Alexander the Great was born at a particularly propitious moment - partly because his mother, Olympias, was advised by the astrologer Nektanebos to hold back until the precise moment when a great man would be born. Then he announced, "Queen, you will now give birth to a ruler of the world," and as Alexander was born thunder and lightning welcomed him. Later, when he was 11, as Nektanebos was showing him the stars, it is said that the child pushed the astrologer down a pit, pointing out that there was something to be said for keeping your eyes on the earth.
a golden tongue, marking his skill as an orator. He passed on his school to Antipatrus and Achinapolus, who taught medicine, and experimented in drawing birth charts for the moment of conception rather than the moment of birth. Their theory was that the sign the Moon was in at the moment of conception would be in the Ascendant at the time of birth. The theory was said to have originated in Hermetic literature. There was also work on astrological weather forecasting and medical astrology.
As we turn from Greece towards Rome, it is in Alexandria that one man drew together all the skeins of astrological theory and did his best to rationalize them in a single book. Claudius Ptolemsus (c100-c178ce) -known simply as Ptolemy - arrived there to teach at the university that had been founded 400 years earlier. Ptolemy is famous as a mathematician, astronomer, and geographer, and his Almagest became the acknowledged textbook of astronomy for several centuries after his death.
His Tetrabiblos is the first really substantial textbook of astrology to come down to us complete. Spread over four books, it begins with the rational argument that, since it is clear that the Sun and Moon have an effect upon terrestrial life - through the seasons, the movements of the tides, and so on - it is surely worth considering the effects the other heavenly bodies may have as well.
"Since it is clearly practicable to make predictions concerning the proper quality of the seasons, there also seems no impediment to the formation of similar prognostications concerning the destiny and disposition of every human being, for even at the time of any individual's primary conformation, the general quality of that individual's temperament may be perceived; and the corporeal shape and mental
capacity with which the person will be endowed at birth may be pronounced; as well as the favourable and unfavourable events indicated ..."
Ptolemy's book covers an enormous and diverse range, as his chapter headings show: "Of Masculine and Feminine Planets", "Of Places and Degrees", "Of the Power of the Aspects to the Sun", "Of the Time of Predicted Events", "Of the Investigation of the Weather", "Of Parents", "Of Length of Life", "Of Marriage", "Of Foreign Travel".
After 2,000 years, the Tetrabiblos remains an astonishing book, with well over 400 pages of closely written text in its most modern translation. It still has its value today, and no one with a serious interest in astrology should neglect to read it.
the role of astrology
It is not easy to tell how much astrology was used on a day-to-day basis in Classical Greece, but several Greek writers warn their readers not to get too involved in the predictions made by travelling Chaldeans - which suggests that, as always, there were plenty of credulous people ready to be gulled by fake astrologers. By 188ce Vettius Valens of Antioch, the first known professional consultant astrologer, had amassed a fine library of horoscopes and set out over 100 of them in his Anthologiae, showing how he interpreted them and advised his clients.
If in Greece astrology remained low-key, in Imperial Rome it moved right into the sunlight, soon to become a major factor in the government of the state.
Towards the end of the 3rd century bce, the Romans began to take a serious interest in Greek literature and drama. Inevitably, the Greek preoccupation with astrology began to intrigue Roman writers and philosophers, and it was taken up by many emperors as a way to bolster their greatness and to pre-empt any plots against them.
Emperors and Plotting Astrologers
By the 1st century bce, the statesman Cicero (106-64bce) was reporting in his De divinatione (published just after the assassination of Emperor Julius Caesar) the Greek belief that: "It is not merely probable, but certain, that just as the temperature of the air is regulated by celestial force, so also children at their birth are influenced in mind and body, and by this force their minds, manner, disposition, physical condition, career in life, and destinies are determined."
There was, however, also some suspicion of astrologers - in some cases, justified. A sizable slave revolt in Sicily around 133bce was led by an astrologer
The Roman senator Cicero was convinced of astrology's validity, reasoning that the "celestial force" affected man's destiny just as it affected the Earth's temperature.
called Eunus, and less than 30 years later the astrologer Athenio led another slave revolt, insisting that the planets had revealed that he was the true King of Sicily. If so, he did not live to take up his throne. No wonder the Roman emperors were suspicious of the subject: clearly what men saw in "the stars" could spur them on to extraordinary and dangerous actions.
figulus, the potter
Gradually, men in public office began to express their belief in, and enthusiasm for, the subject. P. Nigidius Figulus, a Roman senator and praetor (a magistrate) was the first Roman astrologer whose name we know - he was called Figulus (Potter) because he argued that the Earth spun as fast as a potter's wheel. It was claimed that he "was not matched
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