the zodiac.
IM: Yeah, yeah, this is what astrologers would do. They would meet with a client presumably, and they would get their birth details, and then they would do the calculations and then write up a summary of the important points in the natal chart. And most of these, almost all of these are fairly brief summaries of just the data. And so, I think we have to assume that they would then either keep this for their own records or perhaps give it to the client in case the client wanted to refer to it again or take it to another astrologer—or the same astrologer and have them give interpretations—but they generally don’t have a lot interpretive information about what this means; most of them don’t. There’s a few notable exceptions. Probably that means that in most cases those interpretations—the forecasts or advice or whatever—would be given orally.
And another tool that they might have used is something called a pinax, which is an astrological board or table that had a depiction of the zodiac on it, and also other things as well; quite often the decans and the terms or bounds that were also used in ancient Egypt, and also in the rest of the Mediterranean world. And they probably would put—oh, yeah, here’s a good example of some that were discovered at a site in France, part of the Roman Empire, what was Roman Gaul. They could fold up, so the astrologer could carry them around sometimes. And they would put little stones, possibly gemstones on them to mark the positions of the planets. And I’ve recently become kind of obsessed with these, I think they’re fascinating. And it’s kind of lovely to imagine an astrologer and client bending over this board together, and the astrologer placing these little gemstones on it to represent the planets and positions of maybe the Ascendant, and, who knows, maybe other points.
IM: And then the astrologer explaining it all.
CB: Yeah, and this one’s cool ‘cause it shows the 12 signs of the zodiac in the center, but then it also shows the figures for the Egyptian decans in a circle, on the outside of the wheel as well. So we see the merge, again, of Mesopotamian zodiac with the Egyptian decans concepts present at the same time.
IM: Yeah, exactly. And also, I think the terms as well are in there somewhere. Yeah, and you have the names of the decans in their Greek transliteration. I believe this is dated to the 2nd century CE. And so, we’re right at the height of astrology in the Roman Empire, and they’re still continuing to use Egyptian decans, so it’s a fascinating object.
IM: And similar objects have been discovered in Egypt as well—not as elaborate as that one, and made of different materials—but they were probably used sometimes by astrologers. Of course they could have also just drawn in the sand or something like that and made a diagram in another way. But the information would have been written down, the birth chart. The thing that people pull up on their apps or on a computer screen now, the data anyways would have been written down on a pot shard or a small scrap of papyrus. And what’s great about that is that we have actual evidence of the practice of astrology from particular periods. So as a complement to what we read in these technical manuals—the well-preserved manuals from the manuscript tradition, like Vettius Valens and all these other figures; Hephaistio of Thebes and so forth, which give a theoretical outline of astrology—these are the products of astrological practice really, which makes them fascinating.
And so, what’s happened in the last year or so is that there’s been some work to publish and republish a little handful of texts in Demotic that represent some of our very earliest records of a horoscope. And somewhere already in collections in museums in Europe, or in the UK, like the Ashmolean Museum, I believe the word on the street is that there’s more that has been discovered and may be published sometime in the, I hope, not-to-distant future. And what makes these special is they’re super early—but I think it’s fair to call them pretty early. By interpreting the data on these horoscopes, the earliest of them I think goes all the way back to 48 BCE. So that would make it the earliest surviving horoscope that we have from Egypt. I think there’s a couple of earlier ones that you mentioned earlier from Mesopotamia, and there’s some other monuments here and there. But this one I think would be the earliest one from Egypt and it’s the 1st century BCE.
CB: Yeah, these have been really important. And one of the things that’s important is that some of this Demotic material has been found in collections associated with certain Egyptian temples. So it started to make it clear that the practice of astrology as a form of divination by this period—by the 1st century BCE and later—started to become something that the priests associated with the Egyptian temple were doing at that point—reading birth charts or horoscopes for people using Hellenistic astrology.
IM: Yeah, absolutely. And we had Demotic horoscopes before this material. And, again, some of these were already published a while ago, but the full significance hasn’t been quite realized and there’s more of them now. But there’s a large collection from the town of Medinet Madi, in the Faiyum region of Egypt—it was known as ancient Narmuthis—and there were lots of those discovered there.
CB: Micah Ross I think is the one that did his PhD thesis on those.
IM: Exactly, yeah. So a full publication of those, which is just fantastic, including calculating the positions and comparing them to modern calculations; a full study of those documents, which is great. And I just mentioned those because although they’re later—those are primarily from the 2nd century of the common era—they were definitely found in a temple context, and they were found in large numbers, along with lots of other ostraka. And some of those are also bilingual, so they will have mostly Demotic and then sometimes Greek words thrown in; or sometimes they’re bilingual ostraka. So it really shows a couple of things. One, that priests in Egyptian temples were in many cases the ones who were also astrologers doing work for clients, casting natal charts and offering interpretations. And some of this activity was going on in the temple precinct.
There’s actually some really interesting stuff in the Medinet Madi ostraka that talks about how much money you might expect to earn for a consultation. And there’s also mention of rules that astrologers should follow—one of which is that they were supposed to keep their calculations a secret it seems. So if the ostraka is interpreted right, they were supposed to get their data, and it sounds like they go into the inner sanctuary and do their secret calculations, and then come back and talk about it so that no one would see how they were doing what they were doing. And that sounds sort of secretive and strange, but there’s another document that we’re waiting for a full publication called, The Book of the Temple, which is a book of rules for temple architecture and for the duties of various priests in the temple. And it happens to mention in a fragmentary spot that the knowledge of divination and astrology is meant to be reserved for the highest ranks of priests. And so, it’s evidence of the high esteem in which this knowledge was held, that it was meant to be protected and kept secret. But it’s all very interesting.
IM: Yeah, it may have been practiced in other contexts as well by other kinds of astrologers who were maybe working in Greek and not tied to Egyptian temple context, but it was definitely part of the world of Egyptian temples, or at least some of them.
CB: Yeah, and some of the secrecy even has parallels amongst what we otherwise assumed were more public Greek astrologers, like Vettius Valens, who makes the reader of text swear an oath to keep the teachings secret and not to reveal them with the unlearned or the uninitiated; and Firmicus Maternus has a similar thing. And we also see a similar thing with the Hermetic text, The Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth, which gives electional instructions for writing down the material and using an election to do it when Mercury is making a heliacal rising in Virgo or something like that, and then it makes you swear an oath to keep things secret. So it’s interesting that we have that also in the Egyptian temple context as well where things like secrecy and the eliteness of the knowledge were prized or emphasized to a certain extent.
IM: Yeah, that’s a great point. And I’m glad you brought up Vettius Valens ‘cause I’d like to ask you about this. I was reading an article—honestly can’t remember the name—but it was pointing out that some of the calculation methods that are included in Valens really can only give very approximate positions for things if you actually followed them. And so, I was wondering if you have the sense that—since you’ve been looking at Valens a lot with the publication of this new translation—if you have the sense that Valens might have been holding back some of the technical knowledge from his treatise for some of those reasons of secrecy, and providing only calculation techniques that were sort of a rough approximate. Just a thought. I don’t know if you have a sense of that or not. I’m springing something out of nowhere, but your comment about Valens made me think of that.
CB: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s some issues in terms of some of the calculations that he gives in Book 2, and some of them being more approximate methods and some of the things being based on earlier, more approximate Babylonian methods in terms of the astronomical calculations. And then there’s a whole separate issue that comes up sometimes also in the Oxyrhynchus horoscopes. Most of the examples we have are basic horoscopes that just list the rising sign and the rest of the planetary positions by sign, and most of the different astrologers seem content doing that and think that you can go pretty far just doing things by sign, and that it’s a perfectly sufficient method on its own to just do things by sign, both in terms of calculating houses by sign, as well aspects by sign and so on and so forth. But then there’s also sometimes more advanced or more complicated techniques which will do things by degree, and we see that in some of the horoscopes. For example, in the terminology of Alexander Jones in the Oxyrhynchus horoscopes, he points out how sometimes there are these more advanced, what he calls, ‘deluxe’ horoscopes that list all of the degree positions of the placements.
And one of the points I think that they make is that it would have been more complicated and more time-consuming to calculate things by degree and to do the ‘deluxe’ horoscopes, so there may have partially been a time factor involved on the part of the astrologer. But also, from a market standpoint, it may have been a cost difference as well on the part of the consumer in terms of it would have cost more to get a more ‘deluxe’ horoscope calculated. So I think there’s just different factors like that going on that are kind of hard to get into when it comes to Valens. But most of the time I think he’s happy with a more approximate method of calculating things by sign.
IM: Right. That’s a great point about price point. What can your client afford? That’s a really great thought.
CB: Yeah, and it’s still relevant today. That’s something that happens today just in terms of the time commitment of the astrologer, and how much prep time does an astrologer do in preparing for a consultation. How long does the consultation itself go? Is the consultation something that the astrologer has been preparing, or are they doing the consultation on the fly? For example, there can be instances where you have an astrologer that works in a shop or something like that, and somebody will just come in off the street and say, “Read my birth chart,” and they have a specific issue that they want to talk about. I’m sure there’s parallels in the ancient world between those two things in terms of that and how much time the astrologer has to prepare and things like that. And that’s something I’d like to do an episode on at some point, just talking about how some parallels in terms of the practice of astrology today could actually provide a lot of insight into the way that astrologers practiced back then. If you remove some of the technological components and you just think in terms of some of the practicalities of doing some of this, it can actually give you a lot of insights into what the practice would have been back then just by observing some of the things that are still similar to this day.
IM: I think that’s a fantastic idea. I think it’s one of the ways people who approach it academically and people who are practicing astrologers can really join forces as it were and kind of learn something from those kinds of insights. That’s a really fantastic idea. I think you should do it.
CB: Yeah, yeah.
IM: That’s really great, yeah, yeah.
CB: Will follow up.
IM: Yeah, yeah. So we were talking a bit about practice there and how these ostraka were at the center of these practicing astrologers’ methods of gathering data and writing it down.
IM: And what’s interesting—you were mentioning the different levels of the horoscopes. What’s also interesting—in addition to these, these Demotic ones that are being published and republished now—is that they’re also relatively complicated or complex compared to later Demotic horoscopes. A lot of the Narmuthis ones are fairly straightforward and simple, but these have a few more details to them. And so, they have a typical form they seem to follow. They put the date down, the name of the person, the native as it were, the positions of the Sun and Moon and the planets using signs, but also, sometimes the Egyptian terms; that is, these subdivisions of the zodiac sign. They sometimes include a few remarks on the life of the native it seems.
And the publishers, both Andreas Winkler and Marina Escolano-Poveda have commented that these may be related to length-of-life calculations or some sort of technique like that. They mention the cardinal points that we were talking about earlier on in our chat, and then they give other positions. And this is where it gets really interesting. A lot of simple horoscopes will just have positions of the planets, date, the Ascendant, and sometimes that’s about it. But these have all of that plus pairs of points that there’s some debate about what they actually are. And Andreas Winkler has interpreted some of these as related to the lots, especially the Lot of Fortune and the Lot of the Daimon, which are well-known from later astrology.
CB: Yeah, they’re clearly a set of lots. And we don’t have to get too much into that debate ‘cause I don’t want to get into the debate too much between the different people. But there’s been some really amazing papers that have been published recently that show a set of horoscopes that are way earlier and way more complex or advanced than we thought previously, and are also doing things with the lots or the houses that could change some of our understanding of the history of horoscopic astrology and Hellenistic astrology. And part of what it’s doing is it’s pushing the Demotic material back further and it’s starting to raise questions about Hellenistic astrology. Did it develop in Demotic first and then it was passed off to the Greek astrologers essentially into Greek? Or did it develop in Greek first and then it was passed off to the Demotic astrologers? I think up until recently it’s been much more easy and common to assume that it was developed in Greek and then the Demotic astrologers started practicing it as well. But now it’s really starting to raise some serious questions about if these techniques could have developed in Demotic first and then started influencing the Greek tradition basically.
IM: Yeah. And a sort of third possibility would be that some of these astrologers could well be bilingual and be working in both languages; we could think that. Their primary practice may be one or the other. But some of these people could well have been bilingual at this stage in Late Ptolemaic Egypt. So it could be an even more complex situation of co-development in some cases where you have people working in both traditions.
IM: But it’s a fascinating set of material, yeah.
CB: So there’s three papers that basically everyone should check out. One of them was by, as you said, Marina Escolano-Poveda. It’s titled, “Astrologica Athribitana: Four Demotic-Hieratic Horoscopes from Athribis.” The other one was Andreas Winkler’s paper, “On the Demotic-Hieratic Horoscopes from Athribis.” And then Winkler also published another more extensive paper titled, “The First Zodiac Sign and the Daimon: The Advent of an Astrological Tradition and Seven Elaborate Horoscopes.” So those are really important and that’s really raising some interesting things. And some of these they just discovered basically. They have a discovery date in 2021 where they discovered some of these Demotic horoscopes. So that’s how recent some of these discoveries basically are taking place that they’re publishing papers on now.
IM: Yeah, it’s really exciting. I’m looking forward to that material coming out and seeing what else we learn from it. Some of these positions that are noted have been noted in other horoscopes as well. But just to close another circle, some of these either lots or places—just like in the Greek terminology—are referred to as the Lots of Fortune or Daimon. And the daimon is the same word that we were talking about with Shai. It’s a Demotic version of that figure who sort of attends the birth and follows it. And Shepsut is the name for ‘fortune’, which is one of the female divinities that’s often paired with Shai as a counterpart to the daimon. So it’s interesting. Again, there’s something new going on here in the emergence of this horoscopic natal astrology in the Demotic practice, but some of the terminology is carrying on very old traditions.
CB: Yeah, that’s really important. That earlier concept of, you said Shai, which was that Egyptian concept of fate—that concept that’s from almost pre-birth chart astrology, pre-natal astrology—comes up in the natal astrology tradition in Egypt, and they start naming specific technical points after that and that has bearing on the astrological interpretation.
IM: Right, right. Yeah, I don’t know how early Shai gets connected to astrological signs. There’s some possible evidence in a Demotic wisdom text called the Insiger Papyrus where there may be a reference to fate being connected to the stars and announced by the stars. And that may go further back, we don’t know exactly the date of that. But certainly there’s a concept of fate and Shai that goes way, way, way, way back before we have anything even remotely resembling natal astrology anywhere, including Mesopotamia. So that’s these interesting threads coming together.
IM: Oh, go ahead.
CB: One of the other things that’s really interesting about some of the Demotic material, Winkler points out in the last paper that I mentioned that some of the symbols used for the signs of the zodiac became common in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance in the Western tradition. There’s long been a realization going back to Neugebauer who pointed out that the symbol for Libra was very similar to or was the same as the hieroglyphic Egyptian symbol for the ‘setting place’ or the ‘western horizon’. And Winkler and others have shown that there’s other parallels where the later astrological symbols for the signs of the zodiac may have been inspired by some of the symbols that were used in hieroglyphic or Demotic.
IM: Right, exactly. The Libra is the horizon. That’s one that’s still even kind of with us today with that bar and then the bump like that. That could be very much the Akhet. Yeah, that’s the one you have on the screen right there. The Sagittarius has a kind of arrow glyph that also makes a lot of sense; you can see the continuity. Some of them are not as obvious as others. Another one is maybe too obvious, the Aquarius sign. Those wavy lines are used in hieroglyphic writing to represent water—the word mu as a set of two or three wavy lines like that—so there’s a connection there possibly. And there’s also some folks like Joachim Quack, who we mentioned earlier, have suggested that certain planetary signs might have a relationship. So that kind of pointy-ness of the Mars glyph might be related to the use of a ‘knife’ sign.
CB: Right. Some of the other Demotic horoscopes use the symbol of a knife for the planet Mars.
IM: Exactly, yeah. Yeah, so that may have evolved into some of the later glyphs. And we saw Venus and the name of Venus on that Dendera Zodiac who’s called Pi-neter-tuau, which is ‘the morning god’. Tuau is sometimes written as a lotus sign. And so, Quack has suggested that the shape of this lotus with its little stem may eventually have evolved into the sign in later manuscripts, which is less complex than the circle with the cross underneath it that we think of; it’s just a circle and a line. And Quack has suggested there may have been an evolution from the tuau sign to that simplified circle and line, which is kind of antecedent to our Venus glyph that’s used today. And I think Alexander Jones also talks about some of these similarities and shows some of the notations that were used in the Greek papyri, and also, the manuscript tradition, and notes that the Greek papyri often used an abbreviation of some kind based on the name of the planet. But when there’s a symbol that later emerges in the early manuscript tradition of astrological manuscripts, some of those seem to be traceable back to Demotic signs. So that’s another interesting element of the continuity of practice. These are the kinds of things that would be passed on from teacher to student presumably. Nobody talks about it, but you just learn how to write the sign for a planet or a sign of the zodiac, and then it’d just get passed on.
CB: Yeah. And I think it’s really important ‘cause there’s a tendency in most of the Greek material to write the planetary names out in Greek words, like use the full name: Zeus for Jupiter, or Ares for Mars, or what have you. But here in the Demotic tradition, we have a tradition of them using a single symbol and sometimes a pictorial representation for some of the planets or the signs of the zodiac. And clearly in some instances some of those symbols continued all the way into the present day, where the Aquarius symbol is very closely the same. I guess today it’s two wavy lines, whereas in this tradition we’re looking at, it was three. Or the Libra symbol, like you said, is very close. But basically the short version of that is somebody could summarize by saying that the Egyptians contributed the concept of the astrological glyphs, and in some ways that goes all the way back to the use of hieroglyphs in the Egyptian tradition; much further back in the sense of using pictorial symbols in order to represent things.
IM: Right, exactly. Yeah, that idea of graphic writing or concept-based signs is much more of an Egyptian tradition obviously than a Greek tradition of writing. So just the whole idea itself, yeah, very much.
CB: Yeah, so I think that’s important just in terms of thinking about this question—especially once things get murky—about what’s Mesopotamian and what’s Greek and what’s Egyptian in the Hellenistic period where it’s all merging together. There may be specific pieces we can focus on and say this is something perhaps that Egyptian culture contributed to astrology that seems a little bit more clear-cut compared to other things.
IM: Yeah, absolutely, including some of the other things that we’ve already talked about today. There are elements that have antecedent traditions or that you can locate in a particular tradition of practice more generally; writing systems and styles and so forth. And those have longer, prior histories and a cultural context within Egypt that tends to crystallize around temples and their writing systems.
IM: Yeah, it’s good to think about all of those possibilities. I’m glad you pointed that out because we have both these multi-cultural, multi-ethnic milieus where there’s lots of translation going on. But we also have these continuations of longstanding traditions that I won’t say are unchanged or unchanging, but there’s a specific institution or a social location in this world where they preserve certain kinds of practice and certain kinds of ideas.
CB: Yeah. And so, some of this material, like we said, was really just discovered very recently through archaeological excavations in some of these cities in Egypt; they’re still ongoing to this day. And one of the things I’ve realized recently in researching this material more is that this could be just the tip of the iceberg. There’s probably gonna be many more discoveries and publications of other things that may change our understanding of the practice of astrology in Egypt in the first few centuries BCE and CE, just based on further finds basically.
IM: Yeah, it’s a really exciting time. And then there’s also the thing we mentioned earlier—the need to publish materials that were discovered at various times, but people haven’t been able to gather the labor together to really work through these difficult texts and transcribe them and translate them and then publish commentaries on them. We do have, as I mentioned, Demotic treatises that are also tables for finding the position of planets, some that include sketches of interpretive principles for various things. But there’s also large numbers of ones that are reported in collections and are waiting for translation to be brought to light.
CB: Yeah, so that’s really important, and it raises one of the points for me that starts getting us towards a conclusion. I think we can now start to see the glyphs and hieroglyphs or that connection to Demotic of using pictorial symbols. It means sometimes there’s things that we take for granted in the Western tradition of astrology that we assume or that have long been assumed to go back to the Greeks, and were thought to be Greek innovations—that’s we’ve taken for granted are Greek for a long time—that may have actually been introduced by Egyptian astrologers, or been a byproduct of Egyptian cultural things that came from Demotic or other traditions surrounding that. And so, there may be other parts of the astrological tradition that have long been assumed to be Greek, or what have you, that may actually also have been Egyptian contributions essentially.
IM: Yeah, absolutely. If we turn back again to that figure Nechepso—and Petosiris—as you mentioned it was an earlier tradition to assume that this was a Greek invention creating a sort of authoritative figure as an author for astrological doctrines and tracing it back to Egypt because that was understood as a site of wisdom. But then just a little while ago, a papyrus story in Demotic about a priest by the name of Petese—which is close to Petosiris and may be a misunderstanding related to the way it’s written in Demotic—but the Petese in this story finds in a temple a manuscript, an old book on astrology, by a certain Imhotep, and then presents it to this Pharaoh Nechepso, or Ny-ksw-ps-sr; Necho, the Wise, who’s the historical figure. And then there follows actually an astrological text which has some doctrines of interpretation related to the Moon. So the more these Demotic texts get published, the more we revise some of our understandings of the position of these things that we see in Greek texts. Some of them of course are gonna derive from Greek tradition, but sometimes we catch these little glimpses in newly-published papyri. I think that translation of that text was only published in 2019 by Kim Ryholt and Joachim Quack again.
IM: New finds, new discoveries all the time.
CB: And I know you’re working on a paper or you’ve done a paper where you’re also trying to identify the composition of some of the Nechepso and Petosiris texts and locating it to the middle of the 2nd century BCE based on some internal statements that might have been made in it, based on the version of the text that’s attributed to the Egyptians by Hephaistio.
IM: Right, right. I think there’s a wonderful series of eclipse omens that appear in Hephaistio of Thebes that are attributed to Nechepso, and it’s been long suggested that these refer to historical events. That is, the outcomes of what’s supposed to happen when an eclipse occurs in a particular astrological sign and these are given interpretations. Some of them look a lot like historical events from the 2nd century BCE. So I went through and did some work on that, and what I think emerges from that is there’s an interesting combination of elements. Once again there is the Mesopotamian tradition of omen literature related to eclipses, and there’s traces of that in Nechepso and Petosiris, in the structure of these predictions. But there’s also possibly empirical processes involved that scholars working in Alexandria—astrological scholars working in Alexandria—were observing eclipses and eclipse phenomena and then developing correlations, maybe outcomes based on events that they were observing. This eclipse happened, this was followed by these events, and this was recorded in some way, much like the Babylonian omen literature was recorded and became codified. And so, the text may be a blend of a continuation of Babylonian traditions, but also, Egyptian observations and empirical contributions to the science of, in this case, eclipse interpretation.
CB: Okay. Yeah, so that’s really important ‘cause it could locate the creation of this system, or at least the writing of some of the foundational texts that really got going somewhere around the 2nd century BCE. And the other piece, just to tie everything together as well, the really important turning point that everyone wants to locate at this point is when did astrologers start using the system of 12 houses that assign specific areas or specific topics of life to different parts of the birth chart. ‘Cause that was really the major turning point where we move from the Mesopotamian tradition, their form of natal astrology, into the new tradition of Hellenistic astrology that became so popular from the 1st century BCE forward.
One of the things that really becomes important in terms of that is the use of the rising sign and starting to use the rising sign and referring to it as the ‘hour-marker’. And once you determine what sign was rising over the eastern horizon at the moment of the person’s birth, then that sign becomes the 1st house, and then the sign after that becomes the 2nd house, and so on and so forth. And whenever that started happening that kind of marks a real turning point in the history of astrology. And I know, for example, Micah Ross and Dorian Greenbaum have written a paper arguing that it was the Egyptian use of the decans, and especially the rising and culminating decan, to tell time that acted as the precursor to the development of that system of using the Ascendant and using the 12 houses. And to the extent that that’s correct then it means that’s another very specific thing that the Egyptian tradition would have contributed to the later practice of Western astrology, whether that was innovated by an Egyptian person or a Greek person or a Mesopotamian person around the 2nd century when that tradition of using the 12 houses started being used.
IM: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s an important observation. That whole system of houses, or places, as they’re called in Greek sometimes, is really keyed very much to that Ascendant position and all the other positions. There’s, I hope, more information available as those new ostraka get published. It’d be interesting to see if they represent some sort of early version of the houses, or if some of them are a mixture of lots and houses, and what actually emerges when we get more of that data. But that seems to be something that very much occurs or can be traced to this Egyptian milieu, whether, like you say, it was developed by folks working in Greek, folks working in Demotic, or bilingual individuals who are conversant in multiple traditions, who are scholars, kind of collating and assembling materials, reflecting on them, and developing new concepts and theories of interpretation.
CB: Yeah, and like you said several times, maybe even the attempt to try to point to one culture or another is a mistake on our part, trying to look back on things, when we’re talking about a culture where things were much more mixed together and synthesized. Yeah, and maybe it’s hard to attribute things to one specific thing, but ultimately what’s important is that this new system of astrology probably largely developed in Egypt, probably around Alexandria, from the 2nd and 1st century BCE, and then went on to become so popular that it spread around the world and continues to influence and largely be the basic system of astrology that’s used around the world to this day.
IM: Yeah, it’s an amazing origin point. It’s a coming together of traditions—for a region, for a globalized kind of world—and a ferment of cultural interactions and exchanges that produces something that’s, yeah, once again, part of a global world. And there’s multiple traditions of astrology in our world, but there are connections and contact points between many of the ones that are all the way across what we call Afro-Eurasia. The whole landmass of now is of course in North America and South America as well. And it’s also kind of exciting that this is a moment, as you pointed out in your podcast. It’s a long moment, over the last 30 years or so, that this tradition has been revived and brought back to life and become kind of a revived living tradition, partly through the new era of globalization and the way things are disseminated and communicated, especially on the internet and other technologies. It’s amazing to think about different moments of globalization of astrology and astrological doctrines and the exchanges of information. I mean, they’re very different moments, but it’s still worth thinking about the way that flows of information contribute to the production of new knowledge or the revival of old knowledge.
CB: No, I mean, that’s a really great point. Today, as a result of the internet, and as a result of Hollywood or culture, you have a language like English, for example, that is being used as a common language that many different people are using around the world, and it’s actually facilitated a lot of interaction amongst astrologers and the exchange of techniques and approaches and philosophies and things like that. One of the things I’ve observed is anytime you put—and this is true for the entirety of history—anytime you put two astrologers in a room together, they start talking and they start comparing their approaches to astrology. And their approaches, even if they don’t agree, start rubbing off on each other, and eventually you start to see a mixture or a synthesis of their approaches over a long enough timeline. And we have an exact parallel basically in the Hellenistic period where you had all these cultures suddenly being connected sometimes through the language of Greek and other times just through physical proximity to each other, of a bunch of astrologers meeting up in Egypt and a synthesis of the different systems coming together and creating something new. And that’s kind of what we’ve been talking about and exploring here, and Egypt was very much the place that supported that and fostered that development during the Hellenistic age around the 2nd and 1st century BC.
IM: Right. And the flip side of that is local places preserve their local traditions and cultures in interacting with that global culture, and they reconfigure their ideas and traditions in relation to it. So it’s a fascinating set of exchanges to observe.
CB: That’s actually something I’m really interested in, which is in some of the Demotic texts that have been recovered so far, there’s been variations. So that’s actually something that’s really interesting. There may have been some local variations in different cities across Egypt in the astrology practiced, or even in different temples there may have been slightly different traditions or different approaches that were practiced. And so, while there may have been some commonality, there may have been some differences as well. And that is something that’s already coming up in some of the Demotic horoscopes, and it’s something that I’m interested to see where that goes as additional ones are discovered in the future.
IM: Yeah, it’s a really exciting time. People have referred to different ways of laying things out in these horoscope ostraka, like a Theban tradition. And then we have ones from Athribis. And then there’s a large number from Narmuthis. And we think of them as being later, and therefore, simpler, but maybe it’s just a regional variation. If we had more of a timeline from Narmuthis and other places maybe we’d see that actually these are very localized traditions of students handing on their practices—oh, sorry, other way around. Teachers handing on their practices to students and this is just how you do this in this lineage and tradition.
CB: Right. Yeah, that’s really amazing. All right, well, I think that starts to bring us towards the end of this episode and this discussion. This was a really amazing, sweeping discussion where we’ve covered so much at this point. Are there any things that we meant to mention or wanted to mention that we’ll be kicking ourselves if we don’t before we wrap up?
IM: I can’t think of anything right now. I mean, there’s a million things to mention and other aspects that I suppose we can pursue, but I think we’ve covered a huge number of pieces of information and reference points for the development of astrology in Ptolemaic Egypt.
CB: So one topic that we touched on briefly but bears further research is the Corpus Hermeticum and the relationship between the technical and philosophical Hermetica. So for our purposes the main issue is that there is a whole collection of very influential, early astrological texts attributed to Hermes and Asclepius and Nechepso and Petosiris where we don’t really know who authored those texts. While it’s previously been assumed that they were authored by Greeks under Egyptian guise—which is part of what is often also assumed about the philosophical Hermetica as well, since they incorporate a number of concepts from the Greek philosophical schools—it’s possible that there was a greater Egyptian influence in some of the doctrines of the technical Hermetica than has previously been assumed, so I wanted to make that point. And to some extent this sort of reappraisal of the Egyptian contribution has also been happening when it comes to the philosophical Hermetica over the past few decades. And there’s been more analysis of some of the legitimate pieces of Egyptian contributions, or at least inspirations in the Hermetica. The recently discovered Demotic Book of Thoth is one example. And I know that’s one that you wanted to mention, right?
IM: Yeah, absolutely. This was a work that was known and parts of it were published at various stages in the history of its gradual discovery. But finally, sometime ago, I think it was 2005, Richard Jasnow and Karl-Theodor Zauzich published a full edition of it—a translation and commentary—and it was kind of a landmark moment when people had a good text and could be able to compare it with the kinds of things that we’re seeing in the works that you mentioned; the philosophical Hermetica, works like the Asclepius and other philosophical dialogues. And it was kind of an interesting mixed result. There were some very interesting parallels between these works, but also, some very really interesting differences as well.
One of the things that was clear was that they both worked in a similar sort of genre of writing; they were both dialogues. So the Book of Thoth was structured as a dialogue between a figure known as hs-rḫ, or ‘he who praises knowledge or wisdom’, and someone called mr-rḫ, ‘he who loves wisdom or desires wisdom or learning’, and it’s a dialogue between these figures. And they discuss all sorts of sacred knowledge, which is of course the basic genre of the philosophical Hermetica. They talk about the cosmos and the nature of knowledge and the divine, so there’s broad similarities in that respect. And I know you’ve talked about the Hermetica in another episode, so we won’t go into too much detail, but there’s even one point where the ‘House of Life’ is mentioned in the Hermetica; and that’s a term that is really of Egyptian origin. It’s the term for the temple scriptorium; the place where all the books were stored and where the teaching of scribes and priests was carried out.
And that’s significant in this case because the Book of Thoth is a dialogue that’s essentially an initiation text; a text that describes a dialogic initiation between these two figures. The wise figure, who scholars believe is probably meant to be Thoth or Hermes, guides the student, the initiate, or initiant, the one to be initiated through various dialogues where knowledge is tested and explored. And that’s also, again, very similar to the kind of roles that you see in philosophical Hermetica, and some of the mythological characters are very closely-matched. The Book of Thoth includes a long praise to the god Imhotep who’s a divinized human, who was the great architect of Djoser’s pyramid, the first stepped pyramid, but became a kind of divinized figure of a scribe in Egyptian tradition and was identified with Asclepius. And Asclepius of course in both astrological texts and Hermetic texts appears as a purveyor of wisdom.
So there’s all these kinds of parallels and contact points, and yet, there’s also really profound differences in other respects in the Demotic things, and I would describe it as the difference between the settings of the two. They’re both kind of a little dialogic of sometimes a pair or a group of people talking about these issues in a question-and-answer format. But the Demotic material is very much keyed into this scriptorium, the ‘House of Life’, and learning about writing and the nature of writing and the nature of hieroglyphic signs, and even down to the equipment of the scribes—the pens and inks and things like that—as well as the traditional mythological landscapes of Egypt and all sorts of esoteric, symbolic wisdom that was part of the learning of the ‘House of Life’.
And included in that—although it’s not mentioned a great deal—included in that is a little bit about astronomy and some of the things that we were talking about previously in the episode about the nature of the course of the stars and that being required knowledge for priests to be able to follow the course of the stars and the timing of rituals and understand the constellations. So there are contact points, but it looks quite different, so it’s a really interesting mix. And I think one of the ways to think about it is that these were probably produced in very similar milieu, both the Greek texts and the Demotic texts, but they take different forms and have different cultural reference points and dialogues with a wider world of literature that is specific to those two languages and their contexts. So anyone who was familiar with Demotic would have probably been trained in a temple scriptorium. And so, all of these allusions to the traditional Egyptian knowledge would have been available to them in a much more rich way. And those who were reading something like the Greek Hermetica would not necessarily—they could have—but would not necessarily have access to all of those cultural reference points, and so, it’s framed in a very different way.
But I would say it’s a product of probably a mixed cultural milieu, and some of the texts may have emerged from the same milieu from among these bilingual individuals that we were talking about earlier. The fact is of course that we just don’t know, a lot of it’s speculation. And not just speculation though, but opportunities for further research, I would say. It’s really gonna be exciting as more and more Demotic texts come out. And now that the Book of Thoth has been around for a while, scholars can really start the hard work and business of comparing these texts and trying to figure out what the contact points really are working between the two traditions.
CB: Right. And this is a text that we didn’t know about, that was just discovered in Demotic and just showed a little bit of parallels in the format with some of the Greek Hermetic texts. So even though there wasn’t a lot of clear, one-for-one correspondence in terms of they’re being a connection between the two, it sort of maybe gave a better notion of what the Greek Hermetica might have been imitating in some sense. Is that an okay way to frame it?
IM: I think that could be fair since they actually are roughly contemporary. This is another question or point you raised earlier that I want to get back to. The question of authorship and how we date these things can be really complicated, but I’ll hold that for a second. But because we know that the manuscripts of the Book of Thoth—that is, the actual papyrus texts with the Demotic writing on them—are roughly contemporary with some of the earlier stages of the Hermetic writings as they’ve traditionally been dated, there’s a significant overlap there. It’s entirely possible that they were being produced at about the same time, in the same world of cultural connections.
CB: Like 1st century basically?
IM: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And maybe a little bit earlier in some cases, although that’s harder to trace in the actual papyri. But that means essentially that we can’t always put our finger on, “Okay, this one was produced first, and therefore, this one must be a copy derived from that or influenced by it.” We have to sort of say, “Well, they were produced in the same context, and they both make references to the same kind of cultural ideas.” Maybe they’re produced in the same milieu, but that’s gonna be something to try and trace or tease out with further study and research, I think.
CB: Right, for sure. Do you think it’s fair to say that in the past few decades there’s been more of reappraisal of the Greek Corpus Hermeticum and those philosophical or religious texts having little bits and pieces of more legitimate Egyptian doctrines embedded in them than was thought previously?
IM: I think that’s true. Yeah, over time, certainly over the course of the second-half of the 20th century in very slow stages, more and more of a realization came to the fore. Certainly I think Garth Fowden’s book, The Egyptian Hermes, was an important turning point where he really tried to understand the historical milieu of those texts better and situate them more in Egypt. And then as Demotic studies progressed in leaps and bounds really after Fowden’s work, more and more parallels came to be traced. And one of the things that I think was identifiable even before that that’s a point I like to make is there’s a passage in the Asclepius where one of the characters is showing an opposition to the translation of sacred knowledge into Greek—even though the text is actually preserved in Greek—saying that the sacred writings, the hieroglyphs of Egyptians are the only pure form for purveying this knowledge. And that’s really interesting because some of the things that are said in that passage resonate with some of the ideas about the way that hieroglyphs were thought to transmit knowledge in a divine form that you can read in the Book of Thoth really in some ways, in a thematic sense.
And so, I think more and more of these things are being identified, and I think there’s still more work to do there. But I think it is becoming clearer that there’s some sort of conversation between these texts, and that’s something that I think continued work will show in the publication of more texts. It’s also worth bearing in mind that although the Book of Thoth really was a big text that was viewed as a philosophical Hermetic kind of text but in Demotic, there’s also little steps in the increase of our knowledge of the interaction in what were called the ‘technical’ Hermetica, the more technical texts about rituals, practices, technical knowledge like astrology and so forth. As we were talking about earlier in the episode, we’re getting a better understanding of the fact that this was very much a live issue in Demotic as well, Demotic Egyptian, in those literate Egyptian-speaking and writing circles in the temples as well.
CB: Okay, so let me continue on with what I wrote down.
IM: I forgot, I was gonna say something about authorship, but I don’t know if you were getting to that point as well. There’s another point about authorship, but you can continue first and I can come back to that. Or should I mention my—
CB: Authorship of the philosophical Hermetica?
IM: Well, the problem of authorship in general.
IM: We mentioned it a bit around the Nechepso-Petosiris text. But maybe you were about to cover that, I can’t remember.
CB: Let me just finish what I was saying and then we’ll circle back to that ‘cause then I’ll at least get some of the summarizing stuff out. So I went on to say that after this section—oh, yeah, I did want to refer people, for just the Hermetica and the Corpus Hermeticum. I did an episode a year ago titled, “Hermeticism in Ancient Astrology, with Sam Block.” And that was Episode 339 of The Astrology Podcast. So people can listen to that for a more detailed discussion of some of that. But moving on from the philosophical Hermetica, what I wanted to say is now with the rise of the Demotic astrological material it may be possible before too long to be able to give a more accurate assessment that’s a bit more generous to the Egyptian astrological tradition than previous ones have been. This is especially true since the recent Demotic horoscopes published in the past few years have shown a greater degree of technical sophistication, unique concepts that were not represented in the Greek material, as well as a much earlier dating than what may have been expected previously.
So as a result of that it’s possible that some of the attributions of different parts of the astrological system to Egyptians or to Egyptian figures—which were previously often chocked up simply to Greek authors adopting exotic-sounding, foreign pen names—could instead signal that the authors of those texts were originally inspired by some sort of earlier Egyptian tradition that was happening in the temples in the Hellenistic era that we just don’t have much documentation of since we’re missing so much in the way of texts, not just from the Egyptian tradition, but also, even from the Greek tradition from that time period. So this would be in line, for example, with Iamblichus’ statement that the Egyptian priests were in the habit of attributing all their writings to Hermes in order to signal their intellectual indebtedness to that tradition.
It does seem like the center of the activity was Alexandria in the 2nd century BCE as the likely turning point for the full development of Hellenistic astrology. And there’s some sort of lingering issue in terms of the tension between, on the one hand, the diversity of the tradition and how we can see many different components that were coming from earlier traditions and cultures and philosophies, while, on the other hand, there are significant parts of the system that Hellenistic astrology represents that do seem like a technical construct that was developed and integrated different pieces together as part of a larger whole, with some sort of overarching systemization or underlying philosophical or conceptual motivations in mind. So, ultimately, it still comes back to the question of what was contained or introduced in the earliest texts attributed to Hermes and Asclepius and Nechepso and Petosiris in the astrological tradition, because it’s in these early texts that we find the foundational concepts that most of the later astrologers combined and used and took for granted.
So, as David Pingree said at one point in one of his papers, “We can only hope that future archaeological or other textual finds help to answer some of these longstanding questions without raising too many new ones.” But to the extent that the system of Western astrology was synthesized in Egypt around the 2nd century BCE as a result of some clear antecedents in the Egyptian tradition, I think we can safely say that Egypt made a major contribution to the astrological tradition, and the form of astrology that many astrologers still practice around the world today has its roots, in part, in a much earlier tradition of Egyptian astrology. So that was part of the conclusion I wanted to write down just to bring some closure to our whole episode and discussion of the point of all those different pieces that we talked about during the course of this.
IM: Yeah, that’s really a great way to frame it. It’s both a series of parts from different areas—culture, areas, and traditions—around this Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world that came together; and each made these significant contributions, including the Egyptian one, as we’re becoming more and more aware of it. But there’s also, just like you were saying, this moment of synthesis that really takes place in the multicultural, cosmopolitan world centered in Alexandria; to some extent also integrated with the world of the temples where these practices were being preserved; and as time goes on, were becoming more and more bilingual as well. So it’s a time and a place where you can see something coming together that was greater than the sum of its parts. There was a real creative moment there, which is I think a great way of thinking about it, rather than only emphasizing the tracing back of origins. Those are all there, but there’s this really exciting moment of crystallization that you described.
CB: Yeah, and I keep having this tension in myself the more and more I research some of these different things or the different cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia and some of the earlier traditions because you can see the earlier antecedents that fed in eventually to Hellenistic astrology by the 1st century BCE and what came out of that. And so, it’s obvious that you have these longstanding traditions that were synthesized and that came from different cultures, and therefore, should be recognized as part of different cultures. But then also you have this tension where it all gets mixed together somehow, partially, I’m sure, just by accident or by circumstance due to the geographical locations involved, but also, part of it seems very deliberate and very systemized. And the ultimate question just comes down to ‘who’; we may never know. But to whatever extent we can figure that out, ‘who put that together, and when’ is the big, million-dollar question.
IM: That is. And, like you say, we may never totally be able to answer that. One of the other points you just made was that Nechepso-Petosiris, Asclepius, Hermes are all attributed as authors of this material, and you quoted Iamblichus’ opinion. And Iamblichus was basically right. This was a way of representing authorship that was particular to Egyptian literary culture. It’s interesting, the more I studied Demotic texts and got to know them, you rarely have a sense of authorship in the way that we typically think of it in Greek literature where we think, “Okay, yeah, we can turn to Vettius Valens, and he wrote a text, and we know when he lived,” and so forth. Or you can turn to Plato or Aristotle or something because there’s a culture of authorial identity there and a connection between the author’s persona and the work.
And that just isn’t developed in the same way in Egyptian culture, especially for things that were viewed as sacred knowledge, which of course astrological concepts and doctrines were; they were very much part of the temple world. Even literary texts don’t always have authors expressly stated in Egyptian tradition. So there’s a whole series of narrative fiction, a novelistic kind of literature. in Egyptian tradition and they’re not really attributed to authors. They were just kind of copied and preserved and told as stories and shared around, and so, there’s a kind of sense of collective authorship amongst those. But definitely in the temples you might have a scribe who would say, “I copied this text,” and might even give you a date, but they’re not claiming authorship. Authorship ultimately goes back to these divine figures and they’re passing on a tradition. And that’s the cultural norm for the transmission of knowledge. It’s not tracing it back to an original author, a human author, at a particular time and place.
And that’s one of the things that we’ll just have to face up to at some point. There were lots of different authors probably, many of them are gonna remain anonymous. Nechepso was a historical king, but he almost certainly didn’t write the texts as we have them. He may have had a connection to astronomical knowledge because there was, I believe, an eclipse at the end of the reign of his predecessor. And so, knowledge around astrology and omens may have been connected to him and that’s how it kind of developed into a tradition of accumulating that knowledge and then attributing it to a historical moment like that, but they didn’t necessarily understand authorship that way. And the greatest example I can give is the text I think I mentioned earlier on in the episode in which we have a story of a priest, Petese—who’s name is sort of similar to Petosiris—who discovers a text in a temple written by Imhotep, the Asclepius figure that we mentioned, and he presents it to King Nechepso. But neither of them, notice, are the authors. It’s the god who wrote the text that was discovered in the temple.
And so, that’s the traditional Egyptian way of presenting things and knowledge of this kind as it’s traced back to the gods, or it’s traced to a divine figure like Imhotep. Someone may have found the text, helped preserve it, presented it to a king, the king may have to promote it and promulgate it, but it’s a very different way of understanding the production and transmission of knowledge than I think we’re used to. And that’s important to bear in mind when we see things. Earlier scholars dismissed this as like, “Well, you know, it’s just a made-up story to give the text kind of an aura of authenticity.” It’s like, no, that was the way Egyptians represented the production and transmission of knowledge.
CB: Right, yeah. And there’s so many texts attributed to Hermes, there’s different texts attributed to Asclepius, and there’s different texts attributed to Nechepso and Petosiris. So, on the one hand, it’s obvious that there’s different authors attributing their writings to those figures at different points in time. But then there’s also this other tension where there probably was—just from multiple, different, independent citations, for example—a singular text that was very early, that was attributed to Hermes that dealt with the topic of the 12 houses, and seems to have introduced a really early system of significations for the 12 houses. And then there was a singular Asclepius text that seems to have introduced another very early treatment of the first eight houses that lots of other authors cite. And then finally there’s the Nechepso and Petosiris text, and at least one of the early versions of that seems to have talked about the Thema Mundi, and also seems to have talked about, for example, the length-of-life technique that became common and cited by so many later astrologers.
So the question is, who authored those original texts? Were those texts originally Greek or were they in Demotic? Were they originally written in Greek, but inspired by some earlier Egyptian traditions? Or are we seeing the product of something that was originally part of the Demotic or part of the Egyptian tradition that gets transmitted over into Greek at some point? We don’t really know the answer to that. And it’s really tricky and really hard just because we don’t have most of those early original texts.
CB: It’s really tricky. And then also the other parallel—to go back to the Hermetica, the philosophical Hermetica—the authors of those are drawing on a lot of Greek philosophical traditions and schools. So it’s also hard because it’s very much wrapped up in a lot of the Greek intellectual and philosophical and spiritual ideas of that timeframe essentially. So we’d probably run into a very similar thing with the technical Hermetica in terms of the astrology.
IM: Absolutely. It’s all interconnected. Just to make one example, there’s a number of texts that refer to someone whose writings we don’t have all of, a fragmentary author and a figure that was an Early Roman Period contemporary, we think, with the Emperor Nero called Chaeremon who was an Egyptian priest, but also, a Stoic philosopher. So you could have the same person versed in both traditions. And you can easily imagine that someone like that who’s educated both in the traditions of Greek philosophy, especially with the Hermetica, would show a lot of connections to Stoic philosophy but also sometimes Neo-Platonic ideas that emerged later. That can be the same person—someone who’s had training in Egyptian traditions but also Greek philosophical traditions, working back and forth between them, translating, if you will, between cultures, languages, traditions, and finding syntheses between them, and I think that’s one of the characteristic features of all of this literature.
You mentioned the technical literature, and we were gonna get into that just briefly. We can’t obviously do another five hours or something, as fun as that would be, but among the texts sometimes grouped with the technical Hermetica are the so-called Greek and Demotic Magical Papyri. And some of them are indeed Greek and Demotic magical papyri. Some of them are in fact bilingual texts produced and written by the same individual, and sometimes switching between one language and another; ‘code switching’ it’s called in linguistic terms. Writing one part in Greek and then switching to Demotic for another back, then back to Greek again in the course of one spell or recipe for a ritual. And some of those involve astrology too.
One of my favorites is a text in one of these bilingual texts. It’s a ritual for getting Imhotep to come to you in a dream and cast what looks like a katarchic astrological chart that tells you the right hours for an undertaking by using a pinax in the course of a dream. But the text itself switches between Greek and Demotic for different parts of it, and sometimes even uses Greek letters to gloss the correct pronunciation of Demotic terms, and sometimes Demotic terms are actually Greek terms that have been written in Demotic. And so, that gives you I think a little bit of a feel for just how bilingual this world of the technical Hermetica could be. Maybe I can mention now—just in case folks aren’t aware of it—there’s a whole new publication coming out, the Greek and Egyptian Magical Formularies, edited by Christopher Faraone and Sofia Torallas Tovar. It’s a new translation also laying out the Greek text and the transliteration of the Demotic script in a standardized format on the facing pages to the translation, so that you see how the texts really work as bilingual texts in those moments. And that’s really exciting. That just came out I think last November or so.
CB: Right. ‘Cause that’s a whole area of the Egyptian contribution that we didn’t fully get into, the earlier tradition of magic in Egypt and how that may have fed into some of the traditions of astrological magic that developed in the Greco-Roman and subsequent periods.
IM: Exactly. Another enormous topic we can’t get into, but I think there’s scope for talking more about this. But there are definitely spells in the Greek and Egyptian Magical Papyri that talk about astrological doctrines and use them, especially I guess what’s today called electional astrology or katarchic astrology—choosing the proper or most propitious or powerful moment from an astrological perspective to perform a rite to achieve certain effects. So things that show up much, much later, for instance, in the Picatrix and other treatises on astrological magic seem to already be starting to emerge in things like the Greek and Demotic Magical Papyri.
CB: Right. And the preexisting use of things like amulets and different things like that have a long lineage in the Egyptian tradition, right?
IM: Absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. Amulets are used as a part of religion, frankly. As many people may know the mummy, a deceased person’s prepared body, would have amulets of various kinds protecting different parts of the body, keeping them intact, invoking various divinities and powers to provide that protective function. And those amuletic traditions undergo extraordinary and interesting transformation and deployments for new purposes as time goes on. And the making of statues and images as well from Egyptian traditions, temple traditions, also start to be used in a wide array of contexts in household religion, but also, various rituals and practices that we would today—this is another controversial category and topic—we would today maybe call ‘magic’, but just was part of Egyptian religion. And another controversy is, what is religion? We don’t want to get bogged into these kinds of debates, but they’re an ordinary set of ideas and practices for working in relation to the powers beyond the human world.
CB: Okay, and then taking from some of those earlier strands in Egypt, in the much earlier Egyptian tradition. It might then explain how that contributed to some of the debates after Hellenistic astrology was developed about the tensions between complete determinism and everything being fated and that you can’t really change it vs. others who would say that things are only partially-determined, or that there are things that you can do to change one’s fate, such as through magical practices or electional astrology or other things like that.
IM: Yeah, absolutely. You see that full-blown debate in antiquity already. It’s a topic I know that’s current today amongst people who are involved in astrology. It’s that very same debate and it has roots in antiquity and different opinions. If I can make a very general statement, another thing that would be great to talk about sometime is I think there’s been a lot of reassessments of the extent of determinism itself in ancient astrology and ancient ideas and ways of understanding the cosmos of various ancient religious traditions. I think a lot of texts were precisely designed for dealing with and even sometimes escaping the powers of the cosmos; escaping the astrological power of the planets. There’s a great text preserved in multiple copies in the corpus of the so-called Magical Papyri called ‘The Eighth Book of Moses’, which is a text that draws from multiple traditions—religious traditions of the Eastern Mediterranean—which is essentially a long rite that’s intended to help you conquer the power of fate and the power of the stars.
CB: Right. Yeah, that’s a whole issue and something I’ve talked about at different points, like how I feel like Hellenistic astrology was a technical system arising in the late Hellenistic era when Stoicism was so in vogue, and some of the astrologers showed Stoic leanings, like Valens or Manilius, or even Firmicus. But then what that would have been like after a few centuries of that being such a popular and dominant idea and the interrelationship between fate and astrology, you start to see some pushback against that idea. You start to see normal people looking for a way around that if there’s a way to make that negotiable or to not have everything completely predetermined in a person’s life. And so, you have things like the magical texts. You have things like the electional texts. You have things in some of the Christian texts like that; like the idea that fate doesn’t hold sway over you. You have, yeah, just a lot of different things like that that start to be almost a reaction to some of the philosophical and technical things that were implied by the practice of astrology from the Hellenistic era onward.
IM: Yeah, it was an incredibly lively world of philosophical and religious debates around all of these topics, with different schools pitted one against another. And I think that’s one of the exciting things about that. It’s often difficult to talk about one strand of ideas in these texts. What’s extraordinary, however, I think is there’s such a broad acknowledgment that planetary entities either indicated or influenced what was going on Earth. So many totally different religious traditions, if you think about it, who would see themselves as inimical to one another nevertheless took for granted that this was a thing in some way.
IM: In the case of simply denying it and saying that, we’re just having to recognize that this was something that a lot of people believed that they had to try to reject. Or they were claiming that some of their religious ideas were a way to transcend this or actively working with it. So whichever way you slice it, it was part of almost the air people breathed in antiquity, no matter how many debates there were around it.
CB: Yeah, whatever that system was, whenever it was created, after the 2nd century it just sort of explodes in popularity and has such a huge impact on so many different cultures and religions and philosophies and different things like that, that you see everybody reacting to or trying to deal with it in one way or another over the next several centuries.
IM: Yeah, exactly. It’s an incredibly complex world. It’s been great talking about all these strands and threads that come together, and the Egyptian context of course that I’m very interested in and invested in, in many ways. But we have to also acknowledge, as we’ve just been doing, that this is part of a very wide cosmopolitan world that was cosmopolitan in terms of the cultural contacts and exchanges going on. But also, many people within this world had a very cosmopolitan view in that literal sense of seeing themselves as citizens of a cosmos. That is, being polī́tēs of the cosmos; situating themselves in a very broad world that extends to the heavens, and that’s part of the architecture of this world.
CB: Yeah. And also, one ending point that’s really good that I’m surprised we didn’t mention was that many of the astrological texts, and the major astrological authors whose works survived that wrote in Greek still tended to be from Egypt; for example, we have Valens and Ptolemy. And I forgot to mention that Heliodora would have been contemporary with Valens and Ptolemy roughly, probably like 2nd century. Then you have Hephaistio of Thebes and Rhetorius of Egypt. But one of the things that happens is towards the later centuries with the rise of Christianity and the tensions between astrology and Christianity, there started being bans against astrology. And this sort of intellectual zeitgeist eventually turned against astrology, and that’s when the practice of astrology in Egypt to a certain extent starts to wane later in the Roman Empire, as the Roman Empire starts to decline and things like that. When we get towards the Middle Ages eventually the locus or center point of activity ceases to be Egypt or ceases to be Alexandria, and instead moves to other major cities, like Baghdad, for example, during the 8th and 9th centuries, or other cities after that.
IM: Right. And along with that, the great Hermetic traditions continue in the Islamicate and Arab world as well. A great work on that from a historical perspective by Kevin van Bladel who’s done a lot of work on the Arabic tradition of Hermetic texts.
CB: Right. That’s called, The Egyptian Hermes.
IM: Exactly, yeah.
CB: No, that’s not it.
IM: No, that’s Fowden’s, right.
CB: Fowden, yeah, yeah.
IM: We’re getting them mixed up. You’re right. I think it’s The Arabic—oh, dear, I should know this. I kind of know Kevin, this is embarrassing. He’s gonna write me a nasty email. No, Kevin’s very nice. He would never do that.
CB: Yeah, you had it right the first time.
IM: I hate it right? The Arabic Hermes.
CB: The Arabic Hermes: From Pagan Sage to Prophet. Yeah, that’s a great book documenting the continuance of some of the Hermetic tradition into the Arabic texts when they received and translated a lot of the earlier Greek astrological, scientific, and philosophical texts. And then we get figures like Abu Ma’shar, who just a couple of years ago, we had the first two translations into English of his Greater Introduction. It was the first time they had been translated into English; first an academic translation, and then Ben Dykes published his translation also from Arabic. And what was amazing and almost kind of mind-blowing in that is that we could see Abu Ma’shar drawing on an earlier text that was attributed to Hermes, and he said that Hermes had some sort of revelation from Agathodaimon.
So whatever this Hermetic text was no longer survives in Greek, ‘cause I have never seen any references to this until I saw Abu Ma’shar talking about it. But it actually gave some really interesting insight into some early Hermetic texts that were giving some rationales for things like the exaltations that didn’t survive in any of the other authors. So it was another example of, yeah, the continuation of this Hermetic or this Egyptian tradition to some extent, and the things that still sometimes we find unexpectedly coming up in different places that gives us insight into this earlier tradition of astrology in Egypt during the Hellenistic era and what its foundational stages may have looked like.
IM: Right. And that’s a great point of Baghdad being one of these nodes that kind of brought together things and sent them out again. There’s these little points in our landscape of, I suppose, the intellectual and cultural history of astrology that were real distilling and crystallizing, and in many ways, distributing points as well.
IM: That’s a great, great point about that. I think that gives us a nice perspective on, yeah, that was another incredibly cosmopolitan world there in Baghdad as well and the great translation movements there.
CB: Right, for sure. Yeah, as well as just the transmission of this material, and we have the transmission of the Hermetic texts of the different astrological texts and some of the pieces that astrologers are still using to this day. Things like the Ascendant, or using the word ‘horoscope’ (hour-marker), and as we talked about earlier how that might be tied in with the earlier Egyptian tradition of the ‘hour-watching’ or ‘hour-marking’ priests and different things like that; or the different subdivisions of the zodiac that are still used, that are called decans. And while that’s far divorced from the earlier concept connected with the fixed stars, it still has its origins in that tradition that goes all the way back 4,000 years now.
IM: Yeah, it’s really kind of mind-blowing, isn’t it?
CB: Yeah, it’s kind of cool just seeing a continuity of something. If you just think about it, there’s few things like that that have that great continuity that you can trace back that far in history in common, everyday life. But right there is something that’s relatively common, relatively popular, and recently has seen a resurgence in popularity, interestingly, in the past few years, but has origins that you can actually trace back through the centuries, through culture-to-culture and language-to-language, all the way back to very early in the Egyptian tradition. It’s really striking.
IM: Yeah, yeah, it’s wonderful to take these historical perspectives from our times and see all the different transformations. You were mentioning—and I know we’re in danger of starting an entire new episode here, so I’ll try to be restrained. You were mentioning the way that Christianity played a major role, in many ways, in constraining the possibilities of astrology, and yet, astrology was adaptive there too. I always think that maybe this is much more a factor in the Renaissance revival of astrological traditions, but the fact that Ptolemy of Alexandria became such a key figure in the post-Renaissance astrology tradition is in part because it could be presented as a kind of system of nature, separated from some of the other kinds of ideas of divine beings and so forth, which would be not doctrinally-acceptable in a Christian world. And that was in fact one of the strategies I suppose of the Renaissance astrologers, to promote the idea of natural magic and natural astrology to not get in trouble with the authorities. And yet, that’s a tradition that comes also out of Alexandria. In that case, an application to this burgeoning world of astrology of mostly Aristotelian natural principles of causation to provide the explanatory framework for how and why astrology worked.
CB: Yeah, and Ptolemy stripping it of some of the more mystical or clearly religiously-inspired concepts and creating a more naturalistic model allowed it to survive through the Middle Ages and through periods of persecution, all the way into the present time. But we know that Ptolemy was drawing elements from that earlier Greco-Egyptian tradition and that he was centered very much there as a contemporary of Valens. It’s like you can see parts of the system that he’s still using vs. the parts of the system he’s leaving out. And even some of the parts that he ends up leaving in are still connected to some of that earlier Egyptian tradition to some extent because continues to use the Ascendant or the Midheaven. Even though he only uses the Lot of Fortune, and he doesn’t reverse it, that still has some connection with some of those earlier traditions. And we can see the lots being used in some of the Demotic texts at this point in very interesting ways.
IM: Yeah, that’s a great point. That’s exactly the one I was hoping you’d make. Despite Ptolemy’s interest in changing it, he can’t leave out the Lot of Fortune; it’s just too important a doctrine. And it seems pretty clear, especially from Stephan Heilen’s work, that was there in the Nechepso-Petosiris tradition pretty clearly.
CB: Right. And Ptolemy explicitly has an allusion to Petosiris that everybody thinks is to Petosiris. ‘Cause when he introduces the length-of-life technique, he says, “And the ancient one says that you have to apply the length-of-life technique before anything else,” because you need to know how long a person will live, so that you don’t issue predictions for somebody that won’t live long enough to see the appointed day when that alignment would otherwise occur. And that’s pretty clearly an allusion to Petosiris and the text on the length-of-life that a number of other astrologers cite Petosiris for. And, to me, that makes me think of—to close another loop—how you had that earlier Egyptian tradition surrounding that Egyptian god of fate, Shai. And one of the things that was really emphasized in some of the mythology surrounding that was that the Egyptian god of fate was tied into your birth, but also, your death and your length of life.
And it’s really striking to me that one of the major things that the Nechepso-Petosiris text was supposed to have dealt with—one of the major techniques that it contributed to astrology that astrologers then used for hundreds of years and puzzled over and tried to get right was this very specific technique for determining the length of a person’s life, that was like a highly technical and highly specific doctrine, but was probably first introduced in the Petosiris text. And to the extent that that’s true, I find it interesting that the earlier Egyptian tradition may have had this notion of fate being tied in with the length of a person’s life in particular, and I wonder sometimes if there was a connection there.
IM: I think so. I’m hoping that some of these new texts that come out in Demotic will provide the ‘smoking gun’. But I think you’re absolutely right that there’s gotta be something there and that this is a great sign. We can start to imagine and anticipate and ask questions about how these scholars working in temples—or between the temple context and a cosmopolitan center like Alexandria—might have in engaged in this kind of creative reinterpretation of their own traditions in the context of the cosmopolitan intellectual world around them and taken something like the concept of Shai and fate—which had a long tradition, appears in wisdom texts and other literature—and worked with that together with these new, emerging ideas and techniques to think about it creatively in these ways. I think one of the things I always like to emphasize is that there used to be a way that people understood the world of the temple as a closed-off space away from the rest of the world, and very conservative and restrictive and hidden away from the world. But things like that suggest that there was much more dialogue between centers like Alexandria, the wider cosmopolitan world that Alexandria in many ways encapsulated, and these local traditions.
CB: Yeah, for sure. And also, none of the astrological techniques are ever fully developed in isolation, but there’s always a dialogue between the past and the future, and innovation vs. tradition is one of the constant tensions in the astrological tradition. And no matter how much there may have been new techniques introduced in the early Hellenistic era that led to the birth of Hellenistic astrology, it was drawing on earlier technical and philosophical and cultural components, like probably that concept of Shai that we were just talking about, and fate, and the length-of-life, that then fed into some of the motivations for why you would even seek out trying to create a technique that could do something as fantastic or difficult as determining how long a person would live based on the alignment of the stars at the moment of their birth. Yeah, sometimes the cultural context, once you understand it, provides a lot more of an understanding of why certain techniques are developed than you might know otherwise.
IM: Great point. Yeah, really great point.
CB: Well, yeah, thanks a lot for joining me for this today. I really appreciate it. What are you working on in the future? Or what do you have coming up?
IM: Well, I’ve been working on a couple of articles on astrology. One is the one you mentioned on Nechepso and Petosiris and these omens, and the role of Alexandria in astrology as a kind of cosmopolitan center. And that’s gonna be coming out in a little while in an edited volume on Alexandria, the Cosmopolis. I’ve been doing a little research on some other astrological topics. It’s great to have this opportunity ‘cause I’ve been getting back into astrology and the study of ancient astrology after a long period away from it. I used to be very interested in this in an earlier stage in my career, and I’m glad to be back into it. I’m hoping actually to just teach a course in the history of astrology at the university and get other people engaged with this really fascinating subject that’s both interesting and valuable in itself, but also a subject that I think teaches us a lot about the nature of cultural and intellectual interactions, and the complexity that’s involved in them, and sometimes the human side, like with the coffin of Soter. It’s a really fascinating topic and a great lens into history itself.
CB: Yeah, definitely. Okay, awesome. Well, I will look forward to those publications and some of that future work, and look forward to seeing what you’re doing as well. You’re also doing some work on Egyptian temples, right?
IM: Exactly, yeah. A project I’m working on now is on the public areas of temples and the way that they were used. How they served as law courts, public places for setting up documents in a public place where people could see them and read them—sort of like a town square of the ancient world. And, interestingly, one of the ways that they probably were used was for astrological consultations. We have a fascinating graffito that was discovered at the Temple of Khnum on Elephantine Island, way in the south of Egypt which I think is a little representation of the zodiac wheel that was probably used as a kind of pinax where an astrologer might have set out their little stones to represent the constellations and the planets for a client, and it’s right there in front of the temple. So I think that’s the connection there. Astrological practice was probably happening in the public places of these temples.
IM: Yeah, so that’s a book project I’m working on.
CB: Cool. Well, I look forward to checking it out. And people can check out your previous book if they’re interested in some of the things we’ve talked about in terms of the cultural interactions between Greeks and Egyptians.
IM: Yeah, great. That’d be great.
CB: Cool. All right, well, thanks a lot for joining me today.
IM: Thank you. It’s been a real pleasure. It’s been a lot of fun being on the podcast. I’ve really enjoyed this, thank you.
CB: Cool. All right, thanks everyone for watching or listening to this episode of The Astrology Podcast, and we’ll see you again next time.
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If you’d like to learn more about my approach to astrology then I’d recommend checking out my book titled, Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune where I go over the history, philosophy, and techniques of ancient astrology, taking people from beginner up through intermediate and advanced techniques for reading birth charts. You can get a print copy of the book through Amazon or other online retailers, or there’s an ebook version available through Google Books.
If you’re really looking to expand your studies of astrology then I would recommend my Hellenistic astrology course, which is an online course on ancient astrology where I take people through basic concepts up through intermediate and advanced techniques for reading birth charts. There’s over 100 hours of video lectures, as well as guided readings of ancient texts, and by the time you finish the course you will have a strong foundation in how to read birth charts, as well as make predictions. You can find out more information at courses.theAstrologySchool.com.
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