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Unread 01-11-2012, 05:16 AM
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Re: Origins of Hellenistic Astrology

3. Greek and Roman ("Hellenistic") continued...

Again, please add to, subtract from, modify, discuss, or debate this material!

Good sources: too numerous to be covered in one post. Again, good general sources are Nicholas Campion, The Dawn of Astrology; Tamsyn Barton, Ancient Astrology; and the Oxford Classical Dictionary. James Herschel Holden, A History of Horoscopic Astrology is a set of sketches of leading astrologers, of whom 18 would be called Hellenistic. Unfortunately the works of most of these astrologers no longer exist and we know about them only because of what other Hellenistic astrologers reported about them.

There is also a lot of information at the Skyscript website, and in Deborah Houlding, Houses: Temples of the Sky. If you google "Robert Schmidt astrology" you will find a lot of essays by him (see "Project Hindsight"), as well as his Hellenistic astrology forum that seems mostly inactive, but that includes interesting material. Joseph Crane and Chris Brennan are practitioners and interpreters of Hellenistic astrology for today.

The major Hellenistic astrologers that are easily available in print and in English translation (available at are: Manilius, Astronomica; Dorotheus of Sidon, Carmen Astrologicum; Vettius Valens, Anthologies; Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, Firmicus Maternus Matheseos Librii VIII; Porphyry's Introduction to Tetrabiblos; and James H. Holden's translation of Rhetorius the Egyptian. Robert Schmidt has made many additional minor (and some major) original sources available through the Project Hindsight website . Dorian Giesler Greenbaum also has a translation of Paulus Alexandrinus and Olympiodorus available for sale at her website .

Classical studies scholars have also published a lot of books and articles on astrology and relevant topics. While astrologers have criticicized the professors for not knowing their astrology, these scholars generally have far greater backgrounds than astrologers do in the whole context of Greek and Roman literature and history. Many are experts in ancient languages and how to resurrect ancient texts, well beyond what the typical astrologer who studied university Latin or Greek would acquire. Some of the scholarly works are partly archaeological in nature, such as Otto Neugebauer's work on ancient astronomy and horoscopes.

If anyone is interested in a particular topic or author, let me know and I will try to look up references for you, as I have access to an on-line university library data base. However, you would have to contact the journal publisher or an on-line article delivery service such as JSTOR on how to purchase any scholarly journal articles.

main contributions to western astrology: too many to mention! What didn't they invent? This is partly because the Islamic astrologers who came next had access to classical works; and once Ptoelmy's Tetrabiblos was re-discovered in the West in the Middle Ages, his work had a huge impact on the development of traditional astrology from then on. But if you review inventions of the Babylonians and Egyptians, you can see all kinds of techniques in traditional astrology that go well beyond their contributions. One thing the Hellenistic astrologers didn't fuss with particularly was developing an improved quadrant house system, which came later. Horary astrology was a later development, although a few Hellenistic astrologers were concerned with electional (choosing an auspicious date) astrology.

The Big Question (to me) in the origins of western astrology, is what happened in the centuries just prior to the explosion of some pretty technical astrological delineations in the first and second centuries AD. There is hardly any discussion of horoscopic astrology by insiders or preserved horoscopes prior to the 2nd century BC, although there is abundant mention of astrologers practicing their craft by Latin and Greek authors. An analogy would be starting up a car from being parked during long over-nights in the dead of winter, and then reaching a speed of 60 mph (100 kph) in a matter of seconds.

Alexandria, Egypt seems a likely place to look. It was conquered by the Greeks (Alexander the Great) in 331 BC, and then by the Romans in 80 BC. Not only many Greeks and Romans settled in Alexandria, but also members of many other cultures: Jews, Babylonians, Persians, and so on. Consequently it was a hub where many different ideas could be exchanged. It was the second largest city in the Roman empire after Rome itself, and was home to Vettius Valens and Ptolemy. It also had a famous library where many ancient manuscripts were preserved until it was burn during one of the Roman invasions.

Astrology in Hellenistic times was far more diverse than what most of us think of "astrology" today. The Greeks and Romans developed their own star calendars long before the introduction of astrology to assist farmers in forecasting appropximate dates for various agricultural activities. Sailors used star calendars to know when to end the shipping season with approaching storms on the Mediterranean Sea, and they were also used to time religious festivals. Although some of these calendars were set down in verse form, they also had actual devices called perapegmata for this purpose.

The Hellenistic astrologers like Ptolemy also developed a kind of astrological anthropology or geography to explain cultural differences between different nationalities, by assigning them different planetary rulers and signs.

Astrology filtered into black magic spells (Greek Magical Papyri) discovered in Egypt, and into an esoteric semi-religious/philosophical belief system called hermeticism (after the god Hermes, i.e., Mercury.) A new religious mystery cult, Mithraism, that flourished in the Roman empire during the first four centuries AD, made extensive use of astrological symbolism.

Understandably, today astrologers are most interested in focusing the scope of Hellenistic astrology on natal chart interpretation, but it is worthwhile realizing that it was not so narrowly understood in ancient times. Back then, astrology might also be a way for you to decide when to plant your barley crop, celebrate a holy day dedicated to one of the gods, make a recalcitrant lover come to your home at night (via a spell,) or understand why the different ethnic groups you encountered looked and acted so different from your own.
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