Astrologers of the Hellenistic and Late Antiquity formed their theoretical and practical theories by combining Middle Platonic, Neopythagorean, and Babylonian (and to a lesser degree, Egyptian) astrological traditions. In an era of quick political and social change, astrology brought satisfaction to the urge to systematically know where one is in relation to the cosmos. While adopting some astral beliefs, various thinkers of the time engaged in debates against astrology.Posidonius, a Stoic philosopher, was said to have embraced astrology and written writings about it (Augustine, De civitate dei, 5.2). Other Stoics who opposed astrological determinism included Panaetius and (late) Diogenes of Babylon. Horoscopic astrology was deemed irrational by certain thinkers, including Plotinus, for the reason that the planets could never harbour malice toward people whose souls were exalted above the cosmos. Others, like the early Church Fathers, disagreed over the ethical implications of astrological fatalism because it ran against to the developing Christian notion of free choice.Posidonius, a Stoic philosopher, was said to have embraced astrology and written writings about it (Augustine, De civitate dei, 5.2). Other Stoics who opposed astrological determinism included Panaetius and (late) Diogenes of Babylon. Horoscopic astrology was deemed irrational by certain thinkers, including Plotinus, for the reason that the planets could never harbour malice toward people whose souls were exalted above the cosmos. Others, like the early Church Fathers, disagreed over the ethical implications of astrological fatalism because it ran against to the developing Christian notion of free choice.Astrology’s adaptation to other philosophical schools and astrologers’ borrowing from multiple philosophies offer vivid illustrations of the rich “eclecticism” or “syncretism” that defined the Hellenistic world.
Babylonian Astrology in the Hellenized World
A means of establishing connections between celestial events and human activities, astrology has been used by almost all civilizations. In particular, it’s complicated interactions with Greek philosophy and its claims on a person’s existence make its function in the late-Hellenistic period of particular interest.A horoscopic chart, also known as a “birth chart,” “natal chart,” or “horoscope,” is a list of planetary positions against a background of zodiac signs that is divided into areas of the sky based on the precise time and location of one’s birth (with reference to the rising and setting stars on the horizon). Such charts serve as the foundation for “natal astrology” or “genethlialogy,” a branch of astrology that originated in Babylon and later developed in Hellenized Greek-speaking areas.
The earliest known horoscopic chart of a specific person dates to Babylon around 410 BCE. From the seventh century until the Seleucid dynasty, Babylonian astrology was at its heyday (late fourth century). However, Mesopotamia has a considerably older history of astral religion and star omen divination. It was believed that amulets, magical incantations, and prayers may be used to win the favour of the stars, which were thought to be representations of gods. Anu, Enlil, and Ea’s trinity corresponded to three bands of constellations rather than specific stars or planets.Hellenistic astrology shows traces of the essential traits of the planetary gods, such as the evil nature of Mars/Nergal (the deity of destruction and plagues) and Venus/Itar (the goddess of love). It is extremely challenging to draw firm conclusions about the theoretical underpinnings of the practise of the earliest horoscopic astrologers given the small sample of Late Babylonian horoscopic tablets that are still extant (around 28 extant), which contain planetary placements and laconic predictions. In the Hellenistic culture, where theoretical underpinning was crucial for the growth of the practice
and where there is more substantial literary evidence, the situation will be different.
The Hellenistic period provided fertile ground for the cultivation of what initially started as a Mesopotamian system of celestial omens because of the dynamic tension that resulted from Greek philosophy meeting Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Jewish religions and ideologies, as well as the “syncretism” of cross-cultural influences. Prior to Alexander’s conquest, Babylon’s astronomy and astrology industries thrived, but the Greek intellectuals were not particularly interested in them.It is believed that astrology was first introduced to Greece and the surrounding area by priest-astrologers from Babylon, most notably Berossus, who lived on the island of Cos. In the Timaeus (40c–d), Plato makes reference to individuals who seek heavenly portents, while the author of the Epinomis, a Plato pupil, prepared the path for the application of astronomical knowledge to astral piety.
Alexandria, Egypt’s intellectual capital, is a plausible place for significant advancements in Hellenistic astrology. A portion of the early Hellenistic astrological corpus is represented by what Garth Fowden (in Egyptian Hermes) categorised as “technical Hermetica,” material that is typically older than the “philosophical Hermetica.”The Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum (CCAG), a work that compiled the remaining Greek astrological writings over a fifty-year period, reveals that many Hellenistic astrologers gave historical or mythical figures, like the pharaoh Nechepso, an Egyptian priest connected to Petosiris, credit for the earliest astrological works in order to lend them credibility. Astrology is said to have been created by the mythical deity Hermes. While part of the Nechepso/Petosiris work from the middle of the second century B.C.E. is preserved in quotes by later authors, certain pieces attributed to Hermes are still extant.Asclepius, Anubis, Zoroaster, Abraham, Pythagoras, and Orpheus are some historical figures whose names contain astrological writings. Three Babylonian astronomers and astrologers, Kidinnu (Kidenas), Sourdines, and Naburianos are mentioned in late Hellenistic literature. Sardines served as a source of information for the astrologer Vettius Valens in the second century C.E. The conflicting claims made by astrologers on whether or not Egyptians or Babylonians invented astrology may be a reflection of the rivalry between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic kingdoms (called the Chaldaeans).Different astrological methods and tables are either assigned to the Chaldaeans or the Egyptians, but by late antiquity, the origin of particular methods and approaches was frequently misattributed. By the second century B.C.EPythagorean sacred mathematics, Hermeticism, Egyptian calendars and religious customs, as well as the Stoic and middle Platonic philosophies, had been incorporated with Babylonian astrology methods.
Hellenistic Theorization and Systemization of Astrology
Various philosophical influences can be seen in Hellenistic astrology. However, practical astrology did not always follow a particular philosophical paradigm put out by the major philosophical schools, given the various and constantly expanding streams of thought in the Hellenized world. The Neopythagoreans, Platonists, and Stoics, however, gave the fundamental influence on the development of the art, as is explained below.Stoic tendencies are indicated by Vettius Valens, whose Anthologiarum is one of the most important sources for historians of this topic. Claudius Ptolemy (fl. 130–150 C.E.), an astrologer, astronomer, and geographer whose work had a significant impact on the development of astrology, attempted to present astrology as a natural science while dismissing much of the doctrine for lack of systematic rigour. He did this by using Aristotelian-influenced modes of argumentation that had been adopted by other Hellenistic schools like the Middle Platonists and the Academic Sk.Thrasyllus, the head of the academy in the first century C.E., served as an astrologer to Emperor Tiberius and is credited with writing works on astrology and numerology. The later Platonic Academy also had its fair share of astrological interest. Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus were all Neoplatonists who either practised or embraced astrology in accordance with their individual contributions to Neoplatonism.It is difficult to believe that philosophers who were also astrologers would have separated astrology from philosophy. Influential philosophers of the day who contributed to the development of the theoretical and cosmological understanding of the practice were profoundly influenced by the concept of astrology as a methodical explanation of fate. Using a range of arguments centred on freedom, the ontological position of the stars and planets, and the illogical or practical constraints of astrological claims, thinkers in the sceptical Academy and Pyrrhonic schools sought to question the theoretical foundations of the practise of astrology.