Ancient Astrology Summary


The Art Of Astrology

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Despite the dangers which threatened astrologers under the Early Empire, astrology thrived in the milieu created by the emperors. But in a Christian state astrologers found ideological opponents whose determination to stamp out their art offered a real threat. Christian hostility to astrology was grounded in the belief that astrology offered an alternative source of truth to the Church, and thus an alternative source of authority. Astrology was connected with heresy, which challenged the Church with rival versions of truth and of authority. Christian authors, though they might re-use sceptical arguments from the pagan philosophers, often failed to reject it entirely. Their ambivalent attitude parallels that of Jewish authors. Many Christians agree that the stars may be signs of the future, though they may not allow astrologers knowledge of that future. Frequently, they fall back on explaining that astrology is the work of evil powers.

The endless arguments about the opposition between free will and determinism were essentially about the opposition between God and the stars. If the stars controlled the fates of humans, humans appeared to be out of God's hands. Fuelled by this concern, the Church offered its own harsh punishments for those who practised astrology, especially those in authority, and waged ideological warfare to convince the rest. Its stance influenced the severity of state law. Punishments for astrologers, who were now assimilated to magicians, were far more severe. In theory any kind of astrological enquiry could carry the death penalty.

But there were obviously continuities from the Early Empire, as is illustrated by a number of cases reported by Ammianus Marcellinus, and best of all by a set of horoscopes from the fifth century. Here we can see that astrologers did not abandon their traditional interest in the imperial throne. However, they do seem to lower their profile between at least the fifth and the tenth centuries even in the Eastern half of the Empire, while the discipline seems to disappear completely in the West after the fifth century. But the Greek literature which remains shows that Christianity did not entirely triumph over astrology.

We have now surveyed astrology from its beginnings in Mesopotamia to the Late Empire. It is significant that Hephaestion in the fourth century and John the Lydian in the sixth preserve what have been identified as the oldest doctrines from Alexandria. This continuity illustrates the conservative aspect of astrological texts, which we have often noted, and which causes such difficulty in establishing a chronological picture. In the next chapter, we shall be looking at the essentials of astrological theory, and then at the ways in which astrologers developed it creatively.

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The Art Of Astrology

The Art Of Astrology

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