The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 61, titled:
The Debate Over the Origins of Hellenistic Astrology
With Chris Brennan and guest Maria Mateus
Episode originally released on January 24, 2016
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: email@example.com
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released August 24, 2022
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CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. We’re recording this episode on Sunday, January 24, 2016 just after 7:04 PM in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 61st episode of the show. For more information about how to subscribe to the podcast and get some great subscriber benefits, including early access to new episodes and the ability to attend a live, monthly webinar, please visit the website, TheAstrologyPodcast.com/subscribe.
Joining me today is Maria Mateus to talk about a recent debate that has been going on over the past decade in the astrological and academic communities about the origins of Hellenistic astrology and whether it came about as a result of a gradual development or a sudden invention. Maria, welcome to the show.
MARIA MATEUS: Thank you, Chris. It’s great to be here. I’m glad you asked me to be on. I haven’t spoken to you in quite a while, so I’m excited.
CB: Well, you’re probably the most knowledgeable person that I personally know about Mesopotamian astrology, so I thought you would be a great person to talk to for this specific topic.
MM: Yeah, thank you.
CB: All right, so let’s get started by defining and sort of outlining the scope of the discussion and defining some of the terms that we’re gonna be using here. So the first one and the most important one is just defining what Hellenistic astrology is when we use that phrase. And the way that I’ve been defining it is that it’s a tradition of horoscopic astrology that was practiced in the Mediterranean region between the 1st century BC approximately, all the way until about the 6th or 7th century CE. I think that’s a little bit broad of a definition, but that’s usually the one that I prefer. Is that more or less the definition that you use as well?
MM: Yeah, I think so. I mean, we can kind of define what we mean by that type of astrology as opposed to horoscopic astrology that might have come earlier, and those are substantive differences about technique. But defining it in terms of time is fine because with that definition of time also comes a definition of quality of what’s going on, I’m guessing. Because if we’re just defining Hellenistic astrology as a specific thing, what are its characteristics? And what makes it different from horoscopic astrology that might have come earlier?
CB: Sure. One of the things, I guess, then we should define from there is what horoscopic astrology is because I think there could be maybe two different definitions of it. I think the stricter definition that people like James Holden or I think David Pingree used is that horoscopic astrology is any tradition of astrology that utilizes the Ascendant—which was called the horoskopos in Greek—or other things in an astrological chart derived from the Ascendant, such as the 12 houses or other things related to the houses, such as the Arabic Parts or Lots.
CB: I mean, I think that’s the typical definition of horoscopic astrology.
MM: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I’m glad you defined it a little bit better because that is really the defining issue, I think, that distinguishes Hellenistic astrology, in my view. It’s not the only defining issue. It’s not the only characteristic that’s different, but it is one of the main characteristics, and I think that is what sets it apart from what came earlier.
CB: Sure. All right, and we’ll get into that more in just a little bit. So part of the genesis of this debate—it’s a debate that’s been growing and developing over the course of the past 10 years since, I want to say 2005 because the first time I became aware of it was when I was first learning about Hellenistic astrology. But also, the term that I first learned, ‘Hellenistic astrology’—with Demetra George at Kepler College—Rob Hand actually gave a keynote lecture at Kepler for just a general audience one night, in April of 2005.
And it was a very long lecture. It was like an hour-and-a-half or like a two-hour lecture where he very extensively attempted to critique and call into question an argument that he’d been hearing recently that Hellenistic astrology came about and was developed in the 1st century as a result of a sudden invention on the part of either a single individual or a small group of individuals over a relatively short span of time. And Hand was primarily responding to and was critiquing the argument as it was coming from Robert Schmidt who was one of the primary people or primary proponents of the ‘sudden invention’, or what I call the ‘sudden invention’ argument—but he’s not the only proponent of that.
But that lecture in 2005 was the first opening salvo in this debate that’s really become a much bigger thing over the past 10 years and that’s involved several other astrologers and academics about this issue, about where Hellenistic astrology comes from—or at least how we define and how the distinction between Hellenistic astrology and the earlier traditions of astrology came about, and whether it was a result of a gradual development that we don’t have a lot of evidence for, or if it was the result of a sudden invention and that’s why we don’t have as much evidence as perhaps we might to see how it came about or how it came into being. I mean, have you been following this, or were you aware of that? Did you attend that lecture that Hand gave in 2005?
MM: No, I didn’t, and I’ve been kind of removed from the astrological community for a while. But this is a longstanding debate that’s been around. I mean, you and I come from the same educational tradition. It’s been around since we were both at Kepler. So I’m familiar with this debate because I was also exposed to Schmidt’s ideas, and so I am familiar. I don’t know if there have been new arguments brought into the debate—if Hand proposed anything that hadn’t been proposed before to argue against this—or if this was just a resurgence of, you know, a longstanding kind of discussion that’s been going on.
CB: Sure. I mean, it was a debate that certainly came up. There were inklings of it earlier because one of the ‘sudden invention’ proponents was James Holden, and he wrote in his book, A History of Horoscopic Astrology, in 1996, that there were founders or there was an inventor of Hellenistic astrology sometime around the 1st century BC. But he also, in a footnote…
CB: …sort of defended that and said that one of his…
MM: Colleagues. Yes, his colleagues had brought that up.
MM: He didn’t name names, but yeah, yeah, it’s in there in the footnote.
CB: Yeah, and I always wished that he had named names ‘cause it’s curious who this unnamed colleague was that kind of objected at the time and said, you know, “Hold on a minute. Why are you saying ‘inventors’? This couldn’t have been invented. It’s a whole tradition of astrology.”
MM: Yeah, I don’t know who it was, but I can imagine.
CB: Sure. Well, and maybe it’s worth reading that. Because what he said basically was—this is Holden writing in 1996—he says: The scholars and scientists of Alexandria were particularly active in the 3rd and 2nd centuries. Among them were the inventors of Western horoscopic astrology. Their real names are unknown since they chose to issue their books under the names of Gods, kings, heroes, or wise men of the past. Their books are lost, except for scattered fragments preserved by later authors.
And then footnotes that paragraph, and he says: One of my valued colleagues objects to the word ‘inventors’. He points out that Greek horoscopic astrology, even in its early 2nd century form, was a new and very complicated system, and he thinks it doubtful that it could’ve been invented ‘by one or more individuals at once. He would prefer me to say that horoscopic astrology ‘appeared’ at that time. My rejoinder is that Euclid, who lived perhaps a century before the Alexandrian astrologers, wrote ‘The Elements of Geometry’ in a comprehensive and nearly perfect form. And if he could do that all at once, there seems to be no reason why some later Alexandrians, or perhaps two generations of them, could not have created horoscopic astrology.
So this is one of the earliest references that you’ll see to this debate already taking place in a footnote in Holden’s work in 1996, of somebody, you know, who read Greek and Latin. Holden had spent 40 or 50 years at that point studying the Hellenistic texts and making translations on his own of these texts, and then came to the conclusion that there were a set of inventors of Hellenistic astrology. But then at the same time somebody, you know, sort of said, “Wait a minute. That’s kind of a big claim to be making. Are you sure about stating it in such a way in such terms?”
CB: So that’s Holden. And then we also have around the same time period, by 1997, we have one of the leading—if not ‘the’ leading—academic historians on the history of ancient astrology, David Pingree, argue along similar lines. And in a 1997 book, From Astral Omens to Astrology, he makes this statement basically implying a sudden invention, saying: Sometime in the late 2nd or early 1st century BC, someone, perhaps in Egypt, invented genethlialogical astrology, which assumes an Aristotelian universe in which the earth [is] at the center, consisting of four sublunar elements, is surrounded by the eternally circling spheres of the seven planets in the so-called Hellenistic order. And that’s it. So he says that somebody invented this type of astrology more or less.
MM: Right. Now he’s identifying something that’s very characteristic to Greek astrology which I think is important to highlight, which is the Aristotelian basis of it, and that seems to be at least particular to the astrology that shows up in the 2nd century BC. And so, again, this is why it’s important to get our definitions straight. To the extent that what we mean by Hellenistic astrology is this set of characteristics that does include this, then it is unique in the 2nd century.
But then, you know, the question of origins really relies on a really clear definition of what you mean by astrology or what you mean by Hellenistic astrology. That’s why I think it’s a good idea for you to begin with a definition because I know that when I taught the history of astrology and IAA, we did get into issues of origins. We did get into this debate. And even within people who have a broader definition that doesn’t include the Aristotelian philosophical background or doesn’t include an Ascendant—who have a definition that might characterize astrology in a wider sense—even those people have to be careful about defining it as well. Because if you read Nick Campion’s book, I mean, he starts it in the Neolithic period, so you can have a definition of astrology that goes back a lot further.
Now what you’re discussing specifically is Hellenistic astrology—what is it that we mean by Hellenistic astrology and what are its characteristics—and you’ve identified two that are specific to what appears, at the earliest, in the 2nd century BC. I didn’t hear the debate. And I’m sorry I wasn’t present when Hand had that talk because I’m not sure if he was specific about what he meant in terms of the origins of astrology. Was he specifically addressing what we see in the 2nd century forward, or was he addressing a wider definition of the origins of astrology as a whole?
CB: Sure. So what Hand did—and what I think all of them did that’s important—is there’s sort of a distinction between astrology. I mean, Pingree’s one of the only people that defines astrology proper as the type of astrology that developed in the 2nd century or 1st century BC. But for most people, I think we all generally use a wider definition that astrology is something, generally speaking, that is defined by the study of the supposed correlation between celestial and earthly events, and define that broadly to include obviously the type of astrological or celestial omen astrology that developed in the Mesopotamian tradition and Egyptian traditions, and also includes all subsequent traditions after that.
CB: ‘Cause certainly Holden or Pingree or even Schmidt would not argue that astrology didn’t exist prior to the 1st or 2nd century BC.
CB: The point of dispute is that the system of Western astrology that we’re familiar with today in the early 21st century consists of the fourfold system of planets, signs of the zodiac, the houses, and the doctrine of aspects. That system—to the extent that it’s a, you know, loose system—doesn’t predate, from what we can tell as being a fourfold system, the 1st century BC. So that system of those four areas sort of appears on the historical timeline at that point, and then it becomes a question about, you know, why does it appear at that point from our vantage point. Is it because it was invented at that time? Or is it because there were elements that were already preexisting in earlier traditions that we just don’t have evidence for?
CB: And certainly we do have evidence for many elements of that. So for example, elements of the 12-sign zodiac came from the Mesopotamian tradition, and nobody disputes that. We know that the concept of natal astrology was already introduced in Mesopotamia by the 1st century BC.
CB: We know that they were casting birth charts already by the 5th century BC, so we know that that concept comes from the earlier tradition.
MM: Right. So that’s what I mean. What is it that we’re saying occurs in the 2nd century BC that is unique? That’s what I mean if we have elements that appeared before because it goes to the issue of whether we have something that arose spontaneously or something that is evolving over time, right? If it has most of its elements already present…
CB: Some of the elements.
MM: Yeah, or some. I mean, this is what I mean. What are these elements? We need to define what they are.
CB: So let’s first define what came from the earlier traditions because that’ll give us a good jumping-off point. So the list I have is that from the Mesopotamian tradition, we have three branches of astrology primarily already. We have mundane astrology. We have natal astrology as a concept, maybe electional astrology as a concept. We have the 12-sign zodiac, which for our purpose here, we’re pretty much only defining as the concept of dividing the ecliptic into 12, equally-sized, 30° segments, but not necessarily containing the qualities that later astrologers would associate with them.
CB: So we have the 12-sign zodiac, but the zodiac itself—one of the few things that it does have associated with it is a dividing of the signs up into four sets of three, which is similar to what later became known as the triplicities. However, at this stage, it doesn’t seem to have the elemental qualities, or the Greek elemental qualities of earth, air, fire, and water attributed to it. And while there does seem to be some planetary associations, it doesn’t seem to have any of the planetary associations that we later came to associate with the zodiac from the 1st century forward.
MM: Right. There are some planetary associations with the triplicities that appear early on. But you’re right, not all of them. There is one planet that’s associated with each of the triplicities—and Ptolemy mentions that—but there are others that are added later.
CB: Okay, so we have that. We also have in the Mesopotamian tradition the twelfth-parts or the micro zodiac—which is known sometimes as the dwads or the dwadashamshas—where you divide each of the signs up into further 2.5° segments, each of which is ruled by one of the signs. We have the distinction between benefic and malefic planets coming about later in the Mesopotamian tradition. And we also potentially have the concept of the exaltations or of certain planets being associated with or doing better somehow. I’m not sure if it’s clear how that’s interpreted, but the later concept that we know of as the exaltations is coming about somewhere early in the Mesopotamian tradition probably as well.
CB: So I think that’s the extent of it. So some of the core, important, technical doctrines or interpretive doctrines that we’re missing that do show up suddenly in the Hellenistic tradition are the doctrine of aspects—so the idea of sextile, square, trines, and oppositions, and to a lesser extent, conjunctions—any ideas that are derived from that, such as aspects on the left or right, or superior or inferior, this whole complex doctrine of hurling or casting rays or striking with a ray or overcoming, and other complicated aspect doctrine ideas like enclosure or besiegement.
CB: So a bunch of things related to essentially the entire aspect doctrine.
CB: The other area is the houses and the significations of the houses. Although we have birth charts from the Mesopotamian tradition starting in the 5th century BC, they don’t appear to use the houses. Although we don’t know that for sure, they don’t note the rising sign or the Ascendant. And therefore, one of the things that’s thought to be invented or developed in the Hellenistic tradition that sets it apart from the earlier tradition is the concept of looking at the Ascendant or the rising sign and then coming up with significations for the rest of the houses relative to the rising sign.
CB: After that, we have the zodiac. And the things that are unique in the Hellenistic tradition—the primary thing is the domicile rulership scheme. So the idea of assigning the two luminaries to the two signs that coincide just after the summer solstice. So Leo and Cancer assigned to the Sun and Moon and then assigning the rest of the visible planets to each of the signs and sort of flanking out from there in zodiacal order based on their relative speed and distance: starting with Mercury and then Venus and Mars and Jupiter and Saturn.
CB: So that’s a unique concept. Other concepts like that such as the specific rulerships for the triplicities, as well as assigning the elements to the triplicities—so earth, air, fire, and water—as well as other concepts such as gender or modalities being applied to the zodiac; those come about in the Hellenistic tradition.
CB: And then, finally, with the planets, there might be some additional concepts, such as sect—the distinction between day and night charts—and possibly other things related to gender, such as masculine or feminine, but I think that’s it. In terms of significations, that could go sort of either way.
CB: So those would be the things that I would say would be innovations that are supposed to set the Hellenistic tradition apart from the earlier tradition. And that’s aside from a host of other things, like, you know, the time-lord techniques. So advanced timing techniques, transits, doctrines like synastry, and other things like that.
MM: Right. And we have to also not forget that we’re talking about a tradition that’s being documented a few centuries after the last cuneiform chart, Babylonian chart, is documented. Some of these doctrines appear a little bit later. I mean, there’s also time there that we have to account for where, you know, some of these things could have arisen naturally just as a consequence of the natural evolution of where astrology was prior to that.
CB: Right, and that’s important. I’m glad you brought that up ‘cause that’s important in terms of the timing where we have the Babylonian birth charts starting in the 5th century BC. So the first two date to 410 BC and then they go pretty consistently from there, until finally the last cuneiform birth chart dates to 69 BCE. And this was right around the time we start getting the first Greek horoscopes…
CB: …starting in 72 BCE, then 43 BC. And then, finally, they really pick up in the last decade of the 1st century BC, and then they just sort of take off from there. So you really have this impression of one tradition sort of ending and another one beginning in some sense.
MM: Right. And the question for me is, is it possible that you can have this evolution—this natural evolution—from the end of the Babylonian tradition to the beginning of the Greek tradition? And it’s that transmission in between that I think is the crucial period. What is happening in that handover? And a lot of it happens in Egypt. What we have is transmission into Egypt, and then we have kind of a black hole there for a little while—for a couple of centuries maybe—where there isn’t a whole lot written about what’s happening there. And then we have in the 1st century CE all of these Greek astrological texts containing so many horoscopes, showing up with all of these very advanced doctrines already fully developed.
So the issue is what happened in that interim? What was going on there? And where we left off with the Babylonian tradition, can we say that it could have evolved naturally into something without what Hand might have been saying, without this idea of a sudden invention? Was there enough time for these concepts to have evolved naturally over that space of time?
CB: Sure. And I think the answer is both yes and no, ‘cause there’s definitely some elements that obviously could have developed gradually. And we have evidence of a gradual development and a transmission of Babylonian astrology into Egypt and eventually into Greece, so that you can see it sort of growing and evolving in some sense. But then we have other concepts that are more theoretical, or they’re more abstract and they’re derived from abstract concepts, so that it’s kind of questionable whether or not they were developed gradually versus somebody at some point in time just saying, “Hey, I’ve got this idea about this thing,” and then writing a book on it and then the idea really takes off.
And part of the ‘sudden invention’ argument that I’ve grown to see as more plausible specifically is the fact that all of the astrologers—or many of the Greek astrologers—often end up citing these two specific texts, and one of them was attributed to Hermes. Somebody wrote a text sometime in Egypt, in Greek, around like the 1st century BC or so, that was on the significations of the houses. And it just gave a short set of significations for each of the 12 houses, but it also may have introduced the concept of the planetary joys. So associating certain planets with certain houses as well based on a sort of schematic idea.
CB: And then there was another text that was also very early that somebody wrote under the name of Asclepius, and a bunch of later astrologers cited that text for a set of significations for the first eight houses; so just the 1st house through the 8th house. And all later astrologers ended up kind of merging those two texts together and most of the basic significations of the houses seems to come from them. So, to me, from like a textual standpoint, there almost seems like this plausible argument for at least one element of the system possibly coming about as a result of, you know, somebody getting an idea and then writing a book about it, and then later astrologers deciding to adopt that idea until it becomes commonplace, even though prior to that point, it may not have been.
MM: And you’re talking specifically just about the signification of the houses?
CB: Yeah, I’m talking just about the significations of the houses and the idea of using the rising sign as the starting point for a system of 12 whole sign houses.
CB: There was a specific text that was written I think around the 2nd century BC, or late 3rd century BC, that allowed you to easily calculate the rising signs, and for some reason I’m spacing out what the text was or who it was written by right now. I think it was called the Anaphorikos, or just literally, ‘The Rising Signs’. But just the idea that it became easier from a technical standpoint, at some point, to calculate the rising signs—the times in which it took the signs to rise over the horizon, and thus, to calculate the Ascendant—and then at some point somebody decided to use that and create an astrology around it by saying when this sign is rising, it means something for the person’s character and body and spirit, and then the sign after the rising sign indicates something about their financial well-being, and then the sign after that indicates something about their siblings, and the one after that about their parents, and so on and so forth, that is a concept that may not have existed prior to that time.
MM: The calculation of the rising signs was the calculation that was around before that, though, because the Babylonians were able to do that. And that actual calculation is not that complicated, especially with the tables that were available. And Holden points this out, and JD North points out how this would have been done. And he actually says the key to that calculation was available to Babylonians, so it’s not like it wasn’t possible for them to do it.
You’re right. We don’t have any documentation that they were observing an Ascendant because they hadn’t documented any, at least in any of the horoscopes we have to date, but we do know they had the calculations to do it, and then we do have the tables they used for rising times. So the question is were they doing it? We don’t know. It’s possible that they were. But getting back to your point about this early tradition and all the Hellenistic astrologers being on the same page, echoing this text that you mentioned, it was 2nd century BC, right?
CB: I mean, all we know is the earliest reference to it is in Thrasyllus who died in 36 CE. So if he’s citing a text attributed to somebody named Hermes that wrote earlier then it must be at least 1st century BC.
CB: It’s usually speculated to be late 2nd century or early 1st century BC.
MM: Okay. And does that predate the Nechepso and Petosiris text, or is it around the same time?
CB: It’s around the same time. They all get sort of grouped together because we don’t know when. It’s like those three or four authors or texts become the earliest texts that everybody’s referencing.
CB: Which is the Hermes text, the Asclepius text, and then the Nechepso-Petosiris text, which is either separate works attributed to two different authors that were often associated with each other, or it was one work written by both authors.
MM: Yeah. Well, I didn’t know that much because this whole history about the Nechepso and Petosiris tradition is kind of convoluted and it’s not real clear, and it wasn’t real clear who these are and where they’re placed in history. So when you mentioned having this talk, I actually went and did some digging around on the internet to look for something regarding this because there isn’t a whole lot, you know, that we have on these two names. I mean, they appear repeatedly, and there have been fragments that have been collected by—what’s his name—Ryholt. I think you have his compilation linked on your website, I believe. And he’s compiled most of the fragments that referred to Nechepso and Petosiris.
But that whole tradition is rather interesting. And I found something really kind of exciting, and I really think you should read it. I downloaded it today because I was really excited by what it seemed to imply. So let me just make sure I have this name—the guy who compiled all the fragments that refer to Nechepso and Petosiris. I believe his name was Ryholt. Let’s see. I just want to make sure I have his name right. Here it is. So the name of this book—it was put out in 2011 by Ian Moyer—and it’s called Egypt and the Limits of Hellenism.
CB: Yeah, I have that.
MM: Have you seen that?
MM: Okay. So he’s bringing this tradition that exists in Egypt around the 2nd century—actually before that—in the Persian period. And one of the really interesting things he does—and I have the Parker text—he mentions the Vienna Papyrus document. Parker’s translation attributes that work—I guess it’s Line 10 of Column 4 which talks about the work—having been at the behest of Darius, okay, which is the Persian king.
MM: Now he identifies this tradition as coming from around the time of the Saite dynasty, which was the last dynasty before the Persian period. And that’s exactly the timing of the Vienna Papyrus as well. So I don’t know if you’ve seen this. Have you read this about the connection between the Vienna Papyrus? Ryholt says that the translation that he has there for Darius is incorrect. It should actually be Nechepso. And the Vienna Papyrus—for those of you who are listening, who don’t know what I’m talking about—is a document that is sort of a ‘missing link’ between the Babylonian omen tradition into Egypt.
And what he’s saying is that that omen tradition is being associated with the name ‘Nechepso’ in this period—in this early Persian period—during the late Saite dynasty or early Persian occupation period. And if that’s so, he’s arguing that there is a political incentive to associate this, you know, spiritual tradition, this astrological tradition with an Egyptian king. And so, this lineage then in the Ptolemaic era becomes ‘mythified’ kind of. It becomes this huge mythos of this ‘Nechepso and Petosiris’ duo who are the ‘fathers’ of astrology. That becomes perpetuated during the Ptolemaic period, but it actually goes back a lot earlier, and it’s being linked to the Babylonian tradition. Now that’s kind of, I think, interesting and sort of earth-shattering to me because I wasn’t aware of this connection with the Vienna Papyrus. I don’t know if you were.
CB: Yeah, I mean, there was also a paper by one of Pingree’s students, Clemency Williams, where she takes some of the Nechepso and Petosiris material on mundane astrology that’s in Book 1 of Hephaistio and she shows how it’s literally translating some elements of the Enuma Anu Enlil into Greek and then reconceptualizing it for Egypt, for the locale of Egypt.
CB: And so, that’s definitely something that was going on in that era—let’s say, by the 4th or 3rd or definitely by the 2nd century BC—where you have Babylonian texts that are being translated either into Egyptian or into Greek and then adapted to the new location.
MM: Right. And the reason why I’m mentioning this is not so much that we know that the Babylonian material was there—that’s not a surprise. What surprised me is the association between this material and the name ‘Nechepso’. Because what Moyer is arguing is that this tradition that appears in the Ptolemaic era, the Greco-Roman tradition, is relying on these two names, Nechepso and Petosiris, as sort of the fathers or grandfathers of Hellenistic astrology because that’s the name that continuously comes up. When I first heard of the ‘sudden invention’ theory, if Hellenistic astrology was going to be invented, it would have been invented by these two people, I would assume.
MM: Those are the names that go back that far, right? That goes back to the earliest, distinctive Hellenistic texts. The kind of texts we’re talking about. The texts that have these elements that were not there before. So, first of all, if we’re associating this type of astrology—this Hellenistic astrology—if we’re associating it with these elements (and part of these elements are Aristotelian), they cannot predate the 5th century BC because of the Aristotelian aspects to them. So they can’t predate Aristotle obviously.
MM: So they have to start no earlier than that. And these names—these two names—if Ryholt’s correct in his reconstruction of this line in Parker’s translation and that name is Nechepso then he’s linking this Babylonian tradition to Nechepso way back in the 5th century—in the 6th century BC.
CB: Well, he’s explaining where they got the name. ‘Cause the question is why are they using the names Nechepso and Petosiris? You know, why did those get associated with these texts that were written in the 2nd century and then became so popular afterwards?
MM: No, but this text actually goes back earlier. It goes back to the early Persian occupation.
CB: Right, in terms of some of the omen material. But then they still wouldn’t argue that the actual astrological texts that the 1st and 2nd century CE Hellenistic authors were quoting came from that far back. They would still date the horoscopic astrology texts dealing with natal astrology to the late 2nd century BC or early 1st century BC.
MM: Right. But we’re saying that this whole tradition arose simultaneously in one period. And if it did it would have been invented by these two people, right, Nechepso and Petosiris. That’s what I understood the ‘sudden invention’ theory was.
CB: Here’s a quote from Franz Cumont where he says: About the year 150 B.C. there were composed in Greek–undoubtedly at Alexandria–the mystic treatises attributed to the fabulous king Nechepso and his confidant, the priest Petosiris, which became as it were the sacred books of the growing faith in the power of the stars. These apocryphal works of a mythical antiquity were to acquire incredible authority in the Roman world.
MM: Right. So they’re acquiring that authority in the 1st century CE, right?
CB: Mm-hmm. Right.
MM: But the actual people that they’re referring to are in existence in the early Persian period and already associated with astrology back then.
CB: Right. I mean, that’s true. Although it’s the same thing with Hermes where it’s like later authors picked names of legendary people or important people from the past—like Zoroaster or whoever—to attribute texts to.
MM: Right. Well, that’s the mythical part of it. But what Moyers is arguing is that this person actually existed in the 6th century. He was a king. He’s actually arguing that this is Necho II of the Saites dynasty, and that this person was probably not an astrologer but the astrology is being linked to him at that period, right?
CB: Yeah, it just gives some precedent for why people a few hundred years later used the name.
MM: Exactly. So what you’re saying is that these are just names that were used. And I agree. These are just names that were used in order to legitimize these texts that were being written at this time in the Ptolemaic era. They don’t necessarily originate with these two people, their mythology originates with those people by virtue of being associated with those names.
CB: Right, and they may be using them out of respect. For example, Iamblichus says that the priests of the Egyptian tradition would commonly attribute all of their writings to Hermes in order to give honor to or to designate that they’re part of that lineage or that tradition.
CB: He’s probably talking about Hermeticists when he’s saying that. And we know that there was a continuing tradition of ascribing texts to Hermes, all the way from antiquity through the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
CB: But the question really becomes we know that there were some early texts in existence that were ascribed to Hermes, Asclepius, Nechepso and Petosiris and that some of the Hellenistic astrologers from the 1st century and 2nd century CE attribute doctrines to those people that seem like the foundational doctrines of what would become Western astrology, such as the Thema Mundi, for example, which gives the rationale for the domicile assignments for the quality of the aspects, and for other things like that that get attributed to Nechepso and Petosiris by Firmicus.
CB: And Thrasyllus attributes these basic significations for the houses to the Hermes text and to the Asclepius text. So the question is if that’s true and those texts did exist and were written around, let’s say, 150 BC or later, does that represent a sort of sudden invention? If you have a handful of texts that wrote what became the core doctrines of later astrology, you know, does that represent a sudden invention of some sort?
MM: Yeah. Yeah, that is the question. The thing that I can’t get past though is if these are names that are being used just to legitimate whatever text was being written at that time, we don’t have any actual names of anyone who would have written them. We don’t have any way to track that history. The only way we can track it is through these names…
MM: …and we do have actual people. Moyers’ argument—there’s an argument there for why it is that Nechepso and Petosiris’ names would have been, and it’s tied to the Greek healer Thasyllus—I believe is his name—who was at that same period trying to legitimate himself. He was not an Egyptian citizen, but he was trying to legitimate his own claim as a healer in the Egyptian courts, and therefore, would have tied himself to this name, claiming some kind of divine inspiration in these healing methods that did involve astrology.
But anyway, that aside, those are the names we trace. Those are the only names we can trace to the astrology and they are linked to the astrology in a very political way. They’re not linked to the astrology in any fundamental way because Necho II was not an astrologer, and so we have no way of knowing where this astrology actually originates. If there was a group of people who had written these texts under these names, we don’t know who those people are. There is actually nothing documented. There isn’t even an inkling of anything documented other than the texts themselves that show the astrology.
CB: Sure. I mean, we can at least talk to the extent that there are later authors that quote these texts and sometimes have excerpts from them, and where sometimes you can see different authors at different time periods in the Roman world citing the same text that’s being attributed to the same author—let’s say, Petosiris, for example, who’s commonly cited for the length-of-life technique.
CB: We can talk about, you know, the text attributed to ‘Petosiris’, written by, you know, whoever adopted that pen name.
CB: But maybe we should zoom out a little bit and talk about this more as like a meta issue. Sometimes it gets talked about as like Babylonian tradition being very basic and not having an advanced form of astrology.
MM: Before we zoom out, let me just zoom in a little bit on that Petosiris-Nechepso text, the Salmeschoiniaka. I can’t pronounce it. Salmeschoiniaka. Do you know what text I’m talking about?
CB: Yeah, I can’t pronounce it either, so I am of no help to you.
MM: So the elements in that astrology—I was looking at that trying to see if there is anything in this text. If this is the foundation text for Hellenistic astrology, is there anything in this text that we can separate—just like we did with the Hellenistic astrology—that we can say is not characteristic of Babylonian astrology at all? And I was looking at the elements that are listed there, and they talk about—I have the list here—the Egyptian decans. Those obviously are adapted to Egypt, but they’re similar to the 36 stars in the Babylonian. There’s nothing, you know, unique about that. That was going on in Babylon too. The seven planetary orbits—that’s in the Babylonian stuff too. Lunar orbits—the terms—we know now from recent scholarship. We now have cuneiform documentation of Babylonian terms.
CB: And that’s a great example—just to interject really quick—of how sometimes there’s still new evidence that we’re finding that sometimes forces us to revise techniques that we thought were developed later. And then suddenly you find it in a Babylonian text and then you realize that, no, this is a technique that was inherited from earlier. So the bounds or the terms is one of those techniques that was recently discovered in the Babylonian tablet, and thus, we had to revise our understanding that that was actually a concept that came earlier rather than later.
MM: Exactly. Right. So, you know, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. And then we have the Moon’s position at birth and conception, Rochberg gives some indication in Babylonian Horoscopes that they might have been doing this as well. Length-of-life—there are some rudimentary omens, and even in some of the birth horoscopes indications of, “You will live many years.” There’s some indication that they’re looking at some length-of-life ‘something’. We don’t know what the calculations are ‘cause they don’t explain any of that.
Klima theories—those are the klimata. You know, Ptolemy talks about they’re actually the latitudinal lines. Those the Babylonians were using, and it’s actually really important for the triplicities as well. Predominant planets—that was in the Babylonian. Eclipses and comets—that was there. Forecasting voyages—that’s a form of electional, which Holden says the Babylonians were probably also doing. Operative months and forecasting—the Babylonians were doing that. The only thing on this list that so far we haven’t seen in the Babylonian material is the Lot of Fortune that appears in this Nechepso and Petosiris text.
So I was just wondering, you know, is it possible that the Nechepso and Petosiris material could have evolved from what was there in the transitional period, in the transmission through the Persians? Is it possible that that could’ve evolved by the 2nd century into this list? And yeah, everything was there except for the Lot of Fortune.
CB: Yeah, and I think there’s definitely elements, especially in the mundane astrology, if those passages in Hephaistio actually are from Nechepso and Petosiris—or at least from that Egyptian lineage—that that’s evidence of it evolving directly from the Babylonian tradition. But then on my list some of the things that Nechepso and Petosiris deal with that seem unique to the Hellenistic tradition is, for one, Firmicus Maternus says that they outlined the doctrine of the Thema Mundi, which is essentially the doctrine of the planetary domiciles or planetary rulerships. Another one—Valens says that Nechepso dealt with profections: both yearly profections and monthly profections. Petosiris is associated with and is attributed to the length-of-life technique that involves primary directions, as well planetary periods. And then, finally, one of the authors—I think Antiochus—says that Nechepso had a doctrine of chrematistikos, or ‘advantageous places’, dealing with angularity and cardinal, succedent, and cadent basically..
MM: Right. So all of these things are unique to Hellenistic astrology, but they’re also unique to the astrology of the Ptolemaic age, the 2nd century BC. Actually, you’re quoting from Firmicus?
CB: I just have a list of different things, different authors—like Valens, Antiochus, and Firmicus—that are attributing or citing Nechepso or Petosiris for these techniques.
MM: So that’s 1st century. So they’re unique to Hellenistic astrology, but they are also unique to 1st century astrology. So that’s the thing. We’re back to—do you know what I’m saying? We’re back to, well, here is stuff that’s happening two centuries later—or three centuries later—and, yeah, you have 300 years to develop this form of astrology. Just because it’s there, does it argue for a sudden invention? Or does it mean that you had time to develop this from the end of the Babylonian astrology to the beginning of the Greco-Roman tradition for the texts we have, for those doctrines that we have? They’re mostly 1st century texts, right?
MM: So the Nechepso and Petosiris material—not the one that’s quoted later in the Ptolemaic age—but the one that’s there, these fragments from the Salmeschoiniaka, that clearly is older. It seems like it’s older material. It’s stuff that’s already present in the Babylonian tradition. But then these other techniques that show up in the 1st century texts—that’s clearly evolved, but we’re talking about 300 years later. So do we require a ‘sudden invention’ theory to have those developments occur in 300 years? That’s the issue, right?
CB: Yeah, I mean, the issue we run into is there’s a lack of surviving sources from the last few centuries BCE, both in the cuneiform sources, as well as in the Greek sources so that it’s hard to be certain of anything.
MM: Right. And the only link we have between those two is the Nechepso and Petosiris material, if we take the 1st century authors at their word that these texts are coming from Nechepso and Petosiris. Asclepius is a divine being, so that could have been a deity that was just used for, you know, legitimization purposes. But if Nechepso is Necho, and this person did exist, and he did exist in the Persian period—the Saites period just before the Persians—then that’s really the only link we have between the two astrologies. And if we take the authors of the 1st century at their word that these people actually were using these techniques then we have evidence of some form of development very early on and evolution over time. But if they’re not, if they just happened to pick these names because they felt these names gave some credibility—but these people didn’t really have anything to do with any of these ideas, that they were later ideas, and I have no problem believing that—then we still could have enough time there for these concepts to have evolved.
CB: And I think those names—even Nechepso and Petosiris—the texts that those get attributed to by the 1st century BC, it really was just using those names for legitimization purposes. They were probably written—like the Corpus Hermeticum—as philosophical dialogues, where it’s like a dialogue between a teacher and a student, and it’s written in this kind of mystical, revelatory manner. Because if you look at Valens and how he talks about Nechepso, Valens literally thought that Nechepso was a king that was living during a golden age of astrology, like when astrologers were rulers and stuff like that. So however Nechepso is portrayed in these texts from the 1st or 2nd century BCE probably has very little to do with any actual historical figure, even if they’re adopting that name.
MM: I don’t know that that’s completely untrue. Let’s say that we are talking about Necho II. He wasn’t necessarily an astrologer, but there were these ‘hour’ priests in Egypt at the time, and it was sort of a golden age. If we’re to believe Moyers’ research—and I think it’s pretty good research—if we’re to believe his picture of 6th century BC Egypt, it paints a really interesting picture of that time period, which I haven’t read anywhere else. That’s why I was excited that I was reading that today because if we’re to believe him, it kind of was a golden age for astrology in that time period.
You had these priests—these Egyptian priests—who were really heavily involved in astrology and were taking a lot of Babylonian techniques and kind of running with them and using them for, you know, omens. But they were also doing some natal stuff—not necessarily horoscopic—but they were doing birth omens as well in the vane that the Babylonians were doing. So it kind of would have been a golden age if Moyers is to be believed.
CB: But, I mean, they wouldn’t have had anything to do with horoscopic astrology in the 6th century BC, though.
MM: No, not at that time. Well, it depends. I mean, we don’t have a really good picture of what they were doing. We know that these ‘hour’ priests were watching rising signs. And there were hemerologies at the time and menologies, and even the Babylonians were doing this very early on. And Rochberg mentions this—there were birth prognostications being done just from rising signs and from even months of the year. If you were born in this month, this is gonna happen to you. If you were born in that month, that’s gonna happen to you. So there’s a precursor to horoscopic astrology even in the 6th century already going on.
CB: Sure. And that’s a really important point ‘cause that was the paper that came out a few years ago by Dorian Greenbaum and Micah Ross. It was on the development of the use of the rising sign and the concept of the houses. And they sort of brought together all of the evidence for how the Egyptians were really focused on and paying attention to the rising decan and the culminating decan. And that focus on the diurnal rotation is what potentially led to the development of the use of the Ascendant and the focus on the houses eventually once that starts being used in a zodiacal framework.
MM: Yeah, and I see this as an evolution from what was going on in Babylon ‘cause they were doing this there too. So if it doesn’t seem like there’s anything sudden going on. It does seem like a natural evolution of what had come before. But what you’re saying, I mean, there’s a good argument for what exactly happened to give Hellenistic astrology these characteristics that are very unique. Those are the things that are hard to explain. We don’t have that evolution. We don’t have that evolution documented at all very well.
I mean, we have elements of it. We have the elemental stuff from Aristotle. We have a lot of the philosophical ideas that are tied to Aristotelian concepts that are employed in astrology, especially in Ptolemy. Not so much in the other authors, but in Ptolemy for sure. We have that in the philosophical documentation, but we don’t have an evolution for these doctrines you’re talking about. The aspect doctrine is a good example. Rochberg in speaking—no, she speaks about the triplicities as aspects. I don’t agree with that. I don’t think they are aspects in the Hellenistic sense at all. We’re not talking about geometrical relationships.
CB: Yeah, I think that was a confusion that arises from the fact that in Greek, they use the same word for the trine aspect as they use for the triplicities.
MM: Triangles, right.
CB: Right. They just say trigon, or, yeah, ‘triangle’. So it would be easy to then conflate the two in modern times, even though conceptually they’re different things.
MM: Right. However, having said that, there is evidence that the Babylonians are doing all kinds of weird things with months in which they’re making schema out of them. And some of the schema involved the triplicity arrangements, some even involved sextile arrangements. And I read that somewhere. I just read that last night somewhere. And I was trying to find a picture of this. I think it’s in an older source. Sachs may have mentioned it in his Babylonian Horoscopes, but it’s in an older source where there’s supposed to be some kind of diagram of this. And it may be in a German source that I don’t have. But someone does mention this in a footnote where there is an indication that some of the schema may involve triangles and some may even involve sextiles.
So I don’t know whether the aspect theory that we see later in the Greek astrology may have come from some of the schema that the Babylonians were doing. That’s also possible, I don’t know. But again, you know, there are so many cuneiform texts that are still to be translated in the British Museum and in other places—especially in the British Museum. You know, there may be stuff that we’re going to find that we don’t know about now, so yeah, it’s difficult to say. I don’t know where I fall on this debate that Hand brought up. I can see both arguments. I definitely see an evolution of things up until the Persian-period Egypt and then we have kind of a break there in the historical record. We don’t have much documented. And then we have all these horoscopic documents showing up in the 1st century CE.
CB: Right. And we know that there was a transmission taking place, and we even have names like Berossus, for example, who was supposed to be a Mesopotamian astrologer that moved to the Greek island of Kos and set up a school for astrology.
CB: And then we have names of two of his students so that we know there were people by the 3rd century BC or the 2nd century BC that are actively transmitting, you know, Babylonian astrology to the West.
MM: Right. Right.
CB: One of the issues is we don’t have handbooks.
CB: Neugebauer, in his collection, Greek Horoscopes, where they got together—in 1959, I think—all of the existing Greek horoscopes, one of the things that they pointed out is that most of the Greek horoscopes are just little scraps of paper written on papyrus, and they just list the signs of the zodiac that each of the seven planets are in. It lists the sign that the Ascendant is in, and at the end, it usually says something like, “Good luck,” and that’s it. And he points out that if we didn’t have the surviving handbooks on astrology by guys like Ptolemy or Vettius Valens or Firmicus Maternus that we wouldn’t really know how these charts were interpreted.
CB: And I feel like we’re in a similar case with the Babylonian tradition where we have a handful of, what is it, something like 20 surviving birth charts from the 5th century BC through the 1st century BC, but we don’t actually have the handbooks that tell us how they would have been interpreted.
MM: Right. Right. And I’m glad you brought that up because this is a really big deal. If you’ve ever seen clay tablets, they’re very small. I mean, they’re tiny. And it’s not like if you make a mistake, you’ve got another one lying around and you can just start writing on another clay tablet.
CB: Right. It’s like the size of a large domino, right?
MM: Yeah, it’s very small, like a two-by-two-inch thing. And they would write on both the front and the back. They even had little envelopes they’d put them in, which are also made out of clay. It’s kind of funny. But, you know, when you’re limited in what you’re writing, you’re gonna give primacy to data. You’re gonna give primacy to, you know, the sources that you need to reference in order to do this work. So you’re not gonna have any of the manuals, any of the handbooks. We actually do have a Babylonian manual that does give instructions, but it’s very early on and it’s for omens. It’s not for horoscopic. It’s not part of the Neo-Babylonian tradition. It’s early Babylonian, and it’s for omen deciphering.
CB: For other types of divination, you mean?
MM: Yeah, omen texts. And I think a similar thing could happen with papyrus as well. One of the interesting things is the Persian question as well. You know, when the Persians were in Babylon, they were there at a very critical time. They were there when all of these new developments—the creation of the zodiac as a coordinate system, Babylonian horoscopes—were going on. There are a lot of new developments happening around the Persian period. And the Babylonians are doing all this writing on clay tablets, but we don’t know what’s going on with the Persians. We don’t know if they’re actually doing any astrology. And this is true even across other fields.
There was a radio discussion a long time ago on this where some scholars got together and were talking about the lack of documentation for the Achaemenid period and what was going on there in general in all fields, not just astronomically. We don’t know if they were doing astrology. They could have been doing astrology. For all we know, they could have transmitted some of this stuff into Egypt. We know that they had really good roads. We know they invented a postal system. If they invented a postal system, they were certainly writing on something, but they didn’t use clay tablets. And it’s thought that they, from the Chinese, learned how to use paper, and paper didn’t last very well in Iraq, in Mesopotamia. So we don’t know. We don’t have records. That’s another huge hole in the historical record that, to me, is quite fascinating, but it’s there nonetheless.
MM: So that’s a big issue.
CB: One of the things that maybe would be good to ask you here is I always thought it was interesting that’s in the 5th century BCE—once the Middle East has been conquered by the Persians—that you have the appearance of natal astrology, whereas a couple of centuries earlier, in the 8th or 7th century BC, under the Assyrians or the Neo-Assyrians, you have the high point of state-supported mundane astrology essentially that’s being supported by the state. Whereas by the 5th century, you have the development of natal astrology in this sort of decentralization of astrology almost. And I was curious if anyone’s speculated whether that wasn’t a result of maybe the Persians not supporting astrology as much, or it not being state-supported so that it becomes this decentralized thing, or if there’s ever been speculation about why natal astrology comes about and if it wasn’t supported as it was a few centuries earlier.
MM: There’s some theories about that. We don’t really know. Campion thinks that the development of natal astrology did have a lot to do with the Persians, particularly because of their religion. Some have argued that this idea of malefics and benefics also is a Persian influence through the Zoroastrian tradition. We don’t know. A lot of that is speculation. We just don’t know. So we don’t have records one way or the other. We do know that the Persians were very tolerant religiously, so I can’t see them having any problem with astrology. I don’t know that they would have been interested at a state level the way the Assyrians were, for example. So we don’t know. Again, we don’t have any historical records from the Persian period, which would have given us huge insights into that.
CB: Sure. So one of the things, though, that we do have that’s interesting is just the knowledge that in the Mesopotamian tradition, for many centuries, there were generations of astrologers/astronomers and that some of that knowledge was passed down as part of like generations within families and stuff, right?
MM: Yeah. Yeah. Mm-hmm. That’s true, yeah.
CB: So we have partially a written tradition, but then, presumably, also an oral tradition that’s taking place, that’s being passed from, you know, teacher to student, or from father to son, or to whoever for generations that’s developing over the centuries as well. Even though we don’t have a lot of handbooks on Mesopotamian astrology, presumably, there was an increasing development of complexity involving some of the interpretative techniques and doctrines surrounding astrology.
MM: What we do have are letters from scholars to the kings. And we have a lot of communications, especially during the Neo-Assyrian period, because the Assyrians were really into state-sponsored astrology just because they had an interest in it. There’s a really interesting history with the Sargonid dynasty regarding astrology. What one of the earlier kings in the dynasty did in Babylon, he really sacked the city and destroyed it completely. And there was a very tense relationship between the Assyrians and the Babylonians in the Neo-Assyrian period, and there were a lot of uprisings between the Babylonians and the Assyrians. And so, because of that, and also because of the imperialistic nature of the Assyrian kingdom, they had a vested interest.
And you have to keep this in the framework of their religion because the worst thing you could do as a leader is to destroy a city the way they did to Babylon, and there is a precedent for that even in the Babylonian tradition. And if you do that, the gods are gonna be really super pissed at you, and it will affect your whole dynasty. It affects your reign, your children’s reign, and their children’s reign, so you have to atone for that. So they had a vested interest in keeping the astrology alive and in atoning for what that king had done. And so, you see his children—his son especially—and this is part of the reason and thanks to that probably that Ashurbanipal’s library survived. He was hugely interested in astrology partly because of that history, that family history that he had, so he had an interest in keeping the gods happy.
That’s a fascinating aspect. That, to me, is the most interesting aspect of all of this—that period in the Assyrian tradition because all of this documentation that we have from Ashurbanipal’s library—a lot of it’s communications to the king from his Babylonian scholars. So what you have is it’s state-sponsored, but it’s not even with your own people. It’s with the occupiers of your land. The Babylonians are doing all of this astrology to keep the Assyrian rulers happy. So you have this back-and-forth of communication going on between the Babylonian scholars and the Assyrian kings, which is really fascinating. Some of these letters—they’re really quite funny, some of them.
CB: Yeah, Pingree said that there were 10 different colleges of astrologers—from all around Mesopotamia—that were sending in letters to the king or reports to the king about their astronomical observations and their astrological interpretations. Is that what you were talking about?
MM: Yeah. Yeah, that’s it. Simo Parpola has collected a lot of these as well. So I have a lot of that. I have, you know, huge stacks of those. It’s all omens pertaining to the king and to his land and to, you know, what’s happening to not only his kingdom, but his enemies—you know, whether the gods look favorably upon his enemies or him.
CB: Or the appearance of things like eclipses and things like that.
MM: Exactly. And there’s a whole geographical component to their astrology, which is quite fascinating. And I’ve spoken on this before ‘cause I wrote my thesis on it. My personal belief—and I have no proof of this except in looking at the culture itself—you know, you were talking about this idea of the meanings of the houses. You were at my talk at UAC, so you know what I’m talking about. But this idea that you have these meanings that are derived from the houses derived from the Ascendant, my personal opinion—and I don’t have proof of this ‘cause I don’t have documentation to back this up except the cultural stuff—what I find is a lot of references to place locations that coincide with the directions of the locations of places if you were to center a chart at Babylon.
So if you were to center a chart at Babylon, for example, and you were looking at the northwest, you would find Israel there or Palestine, and you would find associations with slavery, for example. And we know that the people from that region were taken in as slaves into Babylon. And actually before that even we have a lot of migrants that became slaves because they came from the Syrian region in the west. So these place associations with locations seem to have a lot of coincident themes with the places that we have now in the Hellenistic astrology. And I don’t think those are coincidences. Some of those are quite, you know, striking.
CB: Yeah. So the thesis of your talk basically was that you pointed out that there were some compelling instances, especially the way that the signs were being described was evocative of some of the significations of the 12 houses in the Hellenistic tradition. And you argued that this might imply that the house meanings did exist prior to the Hellenistic tradition.
MM: Not just the signs. The way they envisioned the signs is tied to the calendar. And so, because the calendar months are tied to movement of the Sun, the Sun’s movement through certain parts of the world in these particular months is going to have an impact on a particular place. So those places—that’s what I mean by ‘place’, not the sign itself. Although the constellations that rise during those months also have a bearing. So this is not tied to the zodiac at all. It actually could pre-date any type of zodiac system because it’s tied to the rising of the constellations, which is tied to the months. And the months are tied to the movement of the Sun over certain geographical regions.
So that coincidence with certain locations and certain associations in the cultic calendars, and in those places themselves, is very interesting. And you see that in some of the literature, you see that in some of the omens. For example, let me give you an example—and this is pertinent to the Hellenistic system. In Geminos, we see associations with months and winds—or signs and winds, right, and the locations of those winds. Because before the triplicities are associated with elements, they’re associated with winds—north, south, east, west—right?
MM: And you have triplicities, and Ptolemy documents this as well. You have triplicities that are associated with certain winds. So the ‘fire’ triplicity is associated with the north wind, the ‘earth’ triplicity with the south wind. And when I was looking at this, what you have is the same exact thing in a tablet that Rochberg translated, which is BM 36746. That dates back to the 5th century BC. So that tablet has the exact same kind of thing. So when I looked up that tablet—and she mentions Geminos in that translation, and she mentions the same association with the signs—and I looked at it, I looked up the associations with the particular winds.
And just knowing from the cultural references what deities would have been associated with these locations—so the north, the south, the east and west—knowing their mindset I know that the north would have been associated with Babylon, and Babylon would have been associated with Marduk. So Jupiter would have been the lord of that region. The south would have been associated with Elam, and that would have been associated with Venus. The west would have been associated with the Amurru. That would have been associated with Mars. The east, with Subartu, and that would have been associated with Saturn. So just knowing that, and knowing that, okay, here are the planets I would give to these locations.
And then I happened to look back in Ptolemy—and I hadn’t looked at Ptolemy before I looked at Geminos—and he gives those exact planets to these locations. So what that told me when I saw that was that the association of these particular planets with these winds and with these climata and with these corresponding signs is not a Greek thing. Those particular planets, those initial planets that he mentioned—now he adds others, two others, right? But those particular planets—the first ones that are associated with those climata—those come from the Babylonian tradition.
So the question is where did the other ones come from because then you have two other ones. You have the day, the night, and the cooperating.
MM: And an interesting thing is that the way we learned it, in the Hellenistic tradition, that night/day distinction in the triplicities has to do with the daily rotation, right? The daily movement. The night/day cycle, right?
MM: But if you’re actually to take it at its origin, and if you read Geminos and you read Ptolemy, and you see that they’re tied to the climata, they would not be tied to the day/night cycle. They would be tied to the solar cycle over the course of the year, where the Sun spends more time with the longer days and has other months where the nights are longer. And then you have the ‘cooperating’ months where the months are equal. Night and day are equal in length. And that’s completely consistent with the Babylonian concern for length of day and night, which they were very concerned about and had methods for calculating. So they’re watching those seasonal hours and that’s what leads to their ascensional times.
So, you know, you could argue this idea of sect that we find in the Hellenistic literature has a precedent there in the Babylonian system too, only it’s not tied to the diurnal cycle. It’s tied to the annual cycle of the Sun. And you see this even in the omen literature before the zodiac is even invented. You see it tied to the months. Because even in the first millennium Enuma Anu Enlil omens, this same pattern appears there and it’s well-documented.
CB: One of the issues with the triplicities in the Hellenistic tradition, though, in terms of figuring out where it came from is the weird way that the Dorothean triplicity rulers seem to also be tied into the domicile assignments, so that certain planets that have more dignity by domicile or exaltation in certain signs seem to then be assigned to those triplicities. There almost seems to be this other theoretical or abstract component that’s being taken into account in order to arrive at the triplicity rulers in the first place. So that becomes one of those issues of this question where, you know, if it has this abstract rationale then does that mean that, you know, somebody just came up with it or invented it at some point?
MM: And is that domicile link tied to the initial rulers that are the first set of rulers, or is it only tied to the second and third set of rulers? Do you know?
CB: It’s the first and second, and to a lesser extent, the third.
MM: That’s interesting. Yeah, I don’t know.
CB: And so, for our listeners, just to explain that—so for example, the Sun is said to be the primary triplicity ruler of the fire triplicity of signs and Jupiter is the secondary ruler of the fire triplicity. Well, the Sun is the primary ruler primarily because it has its domicile in Leo, which is a fire sign, and then it’s exalted Aries, which is also a fire sign. So that means it gets two points, and therefore, it becomes the primary ruler.
CB: Then you look at Jupiter, and Jupiter also has its domicile in one of the fire signs, which is Sagittarius, so that means it gets a point. Therefore the Sun and Jupiter both get assigned to the fire triplicity. And that sort of logic follows through with most of the rest of the assignments, so that it implies that they were partially derived after the domicile assignments had already been introduced by somebody.
CB: And then the domicile assignments themselves are obviously more of an abstract—or seem like more of an abstract system where you’re assigning the Sun and the Moon to the two signs by the summer solstice to Cancer and Leo, and then the rest of the signs flanking out from there.
MM: Well, that’s interesting because the first signs of each triplicity, those are the ones most tied to the planets that are associated with those quadrants in the Babylonian system. So Aries was always tied to Marduk, and it was always tied to Akkad and to the north. Taurus was always tied to Elam, and it was always tied to the south. Gemini, to a lesser extent, the west is always tied to Amurru. And Amurru is always linked to Mars because Mars is a western god. He’s actually an alien god in their tradition, in the Babylonian tradition. And then to Cancer and the east. The east and west—what we call in traditional astrology the water and air triplicity—back then would have been the Amurru and Subartu regions and winds. So west and east.
CB: Okay. And that would be air and water, you said?
MM: Yeah, air and water. So Gemini and Cancer. Those sometimes get switched around in the tradition. Sometimes one is Saturn and one is Mars, sometimes the other way around. But it’s interesting. I think it’s in Geminos—no, it’s not in Geminos. It’s in Ptolemy where he assigns Saturn and Mercury to the air interchangeably. Like he lists one main one for each. But for that one, there seems to be some kind of dual thing going on. And that’s interesting too, because there was a paper written about the mythology of Ninurta and Nabu, which is Mercury. So those two deities have an interesting relationship to each other over the course of the history where one was initially the scribe. Ninurta in the old times was the scribal god. All of the things associated with him were of the scribal tradition, but he’s a much older god.
And then as the Babylonian tradition took over, Nabu, which is Mercury, got a much stronger role in the pantheon and then took over some of those characteristics that Ninurta used to have, and he became the scribal god. So it kind of is interesting to see that those two deities assigned to that particular region in Ptolemy because they’re the exact two deities that would have taken over each other’s roles. One would have taken the other’s role in the Babylonian tradition. So you see all of these kinds of things fit that are quite fascinating, but then you see other elements that are placed on top.
So Aries being associated with Marduk and Jupiter is something that’s not through the domicile—but Taurus and Venus certainly is, and Gemini and Mercury certainly is. Cancer is interesting because it’s tied to the Moon, and in the Babylonian tradition it would have been tied to Ninurta. So I don’t know that there’s a domicile pattern there. I don’t think there is. Not in all of them, but there is in some of them. In Taurus, at least, and Gemini there is.
CB: So you’re saying that in some of the triplicity assignments there would be like an earlier Babylonian precedent in terms of the gods and those pre-existing associations, whereas in other triplicity assignments there wouldn’t necessarily be.
MM: Yeah. Yeah. So that early triplicity—the one that Ptolemy mentions as the primal lord—he then mentions two other cooperating lords, two other lesser lords. But the first one he mentions—which I guess is the ‘day’ lord…
MM: …seems to be consistent with the Babylonian assignment for these regions.
CB: Okay. And then there was the paper I wrote also which might tie into this in terms of showing how the triplicity rulers were connected with the ‘joys’.
CB: And the ‘joys’ themselves seem to group certain triplicity rulers with either the rising sign in that quadrant or the Midheaven or the setting area, the Descendant area, or the anti-culminating area.
MM: Yeah. If you read, for example, Gilgamesh, the way I read it, I read that as an astrological story because it’s a story divided into 12 tablets. And if you read each tablet as a house, and you know the associations associated with each of those houses being implied by the story—you see the themes being implied by the story—and you know the cultural background behind the assignment of those themes, you can very clearly see why some of the ‘joys’ are where they are. For example, you can totally see why Saturn has its joy in the 12th, absolutely. You can see why Venus would have its joy in the 5th. You can see why, for example, the Sun would have its joy in the 9th. You can see them if you use the place associations. It’s very obvious. The domiciles, you know, it’s still kind of a big question mark to me, the domiciles. I think Holden mentions that they do originate in Babylon. I haven’t really seen a whole lot written on the domiciles, and I don’t know if you have run into any of that in Babylonian tradition.
CB: No. I mean, that’s one of the big things that I think we don’t have evidence for that does show up in the Hellenistic tradition. That’s one of the big dividing lines…
CB: …as far as I’m concerned between Hellenistic astrology and the Babylonian tradition, the introduction of the domicile assignments.
MM: Yeah, it’s kind of strange because I thought I had read years ago—I haven’t read Holden in a long time. But back when I was at Kepler, I thought Holden had argued that the domiciles were originally Babylonian, but I don’t know where he got that. Do you have Holden in front of you? I don’t have it in front of me.
CB: I mean, I do. He says that about the exaltations, but I don’t think he says that about the domiciles necessarily.
MM: Maybe I’m misremembering. I thought he said it about the domiciles. He said ‘possibly’ also the domiciles, but maybe I’m misremembering. But I certainly don’t see it in the literature. I haven’t come across any of it.
CB: Right, and that’s one of the big things. Maybe as we get towards the end of this discussion the sticking point is two issues. One is the sort of schematic, almost systematic nature of some of the Hellenistic techniques where some of them are a little bit too neat and fit into each other a little bit too well. And I think this is where some of the people like Holden or Schmidt say that it’s a little bit too neat so that it looks like somebody came up with it, or developed it so that it would fit together rather than these different techniques that were developed by different people at different points of time that just happen to fit really well together in this nice way.
So that’s one issue, the schematization that occurs in Hellenistic astrology that raises the question about invention. And then the other issue that becomes a point of debate that Hand and Campion try to argue from different access points is they try to argue that there was great diversity in the Hellenistic tradition and that this argues against sudden invention, whereas the ‘sudden invention’ people like Schmidt, for example, try to argue that there was a ton of coherency and unity in the Hellenistic tradition…
CB: …and this becomes one of the big debates as well. From my perspective, I think both sides really take their arguments way too far. The people that argue for a lack of coherency for diversity in the Hellenistic tradition just go way too far. And so, for example, Campion makes this opening statement in his chapter on Hellenistic astrology, and he also closes with it, where he says: The only thing that the Greek texts have in common in the Hellenistic tradition is that they’re written in Greek. And that’s just such an over-the-top statement because he’s basically alleging that either from a technical standpoint or from a philosophical standpoint—and he emphasizes the philosophical or religious standpoint that they have no commonality. And that’s, I don’t think, true. I don’t think that can be defended when put or phrased in that extreme way.
But then on the other hand of the spectrum, you have the ‘sudden invention’ people—of which Schmidt is probably the most extreme version—who argue that the entire thing was this complete system that was completely put together by a single person or something very early on as this sort of rational construct that had a fully worked out, both technical system, as well as a deliberate technical terminology, as well as a fully coherent philosophy that was partially inspired by Platonism.
CB: And that also seems to go too far and sometimes leads him into creating a system or sometimes inferring or reading between the lines in the text and coming up with things that may not have ever actually been in those texts…
CB: …as a result of trying to sort of read between the lines.
MM: Yeah, I’m a little wary of the ‘schematization’ argument. Although I wouldn’t, you know, rule out—I mean, the Babylonians were doing schemes all the time with these things. But it’s very easy after the fact—I do this all the time. I mean, we even in modern astrology do this all the time. We come up with nice philosophical reasons why things are there, and we, you know, make them fit nicely into a scheme. And then they look great, you know, and they function and then we totally believe in that. It’s too easy to do that. So while that’s okay to have a scheme that explains something, and it’s nice, from a practical standpoint it’s really helpful because we have some way of organizing the work and knowing why it is we’re doing what we’re doing. There’s a philosophical structure behind it. But, you know, here’s a good example. I’ll bring up the example of my own work with grammar.
I do this work with grammar that is based on Aristotelian linguistics, and it’s based on the theory of matter and form as Aristotle understood it, and it works really well in the astrology. But I’m not arguing that that’s what they were doing, although I see it works really well, and I see that there’s a consistency there in the linguistic approach that I’m using. And I have no problems explaining it to people and telling them, and I use it reliably in my work. I will not argue that it was there in the beginning, that it was invented that way because I have no proof of that. I have absolutely no shred of evidence for that.
So it’s too easy to do that. You know, I would be careful when things fit a little bit too well. It’s not enough. It’s not proof that that was intentional. It’s just like, you know, interpreting a literary text. If you read Moby Dick, or even, you know, the people who watch Game of Thrones, if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you have, you know, all of these characters, and you come up with these huge theories about what’s going on and what the author intended and didn’t intend. And then you go ask George Martin, and he says, “No, I didn’t intend that at all. That’s not what I was going for at all.”
MM: So, you know, it’s really easy to do that. So I wouldn’t, you know, get too enamored of some of those explanations, whereas if you do see an explanation and you have documental, historical evidence that certain authors were intending to do that, that’s different.
CB: And to give an example of that that we were talking about recently, we have the exaltations scheme. And this has been one that’s troubled me for a while, and you actually helped clarify a piece of this for me recently. One of the things that, for example, Porphyry says in the 3rd or 4th century, in the Introduction to Ptolemy, he points out that the signs that each of the traditional planets have their exaltations in, all of the diurnal planets have their exaltation in a sign that’s trine to one of their domiciles, whereas all of the nocturnal planets have their exaltation in one of the signs that’s sextile to one of their domiciles.
CB: And if you look at this and apply it to the scheme it actually works out perfectly and is perfectly consistent. And so, that’s always been problematic for me looking at this from a historical standpoint because then the question is, you know, what does that mean? Was that schematization there in place already whenever this concept of exaltations was developed, or is this a later rationalization that just happens to be true after the fact?
CB: It seems weird or it seems more unlikely that it would have developed after the fact because it’s a little bit too clean.
CB: But at the same time we seem to have evidence for the exaltations from the earlier Mesopotamian tradition.
CB: But it raises this question—that thing that Porphyry’s pointing out, it incorporates the concept of planetary domiciles, the exaltations, the aspects, and the concept of sect.
CB: So does that mean that those concepts existed in the earlier tradition? Does that mean that those concepts were patterned around the exaltations in the Hellenistic tradition after the fact, or what does that imply?
MM: Right. And it’s—who is it? The Mulapin. It’s in the Mulapin commentary. There’s an explanation there for a possible theory for the exaltations that have to do with the seasonal risings of certain planets in certain signs at the turning of each season. And, you know, that’s a theory, and they may have been, you know, devised that way. Maybe those planets rise in those signs, in those particular seasons. And then it may be that as a consequence—let’s say that that’s true. We don’t know if it is. It’s just a theory.
But if it’s true that the Babylonians assigned the exaltations based on where they appeared in those particular times then it could be an astronomical coincidence or a geometrical coincidence that those aspects are being formed. Do you know what I mean? That those aspects that you said—those relationships between the trine and sextile aspects—to the exaltation signs happen…
MM: …as a consequence of that. So it could be a byproduct of that. I’m not saying, you know, that’s the case, but that can easily happen. And it may have been unknown at the time. Do you know what I’m saying? It could have been that they assigned it because of this reason, but then as a consequence this other geometrical pattern also emerges from that assignment.
CB: Sure. And that becomes basically the point of debate, I guess. Just ‘cause it would be a pretty wild coincidence—it’s definitely possible that it was a coincidence—but it also is so consistent that some people then think it seems unlikely, and therefore, think that it must indicate a later invention that was deliberate because it all fits together too nicely. So that’s where you get different people coming to different conclusions about it, I guess.
MM: But that happens all the time, especially in geometry. In geometry, I mean, you have patterns. You know, you have a mathematician discover a certain algorithm or a certain equation from, you know, a geometric pattern, and then they figure out, “Oh, look, there’s this other pattern (this other law, this other equation) that also exists here that we didn’t know about.” You know, it’s not too much of a coincidence. I mean, it can happen. It happens a lot in mathematics.
MM: Especially when you’re dealing with geometry and astronomy that happens a lot.
CB: I guess the issue is just that it becomes increasingly unlikely…
CB: …the more that adds up ‘cause there’s other things you could add on top of that.
CB: Like, for example, Schmidt’s observation that if you take the Thema Mundi and superimpose the exaltations on it that all of the exalted planets are configured to the rising sign by a major aspect, which could be a coincidence, or it could be kind of a weird, deliberate thing or a systemization. Or you take some of the other weird things that show up in the ‘joys’ that tie in the concept of aspects and triplicity rulers that might be the rationale for the assignment of the elements of earth, air, fire, and water to the signs of the zodiac. It’s when you start compounding all of these different things together, that’s where the people who think it was a sudden invention start getting that idea from because they see not just one concept that seems a little bit clean, but you see a whole collection of concepts sort of clustered together that seem to be interwoven in this very weird way.
MM: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, that’s true that does happen. And you’re right. It’s a compelling argument when you start compounding things like that. And I don’t know. I don’t know. And that could happen even if it wasn’t sudden. I think it can happen even if it isn’t a sudden invention. I mean, you can have developments that compound over time because the system just works that way. Maybe I’m going out on a limb in saying that. I don’t know.
CB: Sure. I guess there’s different arguments. I mean, ‘cause the thing that Pingree says—one of his points for the ‘sudden invention’ argument—his viewpoint as an academic is that astrology doesn’t work in the first place…
CB: …and that it’s not a legitimate thing. It’s not a legitimate explanation of reality.
CB: Therefore, the fact that some of these complex doctrines are showing up in different cultures—like in Greece and India—implies that they were transmitted there…
CB: …and not that these cultures were developing the same exact doctrines independently. That’s not possible because they’re false doctrines.
CB: And so, that becomes kind of his rationale for the transmission of astrology as well. You know, this thing is so weird that it must have been transmitted from one culture to another ‘cause they couldn’t have developed it independently.
CB: Which, you know, some astrologers might object to, but then on the other hand, it’s true that it’s kind of weird. And so, sometimes when you do have cultures that are completely independent, they oftentimes develop astrologies that are different from one another rather than being the exact same thing. So it’s not necessarily, even from an astrologer’s perspective, a terrible argument to make.
MM: Yeah. Yeah. Go ahead.
CB: So just really quickly, earlier, there was an author I couldn’t remember, and his name was Hypsocles, who wrote the work on ascensions around the 2nd century. And one of the arguments is that the publication of this work would have made it much easier to quickly and accurately calculate the ascensional times.
CB: That it’s coincidental that it’s not long after the publication of this work that we have the probable publication of the works of Nechepso and Petosiris and other astrologers who then start talking about horoscopic astrology and start using houses and assigning significations to each of the 12 houses.
MM: Okay. I did run into that name today when I was looking over this material. I don’t remember where I saw it, but yeah, I did see that reference.
CB: And then the other reference that I just remember was, earlier, when you were talking about how some of the letters from the Babylonian astrologers to the kings at the time were kind of funny. One of the books that outlined some of those stories really well, I thought, was Michael Baigent’s book, From the Omens of Babylon. And I just wanted to mention that because I just noticed recently that somebody bought it and it was recently republished. So it was actually out of circulation for a long time and hard to get, but now it’s available again.
MM: Oh, okay.
CB: Did you like that book? Or would you recommend that book?
MM: Yeah, I liked it. I liked reading the actual letters themselves. There’s obviously a lot more of them there. Yeah, they’re really hilarious, but they’re harder to get. But yeah, it’s a good book. I recommend it. But I’m glad it’s back in print. I didn’t know it was out of print.
CB: Sure. All right, well, I think we’re starting to get towards the end of this. So I think just to sort of wrap this up or conclude, I think everyone’s in agreement that there was a long tradition of astrology in Mesopotamia and Egypt and that it was getting increasingly complex for hundreds of years prior to the Hellenistic tradition. And then there’s also general agreement that there was a transmission of Babylonian astrology to the Greek language and that this formed the basis of the doctrines that came later. There’s just this question over what happened in the two or three centuries…
CB: …immediately before the appearance of Hellenistic astrology, or even the first century when we know it was being practiced, but we just don’t happen to have any surviving texts from that time period.
CB: What was happening? And how did it seem to come out as this sort of full-blown system with planets and signs and houses and aspects by the 1st century CE?
CB: And the question is whether that represents an invention or whether it represents a gradual development that we simply can’t document because of the loss of so many source texts.
MM: Right. And we also have to keep in mind that this is the period when a lot of the Platonic and Aristotelian and subsequent philosophies were being developed. So from the, you know, 5th century BC to about the Hellenistic period—the later Ptolemaic period, and even into the 1st century—you have a lot of philosophical development there. You know, I’m not talking just about the astronomy, I’m talking about the actual principles that would have allowed for some of these ideas to take shape.
Some of what you were saying—the more coherent, philosophical ideas that sort of, you know, give the system some philosophical weight, I think. That was happening right before the explosion of these texts that came out. And so, you know, I have no problem in thinking that that had some bearing on what was being developed at the time when all of this philosophical fervor was going on. It’s gonna have an impact on the astronomy and the astrology that’s going on at the time.
CB: Definitely. Yeah, we get ideas of celestial influence from Aristotle. We get the Timaeus. And we get ‘The Myth of Er’ in the Republic from Plato and the idea of souls sort of picking their lives ahead of time prior to incarnation. And then we get—which I think becomes really important in what historians call the Hellenistic period—Stoicism, and ideas about fate and predetermination becoming very widespread, as well as acceptance of divination.
MM: And the association of elements to the triplicities, for example. I mean, even the technical stuff like that. All of the stuff you find in Ptolemy about the temperaments and the qualities associated with the elements, that has a huge bearing on the astrology of the time. It’s not as present in some of the other Hellenistic astrologers, but it’s certainly part of Ptolemy. And, you know, the notion of form and matter, I think, would have influenced how a chart was read. It certainly does in my work. So I don’t know. But I would think if they’re using some of Aristotle, they would have used a lot of Aristotle.
CB: Yeah, and that becomes this whole thing just in and of itself in terms of different Greek philosophical schools in the Greco-Roman period and different astrologers adhering to them. And one of the things that’s funny to me is just different Greco-Roman astrologers using certain techniques or choosing not to use certain techniques due to their philosophical allegiances. And I actually think Ptolemy is somebody that was probably aware of in the 2nd century CE the assignment of the four classical elements of earth, air, fire, and water to the signs of the zodiac that some astrologers were using, like Valens.
CB: But he chose not to use them because he was more inclined towards an Aristotelian philosophical model, which was not compatible with the scheme that somebody had come up with for assigning the signs of the zodiac to the elements, which was based on more of a Stoic model that opposed fire and air, and then water and earth, and the qualities associated with them. So that becomes an interesting sort of thing as well in terms of how Greek philosophy influenced technical doctrines and how different astrologers adopted techniques or didn’t adopt techniques based on that.
MM: Right. I mean, I think it’s a completely different animal from what you see a few centuries before obviously. And again, I mean, it’s the question. I don’t know. 300 years is a long time. So I don’t think it had to be a sudden invention. I mean, it could have been something that developed over those 300 years in a methodical way by a lot of these scholars that were working on it at the time.
CB: Sure. Yeah, I mean, to the extent that there may have been any sudden inventions, I would think that it would be very similar to things that have happened in the past century in astrology. Sometimes you’ll get somebody that comes up with a technique or a new idea…
CB: …and then they write a book about it and publish it, and then they have students or they have people that go out and use the technique. And then sometimes you have people that do a variation of that technique, or they do sort of like a spinoff of that technique that turns into something else. And one of the things that’s funny is that sometimes these astrological techniques are based on misunderstandings of the source texts that the person is reading.
CB: So for example, in the 1940s, Ebertin says that the concept of midpoints comes from Bonatti. But nobody that reads Bonatti these days can find where he ever mentions midpoints, so it’s sometimes thought to be or it may have been like a misunderstanding of the doctrine of Arabic parts.
CB: Whatever it was, you get this school of astrologers in Germany using the midpoint doctrine. And then a few decades later, you get people like John Townley introducing the concept of composite charts.
CB: So creating a relationship chart that’s based on the midpoints between two birth charts.
MM: Right. Right.
CB: So that would be an example of both a sudden invention and a gradual development taking place over the course of a few decades.
CB: And that could be the analogy of what may have occurred in the Hellenistic period, in the first few centuries before this thing sort of burst onto the scene.
MM: Right. And we actually have a clearer understanding of something like that even in the transition between Hellenistic and Arabic astrology. I mean, if you read Abu Ma’shar, you see a lot of the Hellenistic material in there, but then you also see other material coming in that isn’t Hellenistic and it’s all being sort of integrated into a coherent system in the Islamic world that is innovative and new. So you could have had something like that happening—I have no problem—and that could have happened in a short amount of time. It certainly did during the Islamic period. You know, in just a few years, they were translating all of that material and working out new systems that integrate Indian techniques with Persian techniques, with Hellenistic techniques, so yeah.
CB: Yeah, I mean, that seems to be the recurring theme throughout the history of astrology for three or four thousand years—this threefold thing that happens every few hundred years of transmission of older doctrines and techniques, synthesis of those doctrines and techniques with whatever the prevailing paradigm is at the time, and then innovation of some sort at that point either based on new things that are coming in, or based on readings or selective or sometimes even misunderstandings of what they’ve inherited, or just based on changes that come as a result of astrology going from one language to another. That was a point that Pingree made that every time astrology is transmitted to a new language, it changes in some way.
MM: Right. Right.
CB: And some things are added and some things are lost.
MM: Yeah, and that makes sense. So the transition between Babylon, Egypt, and Egypt and Greece, I mean, that makes total sense. Why wouldn’t it have happened that way as well?
CB: Sure. And that’s usually where I try to come down on this argument, somewhere in the middle, that it really was probably a little bit of both. That there was definitely a gradual development, and there was probably even more of a gradual development of techniques that we can’t see in the late Babylonian tradition that probably were there…
CB: …that we don’t have evidence for or that we might still find at some point, so there was probably more of a gradual development. And also, Hellenistic astrology, even to the extent that it looks systematic after the fact, there was still a lot more diversity probably in the foundational period of Hellenistic astrology—whatever that consisted of—than some people might think.
MM: Exactly. Right. Because when you’re in that transition period and you’re experimenting and innovating, it’s not going to look consistent or coherent. You’re gonna have the coherency coming later perhaps when authors are more settled in what they’ve worked on and they start practicing and using it, and it’s become more of a defined system. But I think in the early years where they’re experimenting with all of this—it’s a good historical example to use the Islamic astrology because you can see it more clearly there. You can see what they were doing. You can see it documented, so you know exactly where the influences were coming from and what’s being synthesized. And you see it then in Medieval Europe. You see it being solidified and becoming more coherent and consistent there.
CB: Right. Because they’ve got the sources and they’re sort of putting them together and then melding them together in a sense.
CB: Yeah, and you have that even with the supposed foundational texts in the Hellenistic tradition if it’s true that this early text attributed to Hermes was one of the earliest texts on the significations of the houses and it gives a set of significations for the houses, and then you have this other text that was attributed to Asclepius that gives significations for the first 8 houses. One of the things that’s interesting is that the Hermes text says that the 7th house signifies death, whereas the Asclepius text says that the 8th house signifies death. So these two early source texts are in disagreement about where to assign the signification of death.
And what happens in the later authors—like Valens, and to a lesser extent, Ptolemy—is that they merge those two separate texts together, and they keep elements of one and they get rid of elements of the other. So what happened is that by the time you get to Valens, they start getting rid of the 7th house association with death, giving it only to the 8th house. So they for that signification go with the Asclepius text for whatever reason, whereas in other areas, they stick with the Hermes text for other significations of certain houses.
MM: That’s interesting, yeah. I’d like to see those texts. Can you send me the reference? Do you have a copy of them? Or just send me the reference and I’ll look them up. ‘Cause, you know, I’m interested in the house meanings evolving over time.
CB: Sure. Yeah, I have a document for it, so I can send that to you.
CB: All right, well, I’m working on this chapter of my book right now, which is on the origins of Hellenistic astrology as a chapter and then just the subsequent practice of Hellenistic astrology, so that’s why I wanted to have this discussion. And I think we were able to cover a lot of ground with it, and it’s definitely given me some food for thought as I continue working on this through the next few weeks. Yeah, so thanks for joining me.
MM: Yeah, no problem. It was a pleasure. And yeah, good luck on the book. You know, I want to read it when it’s done. Let me know.
CB: Definitely. And where can people find out more about your work?
MM: I have a website. And people who want to take my courses can just go to LincosAstrology.com. So it’s Lincos, L-I-N-C-O-S, Astrology.com.
CB: Okay. Excellent. So you’re doing private instruction with people through your website?
MM: Yeah. Yeah, just mostly, you know, whoever wants to do the grammatical work. That’s mostly what I’m focusing on these days.
CB: All right, well, thanks for coming on the show. And I’ll definitely have to have you back again some other time.
MM: Okay, great. Thanks for having me.
CB: All right, well, thanks everyone for listening, and we’ll see you next time.