symbols which show the rising and setting of stars. This seems to suggest that the Pharaoh was interested in ascending degrees - the degree of the ecliptic rising over the eastern horizon at any particular time - an important matter in astrology. The tomb of Rameses V (1150-1145bce) contained similar evidence of scholarship of the planets; papyri offering astrological hints for every hour of every month of the year were found there.

The sole major contribution to the early history of astrology made by the Egyptians, however, was the invention of the decans. They divided the circle of the ecliptic into 36 sections, with three decans, or divisions of 10°, to each section. The first sight we have of these is on a coffin lid of the Middle Kingdom, on which the sky is shown with the names of the decans in columns. Since the zodiac did not exist at that time, the decans were geared to the constellations. Later, though, they were linked to the zodiac, and so became of true astrological significance. This is especially the case with medical astrology, in which each decan is specific to a particular ailment (stomach trouble being attributable to the first decanate of Virgo, for example).

An engraving depicting Hermes Trismegistus, who collected the texts of Egyptian astrological knowledge.

hermetic texts

The most famous collection of Egyptian astrological knowledge was brought together in the Four Astrological Books of Hermes. These were reputedly collected by the Egyptian god Thoth, later known to the Greeks as Hermes Trismegistus, and later still to the Romans as Mercury. The texts were sacred, and only the highest of Egyptian priests were allowed to touch them. A complete set is said to have been buried in the tomb of Alexander the Great - alas, still undiscovered. Hermes was said to have devised an astrological system of his own, and among the Hermetic texts were a book on medical astrology, another on the decans, one on zodiacal plants, and one on the astrological degrees.

astrological man

It is difficult to say how much, if anything at all, of the Hermetic books have survived. In the 5th century ce, Liber Hermetis, a Latin text translated from the Greek, claimed to reproduce some of the text. However, it is mainly notable for the first known appearance of the "astrological man", in which the zodiac signs are placed onto a figure of a body, with Aries at the head and Pisces at the feet (see pp30 and 50).

Most educated Greeks of classical times were familiar with the idea that whatever happened in the heavens was reflected in events on Earth. If the heavens were carefully observed, it was possible to predict events in the skies. Therefore, they reasoned, terrestrial events could be predicted by correlating them with heavenly events. Neither religious nor scientific philosophers objected to the theory, which was regarded as proceeding from common sense.

This was the first age when astrological books began to be widely available. Chaldean astrologers from Babylonia flocked into Greece through Daphnae and the ports of Egypt, and debates on the subject began to warm up. Of the Greek intellectuals and philosophers, Cato and Ennius were hostile, but Sulla, Posidonius, and Varro were "believers", as were Vitruvius, Propertius, and Ovid. From the 1st century ce virtually everyone, whether Christian, pagan, or Jew, believed in astrology and to some extent followed it.

The Greeks adopted the zodiac as early as the 6th century bce, and it is thought to have been Democritus (460-c357bce) who was first to give the signs their Greek names, such as Aphrodite (Venus), Hermes (Mercury), Ares (Mars), and so on. Previously, they had been known by their Chaldean names or simply by descriptions, such as "the Fiery Star" (Mars) and "the Twinkling Star" (Mercury).

It was a Chaldean called Berosus, a priest of the Sun god Marduk in Babylon, who in about 260bce set up the first recorded school of astrology on the island of Kos, where there was a famous school of medicine. Through books that are now lost he spread knowledge of astrological techniques throughout the Greek world. He was famous in his own time, and it is said that Athens raised a statue of him with

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