From the ancient practice, implied by many textual sources although never formally prescribed, of identifying the twelve horoscopic places (the
Over the past two decades, an emerging consensus regarding the concept of the twelve horoscopic places (the so-called
Distinguishing between different levels of learning as well as of practice among astrologers in the ancient world appears to me to be essential both for historians and for contemporary practitioners in search of a classical standard. Access to authoritative sources (whether written or oral) was necessarily more restricted in the ancient world than among present-day practitioners, and it seems reasonable to presume that differences in ancient practice at “street level” – insofar as they can be discerned – may often be understood in terms of varying levels of education or sophistication rather than as differences of opinion as such.
Building on the typology of Alexander Jones, Andreas Winkler divides both Greek and Egyptian preserved horoscope materials into deluxe horoscopes, elaborate horoscopes, and basic horoscopes, of which the last type is by far the most common.3 Financial considerations may be a partial explanation of this circumstance, as suggested by Winkler;4 but we may also assume that relatively unskilled practitioners were more common on the ground than highly skilled ones, as has been true in all historical periods, the present not excepted. A “basic horoscope” – meaning one that contains only the zodiacal sign placements of the seven planets (using that term, here and below, in the earlier sense that includes the sun and moon), and usually the ascendant, typically along with the date and time of birth – could be produced by either a skilled or an unskilled astrologer, whereas an unskilled practitioner could not produce a more complex horoscope. Detailed manuals on astrology would necessarily have been authored by highly skilled, or at least well read, practitioners.
In addition to varying levels of education and understanding among astrologers, it seems necessary to distinguish between ideal or normative practices on the one hand and the most common practices on the other, even within the work of a single author. In a 2007 paper making a vigorous case for whole-sign places as the standard system of ancient astrology, Robert Hand somewhat rhetorically asked why astrologers would practise one thing but describe something else in their manuals.5 A prosaic but, in my view, plausible answer would be: because the ideal practice was too troublesome or time-consuming to follow in every case. Shortcuts are a common enough phenomenon in the history of astrology as in most fields of human endeavour. To cite just one parallel instance, in the early modern period some astronomically astute authors taught that the position of the moon in a horoscope should be corrected for parallax;6 yet the plentiful example horoscopes in their own publications display the uncorrected, geocentric position of the moon, which was the one that could easily be found from available printed tables.
As our largest single source of written example nativities – what Neugebauer and Van Hoesen perhaps rather misleadingly dubbed “literary horoscopes” – the Anthologies of Vettius Valens have been of great interest to scholars and practitioners alike. The work is often specifically cited as evidence of whole-sign places being the norm of ancient astrology, on the basis of largely quantitative and, in my view, somewhat simplistic arguments. My own reading of the Anthologies – and, secondarily, of other astrological works from the ancient period – rests on two partly related hermeneutic principles. The first is that, although authors can and do differ even on major issues, and any given author may be inconsistent or change his mind over time, an internally coherent model providing an explanation for all statements on a given topic in a single-author work is preferable to one suggesting the author to have held two or more mutually contradictory opinions on that topic, or to have changed his mind multiple times during the course of writing with no subsequent attempts to unify the text. The second principle is that giving preference to the more detailed and explicit statements by an author, and regarding the less detailed as abridged or simplified even if more numerous, carries greater explanatory power than prioritizing the more frequent types of statement and regarding the less frequent as aberrations. As noted in a different context by Edgar Wind, “the commonplace may be understood as a reduction of the exceptional, but […] the exceptional cannot be understood by amplifying the commonplace. Both logically and causally the exceptional is crucial, because it introduces (however strange that may sound) the more comprehensive category.”7
Some of the arguments presented below are necessarily based on a close reading of textual passages coupled with a precise understanding of technical astrological concepts. In such work it is undoubtedly the case that “God is in the details,” and I have endeavoured to read the texts with careful attention both to context and, where relevant, to sequential structure. While our conclusions differ, I fully concur with the sentiment expressed by Robert Hand: “Finally, whatever one may think of astrology in general and Greek astrology in particular, some of the practitioners were very learned men. We should assume, therefore, that what they did, they did intentionally.”8
2 Places by Sign and by Degree in Valens’ Anthologies
The overwhelming majority of the more than 120 example nativities discussed in the Anthologies list only the sign positions of the ascendant and of some or all of the seven planets, with the occasional addition of secondary points calculated from them; in other words, they are “basic horoscopes.” Some of these nativities are accompanied by astrological arguments and interpretations, as instanced by the very first example:
Let the sun be in Scorpio, the moon in Cancer, Saturn in Aquarius, Jupiter in Sagittarius, Mars in Scorpio, Venus in Libra, Mercury in Scorpio, the ascendant in Libra. Since the nativity is nocturnal, I look for the moon: this happens to be in Cancer, in the triplicity of Mars. We find the [star] of Mars succedent in its own domicile and triplicity and in its own sect; then Venus, sharing [the triplicity] with it, in the ascendant in its own domicile; [the] 3rd [triplicity ruler], the moon, in the midheaven in its own domicile. It is clear, then, that the nativity is an eminent one, as the rulers are appropriately positioned. And seeking the Lot, I found it in Aquarius: the ruler Saturn is there, in Good Fortune, in its own domicile and triplicity. And likewise the 11th from the Lot of Fortune, that is, the profitable sign, <is Sagittarius: there is> Jupiter. And I found the Exaltation of the nativity: from the moon to Taurus makes 11 [signs], and the same from the ascendant in Libra leaves off in Leo, in the Good Daimon. The ruler of this, the sun, was found in the midheaven from the Lot of Fortune: it made the nativity more illustrious and eminent.9
These arguments all agree with a whole-sign method of determining the places (see fig. 1),10 and while they do not preclude other methods, the former thus appears to be the most parsimonious interpretation. We see in this passage the use of standard nomenclature for some of the places: in addition to the first and tenth places – the ascendant (
Not many of Valens’ examples are as elaborately argued as this, and most rather resemble the following, chosen somewhat at random, in their brevity:
Sun, Mercury, ascendant in Taurus; moon in Pisces; Saturn in Gemini; Jupiter in Aquarius; Mars in Virgo; Venus in Aries. The Lot of Fortune in Pisces; the moon there was aspected by Saturn and Mars. The rulers of [the Lot of] the Daimon and of the [preceding] full moon were opposed. That man expired [from drowning] in bilge water.12
Once again, only the sign placements of the ascendant, planets, and some additional points are given, or even just implied. Aspects are noted without mention of distances in degrees; the lot calculations, while not precluding measurement by degree, likewise agree with measurement by sign alone. It is not stated whether the nativity, with the sun occupying the rising sign, was diurnal or nocturnal (sect) – that is, whether the sun had actually risen – but we may infer from the stated position of the Lot of Fortune that it was diurnal.13
Given the large number of such examples found both in the Anthologies and elsewhere, it is perhaps not surprising that scholars should have concluded that whole-sign places were the favoured method of Valens as well as of his contemporaries. Nevertheless, as will be shown below, this conclusion does not always hold up even with regard to “basic horoscopes” and thus needs to be reconsidered. Before proceeding to those revealing anomalies, however, we need to understand the two alternative methods of defining the places in ancient astrology and the descriptions of them provided by Valens.
The mathematically simpler of these two methods is what I shall call equal places (once more slightly modifying its standard designation in modern astrology, “equal houses”). Like whole-sign places, this method is based solely on the horizon or ascendant and consists of thirty-degree segments measured along the ecliptic; but the reference point (usually, but not always, the starting point) for these segments is the rising degree itself rather than the first degree of the rising sign (see fig. 2). As with the whole-sign method, the astronomical midheaven – that is, the culminating point of the ecliptic, intersecting the meridian above the horizon – will, at the latitudes for which most ancient horoscopes were cast, fall either in the tenth place or in one of the adjacent (ninth or eleventh) places. This variation is caused by the oscillating motion of the ecliptic across the horizon over the course of a day – sometimes rising to the north-east, sometimes to the south-east of the place of observation – due to its obliquity relative to the equator.
Equal places are described unambiguously only once in the Anthologies, in its last book. Like the description of quadrant places discussed below, this section refers to an earlier textual authority by name:
On this matter, Asclepius, setting it in motion, composed the most, and then many others of the Egyptians and Chaldeans; and likewise on the eight-turning [model].
Whence, then, the places from the ascendant are apprehended as follows. The 1st is life and the foundation of the years and the spirit of the soul (that is, the ascendant itself); from the [place] of brothers, it is the Good Daimon and the place of friends; from [the place of] parents, [it is the place] of action; from [the place of] wife, the marriage-bringing [place]; from [the place of] children, the ninth.14
This is followed by simple instructions for calculation which have a direct bearing on our next topic and will be discussed below under that heading. The reference to Asclepius suggests that these instructions derived from an earlier source. The “eight-turning model” (
The shifting perspectives demonstrated in the second paragraph recur in the descriptions of each of the twelve places. By changing the point of reference, every place may be invested with a number of secondary meanings. For example, with reference to the third place from the ascendant, which signifies brothers, the ascendant itself – counting inclusively – becomes the eleventh place, known as the Good Daimon and signifying friends: therefore the ascendant is the place of brothers’ friends, and so on.
The last method of place division differs from the previous two by using the midheaven degree to define the tenth place, just as the ascendant degree defines the first. These two points together with their opposite poles (the descendant and lower midheaven) form two axes, which in three-dimensional reality are the great circles of the horizon and meridian, respectively, intersecting the ecliptic and dividing the celestial sphere equally into quadrants. Each quadrant is then trisected – in the version discussed by Valens, along the ecliptic – to form twelve places in all (see fig. 3). I shall refer to this method simply as quadrant places.
Although the order in which Valens presents his doctrines should not be overemphasized, it is worth noting that his early chapter on finding the ascendant (I 4) is immediately followed by one on finding the astronomical midheaven (I 5).16 The calculation of the intermediate places – a simple operation by comparison – is likewise detailed fairly early on (III 2). Quadrant places and angles are then explicitly used in several sections of the work, as we shall see below.17 By contrast, equal places are explicitly described only near the end of the Anthologies (IX 3).
Two points of particular interest in Valens’ exposition of quadrant places are, first, that they are referred to using the same standard nomenclature already met with above and commonly associated in contemporary scholarship with whole-sign places; and second, that Valens briefly mentions an earlier work as his source for these calculations:
But to me it seems more natural to proceed in this manner: taking the distance from the ascending degree to the [angle] below the earth, calculating a 3rd as described, and measuring from the ascending [degree] in order, to judge [these] degrees and those opposite them to be powerful, but again to judge the other [two-thirds] part of the degrees to be middling – neither full [good] nor poor – being [first] succedent to the ascendant and [then] the Goddess and opposite the God. The 1st 3rd of the degrees from the ascendant, then, will be effective and powerful, the next 3rd part middling, and the next 3rd [again] harmful and poor. The stars will act in accordance with these. It is also necessary <to regard the 1st 3rd> from the [degree] of the midheaven as also being of the angular class, the next as of the succedent, whence it was named Good Daimon by the ancients, and the remaining 3rd, up to the degree cadent from the ascendant, as injurious and ineffective. The [parts] opposite these will work in the same way.
Orion set all this out in [his] book.18
Here we see the opposing third and ninth quadrant places referred to as the Goddess and the God, respectively, and the eleventh quadrant place, following the midheaven, as the Good Daimon. There is no indication that these divisions are meant to constitute anything but the standard places going by those names. Stephan Heilen tentatively dates the Orion mentioned here to the first century either BCE or CE, suggesting that he may be identical with an astronomical author on solar eclipses, and further that an alphanumeric could be missing before the word
3 What Is a Sign?
Unlike the systems of equal and quadrant places, whole-sign places are never formally defined in the surviving ancient manuals of astrology.21 The contention that whole signs were nevertheless the standard system of places in ancient horoscopy – not just in the sense of being the most common day-to-day practice, but in the full normative sense – rests on two observations. One is the prevalence of recorded horoscope descriptions and diagrams giving only the sign placements of the ascendant and of some or all planets (the “basic horoscope” model), as discussed above, forming the basis of an argument from silence.22 The other is the fact that the places are sometimes explicitly referred to as “signs” (
Effective and productive signs are the ascendant, midheaven, Good Daimon, Good Fortune, Lot of Fortune, Daimon, Love, Necessity. Middling ones are God, Goddess, and the remaining two angles. The remaining ones are mediocre or bad.23
Such statements may at first seem an unanswerable argument for the places being identified with the signs of the zodiac, making an open-and-shut case,24 and claims favouring this position therefore tend to take the form of simple lists of textual passages where the places are referred to as “signs.”25 However, a closer look at some such passages reveals conceptual problems. A case in point is the following statement by Valens (emphases added):
If the benefics are in the sign of the Good Daimon, appropriately situated or in their proper faces, they make men illustrious and wealthy from youth, more so if also aspecting the Lot of Fortune by a trine figure from the dexter side and the ascendant by sextile.26
Although “sign” (
The whole-sign-place interpretation is based on the generally tacit assumption that the word zōdion/signum as a technical term has a single meaning which has remained constant over two millennia, always and only denoting the divisions known as Aries, Taurus, etc., whereas the word
Do we have any textual evidence explicitly supporting the hypothesis of “sign” being used in such a fluid way? In fact we do, and one passage comes to us from Valens himself. It is found in the exposition of equal places in the ninth book of the Anthologies, where he invoked the authority of Asclepius as described above (emphasis added):
First of all, it is necessary to calculate the places by degree, and, once the degree of the ascendant has been determined, to count from that same degree up to the completion of a thirty-degree [arc], the subsequent sign;29 and that will be the place of life.30 Then likewise up to the completion of the next 30 degrees, [the place] of livelihood, and so on in order. And often two places, falling together in one sign, demonstrate both qualities according to their extensions in degrees. Likewise, [it is necessary] to consider the ruler of the sign, <in> what sign it happens to be and what place it rules, according to its tabular position by degree. In this way the situation is easily discerned and judged. And if roughly one place is calculated for each sign (which is rare) […].31
Alongside “sign” in the commonly acknowledged sense, we have here an explicit reference to a sign (
The first is the place, [that is], that degree (pars) in which the ascendant is established. In this place the life and spirit of men is encompassed; from this place the foundations of the entire nativity become known. This place extends its power from that degree in which the ascendant was through the remaining 30 degrees. It is, moreover, the first angle and the structure and substance of the entire nativity.33
To Firmicus, then, the first place is strictly speaking the ascending degree, which extends its influence over the next thirty degrees.34 Similar descriptions of each of the remaining eleven places are then given, in which the words “place” (locus) and “sign” (signum) are used interchangeably of such thirty-degree segments, and of which it is enough to quote one (emphases added):
The sixth place is established in the 6th sign from the ascendant, which [place], taking its beginning from the 150th degree from the ascendant, extends up to the 180th. In this sign we shall find the cause of blemish and illness.35
A similar terminological fluidity is found in Claudius Ptolemy’s Apotelesmatics (more commonly known as the Tetrabiblos), although the main focus there is on the word
First one must consider those places aphetic in which it is always necessary for that [point] to be which is to take up rulership of the aphesis: the twelfth-part around the ascendant, from the five degrees rising before the horizon itself and up to the remaining twenty-five degrees rising after it, and those [degrees] in dexter sextile to these 30 degrees (those of the Good Daimon), and in square ([those] of the midheaven above the earth), and trine ([those] of the [twelfth-part] called God), and opposite ([those] of the setting [twelfth-part]) […]37
While Ptolemy’s style is characteristically terse, it is clear that he is describing essentially the same equal-place system as Valens and Firmicus, albeit with a displacement of 5° – each place comprising 30° in all and thus constituting a twelfth-part of the ecliptic, parallel to but distinct from the twelfth-parts beginning from the first point of Aries.38 In light of this passage, we may further suspect the same ambiguity in the term dōdekatēmorion as used in other parts of Ptolemy’s work, although these can be more open to interpretation, such as the following:
[…] the twelfth-part of Aries and also that of Libra were considered to be masculine and diurnal […] those following them conforming in order as we said.
But some also employ the order of masculine and feminine by making the beginning of the masculine from the rising twelfth-part, which they call the ascendant.39
In view of the above considerations, mere lists of textual passages using the terms “sign” (or “twelfth-part”) and “place” interchangeably, from Valens or any other ancient author, cannot in themselves be regarded as sufficient evidence for a whole-sign-place interpretation. Each statement needs to be considered on its own terms, in a contextually sensitive manner and with awareness of the fact that the word zōdion/signum was sometimes used – across sources and apparently, judging by the “Asclepius” reference, from an early period – to refer to divisions other than those beginning with Aries.
4 Were Places by Degree Reserved for Particular Purposes?
A suggestion sometimes encountered in the recent literature is that whole-sign places were the default system of ancient astrology generally, whereas places calculated by degree (whether equal or quadrant places) were employed only in special contexts, especially length-of-life calculations.40 A slightly more generalized version of this idea is that quadrant places in particular were used solely for gauging the relative efficacy of planets and were not associated with the particular topics of life assigned to the whole-sign places (the first place relating to the body, the second to wealth and livelihood, the third to siblings, and so on).41
Such claims tend to invoke the fact that, in the textual sources, places explicitly calculated by degree figure most prominently in connection with certain prognostic procedures, notably those relating to the length of life. Although context is important and can be illuminating, it is wise to treat this type of argument with caution. This is particularly the case with the Anthologies, which are notoriously disorganized. Valens himself remarked on the rambling structure of his work:
Even if the same matters seem to be spoken of repeatedly, it makes no difference. For happening upon things, I put them together with what was there before in the sudden fervour of discovery (for one writing, especially about these matters, is inspired, and seems to be conversing with God) […]42
Nevertheless, it is true that Valens and Ptolemy both outline systems of calculating places by degree in the context of length-of-life procedures, although they are different systems: quadrant places in the former case, equal places in the latter. This is a circumstance of some interest, but in no way suggests that the places so calculated were divorced from the topics typically associated with the dōdekatropos. The places in ancient astrology – however defined – have multiple uses which are not only mutually compatible but closely related; and the positive or negative topics associated with them largely mirror their frequent classification as “effective” (
The explicit focus on positions by degree in connection with longevity prognostication is in fact conditioned by the technique that was predominantly used for such prognostication, typically known as
Sun in degree 25;8 of Pisces; moon in degree 16;53 of Gemini; Saturn in degree 1;25 of Pisces; Jupiter in degree 24;18 of Sagittarius; Mars in degree 21;8 of Taurus; Venus in degree 9 of Aquarius; Mercury in degree 12 of Aries; ascendant 1 of Libra; midheaven 16 of Cancer. The luminaries were cadent. The ascendant was apheta in the terms of Jupiter, and Jupiter had fallen away [from an angle]. The nativity had no ruler. The aphesis was up to the opposition of Mars, degree 21 in Scorpio, for Mars, occupying the aphetic terms, destroyed [by] casting [its rays] into the same terms. He expired in his 51st year.45
There is no reason to believe a different system of places to be presupposed here than elsewhere in the text, any more than a different system of calculating planetary longitudes: it is simply the case that the demand for accuracy on both counts is greater in the context of life-span prognostication than in many others, so that more detailed information is presented. Furthermore, as will be shown below, calculations by degree at least occasionally – and possibly often – underlie even examples where those degrees are not explicitly listed.
In some cases it is evident that some other system than whole-sign places is intended, but less certain whether that system is equal or quadrant places. Such an instance is found in the second book of the Anthologies, not in connection with longevity or any special-purpose technique, but as part of a general discussion of aspects (emphasis added):
Jupiter squaring Mars, when one is in the ascendant and the other is in the midheaven or in the Good Daimon, is strong.46
For two planets occupying the first and eleventh places (ascendant and Good Daimon) by the whole-sign method, forming a square either to the degree or even by sign alone is in fact impossible.47 If equal places are used, two planets so placed can form a square by sign but not by degree; the latter is possible only when using quadrant places (see fig. 7–9).
Near the end of his work, in a chapter on the proper astronomical tables and values to use, Valens once more states his general preference for places calculated by degree, though without specifying whether these are quadrant or equal places (emphasis added):
First of all, then, it is necessary to attend with all accuracy to the numbers of the sun and the moon and the 5 stars, the hour determining <the> description of positions [of the stars] and their aspects to each other, for it is from this [hour] that the ascendant is easily recognized and established and the 12 places may be comprehended by degree. For the examination that is thus manifestly accurate will bring acclaim to the forecasters; to the experts it validates the bad and the good for their pleasure; and to those who wish the examination to be made it brings eagerness, encouragement, and faith in what is being said.48
As the preponderance of “basic horoscopes,” listing only the positions of the planets and ascendant, is often seen as a major argument for whole-sign places having been the standard practice of ancient astrology, it is particularly interesting to note instances in the Anthologies where such horoscopes are explicitly interpreted on the basis of other forms of division. One case invoking the quadrant midheaven occurs in Valens’ discussion of prognostication by rising times:
Sun, Mercury in Libra, moon in Aquarius, Saturn in Pisces, Jupiter in Capricorn, Mars in Aries, Venus in Leo, ascendant in Cancer, clime 6. This person, while rich, was exiled in his 47th year, for Saturn was effective at the midheaven, 3, and the rising [time] of Pisces: 30 for Saturn and 17 for Pisces, making 47.49
The midheaven in Pisces is not included in the initial list of positions but is only brought up when it becomes interpretatively relevant. In principle, it is thus entirely possible that Valens routinely calculated both primary angles by degree when casting a nativity, even if they are not listed; whether or not this was the case, it is clear that he sometimes did. Other instances of deceptively simplistic “basic horoscopes” actually incorporating calculations by degree will be discussed below.
It is pertinent to mention here that others have translated part of this passage differently on the strength of a conjecture made by Wilhelm Kroll in 1908. Following the phrase “at the midheaven” (
An unambiguous example of standard topics being assigned to quadrant places, worth quoting in its entirety, is found in the fifth book of the Anthologies:
Since 12 places signify [matters] for every nativity, and very many [events] may be discovered from these and from the natures of the stars, one must observe the angular positions and the variations of the places: for often two places fall together in one sign, or else an angular position is designated as being cadent; and this happens on account of the ascendant.
For instance, the ascendant in Gemini, midheaven in Aquarius by degree. Such a place, then, encompasses [both] the meanings of actions and honours and children and those of foreign lands and God, since it is found in the 9th from the ascendant by sign; and the transmission to [both] the 4th and 5th from it is found to be effective in the ascendant, and the transmission from the ascendant to [both] the 9th and 10th is effective in it. And likewise, the opposite of Aquarius (that is, Leo), which is the angle below the earth, encompasses the meanings of foundations, properties and parents and those of Goddess and brothers and foreign lands, and the transmission [both] to the 3rd and 4th from the ascendant has an effect on it, and that from it to [both] the 10th and 11th [has an effect] on the ascendant. And likewise for the remaining signs; and the same should be conceived for those of long ascension, as the midheaven would [then] fall in sextile [with the ascendant]. Thus, if we examine the places by degree, and also the distances between the stars, we shall not go wrong.54
When signs of short ascension are rising, the culminating degree will often fall in the ninth sign from the ascendant, that is, in a trine configuration with it, as in the example given. Conversely, when signs of long ascension are rising, the culminating degree will often fall in the eleventh sign, in sextile with the ascendant. This example does not refer explicitly to the calculation of all quadrant places as explained in III 2, where the ninth and third places (of the God and Goddess) were mathematically defined as the last thirds of the arcs between descendant and upper midheaven, and ascendant and lower midheaven, respectively. Rather, while the angular tenth and fourth places are defined with reference to the meridian, the third and ninth places are said to be “found by sign.” Unless this is just careless writing, meant to express that those places do fall in the expected signs, it looks like a hybrid model or superimposition of two systems (where “sign” could mean either the zodiacal divisions beginning with Aries or thirty-degree segments beginning with the ascendant).55 However this may be, the phrase “likewise for the remaining signs” does suggest that the same procedure is meant to be employed throughout the horoscopic figure, not for the tenth and fourth places alone.56
Valens here employs the places found “by degree” and “by sign” – whatever the latter phrase means – for exactly the same purpose, namely, to signify particular topics. For the two places explicitly defined by the astronomical midheaven, the topics listed are actions, honours, and children, and foundations, properties, and parents, respectively. These are standard significations of the tenth and fourth places, recurring frequently in the Anthologies as well as in ancient astrology generally.
Another intriguing feature of this passage is Valens’ variation on his preferred prognostic method of annual transmission (
This readiness of Valens to move seamlessly between transmission by sign and by quadrant division seems to me strongly to support the conclusion that they were, to him, two versions – the former more general, the latter more precise – of the same concept: that of a place, or even of an “image.”58 A practical demonstration of transmissions using quadrant divisions in another nativity then immediately follows:
For instance: Mars, ascendant in Virgo, moon in Scorpio [at the angle] below the earth, the midheaven in Taurus. It is necessary to look for the 34th year. Subtracting two twelves, 10 remains. The transmission was equivalent to that from the moon to Mars because of the angle,59 and from the ascendant and Mars to Taurus (that is, the midheaven). At that time [the person] worked abroad and enjoyed the friendship of great men and was in danger of dying on account of a woman and suffered cuts and bloodshed. And other transmissions were in effect at that time but did not indicate the causes [of those events].60
Once again, although the method is explicitly said to be based on calculation “by degree” (
5 Calculations by Sign versus Degree in Other Contexts
In examining a complex technical question such as that of the horoscopic places, it is all too easy to lose sight of the broader context. It is helpful, therefore, to remind ourselves that the places do not exist in a vacuum. Valens’ treatment of them in fact follows the same pattern as his recurring discussions of other astrological topics, including the planetary aspects, the lots, and various prognostic methods. This pattern involves the use of “rough” (
With regard to specific prognostic techniques, although Valens’ general method of transmission is based on the equation of a whole sign with a year, his introduction to the topic in the fourth book of the Anthologies includes the following admonition:
I therefore urge especially those coming upon this treatise […] to observe the stars by degree for judgement on degrees, and likewise for [judgement] on signs, in order that what is being said may be said in accordance with truth.61 For many times I myself have taken the stars to be in certain signs according to the table of entry times,62 and in others according to appearances, and especially if they should be at the beginning or end of the signs; and likewise when they cause errors at the stations and acronychal [positions].63 It is necessary, then, for [readers] to make the judgement after accurately discovering in what signs or degrees they are, and especially the ascendant.64
In other words, even accurate sign placements of the planets ultimately depend on a knowledge of changing positions by degree. As we have already seen, the fifth book eventually goes on to state, with regard to the same method of transmissions, that “if we examine the places by degree, and also the distances between the stars, we shall not go wrong.” Then, in the opening part of the sixth book, a new prognostic tool is introduced:
The division of the times according to the rough tabulation of predictions by signs has been explained by us in the previous [books]. Now it is necessary to speak of the separation and application by degrees, at which I hinted before, as experience has led me to clarify further. In every nativity it is necessary for those casting the figure accurately to take the time by degree from the treatise The Eternal Tables, from the degree of each star as far as desired, whether they be near or far away, according to the applicable time and the order of the signs, up to the encounter with another star by degree […]65
Our present interest lies not in exploring the technical details of the method presented here by Valens, but rather in noting the explicit distinction that he makes between “rough” or “broad” predictions made on the basis of signs alone and “accurate” methods based on degrees and measurements from astronomical tables.
In his treatment of aspects, too, Valens is clear about the difference, in quality as well as intensity, between distances calculated by sign alone or to the exact degree. A few examples will suffice (emphases added):
If the [star] of Saturn should square or oppose the moon by position of equal figure, the [child] born will have a change of rearing <and> be left lotless by its parents66 […] The [star] of Jupiter lying opposite the moon to the degree makes loss of children67 and opposition from superiors.68
Jupiter square the sun in obscure degrees or signs is rendered unpleasant […] and falling opposite the sun, [even] more unpleasant, for not only is all its good quenched, but [such persons] will suffer the wrath of superiors and opposition from the masses. Indeed, the positions of square and opposition by equal degree are cruel.69
Mercury in the ascendant or at midheaven, indeed, makes young men very learned and intelligent, knowing much; but they do not reap the fruits of their pursuits, for the accomplishment of those [pursuits] will dry up on account of the opposition of the star [of Saturn]. And if they oppose each other by position of equal figure, the results will extend much further and impede men in hearing and speech, and they resort to temples, making pronouncements or even wandering in their minds.70
Perhaps more surprising is the fact that Valens occasionally uses the term moirikos to denote a square configuration between two planets that is not based on ecliptical degrees at all, but rather on the horizon and meridian dividing the celestial sphere into four equal parts: the foundation of the quadrant places. This is apparently done by imagining one planet to be at the midheaven and the other, on the ascendant:73
For instance, let Saturn be in degree 21 of Cancer, in Venus’ terms: the opposition in Capricorn in Mars’ terms; Mars in degree 27 of Taurus. In this case, [the person] will die when Saturn is in Virgo, for this is a square by degree.74
The clime of birth is not mentioned, but in the sixth and seventh climes – to which a fair number of the example nativities in the Anthologies seem to belong, judging by the ones that do include such data – early Virgo will indeed rise as late Taurus is culminating in the zodiac used by Valens. In the zodiac, the two signs involved do not form a square aspect (90°) but a trine (120°).
Finally, with regard to lots, Valens repeatedly stresses the importance of considering degrees. An instance from the second book of the Anthologies, found in the context of a discussion on astrological indications of illnesses, simultaneously provides us with another illustration of calculation by degree underlying seemingly simplistic “basic horoscopes”:
It is necessary to examine the lots accurately and by degree, for many times the lot by a rough estimate will fall in one sign, but by one based on degrees, in another. And this happens on account of the degrees of the luminaries and the ascendant, <if> they are found either at the end or the beginning of the signs.75
This statement is followed, a few sentences later, by several brief examples, the second of which begins (emphasis added):
Sun in Sagittarius, moon in Cancer, Saturn in Taurus, Jupiter, Mercury in Scorpio, Mars in Leo, Venus in Capricorn, ascendant in Aquarius. Lot of Fortune in Leo; Mars is placed there, with Saturn dominating [from the dexter side of a square].76
In Valens’ zodiac, these positions correspond to the forenoon of 22 November, 85 CE. With the moon and ascendant both in the early degrees of their respective signs, the Lot of Fortune calculated by degree will indeed fall in Leo, the sign opposite the ascendant, despite the fact that the sun and moon – the arc between which determines the position of the lot – do not occupy opposing signs (see fig. 10).77
What looks like a “basic horoscope” – a list or diagram of mere sign positions – may thus be based on tacit calculation by degree; but it is not possible to reverse the process and derive degree positions from such a horoscope. In other words, a “basic horoscope” cannot be used to determine a range of factors often presented both explicitly and implicitly as essential by Valens and other ancient authors. Such factors include the positions of the planets and ascendant in the unequal divisions of a sign known as the terms (and, secondarily, in other zodiacal subdivisions, such as decans/faces or dodecatemories); in many cases, the phases of the planets with the sun (that is, whether they are visible or invisible, stationary, retrograde, or direct – and, when the luminaries occupy the same or opposing signs, whether the nativity was most recently preceded by a new or a full moon); and, when the sun is in the rising or setting sign, sect – that is, whether the birth took place by day or by night. All of these critical considerations depend on a knowledge of positions by degree.
From an unprejudiced reading of the Anthologies there can be little doubt that Vettius Valens was accustomed to form a general opinion on a nativity from the mere distribution of the seven planets and the ascendant across the zodiacal signs, and that he expected his readers often to do the same. Equally, however, it is clear from his repeated statements that Valens considered this a “rough” (
In addition to explicit instructions on the use of positions by degree and example nativities illustrating it, the Anthologies contain a number of statements and nativities that imply such use, including nativities presented in the deceptively simplistic form of “basic horoscopes” with only the sign positions of the planets and ascendant listed. With regard to horoscopic places, explicit as well as implicit statements and examples are either expressly based on quadrant divisions – the meridian defining the fourth and tenth places – or agree with such divisions, with the sole exception of a passage in the last book detailing equal places with reference to the writings of Asclepius. Occasionally, the Anthologies go so far as to employ quadrant divisions in place of zodiacal signs both in the annual transmission (
Given his unambiguously stated approbation of calculating places, aspects, lots, and positions underlying prognostic procedures by degree, how is the preponderance of “basic horoscopes” among Valens’ cited examples to be understood? I believe that the answer is twofold. In the first place, Valens, like many or most astrologers in the ancient world, probably did use simplified, approximative tables and methods of calculation at least some of the time. The practical value of such time- and labour-saving procedures to a practising astrologer in this period should not be underestimated. The basic horoscope gave a broad overview of the nativity, to which details pertaining to any particular area under investigation – including the precise longitudes of planets, angles, and intermediate places – could be added as needed.
In the second place, we may be dealing with a convention of presentation. Even when it is clear that Valens has access to information based on positions by degree – such as the location of the astronomical midheaven, the terms occupied by a planet, the exact place of a lot, etc. – he typically forbears to list those positions at least initially, staying instead with the basic-horoscope format.78 That format would have functioned as a lowest common denominator of astrological technique, immediately familiar even to the beginning student of astrology, and may have been chosen for that very reason. It would also have corresponded to the form of a simple astrological pinax marking the twelve zodiacal signs, a tool likely to have been used by many readers visually to recreate the example nativities discussed in the text.
While the ancient practice of equating the zodiacal signs with the twelve places, at least provisionally, is strongly corroborated by many examples from the Anthologies, it thus seems doubtful whether that practice merits the designation “system,” at least as it relates to the work of Vettius Valens. Such a designation as commonly used implies not just a practice, but one founded on theoretical principles, and Valens’ statements of principle all favour places by degree rather than sign. From a review of the text in its entirety, it thus seems likely that he would have agreed with the statement by Firmicus Maternus two centuries later: “[…] it suffices to have related these things roughly [by whole signs] to sketch the beginnings for the student; later, indeed, we shall take care to explain how far these places are appointed by the accurate boundaries of degrees.”79
As a thought experiment, we may ask ourselves what Valens’ example horoscopes might have looked like, had he and his readership had access to modern software that could provide them with the exact longitudes of planets, lots, and quadrant places just as easily as with approximations based on signs alone and recreated on a pinax. We cannot, of course, know the answer with absolute certainty; but on the basis of the textual passages analysed above, we can make an educated guess.
I gratefully acknowledge the kind assistance of Ola Wikander in discussing the subject matter of this article with me in some detail, including intricacies of Greek style and grammar. I likewise thank Paul Kiernan for his perceptive comments and Luís Ribeiro for his generous help with locating several out-of-the-way printed sources.
Firm. Math.Firmicus Maternus. Iulii Firmici Materni Matheseos libri VIII. Edited by Wilhelm Kroll, Franz Skutsch, and Konrat Ziegler. Leipzig: Teubner, 1897–1913.
HāyanaratnaBalabhadra Daivajña. The Jewel of Annual Astrology: A Parallel Sanskrit-English Critical Edition of Balabhadra’s Hāyanaratna. Edited and translated by Martin Gansten. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004433717.
Manil. Marcus Manilius. M. Manilii Astronomica. Edited and translated by George P. Goold. Leipzig: Teubner, 1998.
Morinus Morinus, Joannes Baptista. Astrologia Gallica principiis & rationibus propriis stabilita, atque in XXVI. libros distributa. Hagae-Comitis [The Hague]: Adrianus Vlacq, 1661.
Paul. Al. Paulus Alexandrinus. Παύλου Αλεξανδρέως Εἰσαγωγικά = Pauli Alexandrini Elementa Apotelesmatica. Edited by Emilie Boer. Leipzig: Teubner, 1958.
Procl. Par. Ptol.Proclus. Πρόκλου τοῦ διαδόχου παράφρασις εἰς τὴν τοῦ Πτολεµαίου τετράβιβλον = Procli Diadochi Paraphrasis in Ptolemæi libros IV. Edited and translated by Leo Allatius. Lugdunum Batavorum [Leiden]: ex officinâ Elzeviriana, 1635.
Ptol. Apot. Claudius Ptolemaeus. Claudii Ptolemaei opera quae exstant omnia 3.1: Ἀποτελεσµατικά. Edited by Wolfgang Hübner. Leipzig: Teubner, 1998.
Vett. Val. Vettius Valens. Vettii Valentis Antiocheni Anthologiarum libri novem. Edited by David Pingree. Leipzig: Teubner, 1986. (Standard edition.)
Secondary Sources and Translations
Dykes, Benjamin. Persian Nativities IV: On the Revolutions of the Years of Nativities by Abū Ma’shar. Minneapolis, MN: Cazimi Press, 2019.
Gansten, Martin. The Jewel of Annual Astrology: A Parallel Sanskrit-English Critical Edition of Balabhadra’s Hāyanaratna. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004433717.
Greenbaum, Dorian Gieseler. The Daimon in Hellenistic Astrology: Origins and Influence. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2016.
Greenbaum, Dorian Gieseler. “The Hellenistic Horoscope.” In Hellenistic Astronomy: The Science in Its Contexts, edited by Alan C. Bowen and Francesca Rochberg, 443–471. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2020.
Greenbaum, Dorian Gieseler, and Micah T. Ross. “The Role of Egypt in the Development of the Horoscope.” In Egypt in Transition: Social and Religious Development of Egypt in the First Millennium BCE, edited by Ladislav Bareš, Filip Coppens, and Květa Smoláriková, 146–182. Prague: Czech Institute of Egyptology, Charles University, 2010.
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. “ , and Greenbaum, Dorian Gieseler Micah T. Ross The Role of Egypt in the Development of the Horoscope.” In Egypt in Transition: Social and Religious Development of Egypt in the First Millennium BCE, edited by , , Ladislav Bareš , and Filip Coppens Květa Smoláriková 146– 182. Prague: Czech Institute of Egyptology, Charles University, . 2010
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Heilen, Stephan. Hadriani genitura: Die astrologischen Fragmente des Antigonos von Nikaia. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2015.
Holden, James Herschel. “Ancient House Division.” In Journal of Research of the American Federation of Astrologers 1, no. 1 (1982): 19–28.
Hübner, Wolfgang. Die Dodekatropos des Manilius (MANIL. 2,856–970). Stuttgart: Mainzer Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, 1995.
Jones, Alexander. “Ancient Rejection and Adoption of Ptolemy’s Frame of Reference for Longitudes.” In Ptolemy in Perspective: Use and Criticism of His Work from Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century, edited by Alexander Jones, 11–44. New York: Springer, 2010.
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. “ Jones, Alexander Ancient Rejection and Adoption of Ptolemy’s Frame of Reference for Longitudes.” In Ptolemy in Perspective: Use and Criticism of His Work from Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century, edited by , Alexander Jones 11– 44. New York: Springer, . 2010
László, Levente. “Valens on the Third-Sections of the Quadrants: Textual Analysis and Interpretation.” Digitally published; no place, 2021. Online version, accessed Oct 22, 2022: https://www.patreon.com/posts/valens-on-third-56427815.
Manilius, Marcus. Astronomica. Translated and edited by George P. Goold. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992 .
Morinus, Joannes Baptista. Astrologia Gallica Book Sixteen: The Rays and Aspects of the Planets. Translated by James Herschel Holden. Tempe, Arizona: American Federation of Astrologers, 2008.
Claudius Ptolemy. Tetrabiblos, Book III. Translated by Robert Schmidt, edited by Robert Hand. Berkeley Springs, WV: Golden Hind Press, 1996.
Schmidt, Robert. “The So-Called ‘Problem of House Division’: Definitions of Greek Terms and New Translations of Key Passages with Brief Notes & Commentary.” Digitally published as a PDF e-book companion to an audio lecture. Cumberland, MD: Project Hindsight, 2016.
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. “The So-Called ‘Problem of House Division’: Definitions of Greek Terms and New Translations of Key Passages with Brief Notes & Commentary.” Digitally published as a Schmidt, Robert Cumberland, MD: Project Hindsight, . 2016
Sphujidhvaja. The Yavanajātaka of Sphujidhvaja. Translated and edited by David Pingree. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.
Vettius Valens. Anthologies. Translated by Mark Riley. Digitally published; no place, 2010. Online version, accessed Oct 22, 2022: https://www.csus.edu/indiv/r/rileymt/Vettius%20Valens%20entire.pdf.
Vettius Valens. The Anthology Book II, Part 1. Translated by Robert Schmidt, edited by Robert Hand. Berkeley Springs, WV: Golden Hind Press, 1994.
Vettius Valens. The Anthology Book IV. Translated by Robert Schmidt, edited by Robert Hand. Berkeley Springs, WV: Golden Hind Press, 1996.
Vettius Valens. Blütensträusse. Translated by Otto Schönberger and Eberhard Knobloch. St. Katharinen: Scripta Mercaturae, 2004.
Winkler, Andreas. “Stellar Scientists: The Egyptian Temple Astrologers.” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern History 8 (1–2, 2021): 91–145. https://doi.org/10.1515/janeh-2020-0017.
These two categories overlap in part, some scholars also being practitioners, and are furthermore interdependent to some extent, reconstructionist practitioners basing their approaches partly on historical research and historians occasionally benefiting from practical perspectives on the applications of astrological doctrine. Nevertheless, it seems relevant here to make a certain distinction between those who have had specialized academic training in working directly with historical source texts and those who have not.
For some examples of this position in academic publications, see Hand, “Signs as Houses”; Heilen, Hadriani genitura, 692ff.; Greenbaum, “Hellenistic Horoscope,” 469–70. For examples published outsi\'/'\./ude academia, which adhere wholly or partly to academic standards of scholarship, see, for instance, Holden, “Ancient House Division”; Hand, Whole Sign Houses; Schmidt, Definitions and Foundations, 3–32 passim, and (with a somewhat modified position) “Problem of House Division”; Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology, 365–414; Dykes, Astrology of Sahl, 32ff., and Persian Nativities IV, 49–61 (both chiefly addressing medieval Arabic sources); László, “Third-Sections.” Publications of both types will be referenced below.
Winkler, “Stellar Scientists,” 95ff.
Hand, “Signs as Houses,” 143.
See, e.g., Morinus, 354 (Astrologia Gallica [transl. Holden], 23): “Therefore, at least the Moon’s place as deduced from the ephemerides will have to be corrected by parallax […] but not the places of the other Planets, which scarcely experience a parallax of 1 or 2 minutes [of arc]” (Quamobrem Lunæ saltem locus ex Ephemeridibus deductus, erit per parallaxim corrigendus […] non autem aliorum Planetarum qui vix unius, aut alterius minuti parallaxim patiuntur) and Placidus, 17: “[…] from which it then follows that the places of the planets are to be examined as taken according to parallax, and not in the received way, at the centre of the earth, as professors generally opine” ([…] ex quo deinde sequitur consideranda esse loca planetarum accepta secundum parallaxim, & non secundum receptum ad centrum terræ, sicut putant communiter Professores). Here and below, all translations are my own unless otherwise stated. Where relevant, I have contrasted my translations of Valens with those published by Schönberger and Knobloch, Riley, and Schmidt.
Wind, Pagan Mysteries, 191.
Hand, “Signs as Houses,” 162.
Vett. Val. II 22,2–9:
The astrological figures shown here are in the modern style, keeping the signs of the zodiac proportional while distorting the relationship between horizon and meridian, rather than vice versa (any two-dimensional representation of the three-dimensional relations involved necessarily distorts one or the other). The system of terms included is the one known as Egyptian, the most commonly used system from Late Antiquity to the end of the medieval period.
Contemporary practitioners sometimes translate
Vett. Val. II 41,77–80:
The Lot of Fortune is normally calculated by measuring the ecliptical distance from the sun to the moon (in zodiacal order) by day, vice versa at night, and projecting the same distance from the ascendant. The Lot of the Daimon, by contrast, is normally measured from the moon to the sun by day, vice versa at night.
Vett. Val. IX 3,5–7:
For a summary (though now somewhat dated) of scholarly discussions of the oktatropos, see Hübner, Dodekatropos, 92–95. Cf. also the list of eight places in Firm. Math. II 14,3–4, cited in note 34 below.
Although the arithmetical approximation described by Valens does not reliably produce an astronomically correct result, it is clearly intended to find the culminating degree.
Pace Greenbaum (Daimon, 400, n. 6), who states: “Yet all of Valens’ chart delineations use a one place/one sign system (thanks to Robert Hand for bringing this to my attention).”
Vett. Val. III 2,15–20:
See Heilen, Hadriani genitura, 690–91, n. 1469, citing Jones, Ptolemy’s First Commentator, 17.
See Greenbaum and Ross, Role of Egypt, 155: “Just as the rising decans provide a precursor to the ascendant, the ‘transit’ decans presage the astrological mid-heaven, the secondmost [sic] important of the cardines after the ascendant.” Transit decans, attested as early as a millennium before the rise of horoscopic astrology, are based on true culmination, casting strong doubt on the claim of Hand (“Signs as Houses,” 141) that it is a “fact that in the course of the evolution of astronomy and astrology the midheaven came largely to supplant the nonagesimal [= the ecliptical point 90° prior to the ascendant, marking the tenth equal place] as the other most important point of a chart after the ascendant.” The first-century Astronomica of Manilius, while somewhat outside the scope of this paper, likewise confirms an early use of the culminating point in defining the horoscopic places (see Manil. 2.788–970, Astronomica [transl. Goold], 145–59).
László (“Third-Sections,” 1) chooses to interpret this fact as an indirect support of the whole-sign-place position: “It seems that the identification of places with entire signs was such a commonplace among astrologers, that only Sextus Empiricus, an astrology skeptic, and the anonymous author of the basic treatise beginning as ‘Of the Celestial Disposition,’ an apparently late astrologer, felt compelled to give formal definitions.” In view of the highly commonplace nature of many astrological doctrines which are still included in all the manuals (such as the names and arrangements of the zodiacal signs and their rulership schemes), this argument strikes me as less than convincing. It further makes the assumption of a whole-sign system nearly unfalsifiable, as both the presence and the absence of a formal definition can apparently be interpreted in its favour. (The late, anonymous definition cited by László [“Third-Sections,” 1] is perhaps not as clear-cut as suggested, speaking as it does of Gemini “culminating in the midheaven” while Cancer succeeds it and Taurus declines from it: culmination sensu stricto forms no part of whole-sign places. I have not, however, seen the Greek text, for which no reference is given.)
The generally unstated argument runs something like this: a horoscope as given should contain all information used by the astrologer/author in judging it; most preserved ancient horoscopes do not contain the information needed to calculate places by degree; therefore places by degree were not used. However, as “basic horoscopes” leave out several kinds of information, some of which were demonstrably used in judging them, the premise itself is doubtful – pace Brennan (Hellenistic Astrology, 370), who calls the prevalence of such horoscopes “[o]ne of the most compelling pieces of evidence about the pervasiveness of whole sign houses in the Hellenistic tradition.” I shall return to this question in my conclusion below.
Vett. Val. IV 11,49:
This argument is explicitly made, for instance, in László, “Third-Sections,” 1–2, and rehearsed at length in Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology, 374–414.
For an extensive if not exhaustive list of this type, see Heilen, Hadriani genitura, 691ff. (including copious notes).
Vett. Val. II 6,1:
Brennan (Hellenistic Astrology, 382), citing the former clause of the same passage in support of his claim that Valens advocated whole-sign places, omits this revealing latter clause. The conditional force of the participial construction (that is, the meaning “if” rather than “as”) is evident from the inclusion of the Lot of Fortune, which may be located anywhere in a horoscope and thus need not be aspected at all. The text goes on to
mention occupation of “hearing” and “beholding” signs as indicating still more (
Although the etymological meaning of
The two genitives
Riley (Valens, Anthologies, 154) paraphrases this sentence in such a way as to omit the crucial definition of a sign: “First of all, it is necessary to calculate the positions of the Places in degrees: count from whatever point has been determined to be the Ascendant until you have completed the 30° of the first Place; this will be the Place of Life.” Brennan (Hellenistic Astrology, 396) reproduces this simplified version without comment.
Vett. Val. IX 3,21–25:
It may not be out of place to mention here that “sign” is still used colloquially by contemporary astrologers as a unit of measurement comprising 30°, so that a point located at 7° Taurus is said to be exactly one sign ahead of a point at 7° Aries, etc.
Firm. Math. II 19,2: Primus est locus [idest] illa pars, in qua horoscopus est constitutus. In hoc loco vita hominum et spiritus continetur, ex hoc loco totius geniturae fundamenta noscuntur, hic locus ab ea parte, in qua fuerit horoscopus, vires suas per residuas partes XXX extendit. Est autem cardo primus et totius geniturae compago atque substantia.
Hand (“Signs as Houses,” 143ff.) attempts to make a case for this description being ambiguous by reinterpreting “the remaining 30 degrees” as “the rest of the thirty degrees of a sign” (emphasis in the original) so as to support whole-sign places. This tendentious exegesis can, however, be confidently ruled out as contradicting an earlier statement from the same book forewarning the reader of the distinction (Firm. Math. II 14,3–4): “The place of life is roughly [located] in that sign in which the ascendant is established, that of hope or property in the second sign from the ascendant, that of brothers in the third, that of parents in the fourth, that of children in the fifth, that of illness in the sixth, that of the spouse in the seventh, that of death in the eighth. […] But as we have said above, it suffices to have related these things roughly to sketch the beginnings for the student; later, indeed, we shall take care to explain how far these places are appointed by the accurate boundaries of degrees” (Platice vitae locus est in eo signo, in quo est horoscopus constitutus, spei vel pecuniae in secundo horoscopi signo, fratrum in tertio, parentum in quarto, filiorum in quinto, valitudinis in sexto, coniugis in septimo, mortis in octavo. […] Sed haec, sicut superius diximus, platice ad informanda initia discentis dixisse sufficiat; postea vero, quatenus haec loca suptili partium definitione monstrantur, explicare curabimus). We may note here Firmicus’ repeated use of the Greek loanword platice (=
Firm. Math. II 19,7: Sextus locus in VI. ab horoscopo signo constituitur; qui a CL. parte horoscopi initium accipiens usque ad CLXXX. extenditur. In hoc signo causam vitii ac valitudinis inveniemus.
For just some examples, see Ptol. Apot. I 13, I 17, II 11, where the word recurs frequently in this sense.
Ptol. Apot. III 11,3:
Here, too, Hand (“Signs as Houses,” 146 ff.) wants to problematize the text and claims that reading
Ptol. Apot. I 13,2–3: […]
The length-of-life connection is explicitly made, e.g., by László (“Third-Sections,” 3), and in greater detail by Brennan (Hellenistic Astrology, 386–393). Brennan (370 and passim) also insistently puts forward the notion that equal and quadrant places “were typically used as a secondary overlay,” whereas whole-sign places were “primary.” Textual evidence demonstrating such secondary overlay is, however, entirely absent, so that the notion itself has the appearance of a superimposition of an imagined pervasive system of whole-sign places on to passages actually detailing other approaches.
See, e.g., Greenbaum, Daimon, 400, n. 6: “But the whole sign/place system showed areas of life, while the rising or culminating angles (and those that set and anti-culminated) described the relative strength or power of signs or planets within that system. […] Olympiodorus, Paulus’s 6th-century commentator, appears to be the first of the Hellenistic astrologers to suggest that the quadrant system […] be used for the places as significators of areas of life.” Among contemporary practitioners, similar claims made about medieval Arabic astrologers have created a narrative of their being chiefly responsible for conflating the originally separate domains of these systems by misapplying the quadrant-place method to topics of life. One cannot fail to note here the echoes of early modern European authors who, in their desire to recreate a pure Greek astrology, denounced all non-Ptolemaic doctrines as “Arabian accretions.” While Ptolemy is no longer held up as its original source, simplistic and monolithic representations of ancient astrology remain seductive but misleading.
Vett. Val. VI 1,19:
Cf. the list given in note 23 above with the discussions of aphetic places in Vett. Val. III 1 and Ptol. Apot. III 11. Even Ptolemy, whose general approach to horoscopy largely ignores the places, connects the sixth place (
Vett. Val. III 5,11–15:
Vett. Val. II 17,89:
While this and other chapters of the Anthologies repeatedly state that aspects by exact degree are highly efficacious (as will be discussed below), approximate aspect angles formed across sign borders (e.g., a position at 29° Gemini approximating the square between 1° Aries and 1° Cancer) are never employed by Valens.
Vett. Val. IX 12,13–14:
Vett. Val. VII 6,111–114:
Kroll ad Vett. Val. VII 5: “(nonus enim locus sunt Pisces).”
Valens, Blütensträusse (transl. Schönberger and Knobloch), 277; Valens, Anthologies (transl. Riley), 133. Schmidt (Valens, Anthology Book VII, 67–68) simply omits the puzzling letter. Brennan (Hellenistic Astrology, 394), citing this example, claims that Valens “interprets the activation of Saturn in the ninth whole sign house but copresent with the meridian-Midheaven,” and further that “he also takes into account that Mars was also being activated in another way in the tenth whole sign house.” Neither claim is supported by the text. While Valens does go on to say that the opposition involving the sun, Mercury, and Mars was effective at age 47, he makes no mention of a tenth whole-sign place: the only midheaven referred to in the example is the astronomical one in Pisces.
As implied in Vett. Val. I 2,3 and explicitly stated in IX 12,11, this is the zodiac (inherited from Babylonian sources) that places the vernal equinox at 8° Aries. The use of this model for purposes of horoscopy remained standard among Greek-language astrologers long after the time of Ptolemy, who had adopted Hipparchus’ model of equating the vernal equinox with 0° Aries (see Ptol. Apot. I 10,2). For the gradual acceptance of Ptolemaic values in horoscopy, see Jones, Rejection and Adoption.
See, for instance, Holden, “Ancient House Division,” 23: “Firmicus Maternus […] notes that the MC degree is often found in the 9th house! […] the astronomical midheaven was recognized as what we would call a ‘sensitive point.’ That is to say, it was not a house cusp marker, but only a calculated point like the Part of Fortune. Originally, it had nothing to do with the house cusps!” The reference to Firm. Math. (II 15,4) is incorrect: the text does not mention the word “place” (or “house”) in this context, but only signs: “The midheaven, indeed, is the 10th sign from the ascendant; yet sometimes, too, the midheaven is found by degree in the 11th sign from the ascendant” (Medium vero caelum est ab horoscopo X. signum, sed interdum medium caelum etiam in XI. ab horoscopo signo partiliter invenitur). Similarly, Greenbaum (“Hellenistic Horoscope,” 469) states: “The vast majority of extant horoscopes employ what has come to be known as the whole-sign system […] the Midheaven by degree ‘floats’.” In support of this interpretation, Greenbaum cites the concluding sentence of Paul. Al. 30, which, however, makes only an astronomically matter-of-fact statement about the midheaven falling in different signs counted from the ascendant and does not call them places: “And it is necessary to know that the degree of the midheaven does not always fall in the tenth from the ascendant, due to the inequality of the rising times of the signs, but sometimes in the ninth and sometimes in the eleventh” (
Vett. Val. V 6,65–69:
This single instance in the Anthologies could thus be considered a possible case of two systems being “overlaid” as repeatedly suggested by Brennan (cf. note 40); but it is important to note that, if so, there is still no question of a “secondary overlay,” as neither system is given priority. In discussing this passage, Brennan (Hellenistic Astrology, 393) claims that “the degree of the meridian-Midheaven and IC are still taken into account, but their positions are interpreted as importing significations into whatever whole sign house they fall in,” and that Valens “goes on to say that the same is true in other placements of the meridian-Midheaven, such as when it falls in the eleventh whole sign house.” Neither statement is factually correct: the text describes the ninth place and the midheaven (
The sentence containing this phrase is omitted by Brennan (Hellenistic Astrology, 393) in discussing the passage.
The entire discussion of transmission in this passage, which militates against a whole- sign-place interpretation, is likewise omitted by Brennan (Hellenistic Astrology, 393).
It may be relevant to note that transmissions by quadrant places are not unique to Valens, although the Anthologies may be the earliest preserved text to describe them. Abū Maʿshar’s ninth-century Kitāb aḥkām taḥāwīl sinī l-mawālīd (“Book on the judgements of the revolutions of the years of nativities,” transl. Dykes, Persian Nativities IV, 433–34) makes provision for transmission based either on signs or on quadrant places, and the Sanskritized Perso-Arabic (Tājika) astrological tradition of India likewise preserves a memory of a quadrant-based variant, as demonstrated in the 1649 Hāyanaratna of Balabhadra Daivajña (Jewel [transl. Gansten], 427): “For example, [if] the birth ascendant is Leo at twelve degrees, that is where the munthahā [= transmission of the ascendant] is for the first year; next, the second house is in Virgo at ten degrees; [therefore], in the second year the munthahā is in Virgo at ten degrees. It should be understood in this way in every [house/place]” (yathā janmalagnaṃ siṃho dvādaśāṃśamitaḥ prathamavarṣe tatraiva muthahā | punar dhanabhāvaḥ kanyāyāṃ daśāṃśamitaḥ dvitīyavarṣe kanyāyāṃ daśāṃśamitā muthahā | evaṃ sarvatra jñeyaṃ ||). Unless the numbers cited by Balabhadra were chosen at random, they must refer to the tropical zodiac and/or to a latitude north of India. Either circumstance would point to the example originating with a non-Indian source.
Riley (Valens, Anthologies, 105) translates “since they are both at angles <10 signs apart>,” but Valens’ point here is precisely that the transmission is valid even though the moon and Mars are not ten signs apart: counting inclusively, the moon is in the third sign from Mars, and Mars is in the eleventh sign from the moon. The two signs involved (Virgo and Scorpio) thus form a sextile angle (60°), not a square (90°). The distance from the moon to Mars is, however, ten quadrant places.
Vett. Val. V 6,70–73:
From the context, it seems that the point Valens wishes to make is that even an astrological judgement based only on positions by sign (rather than by degree) is still dependent on a knowledge of degrees, as the latter determine the accurate times of planets moving from one zodiacal sign into another. However, Schmidt (Valens, Anthology Book IV, 24) translates
I am grateful to Alexander Jones and Andreas Winkler for discussing this passage with me. At the suggestion of Jones (personal communication), I have emended the
The apparent velocity of planets during their retrograde periods is not constant but varies from a minimum at either station (when changing their apparent motion from direct to retrograde or vice versa) to a maximum around the time of their acronychal rising (at nightfall, that is, opposite the sun).
Vett. Val. IV 11,14–15:
Vett. Val. VI 2,1–2:
The “change of rearing” presumably means that the child will be reared by others than its parents. Riley (Valens, Anthologies, 27) translates “the native will have an interruption of nurture and will be abandoned by his parents”; Schönberger and Knobloch (Valens, Blütensträusse, 57), rather implausibly, “wird, der da geboren wird, an seiner Aufzucht zu tadeln finden und von den Eltern verstoßen werden”; Schmidt (Valens, Anthology Book II, 9), even less plausibly, “the native will have claim to nurture [even though] he will be unallotted parents.”
Riley (Valens, Anthologies, 27) translates “causes sterility”; Schmidt (Valens, Anthology Book II, 9) compromises with “will cause a deprivation of children.”
Vett. Val. II 4,10, 12:
Vett. Val. II 17,17–20:
Vett. Val. II 17,48–49:
This presumably refers to the relationship known in later astrological tradition as reception, two planets being configured by aspect while one occupies a sign (or part of a sign) ruled by the other.
Vett. Val. II 38,28:
This method is reminiscent of, but not identical to, the so-called mundane aspects taught by Placido de Titi in the seventeenth century (see Placidus, 189ff.); nor is it identical to the aspectual relations by rising times alone met with in some ancient sources (see, e.g., Heilen, Hadriani genitura, 191).
Vett. Val. III 6,5–6:
Vett. Val. II 37,40:
Vett. Val. II 37,48–49:
Riley (Valens, Anthologies, 49), missing the point of the unambiguous statement just preceding, apparently believes Valens to have made a mistake and translates: “the Lot of Fortune in Leo <! should be Virgo>.”
One anonymous reviewer of the present article helpfully remarked that some of the example horoscopes discussed by Valens are in fact used more than once, with different levels of precision employed at different places in the text.
See note 34.