The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 62, titled:
The Lives and the Works of the Hellenistic Astrologers
With Chris Brennan
Episode originally released on January 27, 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Transcribed by Andrea Johnson
Transcription released March 3rd, 2021
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CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. I’m recording this episode on Tuesday, January 26, 2016, starting at approximately 3:15 PM, in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 62nd episode of the show. For more information on 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 theastrologypodcast.com/subscribe. Today, I’m going to be talking about the lives and works of some of the major astrologers of the Hellenistic astrological tradition, so let’s go ahead and get started.
All right, so this is going to be a solo show. This is one of the episodes that I said that I was going to start last month, which is basically a series checking in and documenting my process as I’m writing this book on Hellenistic astrology, which is essentially the origins of what most people consider to be Western astrology, to the extent that Western astrology consists of the ‘fourfold system’ that uses the planets, the signs of the zodiac, the houses, and the doctrine of aspects. So that originated somewhere in the Hellenistic period, so that’s the type of astrology that I’m writing about.
As I’ve talked about in previous episodes, I’ve recently been trying to define Hellenistic astrology and be very clear about what time-frame I’m talking about and what cultures I’m talking about when I’m using the phrase ‘Hellenistic astrology’, which is kind of an imperfect phrase or imperfect designation in some sense. And I’m still struggling with that a little bit because the other alternative that I could call it that’s somewhat appealing is ‘Greco-Roman astrology’, which is a little bit more inclusive or a little bit more descriptive about the actual time-frame that we’re talking about, which is from approximately the 2nd century BC until approximately the 7th century CE; so from what is essentially the beginnings of what became the Roman Empire to what is essentially the downfall of the Western Roman Empire and the onset of the Middle Ages.
So I’ve been working on the book for the past month. I’m about at the end of my first month of just writing full-time. I’m happy to report that it’s going extremely well. I’ve primarily been working on the history sections of the book, which I’ve ended up expanding pretty significantly. Initially, I was trying to write more of a shorter treatment of it, but then there were so many things that I wanted to touch upon and I felt like I needed to touch upon, that I’ve expanded it back into something larger and something more comprehensive. But I feel like I’m in a better position to do that than I felt a few years ago, when I felt like I needed to scale it back a lot.
I realized dealing with the history as much as do in this book might be kind of off-putting to some people in the astrological community that either aren’t interested in that or don’t have that background, but I think it’s important in terms of framing the topic and in terms of framing the tradition of astrology that I’m talking about, and documenting not just how it was practiced–which is definitely something I’m going to be dealing with in the greater part of what is essentially the second-half of the book, or the other three-quarters perhaps of the book. But I think it’s important to deal with the history because that gives you some idea of where Western astrology came from and some of the questions and some of the controversy surrounding that.
In the last episode, of course, that was our primary focus, where Maria Mateus and I primarily talked about the debate surrounding the origins of Hellenistic astrology and whether it came about as a result of a sudden invention, or whether it represents a gradual development or a gradual evolution that we’re missing some important evidence for in terms of the transition between the Mesopotamian and Hellenistic astrological traditions, around the 2nd century BC.
I’ve been working on the history section, and I’ve been working on another section that I just finished. I just finished an entire chapter that I have dedicated towards talking about each of the major surviving sources for Hellenistic astrology–so the handbooks, the written handbooks of the Hellenistic astrologers themselves who lived between the 2nd century BC and the 7th century CE. Because I just wrote that chapter, it’s really fresh in my mind, so I’d like to go through it and talk about some of these astrologers and talk about their surviving works and contributions, but also talk a little bit about their lives and who they were as people and some of their stories.
As modern people living in the early 21st century, it’s very easy to think about somebody who lived 2,000 years ago and to have this sort of caricature of things being so different back then that there’s no way to relate to something that is that old. But one of the things that was really fascinating to me when I first started studying Hellenistic astrology at Kepler College is that when you start reading the texts of some of these ancient astrologers and these ancient writers, you realize that life was not so different back then from what it is today, that many of the fundamentals of life are still the same.
Especially when you read some of the astrologers and their texts, immediately, it starts to humanize them because you can see that these were real people that lived lives that were not that different from some of the lives that we lead, and oftentimes, were motivated, at least in terms of being practicing astrologers or being people that were interested in astrology. Oftentimes, some of the things that motivated them or that they were interested in or focused on are very similar to the things that astrologers today are often motivated by or focused on.
Just to list a few examples off the top of my head, some of the astrologers, for example, would include their own birth charts in their surviving works, so we have at least two or three examples of this. Vettius Valens, in the 2nd century, probably includes his birth chart in his works and uses it six or seven different times as a chart example, including this one time that he was on a ship. He was on a boat, and the boat crashed into some rocks and he was in a shipwreck. What’s funny about that is not just that he uses his own chart as an example to explain why he was in danger or why he was in a shipwreck at that point in time in his life, but he also uses the chart examples of other several other people that were also on the boat at the same time. Evidently, he had their birth charts and their birth data–presumably because he knew them, or perhaps they were either friends or family members or something like that–and he shows how the shipwreck shows up in their charts as well at the same time for that specific date.
That’s funny because it’s something that you would expect to see or that you wouldn’t be surprised to see in modern times where something big will happen in an astrologer’s life, and they will immediately look at their chart, and if there’s other people connected with it, they’ll attempt to look at the charts of those people as well. Astrologers, evidently, have been doing that for at least 2,000 years. So Valens includes in his own chart. Hephaistio of Thebes includes his birth chart; he also includes his conception chart, which presumably is computed using rectification techniques, but that’s not really clear. Manetho uses his own chart.
In my research, as I was writing the entry for Paulus Alexandrinus, who was a 4th century astrologer, James Holden pointed out how Paulus Alexandrinus dedicates his book, which is titled The Introduction to Astrology, to his son whose name was Cronamon. And one of the things that’s interesting is that Holden points out that two different times in the work, Paul Alexandrinus uses a few positions from a chart example, which initially seems like it’s just a hypothetical chart example, in order to demonstrate a couple of different techniques, such as annual profections.
But then Holden took all of the different placements that are mentioned at different points by Paulus, and he put them together and realized that you could reconstruct the actual chart and that it actually gave you a specific date that was exactly 25 or 26 years prior to the year that Paulus was writing this Introduction, which he dedicated to his son. So from that, Holden was able to infer that Paulus Alexandrinus actually was using his son’s birth chart as the chart example in his Introduction to Astrology and that his son was 26-years-old or so at the time of the writing of the book.
And in fact, Paulus is writing a second edition because his son criticized him for using old and outdated ascensional times, and he said, “Dad, you’ve got to use the ascensional times of Ptolemy because those are much more accurate.” So Paulus was like, “Okay, I’ll write an updated or revised version of the book for you,” and then he dedicated it to his son. In a little nod to his son or wink to his son, he used parts of his son’s birth chart in this book that’s now survived 1,500-1,600 years later.
So those are a few examples I wanted to use and that I’ll come back to because it humanizes some of the ancient astrologers, and it makes people realize that when you’re studying texts from this time period, essentially, from the Roman Empire, you’re studying the works of real-life people who sometimes are very relatable in the things that they do. I think that makes the study of ancient astrology much more interesting and much more engaging and much less dry than you might assume from the outset; if you assume it’s all just about memorizing dates and weird locations and things like that or things that are not relevant to you today or that you that you have a hard time relating to.
When you hear some of these very personal stories, I think it helps to create a much better connection with the material and much better sense of the nature of the tradition. The astrological tradition really has been this thing that’s been handed down for centuries, for thousands of years, for 2- or 3- or 4,000 years now from individual people who are just like us today, assuming that you’re an astrologer listening to this or an astrology enthusiast. It’s people just like us doing things that are very similar to what we’re doing today, for the most part, just continuing to both expand this tradition and this thing called astrology, this study, but also to pass it on from one person to another for generations.
Today, I want to talk about some of those generations and some of the highlights or some of the most important figures from this specific tradition that I’m looking at right now, which is the Hellenistic tradition. I’m going to do this based partially on a timeline that I wrote on the Hellenistic Astrology website, which I’ll link to in the description for this episode. I think that timeline provides a good structure because it also partially allowed me to situate this in a historical context by giving a historical overview of the tradition, while at the same time making it a historical overview that’s primarily connected with the surviving astrologers of the tradition.
So let’s start from the top. As we talked about in the last episode with Maria, the concept of natal astrology was a new concept; it was a concept that didn’t exist at one point in time prior to the 5th century BC. But then at some point around that period, somebody got the idea, some astrologers or some groups of astrologers started practicing the concept of natal astrology, which is the idea that the alignment of the planets at the moment of the birth of an individual will tell you something about the quality and the future of that person’s life.
The oldest known Mesopotamian birth charts date to the year 410 BC. We have two of them actually that date to the same year; both of them dating to 410 BCE. And then from there, we have several other birth charts; I think it’s something like a dozen birth charts or more that survive from the next 3- or 400 years in the Mesopotamian tradition.
A little bit under a century after that, Alexander the Great launched a war against the Persian Empire in 334 BC. During the course of this war, he captured Egypt and he founded the city of Alexandria in Egypt, in 332 BCE. Eventually, Alexander, once his war was finished, he died under mysterious circumstances in Mesopotamia. And what happened is that he didn’t set or designate a successor, so several of Alexander’s generals–who were Macedonians that spoke Greek and had Greek culture; essentially, they were Greeks, to put it very simplistically–went to war with each and they started dividing up the lands and taking little kingdoms around the Mediterranean for themselves.
The most important one for our purposes, or for the purposes of Hellenistic astrology, is what’s known as the Ptolemeic kingdom or the Ptolemeic dynasty that was founded in Egypt by one of Alexander’s generals named Ptolemy. Eventually, he started calling himself a king and set up his own kingdom in Egypt. At this point, we have Greek-speaking and culturally-Greek rulers who are in control of Egypt, and shortly after this, we have the foundation of the famous Library of Alexandria.
Ptolemy, the first king, and then his sons–he ended up having sons and sparked a whole a whole dynasty that lasted for 2- or 300 years–were very interested in making Alexandria and making Egypt a cultural and scientific hub in the ancient world, so one of the things they did in order to accomplish that was set up the Library of Alexandria, which in addition to having the largest library that the world had ever seen, it also had state-sponsored research facilities. There were scholars who lived there and worked there and ate there and everything else on the premises, so it created this amazing research facility for all sorts of different arts and sciences; from this time forward, you see some interesting developments in the Greek world in the areas of astronomy, in literature.
Eventually, at one point, philosophy, to some extent, starts being practiced in Alexandria, or at least it becomes a secondary hub for some philosophical schools, even though the primary Greek philosophical schools were still centered in Athens, where back in the 5th and 4th centuries, we have philosophers like Plato and Aristotle during what’s usually classified as the high point of ancient Greek philosophy.
So the Library of Alexandria collects a bunch of manuscripts and a bunch of texts. There’s one famous anecdote and it’s not clear if this is a true story or if it’s a made-up story–I’ve seen arguments either way; I think this one’s preserved by the medical author, Galen, in the 2nd century CE. According to Galen, Alexandria was not just a center for science and learning and literary studies, but it also was a major naval power or regional naval area for trading and things like that because of its natural harbors.
One of the strategies that the Ptolemys had in building up their library supposedly was that when ships would dock at Alexandria, they would have any texts or any scrolls that they were carrying confiscated, and then these scrolls would be taken to presumably the library and they would be copied. The originals would be kept by the library and the copies would be given back to the people whose ships they had come in on. It’s not clear if this is a real story or not, but it at least gives you some idea. One of the historians that I was reading recently who was talking about this said at the very least, it gives you some idea of how voracious the Ptolemy dynasty was in wanting to build its library up as quickly as possible during the early Hellenistic period.
So around this time, as we talked about in the last episode, we start getting a lot of people from different cultures that emigrate to some of these Greek-speaking lands–or at least start adopting the Greek language themselves even though they’re not ethnically Greek–and then they start writing texts about their own cultures or about some of the philosophies or religious concepts from their cultures, but writing it in Greek, partially for a Greek audience to some extent just because Greek had become a common language across the ancient world at that point in time, after the conquest of Alexander. The equivalent today is like how English is sort of a common language across the world now due to the internet, but also due to the exporting of movies and music and things like that from North America and from the West.
You can go to different places and young kids, they’ve seen the Iron Man movies; or you can go to Paris and there will be a 10-year-old, his primary language is French, but he knows and speaks English as well fluently. You had essentially the same situation in the ancient world during this time period, where you had different peoples from different cultures who were using Greek as a common language that everybody knew in order to communicate and in order to have discussions about specific types of things, especially scientific texts; also, to some extent, literary texts and religious texts or philosophical texts started being written in Greek.
One of the figures that we know about during this period, during the early 3rd century BCE, is this Babylonian astrologer named Berossus and there’s legends about Berossus that are pretty widespread. Supposedly, he was from Mesopotamia, and he emigrated to the West and set up a school for astrology on the Greek island of Kos, which was a famous island especially for its healing temples and there was a lot of activity there in the medical tradition at that time.
We don’t have a lot of documentation of this, so there’s debates about to what extent this is true or to what extent this is a legend or what have you, but the legend itself probably carries with it some basic truth in terms of the fact that there were astrologers from the Mesopotamian tradition who started writing about the type of astrology that they did, exporting it to the Greco-Roman world. So Berossus was one of the first figures we know who supposedly was associated with that and setting up this school for astrology on the Greek island of Kos in the early 3rd century BCE.
We have the names of two of his students who both, if I remember correctly, had Greek names, and they were supposed to have continued or carried on and expanded some of the doctrines that Berossus taught, which presumably is primarily some type of natal astrology and some type of mundane astrology; although we’re not very clear about what astrology looked like during this time. As we talked about in the last episode, we don’t really have many of the handbooks that the Babylonian astrologers or Mesopotamian astrologers had at that point in time.
We have a few chart examples from this time period, but they basically just list the positions of the planets and the signs, and they don’t say much else in terms of interpretation. The reason for this probably is because consultations, just like most of them are today, would have been delivered verbally or orally to a person rather than being written out. So it’s kind of like if you had some charts that somebody printed up from Solar Fire or from astro.com, and all you had was a piece of paper with a chart on it and then you had to figure out how an astrologer would have interpreted those placements. For the most part, you don’t really have a lot to go off of because all the chart really does is tell you the astronomical positions of each of the planets at the moment that the person was born; and if you don’t have any other interpretive texts to go along with that, you’re kind of in the dark about what that means or how it would be used.
We’re a little bit in that position in terms of how natal astrology was interpreted in the Mesopotamian tradition. We do have some fragmentary texts that give some very basic delineations. It doesn’t seem particularly elaborate, but it’s not clear if that’s because it actually wasn’t that elaborate at this point in time, or if it’s because these are just fragmentary texts and we’re not really getting the full picture.
So Berossus is a sort of important early figure in terms of the transmission of Mesopotamian astrology to the West and probably a good indication that he probably was not the only person doing this. In fact, in some later Greek texts, especially some texts on mundane astrology, we have evidence where we can see that some ancient Mesopotamian texts were translated into Greek and then adapted to the different geographical locations.
For example, there’s a text Maria and I were talking about, the Vienna Papyrus–in the last episode–which is a text that was written, if I’m remembering correctly, in Demotic, a late Egyptian script. It basically consisted of a lot of Mesopotamian mundane astrology for omens that pertained to the population as a whole or pertained to the state as as a whole; like if an eclipse takes place in this part of the sky, then the king will die or there will be a famine or something like that.
There were some mundane astrological omens that were originally from the Mesopotamian tradition, and specifically, from a textual tradition known as the Enuma Anu-Enlil, and that text or portions of it got translated into Egyptian and then adapted to the geographical location of Egypt; so instead of the omens relating to different parts of Mesopotamia, they instead related to different parts of Egypt. We know that’s a process that was going on around this time period, around the time that Berossus was active. It wasn’t necessarily Berossus himself doing all of this, but there were probably other people like Berossus who were emigrating to the West and transmitting some of these ancient traditions to other cultures.
So around this time, by the time we get to the year 200 BCE or maybe 150 BCE, we have some examples of complex mechanical devices, such as the Antikythera Mechanism, that are thought to have been constructed around this time. There’s debates about the dating of the Antikythera Mechanism and that’s been going through a process of revision over the past decade or so, as more scholars have become interested in researching it. I think it’s currently being dated to somewhere around 200 BCE; I’m not sure how stable that is. The previous dating put it somewhere like 150 to 100 BCE.
Regardless, either way, the Antikythera Mechanism was this mechanical device that had the ability to calculate planetary positions at different points in time and it was really cool. It’s interesting for our purposes because that time-frame is basically right around the same time-frame that Hellenistic astrology starts to emerge; or it’s at least during the time-frame where we think Hellenistic astrology started to emerge based on the texts that were written about a century or so later, which refer themselves to earlier texts that must have been written around the year 100 BC. Let’s talk about some of those texts. I discussed this a little bit in the last episode, but it’s something I’ve been focused on recently and it kind of bears recapitulation, so that I can give a more clear outline of the actual timeline.
So there was this early set of astrological texts that were written in Greek in the early Hellenistic tradition, which more or less ended up as far as later astrologers were concerned taking on the role of foundational texts; one of the texts was an early text that was ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus; the other text was a text ascribed to Asclepius. And then there was another set of texts which were evidently very large, which were ascribed to a supposed Egyptian king named Nechepso and another figure associated with him known as Petosiris.
The Nechepso and Petosiris texts, they’re often mentioned together, but sometimes, the texts are quoted separately, so it’s not really clear what their relation was. None of these texts survived. So even though the Hermes, Asclepius, Nechepso, and Petosiris texts, these four texts, were some of the most widely-quoted texts in antiquity, in the Greco-Roman period by later astrologers, none of them survived into the present time. Instead, what we have is fragments of some of these texts. We have little pieces of some of them, as well as a number of citations and quotations of those texts by later authors who were reading them a few centuries after they were written, reporting, “Well, Nechepso says this,” or “Petosiris says this,” and so on and so forth; so we, unfortunately, have to reconstruct what those texts said based on this fragmentary treatment of them by later authors.
One of the later points that I made as I was working on this chapter for my book recently is that it’s an annoying position to be in for us, working on the history of astrology, or for astrologers or historians of astrology, but it’s not that unique. There’s other fields where there’s also a similar loss of texts from the Hellenistic period, where people have had to go back and reconstruct what earlier authors thought based on summaries that were written by later authors; for example, the Stoics, the Stoic philosophical school which emerged in the early Hellenistic period.
We know that it was founded by a philosopher named Zeno, and we know that after Zeno died that there were a few different people who headed up or became the head of his philosophical school subsequently and wrote a number of important texts. For example, one of the more important ones is a philosopher named Chrysippus, but we don’t have any of those early texts surviving through to the present time; instead, what we have is later philosophers who talked about what Zeno wrote, or who talked about what Chrysippus wrote and so on and so forth. Historians of philosophy have literally had entire careers and written entire books just reconstructing what the original philosophy of the early Stoic founders was based on these later testimonies from later authors.
We’re in a similar position with some of the early astrological texts, where we know that there’s some early foundational texts. We only have some fragmentary notions about what they contained, but we might have enough to reconstruct and get an idea of what early astrology was about, or at least what contributions these texts had in terms of the overall field of the history of astrology. So from what I can tell, the primary thing associated with these texts and the primary reason they’re important is that the text attributed to Hermes–and there were several different texts attributed to Hermes during this time period that were probably written by different authors–one of the earliest texts, seems to have been a text on the 12 houses, specifically, on the significations of the 12 houses.
One of the speculations that I have–and I think other people who have worked on Hellenistic astrology at this point probably have this speculation as well–is that this text attributed to Hermes was probably the first text or at least one of the first texts which introduced the doctrine of the 12 houses to begin. So the doctrine of the 12 houses didn’t exist–at least in the form that we associate with in the later tradition–prior to this point, but this may have been the point at which somebody said whatever sign of the zodiac is rising on the eastern horizon, that entire sign becomes the 1st house using whole sign houses; and then the sign that follows that becomes the 2nd house; and the sign that follows that becomes the 3rd house and so on and so forth.
And so, one of the things that we do know, according to a reference to this text by a later, yet still early astrologer named Thrasyllus–who died in the year 36 CE–is Thrasyllus actually gives us a list of some of the significations of each of the houses according to the Hermes text. What’s interesting about this is that it basically forms a very rudimentary set of significations for all 12 of the houses, and some of them are very familiar to us and are still essentially the same significations that we have today, 2,000 years later; but in other areas, there’s certain significations that are very different, that the astrological tradition either rejected or lost at some point in time.
For example, one of the things that’s interesting about the Hermes text–and I think it was one of the first texts, if not the first text that introduced the significations of the houses–is that it actually attributed the concept or the signification of death to the 7th house, presumably because that’s sign that contains the place where planets set; the western horizon where planets set and where the Sun sets each day. They sink out of sight and figuratively die each day until they’re reborn again the following morning, when they rise over the horizon at the Ascendant.
So the Hermes text actually attributed death to the 7th house. One of the reasons why this may have been an early–maybe preliminary isn’t the right word. Introducing concepts–where some of the concepts caught on and became part of the tradition and other parts did not–as an example of why it may have been in early texts, you can see the elements that were then passed on and you can see the other elements that were not. Let me see if I can find my diagram–there it is–which gives the significations.
According to the Hermes text, the 1st house signifies ‘the soul’, ‘fortune’, ‘way of life’, and it also says ‘siblings’. Again, that’s another example of a signification that the later tradition rejected; but at least if you go to some of the earliest astrological texts in the Hellenistic tradition that talk about the significations of houses, you’ll see them attributing certain significations that are very different than what we use today, or for that matter, what astrologers 2- or 300 years later would use, like Valens.
I actually talk about this in my paper on the planetary joys, where I think that signification of siblings to the 1st house came from the planetary joys and the fact that in the planetary joys, Mercury was associated with the 1st house and one of Mercury’s significations is siblings. So it was from that abstraction of the planetary joys, that abstract construct that they derived some of the significations.
One of the interesting things about that, which I think I pointed out in that paper on the joys, which was a pretty important paper, is that this implies that the planetary joys were actually introduced in the Hermes text. That’s really important. If that’s true that the planetary joys were introduced in the Hermes text, then that may have been one of the original theoretical principles that the significations of the houses were based on; and therefore, the planetary joys was this construct that was introduced in this Hermes text, somewhere around the year 100 BCE, which gave the initial impetus for, the rationales for the significations of the houses. Anyway, you can read the planetary joys paper for more about that.
Other than that, according to Thrasyllus, he says that Hermes says that the 2nd house signifies ‘hopes’ or ‘expectations’. The 3rd house signifies ‘action’ and ‘siblings’; so the Hermes attributed siblings to both the 1st house and the 3rd house. That’s kind of interesting, and it may actually have to do with the Moon’s association with the 3rd house because the Moon has its planetary joy in the 3rd house, and the Moon also has some association with siblings.
The 4th house was apparently associated with the ‘foundation of happiness’, ‘paternal possessions’, and ‘slaves’. The 5th house, the only signification that Thrasyllus gives is ‘good fortune’, which is the name of the 5th house according to most later authors. The 6th house, one of the significations given is ‘daimon’ or ‘spirit’–which is a little bit strange and unclear why that’s put there in the 6th house–but also ‘vengeance’ and ‘injury’; so the notion of the 6th house being associated with injury already shows up very early in this text from approximately the 1st century BCE.
The 7th house signifies, according to the Hermes text, the ‘wife’ or ‘marriage partner’, but also, as I said earlier, signifies ‘death’. According to the Hermes text, the 8th place signifies ‘life’ and ‘livelihood’. The 9th place signifies ‘travel’ and ‘living abroad’. The 10th house has a bunch of significations: it says ‘fortune’, ‘livelihood’, ‘life’, ‘children’, ‘conception’, ‘action’, ‘honor’, ‘ruling’, and ‘leading’. The 11th whole sign house, the signification associated with it in the Thrasyllus text is ‘good spirit’, which according to later authors is simply the name of the 11th whole sign house. And finally, the 12th house in the Hermes text has the significations of ‘livelihood’, ‘submission of slaves’.
And that’s it–this is just Thrasyllus giving a brief summary of the significations attributed to Hermes. Unfortunately, the Thrasyllus text is itself a summary, so it’s not clear if this is actually a full listing of all of the significations that Hermes associated with the 12 places; but it essentially gives us our earliest set of significations for the houses, or what is probably one of our earliest set of significations for the houses. So that’s the Hermes text. However, there was this other early text that was attributed to Asclepius.
Again, one of the points that we talked about in the last episode is that a lot of the early, foundational, Hellenistic texts were written with pseudonyms, or they were written and attributed to legendary or to mythical people who lived in the far distant past, and it’s not really clear why. There’s a few different reasons or there’s a lot of speculation about why authors during this period would have written works and instead of putting their own name on the work, attributed it to some legendary figure, or to a god, or to a prophet or something like that. One of the reasons may have been they wanted to get their ideas out there, and they wanted to make sure that they caught on. So they may have attributed them to a famous person in order to gain greater recognition or greater prestige for the work; that’s one of the speculations about why this may have happened, but nobody really knows.
Anyway, one of the other early texts was attributed to another mythical figure named Asclepius. There’s a few different Asclepius texts, but the one that’s relevant here for us is this text that was written probably around the same time as the Hermes text. Usually, in the chronologies that are given by some of the Hellenistic astrologers, they say that the Hermes text came first and then the Asclepius text came immediately after that; for example, Firmicus Maternus says that in his chronology of the founders of Hellenistic astrology.
The Asclepius text, or the one that’s important to us for our purposes, was probably written sometime in the 1st century BCE. It was this text that outlined this system known as the ‘Octotopos’. The Octotopos is basically just a set of significations for the first 8 whole sign houses: the 1st house, the 2th house, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th. Imagine starting from the Ascendant in the 1st house and then going downwards through the next 7 or 8 houses, eventually ending with the 8th, and then you basically have the set of significations for the houses that was introduced in the Asclepius text.
So in the Ascelpius text, the observation that it’s just a set of significations for the first 8 whole sign houses is kind of important because in some astrological texts and in some scholarship in the 20th century, the Octotopos from Asclepius was sometimes mistakenly thought to be a different form of house division that divided the chart into 8 houses, or into 8 sectors; instead of using 12 houses, you divide the entire circle up into 8.
I tend to side with the scholars who say that this is not actually what was done. I think the prevailing opinion has changed over the course of the last few decades, where most people agree that it was not a different form of house division where you divide the entire chart into 8 houses, but instead it was just a text that for some reason wanted to outline a different set of significations than the Hermes text for the first 8 whole sign houses, based on what was probably a different or competing rationale for what significations should be associated with those houses.
Personally, at this point, what I think happened was that the Hermes text was written, it established some basic set of significations for all 12 of the houses; it was probably the first text that talked about the significations of the houses and introduced the idea. And then somebody probably very shortly after that–perhaps, even a contemporary, or a friend, or an associate, or somebody that was close to and read that Hermes text–decided that there should be additional significations associated with some of those houses. This person came up with a rationale for assigning them and wrote the text, talking about what the significations of the first 8 houses should be.
So according to Thrasyllus–again, it’s just a summary of Thrasyllus’ work–he gives a summary of the Octotopos. He says, according to this text, the 1st house signifies ‘life’; the 2nd house signifies ‘livelihood’; the 3rd house signifies ‘siblings’; the 4th house signifies ‘parents’; the 5th house signifies ‘children’; the 6th house signifies ‘injury’; the 7th house signifies ‘the wife’ or ‘partner’; and the 8th house signifies ‘fortune’ and ‘death’.
Right away, there are some really obvious differences between these two sets of houses. For example, one of the things that you notice, and one of the things that Robert Schmidt remarked on, is that in the Hermes text, except for ‘the wife’ and except for the idea of ‘paternal matters’ pertaining to the 4th, ‘paternal property’, it doesn’t talk about family members; whereas, in the Asclepius text, suddenly we have the introduction of a system for all of the different family members in a person’s life. So it has the 3rd house signifying ‘siblings’–which I guess the Hermes text had–the 4th house clearly signifying ‘parents’, and then the 5th house clearly signifying ‘children’, and finally, the 7th house clearly signifying ‘the wife’ or ‘marriage partner’.
That’s interesting and unique in and of itself because those became the standard significations that most astrologers even to this day still associate with those houses. So this becomes partially the reason why the 5th house signifies ‘children’; it’s probably or likely, I would argue, because this text– from the 1st century BCE, that was attributed to Asclepius–said that the 5 house signified ‘children’ due to whatever his rationale was. I have some idea of what his rationale was, but I’m not sure if I fully want to go into it here. I do go into that a little bit in the Hellenistic course, I think. It’s not particularly elaborate, but it kind of makes sense.
The other thing that’s different about this list of significations is that, of course, the 8th house, according to Asclepius, signifies ‘death’. We’ll remember that in the Hermes text, it was the 7th house that signified ‘death’. So what’s happened is that later authors–and this is a point that Schmidt made and I think he’s right on it–tended to synthesize these two different texts, which is the Hermes text and the Asclepius text. They ended up displacing some of the significations of one and then adopting some of the significations of the other. For example, most later authors, they associate ‘death’ with the 8th house, following after the Asclepius text, and the 7th house gradually loses most of its associations with ‘death’; even though in the original Hermes text, the original proposal for what the houses should signify, ‘death’ was firmly in the 7th.
This gives you some idea of what I’m talking about and what I’m doing. I’ve sort of belabored this point, but this is some of the work that I’m doing in trying to write a whole chapter on the ancient astrologers, in order to ferret out and identify what their individual contributions were. That’s really what I’m interested in, partially for the purpose of reconstructing the history of the technical doctrines of Western astrology and how they developed and what their motivation was.
So those are two early texts. Next is the Nechepso and Petosiris texts, which were written, in the chronologies, after the Hermes and Asclepius texts. The Nechepso and Petosiris texts became the most widely-cited text in antiquity. They were not only cited by just about every major astrologer of the Hellenistic tradition, but they were also cited oftentimes outside of the astrological tradition in literary texts; for example, Petosiris is mentioned in the Satires of Juvenal; or medical texts where Nechepso or Petosiris are mentioned and other literary or sometimes philosophical texts.
The Nechepso and Petosiris texts are really huge and cover a lot of topics. They seem to have been the original text that introduced what became the core technique for determining the ‘length of life’, which had to do with doing ‘primary directions’ once you’ve established what later Medieval astrologers called the ‘hyleg’ or the ‘predominator’, as well as the ‘ruler of the predominator’. The Nechepso and Petosiris texts also seem to have introduced and discussed the ‘Lot of Fortune’ and the ‘Lot of Spirit’.
Many of the later debates about the Lot of Fortune and the calculation of the Lot of Fortune seem to be derived from the fact that the Nechepso and Petosiris texts were written a sort of cryptic manner, so that later astrologers had a hard time interpreting what certain passages were supposed to mean; as a result of that, different authors came to different conclusions about it. And so, this is one of the reasons that you have some authors saying that you should reverse the calculation for the Lot of Fortune, and then you have other authors saying that you should not reverse the calculation for the Lot of Fortune; that sort of becomes a whole topic in and of itself. There were a bunch of other things associated with the Nechepso and Petosiris texts, but it’s probably not necessary for us to go into all of those, since I’ve already probably spent way too much time on the Hermes and Asclepius texts.
So you have these three or four texts that make up some of the foundational doctrines of the Hellenistic traditions and then we have this gap. What happens at this point is in the 1st century BCE, in the year 30 BCE, Roman annexes Egypt, and the Ptolemaic dynasty, which began with that first guy, that general of Alexander’s named Ptolemy, who founded the Ptolemaic dynasty and took over Egypt and set up the Library of Alexandria and everything that came after that. He had a dynasty of sons and daughters that ruled Egypt for the next few hundred years, until that came to an end with the death of the famous queen, Cleopatra, in the year 30 BCE. At that point, Rome takes over Egypt, and it becomes a province, or it becomes an area under the control of Rome.
Hellenistic astrology, for the most part, the central place in which it was largely practiced and in which it probably originated was Alexandria. And so, that’s important in terms of both understanding that Alexandria and that Egypt in general was probably where the Hermes and Asclepius and Nechepso and Petosiris texts were written originally. Also, most of the major astrologers after this point, even once Rome took over Egypt, still ended up coming from Alexandria or practicing in Alexandria or being connected to it in some way. From this point forward, we’re talking about what is essentially the Roman Empire, which dominates the Mediterranean for the next several centuries, culminating around the 2nd or 3rd centuries, at the height of its power, and has the largest land mass under its control, and eventually declining by the 4th and 5th centuries, all the way into the 6th and 7th.
So in this time, in the early 1st century CE, we have two of our earliest, complete, or relatively complete surviving astrological texts. The first one–well, that’s difficult because the first one that I want to mention chronologically is the text by Thrasyllus. Thrasyllus is really important because he was probably one of, if not the most famous astrologers of the Roman Empire because Thrasyllus became the personal astrologer, or the court astrologer, to the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who was one of the first Roman emperors after Roman switched from being a democratic, in some sense, republic to being something that was more under the control of a specific person, under the control of the emperor with a nominal democratic process around it.
Thrasyllus became the personal astrologer to one of the earliest Roman emperors and to one that had a very long reign and was very powerful, and Thrasyllus himself seems to have had a lot of influence over things that occurred during that emperor’s reign. There’s this really famous story about Thrasyllus. There’s two different versions of this story, so it may be a legend or it may be true, we don’t really know.
Supposedly, Tiberius was living on this island; he was kind of in exile, or he was hiding out on this island. His retreat, or the house that he had–not even a house, but the very nice retreat center that he had on this island was overlooking a cliff. Tiberius wasn’t a super nice guy, and he evidently was regularly, according to the legend, in the habit of consulting with astrologers. Towards the end of the consultation, once the astrologer had said everything they were going to say about Tiberius’ chart, Tiberius would turn the tables on them and he would say, “And now, what do you see in your chart for right now?”
Basically, the astrologer, if they didn’t say something to the effect of, “I’m in imminent danger,” they would be thrown off a cliff. I think the implicit moral of the story is that if the astrologer can’t even see how much danger they’re in at that moment in time, then they’re no good to Tiberius’ as the emperor and as somebody who would, in subsequent decades, become one of the most powerful people in the world, if not the most powerful person in the world. So he was in the habit of throwing astrologers off cliffs, overlooking this scenic ocean view. At one point, Thrasyllus comes along.
I was working on Thrasyllus’ biography, and there’s some good reason to think that Thrasyllus was from Egypt, from a city in northern Egypt perhaps not that far from Alexandria; so he would have been one of these quasi-Egyptian but actually more ethnically Greco-Roman astrologers from Egypt. And he was a pretty highly educated and pretty smart guy; Thrasyllus actually had an interest in Pythagoreanism and an interest in Platonism. Thrasyllus later becomes a semi-important figure in the history of philosophy because he was supposed to have edited the works of Plato into sets of four, known as ‘tetralogies’. There was a scholar named Harold Tarrant who wrote an entire book about Thrasyllus and his influence on the philosophical tradition simply through the fact that he edited the works of Plato, and the way that he arranged those works and what effect that had in subsequent interpretations of Plato’s works based on what Thrasyllus did with them.
Thrasyllus was not an idiot. He was a smart guy. Evidently, from the summary of his astrological text, he was intimately familiar with the earlier astrological tradition and the texts of Hermes, Asclepius, and Nechepso and Petosiris because those are the only works that he cites according to this summary of his text. So Thrasyllus goes to this interview–who knows how it’s set up. Maybe he has a reputation for himself–we don’t really know–but he goes to this interview with Tiberius, he reads Tiberius’ chart, and Thrasyllus says many great things.
From an astrologer’s perspective, today, thinking about it, if you really were to sit down with this guy who had one of the earliest and had one of the longest reigns–well, maybe longest reign is sort of overstating the point; that’s not necessarily the case, but he became the most powerful person in the world. So imagine an astrologer looks at the chart of somebody who was not yet, but eventually would become one of the most powerful people in the world. Of course, Thrasyllus says, “This looks good. It looks like you’re going to become a very powerful person at some point in your life,” or whatever Thrasyllus said. I mean, the legend doesn’t fully document it, but presumably, it was quite impressive, or at least quite impressed by Tiberius’ birth chart.
So then Tiberius does his usual thing and he says to Thrasyllus, “What do you see in your chart right now?” And Thrasyllus, according to the legend, does some calculations and then breaks into a cold sweat and says that he is in the greatest and most imminent danger that he’s ever been in in his life, or something to that effect. Then Tiberius turns around and says something to the effect of, “You’re right, and you’ve got the job.” So Tiberius hires Thrasyllus and Thrasyllus becomes the private astrologer to Tiberius; and Tiberius at that point was not, but a few years later, would become the next Roman emperor.
Thrasyllus is really important because he gets involved in a lot of the politics that were happening during the early 1st century CE in the Roman Empire. I’m not going to go into all of that. Demetra George actually recently took a group of people to Europe, touring through southern Italy, and she talked about and gave a presentation on Thrasyllus and on Thrasyllus’ life and his work with Tiberius. And I think that they actually went to the specific island where this legendary interview between Thrasyllus and Tiberius took place, to Tiberius’ getaway, retreat place, and she gave this extensive research presentation on his life and works.
She recently announced that she was going to be doing a webinar where she presents that; I think it’s like a 90-minute or two-hour presentation online as a webinar. So if you want to learn more about Thrasyllus, I definitely recommend checking that out. I think it’s happening sometime in early- to mid-February. Just do a search for ‘Demetra George’ and find her website, and I’m sure you’ll figure out how to sign up for it.
So Thrasyllus gets involved in the politics of the Roman emperor. What’s interesting is a lot of our references to Thrasyllus actually come from Roman historians. We have the textbooks of a few different major people who wrote histories of the Roman Empire and of the emperors in particular and their goings-on and political maneuvering and schemes and stuff like that, and astrologers often figure pretty prominently in some of these stories, sometimes, in very interesting ways. Thrasyllus was definitely one of those people where some of the advice that he gave to Tiberius–because Tiberius was so important and so powerful–ended up in the history books, so to speak.
This is a good transition point–one of the historians actually says that eventually Thrasyllus died. What did he say? He said Thrasyllus died a few months before Tiberius did, which actually allows us to date Thrasyllus’ death relatively precisely to the year 36 CE. And one of the historians says, when he gets to the end of Thrasyllus’ story, “Later, I’ll talk about Thrasyllus’ son, the astrologer who worked with later Roman emperors, such as Claudius and Nero.” He doesn’t name him specifically, but if you read the books of some of these other historians from the Roman period–historians that were writing in the 1st and 2nd and 3rd centuries–you see stories about this other astrologer named Balbillus who becomes very prominent and served directly under the Emperors Claudius, Nero, and Vespasian.
There was a historian in 1922 who first pointed out and said, “I think Balbillus actually is Thrasyllus’ son, and that means that Balbillus took over essentially for his father as an astrologer to the Roman emperors after his father died.” That’s really cool to me–I think that’s cool to a lot of people—because it means that there was almost like this family dynasty of astrologers that were serving the early Roman emperors. And Balbillus really becomes an even cooler figure in some ways than Thrasyllus because he was not just an astrologer, but he also essentially became a very prominent person politically as well.
Some of the work that I’ve been doing over the last month in putting together Balbillus’ biography has been really fun and interesting because he served during the reign of three different Roman emperors, and he did such a good job evidently that he became really close to one of them, and they eventually appointed him as governor of Egypt. So this is a really huge thing that we have an astrologer from the 1st century CE who was appointed prefect or governor of Egypt.
If you were to translate that to today, it’s like let’s say I was doing work for Barack Obama, and in return, he appointed me as the governor of the state of Colorado in the United States or something like that. It’s a pretty big deal politically as a political appointment, and it’s pretty interesting to see an astrologer during this period in the early Roman Empire rise up to have that level of prominence from a political standpoint. It’s additionally interesting in terms of Balbillus then-this astrologer in the mid-1st century CE–being in charge of Egypt, but also being in charge of Alexandria and being in charge also of the Library of Alexandria during that time period.
There’s a lot of legends about Balbillus and some of them are interesting. Some of them get a little bit dark because he was serving under the reign of some of the more sketchy Roman emperors, like Nero. And there was some not-great stuff that happened during that time period which gets debated, or there’s different interpretations of Balbillus’ own culpability for some of the things that certain emperors, like Nero, did as a result of advice that Balbillus was giving them. But I don’t really think this is the place to get into some of that. I hope that Demetra gets into some of that in her workshop on Thrasyllus, but I’m actually not sure; I’ll see if I can touch on some of it in the book.
Otherwise, I should mention really quickly, for anybody who’s interested in really reading about the stories, especially the ones related to Thrasyllus and Balbillus and their political maneuverings in the early Roman Empire–and especially their interactions with some of the emperors–I recommend the book by Frederick Cramer, titled, Astrology in Roman Law and Politics. It was published in the mid-20th century, in the 1950s, so it’s kind of old at this point, but it’s still pretty much relatively accurate and still provides very good coverage of the interactions and the political wranglings of some of these astrologers during this period. And he does a great job of summarizing and giving you an overall narrative based on his reading of some of the different Roman sources.
So Balbillus is interesting because one of the things that I was working on in a chapter by him is that he eventually retired to this place in Turkey called Ephesus–I’m probably not pronouncing that correctly–but it was a place where you can actually still see the ruins today of this great library that is located there in Ephesus; it’s one of the few Roman ruins of a library that’s still around today. Balbillus retired there, and eventually one of the Roman emperors, Vespasian, authorized a festival to be held in Ephesus in honor of Balbillus, which became known as the Balbillea. The first one was held sometime around the year 85 or 86 CE, and then it was subsequently celebrated every four years continuously for the next century or two.
It’s interesting because you have this astrologer who was not only very powerful politically and became the governor of Egypt and the head of the Library of Alexandria during his lifetime, but there were even celebrations of his life for two centuries after he lived, so Balbillus is a really interesting figure. Because he’s so interesting, of course, the historical irony is that very little of his astrological works survived. We have a brief and fragmentary summary of a book of his that’s titled, Astrological Practices, that’s dedicated to some unknown figure named Hermogenes. We have also a little bit of a summary of a demonstration that he used of his approach to the ‘length-of-life’ technique. Interestingly, it uses two charts, two birth charts that are dated to 72 BCE and 43 BCE, which are essentially the two oldest, timed birth charts that use the Ascendant in the Greek tradition, and it comes from Balbillus, from 72 and 43 BCE.
I was just reading a treatment of Balbillus recently and an academic named Stephan Heilen pointed out that these two charts–because they were from people who were born a century before Balbillus was active–they’re probably charts that come from Thrasyllus; his father’s own case studies from when Thrasyllus was serving the Roman emperors and working with all of these really notable and powerful people in the late 1st century BC and early 1st century CE. Again, there’s just a lot of interesting stuff from a historical perspective; you have this father and son team of astrologers working at the highest levels of power in the Roman Empire, in the early- to mid-1st century CE.
All right, so other than that now we have to circle back a little bit. We’ve gone slightly about 25 or 50 years forward in history, and we have to back up a little bit to Manilius, the text of Marcus Manilius who wrote a Latin poem known as the Astronomica sometime in the early 1st century CE. Manilius is tough, the dating of Manilius, because he doesn’t mention any specific dates in his work, or at least we don’t have anything that we can use to definitely say when it was written. But from some of the references, Manilius repeatedly refers to the emperor, the emperor that he’s writing his text under; it’s a five-book-long work.
The Astronomica is five-books’ long and it’s basically a long instructional poem on astrology in Latin. And because he refers to the Roman emperor at the time several different times, scholars have inferred that–and there’s debates about this–but to summarize the consensus, he was basically writing either towards the end of the reign of Augustus, who died in 14 CE, or he was writing towards the early part of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, who became emperor in 14 CE. So as a result of that, Manilius is usually dated to somewhere around 14 CE, which basically makes him a contemporary of Thrasyllus, who, again, was already serving the Emperor Tiberius by the time he became emperor in 14 CE.
Because Manilius’ work was written in Latin, it has gone through a lot of reconstruction. There’s been this long line of editors that have had to work on the text in order to put it back together again because the manuscripts of it that survived the Middle Ages were not in very good shape. So there’s been this long line of philologists or historians who have tried to piece the text back together and reconstruct what it was supposed to say, even though some of the words in Latin have been garbled and messed up considerably. It’s had a lot of work done on it, but despite that, it’s still relatively complete in terms of the text. As a result of that, one of the ironic things is that even though this tradition of astrology that we’re talking about, Hellenistic astrology, most of the texts were written in Greek–because Greek was the educated language during the Hellenistic and Roman periods–the earliest relatively complete surviving text that we have happens to be the text of Manilius, which was written in Latin, from the early 1st century CE.
I usually put Thrasyllus first because we do have a summary of his texts so we know, generally speaking, what he dealt with and some of the things that he said in terms of his techniques. But it’s still just a summary of this text where some later scribe just said, “In this chapter, he talks about this, and then in this chapter, he talks about this. And then in chapter three, he gives a brief treatment to this.” That’s all we have of the works of Thrasyllus and Balbillus, as well as a few other astrologers; and for that reason, you can technically say that Manilius’ is the first, full astrological text that survived from the early 1st century CE.
Unfortunately, Manilius is not typically seen as the best example or best exemplar of Hellenistic astrology because some of the things that he says and does are kind of weird; for example, one of the things that he does is that he never really treats the planets. One scholar who wrote a book about Manilius recently, named Kathatrina Volk–titled Manilius and His Intellectual Background–calls this the ‘puzzle of the planets’, and she suggests that Manilius may have purposely ignored the planets for philosophical or religious reasons. Because it’s not just that he doesn’t ever talk about the significations of the planets, it’s possible that that chapter was lost in the manuscript transmission, even though it was originally there; it’s not in our surviving text, but it was supposed to be, so that’s possible.
But what’s weird is that Manilius, when he gets to the rulership of some of the signs, or some of the subdivisions of the signs especially, in places where normally other authors would attribute planets ruling certain subdivisions of the signs, he instead attributes the signs of the zodiac themselves to those subdivisions as rulers. It’s almost like he’s avoiding invoking the planets for some reason and it’s not really clear why in some instances in his work. So some things like that, as well as some other things make Manilius kind of a weird or kind of an idiosyncratic source, and this has led to some debates over the reliability of Manilius as a source or how much emphasis one should put on using Manilius as a source for Hellenistic astrology, at least in the instances where things that he says are in conflict with things that other later astrologers said.
For example, all the other astrologers, probably going back to Hermes, say that the 5th place is the place in which Venus rejoices–that Venus has her joy in the 5th–and that Saturn has his joy in the 12th based on the common ‘planetary joys’ scheme that’s either repeated explicitly or it’s referred to implicitly by every major Hellenistic astrologer. Manilius for some reason, he mentions all of the other ‘planetary joys’ correctly for five of the planets or so, but then when he gets to Venus, he says that Venus rejoices in the 10th and Saturn rejoices in the 4th, which is a much different interpretative thing than the other scheme.
So there becomes this debate where some people take Manilius as being a genuine variant in the tradition that we should take seriously, and other people say that this is just a mistake or that Manilius got it wrong or perhaps was confused. There’s some authors, for example, David Pingree, when he reviewed what is now the standard translation of Manilius by Goold, he says that, “While it’s true that Manilius’ work is partially meant to be instructional, it’s principal purpose seems to have been to delight its audience with poetry and to arouse admiration for the poet by its cleverness.” In other words, Manilius’ purpose may have been more literary or artistic rather than strictly instructional or scientific.
For that reason, it raises some questions about how much we should take Manilius as a fully reliable source for doctrines of Hellenistic astrology, especially in the instances where he does things that are different or kind of weird compared to what all the other astrologers are doing. Nowadays, Manilius is primarily best known for some of the Stoic and deterministic sentiments that he expresses throughout the course of his poem and not necessarily for his astrological technique. Although he does deal with some specific areas, like the significations of the places, the Lot of Fortune. He mentions profections briefly and other techniques, but most of those techniques are fleshed out in greater detail by other authors.
Despite that, Manilius is a very important text, and if you hadn’t read it, it’s obviously still one of the cornerstones of the astrological tradition that every astrologer should read. There’s a widely-available translation out there by a classics scholar named Goold, so I definitely recommend checking it out and reading it. I would just caution you not to read it as your first text on Hellenistic astrology because then you might develop a mistaken idea about what Hellenistic astrology is fully about or what the core, technical doctrines are; there’s probably better introductory texts that you could read first. And then if you later read Manilius, I think you’ll have a greater appreciation for what both Manilius did and what some of this strengths were and how impressive it was he was able to put all of these instructional, technical concepts into the form of a poem; also, you’ll have a greater appreciation of some of the things that are missing, or some of the things that are different as well.
So that’s Manilius. Unfortunately, in the text, as it’s written now, if you read the review that came out by Pingree of it when it was originally released in 1980 or so, he actually criticizes Goold a little bit for his translation not faithfully rendering the text. One of the issues is that in the ancient world–and this is true in Greek and Roman culture, but it’s also true in other cultures like in India with Sanskrit–sometimes for instructional texts, the form of putting them in a poem that has a rhyming and cadence structure was thought to be the best way to present instructional information like that. One of the reasons for that may have been because it’s actually easier to memorize something that’s written in that way, that’s written in the form of a poem, and commit it to your memory than it is to memorize just a straight text that’s written out as instructional or informative, that doesn’t have the same artistic components to it.
When we read the English translation, some of it still comes across as very poetic, and you still get some of that sense, but it’s still not fully-rendered in the way that it’s written in the Latin. Unfortunately, one of the things that I found out as I was researching it that was kind of depressing this month is that there was a scholar who was working on a translation of Manilius that was going to be in verse; so he was going to translate it into English, but put it into the form of a poem. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago before could complete that work. I’m told that his wife may be working on it and may be able to bring that project to completion and publish his text, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens with that. Unfortunately, as I was getting back to writing this month for the first time in a while, I ran into two or three instances like that, where it’s been two or three years since I had seriously been doing some historical research on Hellenistic astrology.
And so, I was trying to refresh myself on some of the sources and follow-up on some of the old research leads that I had been doing a few years ago. In the process of doing that, I checked in with some of the books that I had been waiting to come out, and I found that two different scholars had passed away in the past few years without completing or without putting out the work that they had been working on for decades. That was kind of depressing, but also a good reminder of the importance of getting your work out there. Sometimes there are people that dedicate their entire life to a research project or to doing something, but when a person dies, sometimes their research and all of the great work that they’ve done goes with them.
There can be other instances, like with many of the astrologers who we’re talking about here, where because they published these works 2,000 years ago, they become immortalized because their names continue to be passed on for generations within the context of literary or historical or astrological studies because there were their contributions to the world. So as I was writing this chapter and doing some of this research, it was an interesting feeling to come across that. On the one hand, it’s kind of depressing, and then, on the other hand, you realize the importance of getting your own work out there. Otherwise, all of the research that you’ve done can basically never see the light of day, or at least that’s a scenario that’s possible. That was a good reminder for me to get this done and get this book finished, since I’ve been working on it for way too long.
All right, so that’s Manilius. Moving on, we did Thrasyllus, we did Babillus. It looks like we’ve been going for about an hour-and-a-half, so I’m going to have to pick up the pace with some of these. The next author worth mentioning is Antiochus of Athens who wrote an introduction and basically a book of definitions sometime around the early- to mid-1st century CE. There’s actually a lot of debates about the dating of Antiochus; some scholars date him early, to the 1st century BC; other scholars date him to the 2nd century CE or later. I tend to put him right in the middle because his text is very similar to and serves a very similar purpose as Thrasyllus, and he cites many of the same sources.
Antiochus is just like Thrasyllus, where he only cites Hermes, Asclepius, Nechepso and Petosiris, although he does cite one other source, which was an astrological text attributed to Timaeus, or an author who wrote under the name of Timaeus. This astrological text from Timaeus is actually cited by Pliny the Elder, who died in the 70s; I think it was 79 CE or something like that. If he’s citing Timaeus, that means Timaeus must have written maybe a century earlier, in the late 1st century BC. Therefore, Antiochus, if he’s citing Timaeus, must then have lived somewhat after that, which would be something like the 1st century CE.
That’s sort of an example of something I’ve been having to go through and that historians have to go through in order to date some of these authors. You establish what’s the earliest possible date that this author could have lived and then what’s the latest possible date that this author could have lived, either based on references within the text itself to things that can be dated, or in terms of external references by later authors who mention having read that text. For example, with Antiochus, we know that the philosopher Porphyry in the 3rd century drew on the text of Antiochus; so this means that Antiochus couldn’t have lived any later than sometime before Porphyry lived in the 3rd century. That means the latest that Antiochus could have lived is the 2nd century or so.
A large part of my chapter on the astrologers, for some of them, their dating is really easy, like with Thrasyllus, where we know for sure that he died in the year 36 CE, because we’re told that he died just a few months before Tiberius, who died in the year 37 CE. For other authors, the issues surrounding the dating are much more murky and much more difficult to establish. Because knowing when each of these astrologers lived and when they published their works plays a very important role in terms of reconstructing the history of the development of some of the techniques and the evolution or the growth and change of the technical doctrines of astrology, it has been important for me to establish for myself what I think the dating is for each of these authors; it helps to better understand and build narratives in terms of the growth and development of the Hellenistic astrological tradition.
So Antiochus, I tend to put in the 1st century CE. I think that’s the safest and probably the most likely time-frame for him. He wrote a book of definitions; unfortunately, like so many of these authors, that book no longer survives. However, what we have of his work that does remain are three later versions of it; one of them is a later Byzantine summary of the greater part of Antiochus’ text. There was some scribe centuries later in the Byzantine Empire who had a copy of Antiochus’ text in front of him and had a copy of all of the definitions that Antiochus wrote, and then he basically just went through and summarized very briefly and very concisely each of the definitions, where he says, “Antiochus defines an astrological aspect like this,” or “Antiochus defines a conjunction like this,” because that’s basically what Antiochus’ text was.
That’s really important, and Antiochus’ text is really important because most of the authors whose works survive, what we have is largely a collection of maybe a dozen or two dozen astrological handbooks that tell you different techniques and how to use different techniques or how to study different topics–like how to make predictions about relationships or children or career, travel, or different topics like that–but these texts often take the technical terminology that they’re using for granted. So they’ll use the doctrine of aspects, but they’ll never really define what an aspect is or some of the things related to it. More recently, with the debate with Deborah Houlding a few episodes ago, for example, one of the points that came up is that even though all of the authors used the houses, they often don’t define what a house is or how to calculate a house. They sort of take it for granted that you’ve already read some sort of introductory text, or you’ve already been initiated into the study of astrology, and they don’t really explain some of the most basic stuff.
So Antiochus is important because he wrote a book where he does define all of the most basic, as well as some of the intermediate or more advanced concepts. Of course, his original work doesn’t survive because that would then be too easy for us in the present time to reconstruct things; instead, what we have is a summary of his work, except the summary is in pretty bad shape. It has some errors and some weird, grammatical constructions in it which–some people who have worked with the text, I think Schmidt made this observation–may imply that it was originally dictated to the scribe. There was one guy who was reading the text out loud and there was another guy copying it down, but the guy that copied it down sometimes misheard or miswrote some parts of the summary, and therefore made errors in the text.
Now we’re 2,000 years later trying to read the text in ancient Greek, which is already an incredibly difficult and complex language to read in the first place, because not just the vocabulary itself is foreign to us, but also the grammatical constructions are much different than many modern languages. So you’re already having a difficult time reading an ancient language, and then you run into an issue where the author of the text may have had made mistakes, or there might be typos in the text you’re reading; you’re trying to figure out if this is an error or if that’s actually what the person meant and you just are not understanding it correctly.
So that’s one of the versions of Antiochus’ text that we have to work with, the summary. The second version we have to work with is this work called the Introduction to Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos that was written in the 3rd century, probably by the Neoplatonic philosopher whose name is Porphyry. Porphyry was supposed to have written an Introduction to Ptolemy, and in the start of this text he says that, “Ptolemy wrote his work, but he takes a lot of his technical terminology for granted, so I wanted to write an introduction to it in order to make it clearer what Ptolemy was talking about.” And so, what Porphyry ended up doing was largely just taking a bunch of these definitions from the introductory text of Antiochus and using them to form the Introduction to Ptolemy.
For the most part, these definitions in the versions of Porphyry are clearer and make more sense and are more grammatically consistent than the versions in the summary. The problem though is that the Porphyry text has interpolations in it. There’s some problems with the Porphyry text where it breaks off early, and it has some interpolations in it where somebody has taken some definitions from the 8th century work that was written in Arabic originally of Sahl ibn Bishr and then translated them from Arabic into Greek, and they basically inserted them into this text by Porphyry in weird and different places. So you’re reading some definitions that are defining basic concepts that we know about already in Hellenistic astrology, and then all of a sudden, there will be this weird concept of ‘transfer of light’ or something like that, which is a horary concept from the Medieval tradition which otherwise doesn’t show up in the Hellenistic tradition. You suddenly realize that you’re reading an interpolation or you’re reading something that’s been inserted into the text. That creates some fun problems that people have to deal with and work with if you’re trying to figure out what Antiochus originally wrote based on these later adaptations of his text.
Finally, the third version of Antiochus’ definitions is the late, Hellenistic astrologer, Rhetorius of Egypt who wrote sometime around the 6th or 7th century; he wrote a large Compendium on astrology. One of the things he did in the early parts of his work is that he took a lot of definitions of Antiochus and put them into his work, but he rewrote a number of them in order to update them. In some instances, it seemed like he updating them in order to make it so that the concepts were more reflective of how they were understood in his time, because some of the concepts had changed in the interim between the time of Antiochus in the 1st century and the time of Rhetorius in the 6th or 7th century.
So Rhetorius basically just updated some of Antiochus’ definitions. One of the things that Rhetorius does, to give you an example, is that in Antiochus, he defines the concept of a planetary conjunction separately from the concept of a planetary aspect. An aspect–which is a sextile, square, trine, or opposition–Antiochus considers to be different or somewhat categorically different than a conjunction, which is when two planets are in the same sign or are occupying the same degree within the same sign.
In the early Hellenistic tradition, there was a conceptual distinction between ‘an aspect’ proper–which is the casting of a ray from one planet in a sign to another planet in a sign–and that was seen as conceptually different than two planets being in the same sign or occupying or living in the same sign, side-by-side together. By the time of Rhetorius, about six or seven centuries later, they had kind of gotten rid of that distinction and instead were just treating conjunctions as aspects, essentially in the same way that we do today in modern astrology or in contemporary astrology in the early 21st century. Rhetorius rewrote some of those specific definitions of Antiochus to include conjunctions as a type of aspect
That’s an example of how Rhetorius was updating the text in some instances. In other areas, it seems like he tried to rewrite the text a little bit in order for it to make more sense, because some aspects of what Antiochus wrote were a little bit obscure or could be open to multiple, different interpretations; so Rhetorius tried to rewrite some of the definitions in order to clarify them. I did a whole of this that was like a six- or seven-hour attempt to compare the three texts, especially with the aspect definitions, in a seven-hour workshop on the original doctrine of configurations in the Hellenistic tradition.
I tried to present my version or reconstruction of my understanding of the original doctrine of aspects based on the original text of Antiochus that I had worked on with Demetra George and Benjamin Dykes. We had done that initially in order to check a similar reconstruction that Robert Schmidt had done, where he attempted to compare the three different versions of Antiochus and then come up with what he thought the original definitions were. We initially wanted to check to see if we would come to the same conclusion, and then it turned out that we actually came to different conclusions in our reconstruction in many instances than him. And so, we ended up putting out our own reconstruction, and I recorded that; at least my version of that, which was largely based on material I had worked on with Benjamin Dykes and Demetra George in that six-hour workshop for my Hellenistic course; that’s something of course that I’m going to integrate into the book that I’m working on now.
The text of Antiochus is very important, but it’s very difficult to actually get a sense of what he originally wrote; you basically have to compare all three of these texts and then try to infer what the original text must have said. In some instances, you’ll probably be successful in doing that, and in other instances, you might be wrong and you might infer the wrong thing in terms of what Antiochus originally did. That gives you an example of part of the process of reconstructing Hellenistic astrology that some people are taking part in right now over the course of the past 20 years or so in the astrological community in terms of trying to understand what some of the original core doctrines were, or for that matter, what some of the later doctrines were, such as in the case with Rhetorius.
So that’s the text of Antiochus and the issues surrounding it. After that, the next major astrologer that I want to mention here is from the late 1st century CE, and this is the work of Dorotheus of Sidon. Dorotheus wrote, again, an instructional text or a didactic instructional work in Greek in five books that was originally a poem that dealt with Hellenistic astrology. Dorotheus claimed in the text to have traveled widely in Mesopotamia and Egypt and cultivated all of the best doctrines from all of the astrologers from that area, or from both of those areas, I should say. In the ancient world, one of the sections that I’m working on now, which is on ancient views about the origins of the tradition, I talk about how there was this debate in antiquity about whether astrology came from Mesopotamia or whether it came from Egypt and who could take credit; basically, what culture could take credit for developing the astrological doctrines. The debate’s kind of complicated because, on the one hand, culturally, the debate arose partially because each of those two cultures had representatives who made pretty wild claims that they had invented astrology and invented astronomy.
Yesterday, as part of my write-up, I was working on and giving a summary of Diodorus of Sicily, who was a historian that wrote in the late 1st century BC, and he talks about the Egyptian priests taking credit for having invented astrology and even said that that the Egyptians themselves claimed that the Babylonians or the Mesopotamians got astrology from Egypt rather than the other way around; so there was this one-upmanship that was going on between the Mesopotamian and the Egyptian astrologers evidently. And that also went the other direction because then the Mesopotamians also tried to take credit, and they gave some pretty wild figures saying that they had astrological records or that their studies of astrology went back 400,000 years. These debates about the origins of astrology in the ancient tradition and whether it came from Mesopotamia or Egypt partially arose from each of these cultures and the astrologers from those cultures, especially the priestly class making some pretty wild claims that they came up with astrology.
But then there was this separate, compounding factor where because some of those early foundational texts of the Hellenistic astrological tradition were written under false names and were ascribed to legendary figures or mythical figures, or sometimes to religious figures, that created additional confusion in the ancient world about where astrology came from; for example, there were some early texts on astrology attributed to Zoroaster, who was supposed to be a Persian sage that lived in the distant past. What you’d have is you would have astrologers drawing on that text and saying, “Look at this amazing text from Zoroaster. This proves that astrology came from the Persians or from Mesopotamia.”
But then you would have other astrologers, like Valens, for example, reading the text of Nechepso, and evidently the text of Nechepso claimed that it was actually written by an Egyptian king that lived sometime in the remote past. And Valens, himself, if you read some of his digressions, he’s living in the 2nd century; he couldn’t just go on Wikipedia and look up all of the dynasties of the Egyptian kings of Egypt to figure out whether or not it was plausible that the text that he was reading actually came from an Egyptian king. For whatever reason, he took that for granted, and Valens seems to think that the text of Nechepso was actually written by an Egyptian king who was an astrologer, who lived during some sort of golden age of astrology in the remote past. At one point, Valens, himself, laments the state of the astrological profession in his time period, in the mid-2nd century, because there’s no astrologer-kings at that point in time that were living and practicing astrology.
Valens is kind of bummed out because he’s reading these core, foundational texts that he’s getting all these astrological doctrines from, and he thinks that they’re coming from some mythical or legendary figure from the past, but in fact, they probably weren’t. They were probably just attributed to an Egyptian king, Nechepso, even though they were written by some person in Egypt–probably around the year 100 CE, probably from Alexandria, perhaps connected with the Library of Alexandria–who just wanted to gain greater prestige for those works and wanted them to be recognized, and so, he wrote them in this mysterious fashion.
Anyway, the point is that there were texts like that attributed to Zoroaster, attributed to Nechepso, so therefore, some astrologers then assumed that the Egyptians invented astrology; there was even one very important text attributed to an astrologer named Abraham. The technique of zodiacal releasing and some techniques related to the Lot of Fortune and the Lot of Spirit actually seem to come from this text attributed to Abraham, who was, as most people know, the legendary founder of Judaism, who was probably not practicing horoscopic astrology because he lived centuries prior to its development; so it means that there was some later astrologer who decided to ascribe what would become an important astrological text to Abraham, to the Jewish sage, in the same way that someone else had attributed this text to Zoroaster to this legendary, Persian sage.
The existence of these texts floating around in ancient times that were attributed to these different figures created a lot of confusion in the ancient world; circling back around after that long digression, it’s interesting to see somebody like Dorotheus. He’s trying to create authority for himself in some way by saying, “I’ve traveled in both Mesopotamia and Egypt, and I collected doctrines from the foremost authorities in both of those areas.” So he’s kind of splitting the difference and he’s saying, “I don’t care where it came from, both of you guys had great, long, astrological traditions. I’m going to take the best of what both traditions have produced, and I’m going to present that for my readership in this text.”
Again, like with all of the great works of Hellenistic astrology up to this point, Dorotheus’ original text does not survive in its original form; so it was originally written in Greek in the form of a poem. I think I’ve said this before–I love saying it; it’s a funny way to put it–but I’ll attempt to say this clearly: What we have of Dorotheus at this point is an English translation of an Arabic translation of a Persian translation of the original Greek text of Dorotheus, which was itself written in the form of a poem so that it had a rhythm and a verse and rhymed.
So the text of Dorotheus that we have today is like three- or four-times removed from its original language, but unfortunately, that’s the only form that the complete work survives in; otherwise, the original Greek text itself hasn’t survived. We do have some fragments of the Greek text of Dorotheus. We have a little bit of it that survives in Greek which we can use to check the Arabic translation, but otherwise, we have to rely on the Arabic translation for most of our understanding of Dorotheus.
And the Dorotheus text, the first four books of it, deal primarily with natal astrology and different topics related to natal astrology and how to delineate them in a pretty standard manner from other Hellenistic astrological texts, except for the greater emphasis on the triplicity rulers. He really does seem to use the triplicity rulers for more things than other astrologers do, whereas other astrologers like Valens seemed to restrict them more to specific techniques; Dorotheus really uses them more widely for different topical analyses.
The fifth book of Dorotheus is super important because it’s actually the earliest complete text on electional astrology that survives from any of the astrological traditions. So some of the earliest and some of the most influential rules on electional astrology actually come from this text, from the late 1st century CE, from Dorotheus of Sidon. He probably wasn’t the first author to write about electional astrology because we have some fragments attributed to Petosiris which gives some rules for electional astrology, so it’s clear that earlier astrologers dealt with the topic. And of course, Dorotheus himself is not necessarily claiming originality; he is saying that he’s compiling doctrines from earlier astrologers. But nonetheless, because those earlier astrologers’ works don’t survive, in effect, Dorotheus’ text becomes the earliest surviving work on electional astrology.
There’s been some debates and some things have come up recently about references to horary astrology in that text. If you go back and listen to the episode where I interview Benjamin Dykes about the release of the translation he did with Eduardo Gramaglia of Book 3 of Hephaistio of Thebes–where Hephaistio summarizes some of Dorotheus’ fifth book on electional astrology–you’ll hear us talking about some issues related to the origins of horary in that work, because it appears that there is at least one reference to horary astrology in that text. We can see some of the earliest inklings of horary astrology starting to develop out of electional astrology and out of what I would argue is the concept of consultation charts, and the notion that the astrologer can cast a chart for the moment that a consultation with a client begins and that that chart will give you information about what the person is focused on, what the client is focused on, as well as what the outcome of their thoughts or what their focus will be.
So that’s something I dealt with already in that discussion with Benjamin Dykes; you can go back and listen to that episode if you want to hear more about that. I may return to that at some point for a full episode talking about the history and origins or horary. That’s been a long research project that I’ve worked on for a while, and I’d like to give an updated treatment of it. I don’t think that the paper that I wrote previously on the topic is necessarily accurate at this point, and I’d like to give more of a revised treatment of it sometime soon; but we’ll, for the present time, put that off for later.
All right, so that’s Dorotheus. Now we’ll start getting into some of the more interesting time periods once we get to the 2nd century. I’m going to skip Manetho; portions of his work were written in the early 2nd century. He’s actually one of those authors that includes his birth chart which evidently can be dated to May of the year 80 CE; so we have another astrologer including their birth chart in their written works. Also, around this time, in the early 2nd century CE, supposedly–at least David Pingree argued–the Greek, original text, which would later be translated into Sanskrit and would form part of the basis of horoscopic astrology in India, was written in Egypt in the late 1st or early 2nd century CE and then eventually translated into Sanskrit at some point a century or two after that. This is due to–well, I guess I’ve already discussed this before in previous episodes. You can go back and listen to the episode with Kenneth Johnson on the transmission of Hellenistic astrology to India, I believe was the title of that episode, if you’d like to hear more about that.
Now we get firmly into the 2nd century and the first astrologer that we encounter during this period is actually the most famous astrologer probably ever, I would have to say–probably the most famous and most influential astrologer ever, Claudius Ptolemy. Ptolemy was a really interesting character because if you were to try to take the modern concept of a scientist and project it backwards, Ptolemy is probably one of the best examples of an ancient scientist that you could come up with. Obviously, he wouldn’t really fit the modern definition of the term in terms of the use of the scientific method and some of the other issues related to that, but Ptolemy was essentially a polymath.
People in modern times talk about a unified field theory or an overarching, theoretical, or philosophical conceptualization or construct that encompasses all of the phenomenon that we know of today in the world, or in terms of all natural phenomenon; Ptolemy is one of the people that came to closest to doing that in the ancient world, where he wrote several different works in several different fields. His most famous work and his most influential work was in the field of astronomy, where he wrote a text that later became known as the Almagest; this became the most influential standard work on astronomy from the 2nd century and for hundreds and hundreds of years after that point well into the Renaissance.
So he was most well-known for his work on astronomy. He was also well-known for his work on astrology, which we know of today as the Tetrabiblos, although it was originally known as the Apotelesmata, which means something like ‘astrological outcomes’ or ‘effects’ or ‘prognostics’. It later became known simply as Tetrabiblos, which means ‘four books’ because it was divided up into four books in Greek. Ptolemy wrote and was primarily known for those works on astronomy and astrology, or those two books on astronomy and astrology, but he also wrote works on optics; he wrote a work on geography; he wrote a work on harmonics; these are all works that survive in some form or another today. There were also a bunch of other lost works that he wrote, including one that I’m really annoyed that we lost and didn’t survive, which was supposed to be a work on the elements.
Ptolemy was basically a polymath who tried to cover a number of different scientific fields and tried to bring them together into one, unified field theory in some sense. His astrological text became so influential that it’s really the only astrological text that’s been continually transmitted from century to century and from language to language since the time it was written in the mid-2nd century, all the way through to the present time; so Ptolemy is one of the only constants in the astrological tradition since the 2nd century, and therefore, he has been one of the most influential astrologers ever as a result of that. And as a result of that, because he’s often one of the only Hellenistic texts that’s been widely-available at any point in the astrological tradition over the past 2,000 years, he’s often taken as the standard for what early astrology was like. He’s taken to be, not the litmus test, but more like the epitome of what it was assumed that Greek astrology was like.
What’s interesting about that is that one of the big discovering over the past 20 years, as astrologers started going back to read the texts of the Hellenistic astrologers and translate them–and they started finding works by Dorotheus and by Antiochus, Thrasyllus, and all these other astrologers–they started noticing that Ptolemy’s work was different than many of the other astrologers and that Ptolemy did things slightly differently than what seemed to be the contemporary or prevailing tradition at the time, which is typically seen as being better exemplified in the works of Dorotheus of Sidon or Vettius Valens, who was a contemporary of Ptolemy, who lived shortly after Ptolemy but in the same area essentially, in Egypt or in Alexandria.
Holden made this point already in 1996, and I think perhaps earlier, in some of his early writings in the 1980s. And Holden went a little far. Ptolemy’s astrological work, the Tetrabiblos, he called it an “abridged, deviant version of Hellenistic astrology,” which is kind of true; it’s stated a little bit strongly. He’s making that case with the wording he’s using–I’m not sure that I would use that exact wording–but his general point was true that Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos was not a complete treatment of every area of Hellenistic astrology and it was not necessarily the standard or wasn’t as standard as we might have expected it would have been if we didn’t have these other texts to compare it to.
When we compare the text to people like Dorotheus and Valens, we see a ton of similarities and a ton of overlap between them, so that it’s clear that they’re drawing on the same tradition. Whereas, when we compare the texts of Dorotheus and Valens or other Hellenistic astrologers to the texts of Ptolemy, we see a number of differences, both in the techniques that are being employed in terms of dealing with specific topics–like parents, children, or career, or treating even character issues, the soul, or things like that–but also in Ptolemy’s philosophy. He has a very specific philosophical agenda in terms of what he’s trying to accomplish and how he’s trying to conceptualize astrology in order to fit it into his overarching world paradigm. This is something that’s been treated extensively in Geoffrey Cornelius’ book, The Moment of Astrology. I believe we talked a little bit about Ptolemy a few months ago when I interviewed him about that, so you can go back and listen to that episode for more.
So Ptolemy is interesting because it was an incredibly important and incredibly influential work, but it was not necessarily representative of the mainstream of Greco-Roman astrology. That being the case, there’s still some very important things in Ptolemy and there’s still elements of Ptolemy where he is preserving elements of the astrological tradition. The issue is not necessarily that Ptolemy is being completely different or unrepresentative of the astrological tradition, or is just doing things arbitrarily or in a completely idiosyncratic manner, which is more of an issue that you run into sometimes with Manilius. The issue with Ptolemy is that he’ll have a tendency–because of his philosophical paradigm and predilections–to emphasize certain things about the tradition and then downplay or not mention or underemphasize other elements of the tradition. This is often because Ptolemy was trying to situate astrology within the context of Aristotelian philosophy and notions of how the planets could be the efficient causes of events that were happening on Earth and events that were happening in people’s lives versus other astrologers–such as Valens or maybe Dorotheus to some extent–who may have been conceptualizing astrology more in the sense of dealing with omens or signs, or signifying future events without necessarily being the causes of them.
Ptolemy wanted to conceptualize or reconceptualize astrology as a causal science, and therefore, some of the modifications that he makes in some of the technical doctrines seem to be based on his wanting to reconceptualize astrology in that way; and you can kind of see that, especially in Book 1, where he’s introducing some of the basic concepts like the domicile assignments or the concept of exaltations and things like that. He’ll tend to emphasize naturalistic explanations of things like with domicile assignments or the exaltations, and he’ll talk about different levels of heat and moisture that are present during different seasons because he’s making the zodiac tropical. And as we talked about a couple of episodes ago, during the zodiac episode, Ptolemy was the one responsible for firmly instituting the tropical zodiac as the primary reference point, which is then interesting in terms of the point I was making earlier about Ptolemy being the only continually-transmitted text over the past 2,000 years, and therefore, the most influential, despite the fact that he was not necessarily the most mainstream of the astrologers during that period.
Anyway, Ptolemy was using the tropical zodiac, and he would tend to focus on naturalistic explanations for astrological concepts like the exaltations or the domicile assignments, and he would leave out or not mention other explanations that were more symbolic or more abstract. For example, Porphyry, in his Introduction to Ptolemy, which is drawing on Antiochus, points out that the signs of exaltation, where a planet is exalted, are all configured either by trine to one of the planet’s domiciles if the planet is diurnal, or they’re all configured by sextile to one of the planet’s domiciles if the planet is nocturnal. Ptolemy doesn’t mention that explanation, and I would argue that it’s because Ptolemy wanted to reconceptualize astrology and was tending to favor the explanations that were more naturalistic; whereas, what he had inherited from the earlier tradition, from the two centuries or so that preceded him, was probably a system that contained a mixture of naturalistic and symbolic or omen-like rationalizations of the astrological phenomena.
For the most part, Ptolemy downplayed the more symbolic rationales, although he wasn’t able to completely. If you read through some of the later parts of Ptolemy’s work, especially Book 3 and Book 4 where he gets to the actual techniques of natal astrology, he’s really not able to completely divorce natal astrology and Hellenistic astrology as a technical construct. He’s not really able to divorce it completely from the symbolic, omen-based or divination-based method that he’s inherited from his predecessors. but in terms of the way that he initially tries to frame it in Book 1 and sometimes makes some attempts to stay consistent in later books, he at least tries to frame it in a more naturalistic context.
During his time-frame, in the 2nd century, it’s from Ptolemy that we get that analogy that sometimes people still invoke today, where they’ll point out that the Sun and the seasons and the movement of the seasons affects nature, and it affects the growth and decay of plant life and of animal life, and because we can see that the Moon and its phases coincides with or influences the tides of the ocean when it’s high tide and low tide, by extension, the luminaries and the other planets should then influence physical life on Earth in some similar fashion; that becomes a naturalistic rationale for astrology and that rationale comes from Ptolemy. Ptolemy was the first astrologer, at least that we have one record, who makes that kind of an analogy. He’s drawing on an earlier peripatetic or Aristotelian tradition that had been growing and developing for several centuries by that point that’s derived ultimately from Aristotle.
So Ptolemy is trying to frame astrology in what, at least in his day, would have seemed like a pretty rational, scientific model for how the universe might work, which is in terms of the luminaries, but also the other five, visible planets emitting or somehow influencing life on Earth through their ability, for Ptolemy, to control or alter differing levels of heat and moisture that are present in the atmosphere and in the ambient surroundings of the Earth, which then in turn filters down to us and influences life on Earth and influences human behavior, personalities, and things of that nature.
That physical, naturalistic rationale for astrology doesn’t work as well today. When you read it in Ptolemy–and when you understand the way that he conceptualized the universe and the way that he created a paradigm for how the universe could work and how it could explain why astrology could work in a very natural way that makes it an extension of nature rather than something that’s supernatural or that’s outside of nature–when you read the way that he does that, it’s actually very beautiful and very impressive because it almost comes off as plausible, and for centuries, for people who lived after that point, it was a plausible explanation of how the universe worked.
One of the side effects of Ptolemy framing astrology in this way–and the fact that he was successful in putting astrology or reframing it so that it could be seen as being natural and being scientific–is that this actually allowed astrology to survive; some historians, such as Nicholas Campion argue that this is what allowed astrology to survive the Middle Ages. Even though astrology came under attack from religious authorities–especially after the rise of Christianity and the subsequent outlawing of astrology in some places where Christianity was dominant–because Ptolemy was able to reconceputalize astrology and frame it in a naturalistic context, that gave some people and some astrologers the ability to defend it and to defend the practice of astrology in that context in subsequent centuries. And so, even though astrology continued to have, in the Middle Ages and after that point, a tenuous relationship with the Church and with the authorities in some instances, it was able to get by and able to still be practiced and seen as relatively respectable because of this naturalistic reconceptualization that Ptolemy was able to accomplish in the 2nd century.
Today, there’s a bit of a problem with that where Ptolemy’s rationale doesn’t work because we know that the universe is not actually composed in the way that it would have needed to be for Ptolemy’s rationale to make sense, at least in the way that it’s specifically outlined in the Tetrabiblos. The way it actually works is very specific and has to do with the order of the planets and their relationship to the Sun and the heating component or the heating properties that the Sun has in terms of the different levels of heat and moisture that then filters down into the sublunar realm from the planets. The way that Ptolemy frames that is not a plausible explanation of reality or of nature, the universe, or what have you at this point in time.
Whether or not astrology could be explained or rationalized in some sense or could work in some sense as a result of other natural phenomenon or other types of celestial influence that haven’t been discovered yet is open to question or debate, and that’s certainly something that astrologers do debate. Although, as I discussed with Geoffrey Cornelius a few months ago in November, in that episode where I talked to him about The Moment of Astrology, one of his arguments is that Ptolemy’s work, even though it allowed astrology to survive the Middle Ages, ultimately, it was to our detriment to the sense that, according to Cornelius, we lost the part of astrology that has to do with the reading of omens and the use of astrology more as a type of divination rather than as a natural phenomenon or at least as a causal phenomenon.
And that’s actually a debate that after Ptolemy’s time became much more prominent because Ptolemy influenced generations and generations of people to start conceptualizing the world and conceptualizing astrology as working through the planets, directly or indirectly influencing human life and influencing our characters and our actions. Ptolemy’s introduction of that method or that conceptualization spawned a debate, which you see showing up in philosophers only a century or two after Ptolemy, such as Plotinus who writes this long criticism of that conceptualization of astrology, where, without specifically mentioning Ptolemy, he’s very directly critiquing the Ptolemeic conceptualization of astrology, which by that point, only a century later, had already taken hold and become mainstream.
To some extent, it’s difficult because Ptolemy became the most influential astrologer and his Tetrabiblos became the standard work on the subject, which then set that standard in terms of the causal conceptualizations of astrology. Although Ptolemy, himself, probably didn’t invent it, he was working within the context of Aristotelian tradition and notions of celestial influence that had been developing for a few centuries up to that point. That was part of the debate or that was part of the point that Maria and I talked about in the last episode, where some academics, some scholars use notions of astrology working as a result of celestial influences as the concept that distinguishes the Hellenistic tradition from the earlier Mesopotamian tradition; they say that notions of celestial influence were absent in the Mesopotamian tradition, but they formed the basis of the Hellenistic conceptualization of astrology.
There’s some truth to that to the extent that notions of celestial influence grew and developed and became a major conceptual motif both in Western philosophy and in Aristotelianism, but also in astrology after Aristotle. However, I think there’s a mistake or there’s this assumption that it was the Nechepso and Petosiris text that contained or introduced some of these notions of celestial influence, but this is based on an inference from Hephaistio of Thebes in the 5th century, who was somebody that was very fond of Ptolemy and who drew on Ptolemy heavily in composing his work in the 5th century. Hephaistio may have inserted some of his own comments that had to do with celestial influence in a chapter that he was attributing to the ancient Egyptians, which some scholars assumed meant that Nechepso and Petosiris. They take some of those Ptolemaic conceptualizations of astrology and of the planets influencing life on Earth and they project it back into the Nechepso and Petosiris time-frame, around 100 BC, and then they assume that that was really the breaking point between the Mesopotamian and the Hellenistic astrological traditions.
Just to expand on what we mentioned briefly in the last episode, the problem with that definition of astrology is that even though that causal conceptualization of astrology is the most well-articulated and Ptolemy became the dominant paradigm in the Hellenistic tradition, or became one of the dominant paradigms, it was not the only paradigm. In fact, the notion of the planets and stars working as signs or omens of future events rather than as causes persisted and continued all throughout the Hellenistic tradition.
You can see references to a debate about this taking place in the astrological tradition during the course of the entire Hellenistic tradition, from its earliest phase in the 1st century, where there’s a reference in the philosopher Seneca to an astrology of signs versus an astrology of causes–he dismisses them both, saying that both are nonsense–to even as late as the 5th century, where you have Hephaistio of Thebes opening up his work; in his three books, he synthesizes Dorotheus and Ptolemy and draws on both of them continuously throughout his work. He basically opens it up by saying whether astrology works as a result of signs or whether astrology works as a result of causes, it doesn’t matter, and then he goes into the rest. He acknowledges that there’s a debate about this and then moves past it and says, “Let’s talk about the techniques.”
One of the issue I have is that Ptolemy’s work was so influential that it definitely set a standard, but it also obscured a little bit of the origins and the conceptualizations of astrology in the Hellenistic tradition, so that even today when scholars are looking back and researching the Hellenistic tradition, I feel like Ptolemy is still taken as being too paradigmatic and too representative of the entirety of the Hellenistic tradition when he was not necessarily. What happened as a result of this in the astrological community, starting in the 1980s and ‘90s, there was kind of a backlash against Ptolemy, where some people, like Holden and others, spoke more disparagingly of him in saying that he was not mainstream, or that his work was a deviant version of Hellenistic astrology. While there’s some truth to that, I think we should be careful not to go too much in the opposite stream; Ptolemy was still representing elements that were there and that were present in the tradition prior to his time, even if he became the best example of them.
All right, so that’s Ptolemy. Let’s move on to Vettius Valens. I’ve already way overshot my time for this episode; I’m up to almost two-and-a-half-hours. I’m just going to say the hell with it and keep going. What I’m doing is I’m working through stuff. I’ve been working on this chapter for the past month, and so I’ve been thinking about all of this. And it’s good to talk about it, because reflecting on how to present it is actually helpful to me as I’m looking through this rough draft of this chapter of this book and how to describe some of these things to a general audience.
So I’m just going to go for it and keep going through the astrologers. We’re probably a little more than halfway or maybe even further than that, so I’ll just go until I’m finished. We’ll just call this, depending on your perspective, either an extra special episode of The Astrology Podcast that’s super-long and detailed, full of lots of good information, or depending on if your perspective is that this is not very interesting, then a super-long and boring episode of the podcast, but I will leave that up to you to decide.
All right, so Vettius Valens. There’s this other astrologer, Vettius Valens, and he’s really our main source for Hellenistic astrology at this point; he’s a source that’s only recently been recovered, depending on if you’re looking at the academic community or if you’re looking at the astrological community. If you’re looking at the academic community, it’s only been in the past century that his text has been fully-recovered and edited and was published in the first decade of the 20th century by Wilhelm Kroll, with another critical edition by David Pingree in the 1980s. So academics have kind of been aware of Valens and have been using Valens and mining his text for information about ancient astronomy and astrology for about a century now.
Astrologers are a little bit slower on the uptake. We’ve only been really working with Valens’ text for the past two decades, ever since the first seven of the nine books were translated starting in the mid-1990s by Robert Schmidt and Robert Hand. More recently, a full translation, or at least a full, preliminary translation or a rough draft of Valens was released in 2010 by a scholar named Mark Riley, who basically just put up a .pdf of an English translation of the entire text on his website, which he had used in the early-to-mid-’90s when he was writing some academic articles about Valens, but then subsequently decided to move on to other research areas, so he never published the translation.
So Valens was an astrologer from Antioch–which was located in the province of Syria; it’s around the Syria/Turkey area in modern times–and he lived in the middle of the 2nd century CE, and he is our single most important surviving source for studying the Hellenistic tradition. His work, which is nine-books-long, is known collectively as the Anthology. He originally wrote the books for his students; he actually ran an astrological school in Egypt, in Alexandria, even though he originally came from Antioch. He talks about his life a lot, and at one point, he has this long digression about how he wanted to learn more time-lord techniques or more time-lord systems.
Specifically, he had some good techniques at that point for studying really broad periods of time in a person’s life in order to divide the person’s life up into entire chapters, in order to study entire decades of a person’s life and determine that this decade in a person’s life is going to be really good, but this two-decade-long period in a person’s life is going to be kind of rough. He was looking for a technique that was better at studying smaller increments of time, and so, he says that he traveled to Egypt–which was the birthplace and the center, the Mecca of Hellenistic astrology–in search of somebody who could teach him techniques for studying shorter divisions of time. Eventually, after much searching and after getting frustrated and giving up at one point, and then deciding to go back out again in search of the techniques, he found somebody who taught him the technique, and this turned out to be this elaborate form of annual profections.
Valens is our single most important source, not just because he was a practicing astrologer in the Hellenistic period, and not just because he also cites numerous sources and sometimes quotes a number of earlier sources–including frequent citations from the lost works of Nechepso and Petosiris– but Valens also includes over a hundred chart examples in order to demonstrate how to use different techniques. One of the charts that he uses, he doesn’t actually specifically name it, but David Pingree in his critical edition inferred that this chart that Valens uses most frequently was actually the birth chart of Valens himself. This is an inference, but I think it’s probably a correct inference because of the level of detail that Valens seems to know about this person’s life, and because this person’s chart seems to show up a number of different times, at different points in the anthology. On top of that, Valens also knows the conception date. He gives the conception chart for this person as well, which presumably was calculated or rectified, although that’s unclear.
Valens’ chronology and all of the charts that are contained in Valens’ work was first dated in the 1950s by Neugebauer and Van Hoesen in their work titled, Greek Horoscopes; this is a work that collects all of the existing Greek horoscopes that were known at that point in time. There’s been other subsequent collections of Greek horoscopes which basically contain all of the surviving birth charts that were written in Greek, and there’s been other collections of Greek horoscopes that have added additional ones to the collection over the past few decades, but for the most part, this collection is still the core and has the vast majority of them birth charts that survive from the Hellenistic tradition.
And in this work, Neugebauer and Van Hoesen worked out a chronology of Valens that showed that the majority of his work on the Anthology was done between the year 152 CE and the year 162 CE; so basically, over the course of a decade or so, in the middle of the 2nd century. Because Valens is using all these example charts, he’s also using them for timing. So he says that, “This person was born at such-and-such time, and then such-and-such event took place when they were 34-years-old,” or 40-years-old, or what have you, and the time-frame ends up being sometime around the middle of the 2nd century.
So Valens is really cool because he has a lot of personal digressions; he talks a lot about his personal story and his personal journey into astrology. He talks about how he’s writing these books for his students, and he talks about his favorite student at one point; and in one of the texts, he actually addresses the text to his student, Marcus. In another part of the Anthology–and it’s not clear if this is written earlier or later–Valens apologizes for the delay in composing the text because he says that his eyesight hasn’t been very good recently, and he’s been really depressed due to the death of his favorite student; it’s not clear if this is the student Marcus, who was mentioned before, or if this is another student. What we have of the Anthology is a collection of nine books, but some of the books were probably written separately at different points in Valens’ life and released separately.
Valens talks about the astrological community at different points, and at one point, he asks the reader about three different times to swear an oath to, on the one hand, not share his teachings with the unlearned and the uninitiated because they’re supposed to be part of a mystery tradition; but on the other hand, he also seems to have been troubled. He found some of his texts being circulated without his name on them, or with somebody else’s name attributed to them. So in the oath, he makes you swear to give recognition to your teacher and to the person who introduced you to the study, which if you’re reading Valens’ text means Valens himself; but others have inferred that he’s also saying that you have to recognize, even if Valens isn’t your direct teacher, whoever else introduced you or was your teacher in teaching you astrology initially.
For Valens, there’s this mystical or religious component to astrology as well; he sees it as something that’s really important and really big and really philosophically-deep and life-changing, or very much informs his purpose in life and very much informs, I don’t know, just his conceptualization of the universe. But when you read the texts, you get the sense of somebody that’s very passionate about what he’s doing and very dedicated to astrology as a form of knowledge that he’s passing onto future generations, and that he’s trying to do his best to do that in manner that’s consistent and that’s clear and concise. And actually he complains about some of the earlier authors who he says were sometimes writing in too cryptic of a fashion, to the extent that at one point in Book 7, he figuratively throws up his arms and he says either this author was deliberately going out of their way to be super obscure and super annoying in the way that they’re writing this text, or they simply didn’t know what they were talking about; and Valens has this mini-breakdown or tantrum about one of the texts that he’s drawing on at that point.
In the end, he sticks with the text and he continues trying to unravel them–even though the ones that he’s drawing on are cryptic–because he thinks that they contain important information. Ultimately, he’s impressed by some of the techniques that he finds in them and then he transmits those techniques to us, and Valens actually becomes our sole source for a number of different techniques from the Hellenistic tradition, including several important timing techniques, such as my favorite timing technique–which I think is the most impressive and most powerful one–known as zodiacal releasing, but he also becomes the source of a number of other timing techniques as well.
Valens draws on a large variety of different sources. Eventually, some parts of his work get transmitted–both the Greek texts do–but also some parts of Valens are transmitted into Persian and then subsequently translated into Arabic, so that they influence a little bit the early Medieval tradition; but for the most part, you don’t hear about Valens as a major author until very recently. And so, the rediscovery of Valens has been kind of a big deal because he seems to give us more insight into what the mainstream of the astrological tradition was in the mid-2nd century compared to somebody like Ptolemy. Valens is using actual example charts and is talking about running an astrological school and seeing clients and basically being an astrologer; in that way, he’s very relatable to contemporary astrologers today because he’s doing many of the same things; his motivations and his concerns are very similar to many astrologers today.
Whereas for somebody like Ptolemy, Ptolemy is trying to create an impressive, overarching, cosmological model and explanation for how astrology ties into astronomy and optics and geography, numerology, and all of these other things. And so, Ptolemy’s interest in astrology is almost more academic in some sense than it is practical; although, perhaps we shouldn’t go that far. I don’t want to necessarily make this same accusation against Ptolemy, like I said earlier, that Holden made, that Ptolemy wasn’t a practicing astrologer because it’s hard to say either way; that may or may not have been the case. Valens certainly, at the very least, gives us more evidence and is certainly more straightforward in demonstrating how the practice of astrology was done in that period, and in showing himself as a practicing astrologer at that time than Ptolemy or even a number of other authors for that matter.
So that’s the work of Valens. His primary period of activity was in the 150s and 160s; nothing is known about him after the early 170s. One of the things that I noted is that this is around the same time that the Antonine Plague breaks out across the Roman Empire and millions of people die as a result of this plague. It’s possible that Valens was also one of the people who succumbed to it at that time, although that’s purely speculative; we really have no idea. So that’s Vettius Valens.
After Valens, the next notable astrologer, just in terms of highlights, is Porphyry of Tyre. Actually, it’s probably Porphyry of Tyre, but again, I’m probably mispronouncing things that I’ve only read rather than heard spoken out loud, as is so often the case with some of these ancient names. So Porphyry I’ve already talked about. He was a prominent, Neoplatonic philosopher who flourished in the late 3rd century CE. He was a student of the founder of Neoplatonism who’s name was Plotinus; although Porphyry himself was regarded as an important philosopher in his own right in late antiquity. He occasionally makes references to astrological doctrines in his philosophical works, which makes it clear that he was familiar with astrology. There’s at least one surviving astrological text that was attributed to him, which is this Introduction to the Apotelesmatiká of Ptolemy.
I’ve already talked about this in the section where I talked about Antiochus, where Porphyry’s text is one of the texts that contains the definitions of Antiochus. In reality, Porphyry’s text is almost entirely composed of definitions from Antiochus, so there’s little reason to discuss it outside of that context as a separate work; there’s very little in that Introduction that was clearly by Porphyry rather than being derived from Antiochus himself.
One interesting point that’s worth noting here is that the word or the name ‘Porphyry’ is best known by astrologers in modern times for the system of quadrant division that bears his name, which everyone knows is the Porphyry house system. You take the different quadrants that are established by the degree of the Ascendant and the Midheaven and the Descendant and the IC, and then you trisect them, or you divide them into three parts that are equal. It’s not an equal house division; I guess the correct term is actually proportional. So it’s a proportional house system where you trisect the quadrants between the degrees of the angles.
James Holden points out that although it’s true that Porphyry talks about and introduces this system in Chapter 43 of the Introduction, Valens actually already talks about it a century earlier in the Anthology, in the mid-2nd century. When Rob Hand talks about this, he says that it would actually be more proper to call Porphyry houses the ‘Valentinian system of house division’ since Valens is the first author that mentions it. I don’t really think that’s going to catch on anytime soon because people have been calling it Porphyry houses for quite a long time now. Usually, when there’s ingrained or longstanding historical attributions like that, it’s sometimes better just to stick with whatever the attribution is for the sake of clarity rather than try to revise it for the sake of accuracy, but that’s an interesting, little, historical aside.
In terms of the life of Porphyry, there’s not a lot. I mean, there’s a lot of interesting stuff in terms of his life and in terms of some of the philosophical stuff that he says that relates to astrology, but that would be part of a much longer digression about Neoplatonism and things of that nature. One thing that Porphyry does do and one thing that’s unique about his work is that he contains the most extensive treatment of the Ruler of the Nativity from the Hellenistic tradition. This is probably also derived from Antiochus’ work, but nonetheless, in the Antiochus summary, I don’t think it’s there; it’s only present in Porphyry’s version of Antiochus’ definitions.
This becomes important because Porphyry, in a separate philosophical work, in the Letter to Anebo— which is then critiqued in Iamblichus’ work, On the Mysteries–he says that the astrologers determine the Master of the Nativity or the Ruler of the Nativity, the overall ruler of the entire chart, in order to identify the native’s guardian daimon, or the native’s guardian spirit. So it’s interesting that Porphyry’s text is one of the only texts which actually preserves the calculation; there’s two different, variant calculations or possible calculations for determining the Master of the Nativity and the Lord of the Nativity; and it’s interesting that Porphyry is also the philosophical sources that informs us about how some astrologers would have used this, or what metaphysical or philosophical reasons they would have used this technique for.
I did a whole research project on that that I wrote up at one point that I never released, but I’m thinking about including that as a chapter in the book in order to present Porphyry’s system or calculation for determining the Master of the Nativity as a chapter on its own. I’m sort of debating it at this point because the whole topic is dealt with very infrequently and very insufficiently in the Hellenistic tradition, so that it’s hard to have a great textual basis for how that gets used even once you’ve determined the Master of the Nativity. And some of the things related to it are just kind of murky textually, so I’m still trying to decide if I’ll deal with that later in the book. Anyway, that’s Porphyry.
The next major astrologer of the Hellenistic tradition that’s worth noting here for our purposes is going to be Firmicus Maternus. Before we get to that point, it’s actually probably worth mentioning that there was an earlier author named Antigonus of Nicea who wrote a book of famous charts in the late 2nd century; he includes some famous charts, including the chart of the Emperor Hadrian. Firmicus Maternus may have drawn on Antigonus’ work, or at least a work like Antigonus’. I was reading this the other day and reviewing it, and it was a really interesting set of hypothetical charts; Firmicus would have a hypothetical chart that contained a bunch of positions in order to exemplify a concept. So it was a hypothetical chart in order to demonstrate an ideal situation of somebody that has such-and-such profession or excels in such-and-such area might have this-this-and-this placement, and he’ll come up with a hypothetical chart for that.
Another thing that they were doing that I thought was really interesting is that they were picking different famous people from the distant past–sometimes real people like Plato or Democrates–or sometimes they would pick more legendary figures–like Homer or Odysseus–and they would come up with a hypothetical chart. It wasn’t a rectification. They weren’t trying to figure out what the actual chart was because they had no basis for even knowing approximately when that person lived or probably even calculating charts that far back, hundreds of years prior to that time; but they would create a hypothetical chart of what they thought a person like that might have based on what they knew of the person’s life.
At first, I always thought that was kind of annoying that they were just creating random, fake charts. But as I was looking over it again recently, I was thinking about it some more and it was kind of an interesting concept; the idea of a mental exercise of creating a hypothetical chart of what you would think a certain literary character would have. If you were reading your favorite book, and you’re really into a specific character–like let’s say you’re reading the Harry Potter books or something like that–and you have a really clear or a really vivid idea of what this character’s personality is like, then you’d create a hypothetical chart of what you think that person’s birth chart would be like in order to match those characteristics, or in order to match the events in that person’s life.
Firmicus Maternus has an entire chapter on this. Since Firmicus was often drawing on earlier Greek sources, this may represent an example of some earlier astrological works and things that were done in some texts in order to teach astrological concepts, by using what were sometimes hypothetical charts. So that’s Antigonus of Nicea. Before we move on, we have an important historical event, which is that we’re getting to the 4th century now, and in the year 313, the Emperor Constantine legalizes Christianity in the Roman Empire. Some of the astrologers that we find after this point are Christians, or at least Christianity is becoming more important in terms of the dialogue surrounding astrology, certainly from the 2nd and 3rd centuries forward.
As we talked about a few episodes ago, in the episode on the Star of Bethlehem, initially, in the New Testament, at least in the story of the Star of Bethlehem, it comes off as sort of like a pro-astrology story, where astrology is being used in order to legitimize the birth of the Messiah. But in subsequent centuries, as Christianity got more and more popular, there started to be this tension between astrology and Christianity because Christianity placed a lot of emphasis on free will and on the concept of choosing whether or not you wanted to be saved essentially, or choosing salvation versus not. And astrology created some theological conflicts because it implied that, at least to some extent, that people’s lives were predetermined and to what extent was debated.
So the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire and the adoption of Christianity in the Roman Empire subsequently, starting in 313, becomes a little problematic for astrology because a lot of the early Church fathers were writing polemics against astrology at this point in time. And one of the things that’s interesting that I’m going to deal with next month–as I move into the philosophical chapter in dealing with some issues related to the philosophy of Hellenistic astrology–is that oftentimes, by this point in the 2nd and 3rd and 4th centuries, discussions about fate were often tied in with and were basically treated as interchangeable with discussions about astrology. So concepts of fate and astrology became fully intertwined and interchangeable and almost inextricable at that point in time; unfortunately, most of these discussions were polemics against astrology and against fate on the part of Christian theologians.
Eventually, we get to Firmicus Maternus in the middle of the 4th century, and Firmicus is our second author who wrote in Latin besides Manilius; we really only have two authors. Even though this is during the time of Roman Empire, and the Romans’ primary language was Latin, the educated language that most people wrote in was Greek. Greek was the primary language of especially astrology in Alexandria, so the vast majority of all the astrological texts we’re talking about were all written in Greek, except the text of Manilius and the text of Firmicus.
I was doing this whole workup on the bio of Firmicus a couple of days ago, and his story is really interesting because Firmicus was basically just a lawyer from Sicily, who lived during the time of the Emperor Constantine and his sons. And the way he tells the story and introduces his book–his book ends up being, if not the longest, it’s one of the longest-surviving texts on Hellenistic astrology from the Roman era. It’s literally the longest text on Hellenistic astrology that survives, and that’s because a lot of it is just delineation material where he interprets what it means when Saturn is in the 1st house or what Saturn means when it’s in the 2nd house, 3rd house, or so on and so forth; so it’s really long because it’s largely just delineation material.
So Firmicus dedicates the book to this friend of his named Lollianus Mavortius, and what he says in the story is that Lollianus is this government official. Firmicus was traveling one winter and he had this really difficult journey, and this friend, Lollianus Mavortius, nursed Firmicus back to health. During Firmicus’ time staying with him, Lollianus told him some stories about astrology and expressed his interest in astrology, and for some reason, Firmicus offered to write a textbook on astrology in Latin for Mavortius based on earlier sources; or at least, he offered to write a book on astrology.
He doesn’t really say why Firmicus offered this. The way that Firmicus frames it, he’s just a lawyer that got stuck in a storm and almost died, but got nursed back to health by this guy, and the way it seems to have gone is that this guy expressed interest in astrology. I suspect what happened is that Firmicus offered to write a book in Latin because perhaps Mavortius could only read Latin, but he couldn’t read Greek; whereas, Firmicus, as a lawyer, perhaps with some classical training, knew Greek. And so, Firmicus, maybe in order to repay the generosity of his host says, “Hey, when I get back home, I’ll write a book for you about astrology in Latin, so you can read it yourself. And I’ll draw on as many Greek sources as I can find in order to give you a great compilation, in order to repay your generosity.” And Mavortius is like, “Yeah, that’d be great.”
Firmicus leaves, and then a couple of years later, Mavortius gets a promotion and becomes the governor of a large area in the Roman Empire; this is around the year 330 CE. He writes to Firmicus, or sends him a message basically reminding Firmicus of his promise to write a book on astrology for him. Firmicus is like, “Oh, no, now I really have to do this,” and he sets to work writing this long book based on earlier astrological sources on astrology in Latin. In the final book that we have, as it’s come down to us, he kind of complains about this and says that his offer to write the book was rash, and that he kind of regrets it because it’s taking forever; it’s kind of an annoying project, but he feels indebted. And then on top of this, this guy is becoming more and more politically powerful, so it would probably be not a great idea for Firmicus politically to not fulfill his promise. Eventually, he fulfills his promise after many years of working on this book, and it becomes the longest-surviving text on Hellenistic astrology, and evidently, it got out there at some point after Firmicus wrote it for his friend.
So there’s some other stuff about Firmicus. For example, at some point, he seems to have converted to Christianity, and then he published another book, which is the only other book of Firmicus that survived, which is a Christian attack on the pagan religions; it’s titled, The Error of the Pagan Religions, or something to that effect. At this point, there’s some debate amongst historians, or there has been for about a century or more than a century now about the dating of Firmicus and the order in which these two works were written.
I have this long segment in my book about this. Again, this is one of those things of really trying to narrow down the dating of certain authors because that becomes important in terms of understanding the history and development of astrology. And for Firmicus, in particular, it’s kind of important to establish whether he wrote the astrological work first or whether he wrote the Christian polemic first because it informs you about what Christian views on astrology were at that point in time. If he wrote the Christian polemic first and the astrology text later, then it implies that as a Christian, he could still view astrology positively, even though a lot of the Church fathers were against it; whereas, if he wrote the astrological text first and the Christian polemic later, it probably implies that he could do the astrology initially, but then later, when he converted to Christianity, that might not be something that he could do as much.
I have this very long, several pages, working out the time-frame; basically, it becomes a debate the historians have been having about whether Firmicus finished the astrological text in the 330s or in the 350s. If he finished it in the 330s, he probably started working on it around the year 330 and then finished writing it and sent it to his friend in the year 337. So it would have taken him about seven years to do, which is probably a sufficiently long enough time for him to express annoyance at having to do the project, and it seeming like an annoying thing that he had to deal with for seven years of his life. If he started writing it in the 330s, but didn’t publish it until the 350s, then we’re talking about a 20+-year project that was hanging around his neck for a very long period of time, which is not entirely implausible.
In fact, one of the modern translators of Firmicus Maternus, James Holden, whose translation of Firmicus Maternus just came out a few years ago in 2011, he actually started translating that work back in the 1950s. If you read the preface, he writes the very date–which I don’t have in front of me at the moment–that he started working on the translation in 1950-something, but then it wasn’t published until 50 or 60 years later in the year 2011. Even translators of Firmicus have spent decades working on that book before bringing it to completion, so it’s possible that Firmicus himself could have taken a while to write it as well; we can’t really say.
I think it’s probably more plausible that Firmicus wrote the astrological work first, in the 330s, and then a few decades later, converted to Christianity. One of the things that he does is in the astrological text, he actually refers to Porphyry and he refers to him favorably or fondly; he calls him “our Porphyry,” as if Porphyry was somebody that was like a friend or somebody that was part of the same school, or the same social milieu or something like that. Pingree takes that reference to mean that Firmicus was a student of Porphyry’s, but I think that’s probably not necessarily warranted; instead, it’s probably just referring to Porphyry either as them both being Neoplatonists or influenced by Neoplatonic philosophy because they were living in Rome around that time period, or alternatively, because Porphyry had written an astrological text as well. And so, he could have been calling him ‘our Porphyry’ because Firmicus was writing his own astrological text and then referenced Porphyry as another astrologer.
Whatever the case, in the astrological text, he refers to Porphyry very positively and very fondly. But then, in the Christian polemic, he actually attacks Porphyry pretty savagely and uses some pretty strong language in order to call Porphyry out, saying that Porphyry is “the defender of the cults, the enemy of God, the foe of the truth, and teacher of the arts of wickedness.” So clearly, there had been a little bit of change in Firmicus’ thinking between the astrological text, where he’s referring to Porphyry fondly and the Christian polemic, where he’s really calling Porphyry out and not saying very nice things. I think it’s probably because, again, the astrological text was written first and the Christian polemic later, after Firmicus had converted, like many other people in Roman Empire were converting at that time, as Christianity is becoming more and more normalized and had become legal and promoted under Constantine and his sons.
I think for Firmicus, it was probably the case that Porphyry, the astrology-friendly philosopher was fine for Firmicus, the astrology writer, writing the astrology text in the 330s. But for Firmicus, the newly-converted Christian, he was not as happy with Porphyry, the Christian-bashing pagan; Porphyry was well-known as having written a polemic of his own against Christianity in that time-frame, in the 4th century. So Firmicus’ hostility to Porphyry probably was a later development that came with his conversion to Christianity; thus, we can probably take Firmicus as an interesting example of an author who wrote the longest-surviving astrological text of antiquity in the middle of the 4th century, but then later himself converted to Christianity and rejected some of the things that he had adopted previously in terms of paganism and Neoplatonic philosophy.
Interestingly, one of the things that’s pointed out by some academics is that Firmicus himself doesn’t refer to astrology in the Christian polemic; so we’re actually not clear if Firmicus rejected astrology itself after his conversion, or if he still found a way to accept it or to rationalize it, and if he continued having an interest in astrology despite his conversion to Christianity. As we see later with Augustine–well, actually Augustine is not a good example; Augustine is somebody who was an astrologer at one point, but then gave up astrology and wrote an attack on astrology once he had converted to Christianity.
There are other examples of people who were Christians in this time period and still either used astrology or still incorporated astrology into their theology, especially in some of the Gnostic Christian sects. But at least in terms of Firmicus, we’re not really sure because he just doesn’t mention it; so it’s not clear if something has fallen out of the text where he would have referenced it, or if it’s just something that he is silent on, perhaps, because he is aware of the contradiction with having written an astrological text himself 20 years earlier. So that’s Firmicus Maternus. There’s lots of interesting things in Firmicus; like I said, a lot of it’s delineation material. There’s two translations of it out there: one by Holden, which is becoming the standard at this point, and one by another author whose name I’ve forgotten, but if you do a search, you’ll find it pretty easily.
So that’s Firmicus Maternus. Later in the same century, we have the work of Paulus Alexandrinus, who I mentioned towards the beginning of the show. Paulus lived in the late 4th century, and he wrote an astrological text known as the Introduction, which he dedicated to his son, Cronamon, whose chart he implicitly uses later in the text; his son was only 26-years-old at that point. Unfortunately, we don’t have Paulus’ birth chart. He didn’t include his own birth chart in the text, but he does mention the specific day that he was writing on in his text; he has a chapter that tells you how to determine the planetary ruler of the day and the planetary ruler of the hour.
He actually demonstrates the technique by calculating what the Lord of the Day is on and what he says is “on the present day,” and then he does the calculations. You can reverse those calculations–and David Pingree did so–and determine that Paulus was writing that specific chapter of his book on Wednesday, February 14, 378 CE. And it’s really cool; with the dating of some of these guys, you can get really specific. We know this astrologer was writing this chapter of this book on this specific date, 1,500-1,600 years ago; there’s something sort of interesting about that.
Paulus is useful as a basic introductory text because he does a good job of balancing between introducing some of the technical concepts and defining them, but also, going into some of the interpretive techniques for specific topics, like children or career or what have you. He also talks a little bit about annual profections as a timing technique. Yeah, it’s just kind of cool his relationship with his son. As you’re reading the text, it really humanizes the fact that this is a father whose 25-year-old son pointed out that his father was using an incorrect calculation for the ascensional times; therefore, Paulus rewrote the work for his son and then decided to include his 25-year-old son’s birth chart in the text as recognition or something like that. Again, this is another astrologer that’s writing in Alexandria, Egypt, which is still, even into the late 4th century, continuing this tradition of being this hub for ancient astrologers.
Around the same time, only a year later, in the year 379 CE, there was an anonymous author who wrote a book on the fixed stars, who is usually referred to these days as Anonymous of 379. So Anonymous was basically somebody who was writing in Rome. He says at one point in the text–he’s writing in Rome–and he gives the specific year, or at least we’re able to date it to the specific year, which is 379. His text is great because it’s one of the earliest texts that shows us how the fixed stars were used in natal astrology, and that’s it basically. He especially emphasizes stars that are conjunct the Ascendant or the other degrees of the angles or when the Moon is in conjunction with a specific fixed star, and then he provides delineations or interpretations for what that means; so as a result of that, he’s an extremely useful source for the study of the fixed stars.
Let’s see, that’s Anonymous of 379. And then, next, we start getting to the last two or three authors. The first is Hephaistio of Thebes, who I mentioned previously, who wrote a book known as the Apotelesmatiká sometime in the early 5th century. He largely just compiles material from earlier sources. His two primary sources that he refers to the most often are Ptolemy and Dorotheus, who at that point basically represented two different variants or two different streams in the Hellenistic tradition; you have the Ptolemy variant and then you have the Dorotheus variant. Hephaistio, by alternating between citing both of them, oftentimes, for the same topic, was almost trying to reunite those two streams.
I’m not sure really whether he was successful because in the later tradition, it really varied. But at the very least, he was presenting both of them. And so, in that sense, almost recognizing that they were variants, or they were opposing trends or differing trends in the tradition up to that point; in the same way, when he opened his work, as I said earlier, he acknowledged that there was a difference between the causal conceptualization of astrology and the sign-based conceptualization of astrology. Hephaistio also mentions a ton of other authors. He preserves Dorotheus’ work, which has since been translated, Book 3 of Hephaistio. You can go back and listen and find the reference to that translation with the interview with Benjamin Dykes from a couple of years ago; I’d definitely recommend checking that book out.
Hephaistio actually includes his birth chart in the text, which is pretty cool because it’s been dated to November 26, 380 CE. He also includes his conception chart, which was probably calculated based on a rectification technique that they had, and a specific notion that comes from Petosiris in terms of how to determine the date of conception or vice versa. If you know the date of conception, you can predict the date of birth, or if you know the date of birth, you can predict, or not predict–you can rectify the date of conception; so according to Hephaistio, he had calculated or determined that he was conceived on February 20, in the year 380 CE.
He’s Hephaistio of Thebes; so again, he’s somebody that was born in Egypt, another in the long history and tradition of astrologers from Egypt during the Greco-Roman time period, and that’s about it. He has three books: the first book deals with basic concepts and mundane astrology; the second book deals with natal astrology and different topics in that area; and then the third book deals with electional astrology and inceptional astrology based on Dorotheus. Let’s see–now we get to the last two authors of the tradition.
There’s some debates about their dating, so it’s not clear chronologically which one comes first, but I’m going to mention Olympiodorus first. Olympiodorus was a Neoplatonic philosopher who taught at a school in Alexandria in the 6th century; so this is towards the very end of the Hellenistic astrological tradition and in it’s towards the end of Egypt and Alexandria as a center for astrology and as a place in which Greek culture is still very prominent because what would happen is that in the 7th century, you have the expansion of the Islamic Empire and Egypt is taken over and becomes part of the Islamic Empire at that point.
And so, Greek culture goes into a decline or stops being a prominent thing there because Egypt ceases to be part of the Roman Empire or part of the Byzantine Empire at that point. While you do have a revival of interest in astrology in the Islamic Empire about a century or a century-and-a-half later, by the year 800 CE, the center-point for the practice of astrology or the focal point for the practice of astrology moves from Alexandria to Baghdad in the early Middle Ages, during the course of the early Islamic Empire.
Anyway, to back up, Olympiodorus was a Neoplatonic philosopher teaching in Alexandria in the 6th century, and what we have are primarily transcripts of some of his lectures that a student of his wrote down as he was talking. And what we have of his in terms of astrology is that he seems to have done a commentary on the Introduction that Paulus Alexandrinus did a couple of centuries earlier. Remember, we had Paulus’ Introduction that he wrote and dedicated to his son. Well, this other guy, Olympiodorus, a couple of centuries later, decided to do a commentary on that in order to explain and expand upon some of the statements that Paulus makes that are a little bit obscure or that could use explaining.
This commentary on Paulus seems to have originally been presented as a series of lectures that Olympiodorus gave between May and July of the year 564 CE. It may have been based on a previous commentary that was attributed to a late 5th century author named Heliodorus, although this isn’t really clear, but we do think and it’s generally accepted at this point that Olympiodorus did this commentary on Paulus in the summer of 564 CE.
This commentary is important because it provides us with a glimpse into what astrology was looking like a little bit towards the very end of the Hellenistic tradition. It also clarifies a few statements that Paulus makes that are a little bit obscure, and it does two things that are unique from a technical perspective. One, Olympiodorus has a long list of Lots or Arabic Parts, which shows that the number of Lots of Arabic Parts in the late Hellenistic tradition had really blown up or had really expanded to include dozens and dozens or potentially hundreds of different mathematical points or Lots.
So it had gone from just using a small collection of Lots in the early Hellenistic tradition to using a ton of them by the late Hellenistic tradition; or at least the option was there to use a bunch of them. Even though it had previously been assumed that astrologers didn’t really go crazy with the Arabic Parts until the Medieval tradition, until the Arabian astrologers or the Islamic astrologers took over in the 8th and 9th centuries, Olympiodorus’ text shows that astrologers were already going kind of bonkers with the Lots and creating a bunch of new ones by the 6th century.
The other thing that Olympiodorus shows very clearly, if you read the commentary–which has been translated by Dorian Greenbaum, which unfortunately is out of print right now; but I’m hoping that they reprint it. I think it was Rob Hand’s Arhat Publications that originally published her commentary on Olympiodorus, or her translation of that commentary. I hope they reprint it soon because one of the things that it shows–and this was relevant, but I had forgotten about it or didn’t have the quote in front of me a few months ago during the house system debate–is that Olympiodorus actually explicitly says at one point in his commentary that the tradition that he’s receiving uses the signs of the zodiac themselves as the places or as the houses. But he then says, “in order to calculate the houses more precisely, we should do this,” and then he outlines a system of using quadrant houses.
Olympiodorus becomes a really important turning point or piece of evidence in the history of the house division debate. He’s one of the first astrologers who, on the one hand, simultaneously acknowledges that the tradition that he’s receiving often is using whole sign houses–he’s probably one of the most explicit people saying that–but on the other hand, he’s also explicitly saying and outlining using quadrant houses for topical purposes as the primary form of house division. So we can see by the late Hellenistic tradition, there were some astrologers that potentially could have been using quadrant houses as their primary form of house division or even as their sole form of house division.
This becomes important because even though there was some backtracking in the early Medieval tradition, where you have astrologers like Masha’allah and Sahl using whole sign houses as their primary form of house division, then in the 9th century with Masha’allah and subsequent astrologers, you have the full shift to quadrant houses; you can already see inklings of this starting to come up in the Olympiodorus commentary. So even though it doesn’t contain a lot of unique material–because it’s largely just a commentary, and it’s largely just recapitulating things from Paulus–it does have a few, little tidbits like that that are important from a historical perspective in terms of reconstructing the history of the development of certain astrological techniques, especially the issue of ancient house division.
So that’s Olympiodorus, and he’s one of the later Hellenistic astrologers. And then, finally, we get to Rhetorius of Egypt, who wrote the last, significant, astrological compendium of astrological tradition, sometime around the 6th or 7th century CE. There’s some debate about when he wrote this text because you have to date it based on internal references; and the main point of dispute is that the majority of the references in his text indicate that he lived in the 6th century. But at one point, he uses an example chart, and David Pingree attempted to date this example chart and was able to come up with a date that matches or dates to February 24, 601 CE; so Pingree always dated Rhetorius to something like the first few decades of the 7th century in Alexandria, before the Islamic invasion and takeover of Egypt, which took place a few decades later.
Holden, however, has challenged Pingree’s dating by saying or by arguing that this example chart is just a hypothetical chart that has arbitrary positions rather than an actual, datable nativity, which is what Pingree assumed it was. And Holden says that this is because neither the position of the Ascendant, nor any facts about the native’s life are given in that chapter of Rhetorius’ text. Holden points out that the majority of the internal evidence within Rhetorius, aside from that hypothetical or potentially hypothetical chart, indicates that Rhetorius lived in the early 6th century, around the year 505 CE. When you get rid of the hypothetical example chart, that becomes the only tenable conclusion that Rhetorius was writing in the early 6th century.
I don’t really have a strong opinion. I mean, Holden is probably right because it’s not unlike astrologers to sometimes use hypothetical example charts; and we see evidence of that in Firmicus Maternus, as I talked about earlier, but at the same time, it’s hard to know for sure. So as a result of that, we have to be a little bit ambiguous about the dates of Rhetorius, where we have to date him to either the early 6th or early 7th century CE.
Rhetorius is really important for the reasons that I mentioned earlier. He has such a large compendium of astrological material, and some it actually preserves material from much earlier, including this very long chapter on the significations of the houses, where he actually gives interpretations for what it means when the ruler of one house is located in another house. I actually use this as a basis for a lecture on the rulers of the houses in my course on Hellenistic astrology. So he preserves some early material like that that isn’t preserved in any other authors; there are no other authors that consistently give ruler of the house delineations in the same way that Rhetorius does.
He also preserves some material that’s from earlier authors that we already do have, like the material from Antiochus; but in some instances, he’s rewritten it, or he’s changed it in order to update the material and bring in more into line with contemporary usage. So in Rhetorius, we have actually a really good example of what astrology looked like in the later part of the Hellenistic tradition, and you can see some of the sometimes subtle, or other times, not very subtle ways in which astrology has changed in some of the basic, intermediate, or advanced technical components.
Another thing that’s interesting about Rhetorius worth mentioning in connection with Olympiodorus and the house division issue is that Rhetorius also uses quadrant houses; although, he does this interesting thing where he consistently goes back and forth. When he’s talking about planetary placements, he talks about the whole sign house position and then he talks about the quadrant house position.
So he seems to be acknowledging both and taking both the whole sign and the quadrant house positions into account at the same time, and therefore, he provides an interesting contrast with Olympiodorus who seems to have switched to quadrant houses entirely. Rhetorius seems to be using both at the same time, and therefore, he’s still retaining the whole sign houses, but he’s also incorporating quadrant houses as well; so again, another interesting thing in terms of the history of the development of astrology. He pretty much becomes our last major author before the end of the practice of Hellenistic astrology in Egypt and the dominance of Greek culture in Egypt or Greco-Roman culture in Egypt. At that point, we have the invasion of Egypt by the Islamic Empire in 639 CE, and this essentially marks the end of the Hellenistic astrological tradition.
There’s one other later writer, potentially two other later writers who wrote in Greek: one of them is Theophilus of Edessa, and another one is Stephanus the Philosopher. They have a lot of Hellenistic material that they preserved, but they’re already getting influences from some of the other traditions from India and from Persia that alter their astrology much more than some of those late authors, like Olympiodorus and Rhetorius. They’re usually classified as being more in Medieval tradition than in the Hellenistic tradition, although they’re in this in this gray area where they’re in between; so how to classify them is a little bit difficult because some of these definitions and classifications of astrological traditions are a little bit nebulous or a little bit slippery.
But that being said, I think that pretty much brings us to the end of our long summary of the major astrologers of the Hellenistic astrological tradition. That list that I just gave you is not comprehensive, but it more or less covers all of the major surviving sources of the astrological tradition. There’s a few other minor works that I didn’t mention, as well as a bunch of names of minor astrologers that we only have glimpses of or we only have brief references of; some of them are actually kind of interesting.
One of the pages that I’m working on–probably won’t be in the book, but I think I’ll have on the Hellenistic Astrology website–is something documenting the minor astrologers of the Greco-Roman period, where you have these stories, for example, from some of the historians about the astrologers and their interactions with the Roman emperors, or about astrologers that did different things or had legacies for different things.
For example, there’s a story about an astrologer who had this bad interaction with one of the Roman emperors, where he had predicted something bad about one of the Roman emperors–I think Domitian. Domitian hauls him in and he says to the astrologer, “How do you think you’re going to die?” and the astrologer says very confidently, “According to my chart, I’m going to be ripped apart by wild dogs.” Domitian says something to the effect of, “Is that right?” And in order to prove the astrologer wrong, he tells his guards or whoever to set him on fire, and the astrologer is burned. But then it suddenly starts raining out of nowhere and the fire is put out, and then some wild dogs come along and subsequently eat the carcass of this astrologer and he dies.
So that’s kind of a legendary or depressing story actually, but there’s a bunch of little anecdotes and a bunch of little legends and stories like that that are sprinkled throughout different Roman historians’ sources that would also be interesting to document in terms of understanding the cultural context of astrology, and understanding some of the legends surrounding astrologers; some of which obviously might be exaggerated or might be made up or might be false altogether, but others might have some elements of truth or some elements of if not something that did happen, something that at least was affecting the public consciousness or that was present in the public consciousness in terms of perceptions of astrology and what astrologers did, what astrologers were capable of, or how astrologers were viewed.
I have a whole section on the Hellenistic Astrology website; there’s an Astrologers page where I’m going through and putting up detailed biographies and bibliographies for each of the major astrologers. And I’ve already got a bunch of them up for people like Ptolemy and Dorotheus. Valens and Firmicus Maternus. There’s still others that I have to add and will in the coming years, but you can look to that at hellenisticastrology.com for more information.
Of course, if you want to study the techniques of any of these astrologers, or you’d like to learn more about them, or more about the practice of astrologer during this time-frame, then you’ll definitely be interested in my book when it comes out, whenever that is; hopefully, sometime later this year. If you would like to go even further into it at some point, you may be interested in my course on Hellenistic astrology, which is up to 80 hours of audio lectures and PowerPoint presentations presenting the techniques and the history and the philosophy of ancient astrology at this point. You can find out more information about that at hellenisticastrology.com/courses.
All right, well, I think that brings me to the end of this episode. So if you listened all the way through it, thank you for listening and thanks for bearing with me as I went through a very long and little bit more detailed history than I was originally anticipating on recording when I started this about three-and-a-half hours ago. But it was good to get some of this out and talk about some of this.
This actually is like a preview of an entire chapter of my book that I’m working on, which gives the surviving sources for Hellenistic astrology, so it’s good to be able to talk about and reflect on some of what I’ve been working on over the course of the past month. I’m going to get back to work over the course of the next few days, and then I’ll probably check in again at some point in about a month with whatever chapter of the book that I’m working on at that point by mid-to-late-February.
So that’s it for this episode of the podcast. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.