ANCIENT ASTROLOGY AS A COMMON ROOT FOR SCIENCE AND PSEUDO-SCIENCE
The early history of astrology is closely interrelated with the history
of astronomy. Both may be studied separately, but the result may
prove one-sided and one may fail to notice things of great
consequence. The history of ancient astronomy must be treated jointly
with the history of astrology, whose contribution to the history of
science has often been underestimated. This situation has begun to
change only recently. The number of academic publications suggests
that in addition to ancient philosophy, mathematics and astronomy,
more and more attention is being paid to ancient astrology, which has
played an important role in the history of human thought.
The concept of astronomy
The term 'astrology' ('science of stars' or 'study of stars')
derives from Ancient Greek and is made up of two words -
asteer 'star' or 'constellation' and an intricate
form logos that may denote very different things -
reasoning, intellect, story, word, etc., that we, perhaps, may here
translate as 'study'. Although the names of several modern sciences
such as philology, geology and biology end with the same combining
form, we cannot consider astrology as the 'science of stars', which
in fact is the general definition of astronomy. The term
'astronomy' is formed with the word nomos, or 'law',
thus the direct translation of
'astronomy' is the 'law of stars'. Before the Middle Ages the
word 'astrology' was often used to designate the science of stars,
sometimes the above terms were used synonymously. The modern
definition of astrology describes it as a discipline that
characterises and foretells things and events according to the
configuration of celestial bodies, and presently does not include it
among sciences proper. Therefore, to avoid confusion, in the
following we will use the terms astrology and astronomy in the modern
sense, even though they may conflict in form with source texts. For
example, instead of our term 'astrology' Tetrabiblos by
Claudius Ptolemy uses the expression
prognostication through astronomy, whereas both
words denote 'astronomy' (Ptolemy 1964: ix).
The outlines of
western astrology already materialized in ancient times (Tester 1987:
11), with the Greek background (Barton 1994: 21) and Egyptian
traditions (Lindsay 1971: 153-180) playing an important role. Most of
it, however, developed in Hellenic Egypt and Rome. Claudius Ptolemy
(1964) has gathered and systematised Alexandrian astrology. Early
Roman astrology is first and foremost associated with Marcus Manilius
(Hübner 1982) and Dorotheos (Nikula 1993: 56), the later period
with Vettius Valens (Tester 1987: 45), and the final period with
Firmicus Maternus (Bram 1975: 4-7; Knappich 1967: 74). Hubert
Korsch (1935) has summarised the known connections of prominent
figures of antiquity with astrology.
In its final form,
ancient astrology is a product of the Hellenic era: it was affected
by different cultures, since the conquests of the Macedonians induced
an active cultural exchange between the regions of Mesopotamia,
Egypt, Greece, and Iran. All authors have agreed that while other
cultures have merely supplemented it, the main principles, ideology,
and basic methods of astrology still originate in Mesopotamia,
although its contribution to the doctrine that had developed by the
end of antiquity has often been underestimated (Boll 1926:
According to Ptolemy the astrologer must be a man
that knows accurately the movements of all the stars, the sun, and
the moon, so that neither the place nor the time of any of their
Tetrabiblos I.2, 1964: 10-11). Ptolemy uses the notion stars
to designate planets rather than fixed stars. The
astrologer's work can be roughly divided into two parts. First the
astrologer needs to gather the astronomic material relevant to the
task (for example, foretelling the country's future, calculating
birth or congruity horoscopes, predictions for specific persons about
specific moments in the future, etc.). Then he must interpret the
acquired material. And only the interpreted and commented product
will become astrological.
The main astronomical
components of astrology are astrological planets, signs of the
zodiac, and astrological houses, which have all developed and changed
in the course of time. Information on the development of all the main
astrological components, except for the system of houses, which is of
more recent origin, is described in Mesopotamian texts (Neugebauer &
van Hoesen 1959: 7-8). The early history of astrology was therefore
written primarily in Mesopotamia.
The early history of astrology
Astrology was by no means the only method
of prediction in Mesopotamia, where the art of foretelling, often
interrelated with healing magic, was regarded very favourably. The
future was read from the condition of animal livers, by considering
eclipses, from atmospheric phenomena, the migration of birds, etc. In
this sense the culture located between the Tigris and Euphrates was
not unique - using livers and bird migration for foretelling the
future was also characteristic of the Etruscans and the Romans.
Astrology, however, has at least three important advantages over all
other arts of prediction - the divine nature of stars, the
universality of celestial phenomena and the fact that these phenomena
could be forecasted.
Similarly to the history of
Mesopotamian astronomy that can be divided into three distinctive
periods (Neugebauer 1975: I 2), Mesopotamian astrology also passed
through three periods of development: (i) early or augury astrology,
(ii) primitive zodiacal astrology and (iii) horoscopic astrology (van
der Waerden 1991: 184). As the history of Mesopotamia is very long
and complex, it is important to know the specific period or location
on which the statement is based, otherwise it is easy to come to
wrong conclusions. If we make generalisations over the whole history
of Mesopotamia, it would be virtually impossible to analyse, say, the
names of planets (Brown 2000: 53; Kasak & Veede 2000: 1244).
A prophecy written on the 2nd millennium BC says: If
a child were born on the twelfth month, it would live long and bear
many children. Although the prophecy shares a striking similarity
to the daily horoscopes published in today's newspapers, it is still
an example of primitive prediction rather than astrology proper. In
the course of time astrology transcended all other methods of
prediction, due to the Old Babylonian astral religion, the
universality of celestial phenomena as omens, and the ability to
forecast. Babylonian astrologers knew how to compile birth horoscopes
but the technique was elaborated in the later period. The system of
astrological houses and zodiac symbols does not originate in
Babylonia, although in the period of horoscopic astrology certain
divisions of the ecliptic -signs of the zodiac - gradually began
to replace constellations. Whether it was inspired by Egyptian
influence or devised by the Chaldeans themselves is still
Early astrology was practiced in the
Assyro-Babylonian or Akkadian period of astral religion. From this
period we know the extant omen series called Enuma Anu Enlil,
the original version of which is dated to the 2nd millennium BC,
although it was also actively practised under the rule of King
Ashurbanipal. In early astrology, predictions were made through
different omens. Observing eclipses, for example, was of great
importance. In the Assyrian Era, eclipses could already be
forecasted. Numerous tablets of Assyrian astrologers' reports to the
king, containing a thorough description of the observation and
planets seen during the eclipse, and how the obscuration shifted,
have been preserved to the present day. Different areas of the moon
were associated with geographical locations, which meant that it may
have been possible to attribute the misfortune predicted by the
eclipse to the neighbouring country instead.
14th day the moon will make an eclipse. It (predicts) evil for Elam
and the Westland, good for the king my lord. Let the king my lord be
happy. (Hunger 1992: 388: 222).
In Adar (XII) on
the 14th day the moon will make an eclipse. If the moon makes an
eclipse in Adar (XII) on the 14th day in the evening watch, it gives
its decision for the king of the world, for Ur and the Westland. [-]
If the moon will make an eclipse in Adar (XII): the king of
Elam (will die). (Hunger 1992: 250: 138).
the weather, cloudlessness and wind, it was also important to
consider the alignment and relative movement of planets during the
If Jupiter stands inside the moon, in this
year the king will die; variant: there will be an eclipse of the moon
and Sun; a great king will die. [-] If Jupiter enters the moon: there
will be famine in the Westland; the King of Elam will fall in battle;
in Subartu a noble will revolt against his lord. (Hunger 1992,
Analogous prediction to the court and the king
was also practised in the Late Babylonian period, though in this
period new tendencies began to emerge. The conviction that earthly
occurrences were the aftermath of celestial phenomena was
Primitive zodiacal astrology
developed in the state of Chaldaea or Late Babylonia that emerged
after the destruction of Assyria by the Babylonians in alliance with
the Medes. The impact of Zurvanism, the predecessor of contemporary
Iranian religions, the cult of Mitra, and Zoroastrism on Babylonia
was immense. According to Zurvanism everything that happens in the
world is predestined by eternal time (Time God Zurvan, the ancestral
being of everything in the world). Stars function as indicators of
predetermination. When the stars assume their original position at
the end of the «great year», all events to the smallest
detail will recur. This doctrine has also been called astral fatalism
(van der Waerden 1991: 169-171). Even Greek philosophy contains
traces of this doctrine. Pythagoras has argued that everything that
has ever happened will recur at a predetermined time in the future
and is not utterly new. According to the Stoic philosophy the world
will be destroyed by fire when all planets have returned to their
original position and a new world will emerge. In his book
Anthropologia Nemesios Emesenos, the clerical figure and
philosopher in the Early Byzantine Empire, claimed that as long as
stars follow their usual course, everything will recur exactly as it
happened even in the smallest detail. Heraclitus believed that the
great year lasted for 18,000 years, whereas the Stoics, as Simplikios
has written, considered it 360 times longer.
has seen present things has seen all, both everything which has taken
place from all eternity and everything which will be for time without
end; for all things are of one kin and of one form (Marcus
Aurelius. Meditations. VI, 37)
It is extremely
important to bear in mind that according to this idea the stars are
not the cause of events, their movement is something like the
movement of the hands of a clock, which indicate the time when a
given event will occur, but do not cause the event. The relation
between cause and effect is universal and irrevocable. Astrologers
can foretell future events from the signs.
The astronomic text MULAPIN
describes constellations on the Moon's path - the gods that
stand on his way and whose territory the Moon passes every month. The
list of 18 such constellations is proof that actual constellations,
not zodiac signs, were meant. Later, when zodiac astrology came into
use, the ecliptic was divided into sections of equal length that
included the constellation of the same name, or at least part of it.
Foretelling was based on the movement of the Moon and the planets
relative to zodiac signs. Although, in texts, astrological
constellation and zodiac sign names were sometimes used
simultaneously, a saying «At the beginning of the Nisan
month Jupiter and Venus are at the beginning of Gemini» can
only be interpreted astrologically (Lindsay 1971: 54-55, 57).
For example the size of the crop harvest was predicted
by the Moon's position relative to a zodiac sign on the day of
Sirius's heliacal rise. Since the Sun moves counter-clockwise
relative to the starts, a star on the day of its heliacal rise is
visible for a moment just before dawn. The heliacal rise of Sirius
was used in Egypt to predict the beginning of the Nile's flooding.
This example seems to support the opinion that dividing the ecliptic
into sections of equal length may be a result of Egyptian influence.
Assyria's conquest of Egypt brought these big cultures into direct
contact. There were also strong ties between Chaldea and Egypt,
although relations were not always friendly. In Egypt, however, the
ecliptic was divided into 36 segments, each holding the Sun for 10
days (thus the later name dekaan). 3 segments made up
approximately one lunar month and also one twelfth of the ecliptic.
Zodiacal astrology demanded much more of astronomy than
predicting astrology had. This was the beginning of diligent
Moon-watching and elaboration of the cycles of the planets. Knowledge
emerged that could be used to indirectly calculate the position of
the planets and the Moon - this came in handy later in compiling
birth horoscopes, since a child could also be born during the day or
on a cloudy night.
Horoscopic astrology appeared
in Mesopotamia during the Persian occupation. At that time, mazdaism
was the predominant religion in Iran. According to mazdaism,
the world was created by the highest of the gods, the personification
of goodness and light Ahura Mazdah. The personification of
darkness and evil Angra Mainju or Ahriman causes
trouble in the world of humans but will eventually be
Persian influence can also be observed in the
works of Greek authors. Plato's dialogue Phaidros is clearly
connected with astrology: in the sky there are Zeus and eleven main
gods on war chariots, with them a heavenly army of gods and demons
followed by the souls of people preaching to them. The souls that
fall down will in their earthly life follow the same gods as they did
in heaven. This indicates that the position of the planets at a
child's birth determines the qualities of the soul that settles in
the child's body, thus also his or her fate (van der Waerden 1991:
160-161). The cult of Mitra the Sun God gave later special
meaning to the sign in which the Sun was at the moment of birth; this
tendency was further reinforced by Egyptian influence. Nevertheless,
in the early Mesopotamian period, the zodiac had not yet acquired the
same importance that it had in Hellenic astrology.
there seems to have been a quite practical reason for the beginning
of the making of birth horoscopes - since the Persian conquerers
had no need of the services of the Babylonian astrologists, the
astrologists had to find another way to earn a living. Indirect data
gives us reason to believe that horoscopes came into use ca 450 BC
and soon spread to Greece.
The first known cuneiform
horoscope comes from 410 BC and the latest from 69 BC (Rochberg 1998:
3-4). The Babylonian birth horoscope predicts a child's future and
character, and the course of their life from the positions of planets
at the moment of birth. This was actually usually based on the moment
of the beginning of sunset of the day preceding birth (since
Babylonians, as many other peoples using the lunar calendar, counted
the start of a day from sunset). Later, time of birth was determined
within a quarter of a day, or 6 hours.
The best known
old horoscope describes the sky on April 29, 410 BC. The text is
translated as follows:
Nisannu, night of the
14th(?), ... son of Shumu-usur,
Shumu-iddina, descendant [---], was born. At that time
the moon was below the Pincer of the Scorpion, Jupiter in Pisces,
venus in Taurus, Saturn in Cancer, Mars in Gemini. Mercury, which had
set was not vis[ible]. [-] (Things?) will be propitious for
you. (Rochberg 1998: 56)
Predictions tend to be
general, mainly concerning character, and concrete predictions were
avoided. Early horoscopes also include pseudo-horoscopic predictions
mainly in connection with eclipses:
[-] (If) a child
is born and during his infancy a solar eclipse occurs: He will die in
a foreign city and the house of his father will be scattered.
(Rochberg 1998: 14)
As a rule, horoscopic predictions
are positive. If it is predicted that a child will not become rich, a
way is still found to bring becoming rich into the prediction.
In time the positions of planets became increasingly
important and they were marked more precisely relative to the zodiac.
For example in a horoscope from 235 BC, the positions of all planets
are marked in relation to the zodiac to an accuracy of one degree
(Rochberg 1998: 84-85). In fact, planets were the most powerful
element in Babylonian astrology. Horoscopes also considered the
relative positions of the planets, especially their relation with the
Sun. What in Hellenic times was the teaching about the domination and
exile of planets probably started out as the Babylonian concept of a
planet's secret home - the zodiac sign in which a planet is
located, giving it additional influence.
horoscopes the formation of the essential elements of astrology,
except the system of houses and the importance of the sign, which
both are of later origin, can be observed well. It is true that
astrology has a long history, but there is no proof in the history of
Mesopotamian astrology to back up the assertions that the effects of
the signs and planets were discovered during long-term observations.
Instead, one can observe the combination and adjustment of birth
horoscopes according to the needs of the time.
A flexible interpretation develops first, and only then the rules and
framework for composing a horoscope are formed. In Mesopotamian
horoscopes elements that later fell into disuse were considered
important - for example phases of the moon and time of the next
lunar eclipse were taken into consideration.
astrology developed during the Hellenic period, its ideology was
already formed during the Mesopotamian period; later development was
rather a refinement of details. Apparently there is no reason to
doubt that the modern pseudo-science of the same name is based on its
antique predecessor. Many other pseudo-sciences have borrowed their
method from astrology - for example many horoscopes were
compiled that were not based on the starry sky, numerology developed,
telling fortunes by cards, etc. In the first step all these
disciplines use techniques that can be compared to computational or
data gathering and processing techniques, and which are claimed to be
scientific. In the next step the product will be interpreted
prognostically, using more or less inflexible algorithms. The manner
of interpretering also plays an important role. This makes ancient
astrology one of the main roots of pseudo-sciences, especially those
based on formal rationalism - prediction is derived from effects
that must be physically determined, but cannot be proved by a
Elements of scientific
thinking in Ancient Greek philosophy, astronomy and cosmology
We may notice the process of mythic thinking changing into philosophic
and scientific thinking in ancient Greece. The fall of the mythic
world can be seen in epics that have preserved.
and Odyssey, Homer uses comparison, which is not a mythic
but already a poetical method. The way Homer describes the deeds of
the gods, their quarrels, their amorous adventures, shows that the
basis of mythic thinking - trustful belief in myth, is hardly
characteristic to a poet. Homer does not raise the question of how
the world came into being. Hesiod, who started systemising gods and
myths by describing the beginning of the world in his Theogony,
does that. With this the basis of the mythic world was torn apart.
Hesiod's gods are connected with each other and have somehow come
into being and have developed. His gods are personalised forces
(elements) of nature and have emerged due to some historical process.
In the beginning there is Chaos, which is not the absolute antithesis
of order, the meaning of the word as it is used in contemporary
mathematics. Comparing the understanding of Hesiod and that of the
Ionic philosophers about how the World came into being, one can see
that these conceptions are very similar, the elements can be compared
on a one-to-one basis.
of cold and warm
(Gaia) and Tartaros
sphere of fire
(Uranos) from Gaia
bodies (from Earth)
Table 1. The comparison of the
beginnings of the world (Kessidi 1972:121)
a long step towards the philosophical way of thinking. Thales from
Miletus was the first to give up the mythic interpretation of the
world for the philosophic one. According to him the source of being
is in reality itself, nature, not in something supernatural,
something outside nature. Water is the beginning of everything,
endless matter, which is in eternal movement. Everything can be
formed and destroyed, but the primary substance is stable and
Anaximander of Miletus did not consider any
element to be primary. His primary substance is an abstract original
matter, which is endless, indefinite apeiron.
be a serious mistake to take it for some primary material of which
everything is put together as the modern man accepts and understands
it (Moore 1991: 17). The word o apeiros
in Greek means 'boundless', 'endless', 'infinite', 'countless', etc.
(secondary meaning is 'inexperienced', 'incompetent', 'profane').
This word is in opposition to the word to peras, which means
'limit', 'bound', 'edge', 'border', 'end' etc. In his
cosmology Anaximander contrasts definable with indefinable. For the
Greeks to peras
was something they could understand. The word had a positive meaning
compared to to apeiron,
which was something that was not understandable, that was awful and
negative. To apeiron
is the place where everything that exists resides, being at the same
time an opposite to itself. It is by this that the transition from
being something to negation of the same takes place, for example from
cold to hot. According to Anaximander, things do not form from the
qualitative change of an element, but due to the separation of the
opposites which is caused by eternal movement. We do not know if it
is possible to interpret to apeiron
as 'matter', if it is spatial, if it is mathematically infinite, but
we do know that it is the indefinable, indeterminable that surrounds
us. The existing can exist by being to peras
but its beginning and end is to apeiron.
The philosophy of Pythagoras is based on the concept of numbers as an
ideal object. There is not much known about his cosmogony; something
might have preserved through Philolaus. It may be possible that the
idea of a spherical Earth and heavenly bodies comes from Pythagoras.
More important is his teaching of soul, which has been influenced by
the religion of Iran and Mesopotamia, and through which the ideology
that favoured the astrological way of thinking started to spread in
Herakleitus of Ephesus considers fire as
the primary substance. From fire there will come water, earth,
air and fire again. Fire is changing, the world is changing, and
there is nothing stable in it. The idea that the Earth rotates and
the principle of the temporal infinitude of the Universe originate
It is definitely known that Parmenides
of Elea considered the Earth spherical. He was the first to discover
that the morning star and the evening star were the same. Yet he did
not consider this knowledge as important as knowledge in philosophy.
Parmenides discovered the difference between reason and mind and
pointed out the distinction between truth and opinion. According to
his main point of view there is only one eternal existence -
identical with itself, changeless, invariable, stationary, constant.
Reality is a single, unchanging whole. So thought also his student
Zeno of Elea. He demonstrated that the common-sense belief in the
existence of «the many» or in motion also leads to
paradoxes. It is interesting to note that logical consequences are
for Parmenides and for Zeno more important than empirical
Plato's cosmology is interesting and complicated
but very mythical too. The same cosmological model is described in
dialogues Republic and Timaeus. The World consists of
eight concentric spheres on the same shaft and they all rotate with
different velocities. The outer sphere is for fixed stars and others
for planets. The Earth lies at the centre of the spheres. From Earth
all the spheres seem to be one common surface (Republic
In Timaeus we find the same model
connected to the soul of the world. The material of soul is mixed and
given the appropriate mathematical structure using different
movements of stars and planets. The outer sphere for fixed stars is
the circle of «Same», the others, for the planets are in
the circle of «Different». A human's ability to see
similarities means that his soul is in rotation synchronised with the
«Same» rotation of the soul of the world. Therefore a
human's ability to see differences means that his soul is in rotation
synchronised with the «Different» rotation of the soul of
the world (Timaeus 31-37).
In both dialogues
reasons for the movements of spheres are described. More information
can be found in Republic. There are three Fates, daughters of
Necessity, Lachesis, Clotho and Atropos. Clotho (things of present)
helps turn the sphere of the «Same». Atropos (things to
come) helps turn the spheres of the «Different» they all
rotate much slower, like the outer sphere. Lachesis (things of past)
causes retrograde movement of planets. Different speeds of planets
e.g. far from the Sun and close to the Sun is explicable by weakening
of impetus (Republic 617c-e)
According to Plato
our world is unique and the sphere of fixed stars is its boundary. If
all things exist inside the boundary may we ask what is outside?
Later, this was used as a place for the transcendent or other world.
In the medieval period it was quite a popular idea to put paradise
outside the sphere of fixed stars. Such a point of view splits the
Universe into two different regions.
corresponded to observational astronomy in his time but only
qualitatively. More important was its philosophical and mythical
Eudoxus of Cnidus discarded mythical
explanations and used only geometrical arguments for the movement of
planets. This is the real beginning of scientific astronomy. To
explain retrograde movement he used a set of interconnected spheres.
In spite of several problems it was an important result of
theoretical thinking. Aristotle later used his ideas.
used Eudoxus's model of the Universe but he needed 55 spheres in
order to account for current astronomical observations. The movement
of planets is easily explicable by the Aristotelian theory of five
elements. Four of the elements are terrestrial or sublunar. Two of
them - fire and air- are light, their natural tendency is to
flee away from the centre of the Universe and they move upward. Two
terrestrial elements - earth and water - are heavy. Their
natural tendency is to fall down, as near as possible to the centre
of the Universe. But from the Moon sphere outwards the Universe
consists of the fifth element, whose natural motion is circular. This
whole explanation is elegant, but then we must abandon the principle
of the unity of all substances in the Universe. In spite of that,
astronomy as scientific discipline can be considered as the most
important result of Eudoxus's and Aristotelian works. After them, the
development of scientific astronomy can be treated as working on
details, but the method has roughly remained the same: to observe, to
fit the results in demythologized theory and later on to check
the theory against observations.
The influence of astrology
in ancient Greece on scientific thinking
has influenced Greek culture more than was previously thought (West
1999: 10-33). That includes astronomy and astrology as illustrated by
the table 2.
Table 2. Matching
Mesopotamian and Greek constellations (West 1999: 29).
On a closer look it appears that this is true of the names of the
Zodiacal and near to Zodiac constellations, but not without
exceptions (Koch 1989: 111-112; Rochberg 1998: 29-30). The
constellations that are closer to the North Pole e.g. Ursa Major
and Ursa Minor, have different names. Instead of Perseus
this constellation was called 'Old Man' in Mesopotamia and Orion
was named 'The Shepherd of the Skies'. Some constellations in the
same regions of the starry sky were totally different. The northern
part of Aquarius and half of Pegasus formed the
constellation that was named 'Swallow' in Mesopotamia (Kugler 1913:
5-11). Despite the common opinion that Libra was formed in
honour of Julius Caesar (Allen 1963: 271), table 1 shows that Libra
is a much older constellation. This fact was also known to Kugler
Since astrology primarily uses the
constellations in the Zodiac, we can tell that the names of the
constellations connected with astrology moved from Mesopotamia to
Greece without any great changes. The names of other constellations
changed much more.
At the end of the archaic period of
Greek history there was more astronomy and less astrology. The starry
sky held an importance mainly for farmers and sailors. There was no
astral religion in Greece and no sign of star cult. It is reasonably
certain that astrological thinking has not evolved on the spot but
has been imported from Mesopotamia through Asia Minor and Egypt. The
Greeks themselves assert that their astrology has Babylonian origins
through many sources, and the most important of them is Chaldean
Berosus (Bl usur).
Astrology elicited great interest in
Greece, because compared to other future telling it seemed more
rational. This was probably one of the reasons why astrology
underwent a revival in the 20th century.
ideas influenced Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism. According
to Stoic philosophy the human being is a microcosm, which is coherent
with macrocosm. Greek poet Aratus, who has written two astronomical
and two astrological poems made those ideas widely known. Hellenistic
tradition adopted astrology from Chaldea in first century
Even though there have been references to earlier
Greek horoscopes (as early as 72 BC) the first Greek horoscope
written on papyrus dates back to 10 BC (Neugebauer & van Hoesen
In the third century BC, around the same
time that Berosus taught in his own school of astrology on Cos
island, Aristarchus pondered on heliocentric cosmology, having
previously demonstrated that the Sun is much bigger than the Earth.
The astronomers Aristillus and Timoharis worked in the Great Library
of Alexandria, surronded by half a million manuscripts. Their
results were used by Apollonius to create his theory of epicycles.
Ancient scientists sought more for universal
philosophical truths than for scientific facts in the modern day
sense. But astronomy was an exception. While natural sciences dealt
with general principles, astronomy and astrology had the purpose of
«saving» events. It meant that astrologers (astronomers)
had to be able to predict the time and place of star configurations
and had to know their possible consequences, bad or good.
Astronomical predictions could be verified with observations, but
astrological interpretation allowed astrologers to prevaricate. It is
not an exaggeration to say that astronomy/astrology in ancient Greece
were the most scientific disciplines in a modern sense. Even so, one
must not over-estimate the authority of astrology and astronomy.
Astronomy was considered only to attend to «saving»
events, while philosophers had to find the truth, which seemed more
important to contemporary people.
In the period of
zodiacal astrology it was a quite normal belief that terrestrial
events happen due to celestial ones. It is very plausible, that a
confiding belief in causality is evoked by astrological influences.
In contemporary science we can observe a strong belief in causality,
as in ancient philosophy. It is possible that one of the main
principles of science emerged and developed under the auspices of
With the emergence of critical thinking in
Greek culture, despite its seeming rationality, astrology became
subject to criticism, too. The first known active critic of astrology
was the philosopher Carneades. However, it appears that criticism
ceased when Greece came under Roman rule in the same century. The
Roman world view was fairly uncritical and full of omens, making
astrology easily acceptable for them.
of attention is the faith in causalistic relationships in antique
philosophy and science. Nobody asks, for example, what gives
causality the right to be causalistic. As noted before, in the period
of astral fatalism omens were treated as phenomena that are observed
by the wise but which in themselves do not cause the predicted event.
In the period of zodiacal astrology, however, heavenly events are
interpreted as directly causing earthly developments. It is highly
possible that from there stems the causality that can be found in
both antique philosophy and contemporary science. Thus it is possible
that causality, one of the foundation stones of modern sciences, has
emerged and developed under astrology.
of astrology in ancient times is best illustrated by the work of
Claudius Ptolemy, who has been considered the most influential
astronomer and astrologer of antiquity. Ptolemy lived and worked in
Alexandria in the 2nd century AD. Although astronomy and astrology at
that time were not used as separate terms, Ptolemy made a clear
distinction between the two terms and wrote a separate book on each
topic. His famous Almagest largely covers
the contemporary understanding of astronomy and was
the most influential book of astronomy in the 15th century. The
author however considered it an astronomical introduction to the main
book - the astrological Tetrabiblos or the Four Books.
Modern research has indicated that in Almagest Ptolemy relied
on the works of Hipparchus, who had lived three centuries before him,
which he then intentionally skewed to fit his purpose, often
doctoring results and describing observations that could not have
existed (Newton 1978). It was all for the sake of the astrological
truth that he attempted to describe in Tetrabiblos. While
Ptolemy's astronomical and cosmological views are quite well known
even today, we know far less of his work in astrology. There, as well
as in astronomy, Ptolemy was a systemiser rather than an inventor -
his work could be compared with that of Vettius Valens, but was far
more comprehensive and gained more fame and prestige.
Characteristically of this period the text does not include
references, therefore it is impossible to distinguish between the
summary of previous studies and the author's own contribution.
In Tetrabiblos Ptolemy also attempts to maintain the scientific
approach, trying to avoid lapses into mysticism or divine
intervention. In the first book of Tetrabiblos he observes
astrology from the technical aspect, dividing it in two: universal
astrology (e.g. astrogeography) and personal astrology (e.g. medical
or horoscopic astrology). The second book deals with universal
astrology, the third and fourth book with personal astrology. The two
last books are divided in three parts: discussing a) birth omens, b)
the moment of birth and c) what happens after birth.
Ancient astrology has always been and still is the moral pillar of various
pseudo-sciences. Astrology is the key to understanding the nature of
pseudo-sciences, either for purposes of criticism or for seeking
traces of rationality in them. In addition to the aforementioned, the
analysis of pseudo-sciences enables us to study human thought and may
offer new opportunities to define scientific conviction. Sometimes it
would be practical to disregard the stereotype that scientific
reasoning is the only way to acquire trustworthy information. More
efficient definition of scientific conviction would provide new
approaches in the critique of pseudo-sciences and would enable the
criticism of scientific ideologists for their vague evasion of
pseudo-sciences, which paradoxically may lead to pseudo-scientific
tendencies in practical science.
A closer look at the
subject somewhat unexpectedly reveals that compared to other ancient
practices ancient astrology complies more closely with modern
scientific requirements. Some important scientific paradigms may in
fact prove to originate in astrology. Considering this, we should not
condone the practice of separating the history of astronomy and the
history of astrology, as it is not in accordance with the principle
of scientific objectivity nor the convictions of the authors, as both
Lynn Thorndike (1929: 3-4) and Paul Feyeraend (1975) have warned. It
appears that if we also took ancient astrology in consideration, the
history of astronomy and of science in general would raise fewer
question marks. The history of astronomy does not need to be revised
and the lack of censorship will certainly not deprive it of its
Translated by Kait Realo et al.
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