Astrological Literature Under The Christian Empire

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The continuity of astrological literature in the Byzantine tradition is attested by the numerous volumes of the Catalogue of Manuscripts of Greek Astrologers (CCAG), which include sizeable texts, as well as by Arabic and Indian material which preserves the work of Greek astrologers. The major treatises which have come down to us in Greek are those of Paul of Alexandria and Hephaestion of Thebes.

In Latin there is much less. Firmicus Maternus, whose cautious advice on consulting about the emperor was mentioned above, wrote the last astrological treatise in Latin, probably composing it over the years between some time before 337 and 354.69 He had been a lawyer, and brought his rhetorical talents to the defence of the art in the first book. Firmicus was also the author of a Christian attack on the mystery religions. The Mathesis, or 'Learning', shows no signs of being written by a Christian, so it has often been suggested that he was converted between the two writings. However, it may be that we expect too much change of conversion; Firmicus, as one of the elite, would have been reluctant to abandon all of the pagan heritage which was bound up with the elite identity. Also, when writing in a pagan tradition, it is quite possible that authors in this period would avoid explicit reference to Christianity. We shall be looking at his treatise in detail in Chapter 5.

After Firmicus there was little relevant in Latin. Astrology barely features in Martianus Capella's didactic treatise on the seven liberal arts (the trivium and quadrivium). But this work features the allegorical ascent to heaven of Philology for her marriage to Mercury the god of eloquence, and it is in this context that astrological entities, decans and 'ministers' appear personified. Macrobius' commentary on Cicero's Dream of Scipio does list the characteristics of the planets, from the natal astrologers, and indeed presents the soul as acquiring characteristics from each planet on its way down through the spheres to join the body. He also gives the thema mundi, the birth chart of the world, and cites Plotinus as saying that the stars are signs rather than causes. We do know from Sidonius Apollinaris of textbooks' being used in Gaul at this period, but nothing remains. The evidence of Isidore of Seville, writing at the beginning of the seventh century, suggests that astrology has little contemporary meaning in the West.

For the Greek writers, by this period, the importance of Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos is clear, since they refer to his work or excerpt it. But although the fundamentals of Ptolemy's system are preserved, considerable variations are possible. None of the works are as restrained in style of analysis. Paul of Alexandria, in the fourth century, wrote an elementary work addressed to his son Cronammon. Its importance is suggested by the fact that a course of lectures about it was given in Alexandria between May and July of 564 CE, probably by Olympiodorus, a scholar of Aristotle.70 It is this which has come down to us under the name of Heliodorus.71 This would suggest that astrology could be fully part of the quadrivium and perhaps of the philosophical curriculum, still in the middle of the sixth century. As for Paul, we are able to date his work because he gives as an example for computation 'today, 20 Mecheir, 94th year of Diocletian', which corresponds to 14 February 378 CE.72 Paul offers some astronomical background, devoting chapters to the planets' heliacal risings and settings, to their stations, to the Moon's phases, to the Sun's longitude for any day, to the establishment of the Ascendant and the Midheaven. He recommends Ptolemy's Handy Tables to anyone wanting accurate figures. However, his procedure for finding the Midheaven makes no distinction between longitude and right ascension. He follows a long tradition in citing Hermes as a source, and in fact draws on a Hermetic text, the Panaretos (Book of Fortunes), for a method of finding the Lots. Though the 'Introduction' is quite short, and is clearly intended only to offer basic information about each topic, it reveals the elaborate nature of what were seen as basic doctrines. Paul has almost the variety of methods of finding the planetary ruler of the chart as Dorotheus.

A long work of Hephaestion of (Egyptian) Thebes has survived. He tells us that he was born on 26 November 380. His three books of Prognostics were written in 315. He says that Ptolemy, the 'ancient Egyptians' and the Chaldaeans were his main sources for the first book, on the elements of astrology, Ptolemy and Dorotheus for his second book, on natal astrology, and the fifth book of

Dorotheus for his third book, on horary astrology. Indeed, he was clearly more of a compiler than a creative astrologer. The work contains only one horoscope which is contemporary, but it does preserve the horoscopes of the emperor Hadrian and two others related to it from the second-century Antigonus of Nicaea. His own horoscope is calculated for Clima 3, of Lower Egypt, using tables which agree with Theon's.

The Centiloquium, a hundred astrological aphorisms of two to eight lines, which is perhaps fifth- or sixth-century, illustrates the kind of simplified information which was common in the period. It was later attributed to Ptolemy, but is quite different from the Tetrabiblos, in its emphasis on horary astrology, on the Places and the fixed stars.

It was also in the sixth century that the writer identified as 'Rhetorius the Egyptian' put together a compilation from the works of Ptolemy, Vettius Valens, the so-called 'Anonymous of 379' (CE), Julian of Laodicea (early fifth-century) and Paul. A considerable part of the work seems to have been preserved in various manuscripts: it can be found in the appendices of the Catalogue of Manuscripts of Greek Astrologers. In the works associated with his name, as with most later astrologers, the elements are linked with the triplicities of zodiac signs. The familiar descriptions of signs as 'earth', 'fire', 'air' and 'water' signs date from this period. The material illustrates the elaboration which could take place. He lists eighteen day-time Lots and seventeen night-time ones, while the Places, on the model of the signs, have become gendered. From this work come a number of horoscopes, whose dates range from 401 CE to 516 CE, which, along with those of another Byzantine compilation, offer the fullest information of all the horoscopes. The fullest is one calculated for 497, with positions worked out in degrees and minutes, all the cardinal points, details about the ascending lunar node, information about the planets' houses, triplicities, exaltations and depressions and their relation to the fixed stars, decans, and Monomoiriai. The figures have been calculated on the basis of the Almagest and altered according to Ptolemy's constant for precession. It is a quite remarkable horoscope, and shows how astrology flourished in this period of repression (Figure 1). In fact, the horoscopes preserved from this century are much more likely to calculate the Midheaven properly than earlier ones, as well as benefiting from the tables of Ptolemy and Theon.

But the horoscopes stop after 516. Under Justinian, we find John the Lydian collecting omens on thunder, lightning, eclipses and comets in his On Heavenly Signs, but there is no sign of natal astrology. There is a Greek horoscope of Islam cast in 775—by this time, and probably for a couple of hundred years before, Greek intellectuals had found the courts of the East more welcoming than Byzantium. We hear of Stephanos the Philosopher coming from Persia armed with astrological knowledge in the eighth century, but most traffic would have been the other way. Theophilus of Edessa (d. 785), who translated Homer into Syriac, was court astrologer at Baghdad. However, astrologers were not away for long. In 905, an astrologer cast the nativity of the emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus;73 the Byzantine revival was under way.

Figure 1 Horoscope from Rhetorius for the year 497 CE. 83

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