Paulus Alexandrinus, Introductory Matters, Chapter 6
(translated by Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum)
were astrologers of the Late Empire and early Byzantine period respectively, both living in Alexandria, Egypt about 200 years apart. Paulus published an Introduction to Astrology in 378 C.E. Olympiodorus, known as a scholar of Aristotle but also an astrologer, wrote a Commentary on Paulus in 564 C.E. The commentary was based on a series of astrological lectures he gave in Alexandria between May and July of that year. Both Introduction and Commentary contain a wealth of astrological ideas and techniques, and provide a fascinating glimpse into the minds of two working astrologers of this period.
The following excerpt is from the introduction to my book, Late Classical Astrology: Paulus Alexandrinus and Olympiodorus.
(© Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum, 2001. Not to be reproduced without permission from the author.)
… In 330 C.E., the emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). The Empire remained stable during Constantine’s reign, but his death brought renewed unrest. Conflicts abounded especially in the area of religion; Constantine had supported the right of Christians to worship freely, but later emperors, such as Constantine’s nephew Julian, were intent on restoring the old Roman religion. At the time of the writing of Paulus’ Introduction, the Roman Empire had been divided into two parts, East, which included Alexandria, and West, which included Italy.
Paulus himself was a contemporary or near contemporary of a number of astrologers of the Late Empire. An unknown author wrote the Treatise on the Bright Fixed Stars in 379 C.E. Julius Firmicus Maternus, writing in Latin, had composed the Mathesis some 40 years earlier. Hephaistio of Thebes wrote three books on various areas of astrology in the early 5th century C.E. So Paulus’ work was part of a tradition of astrology that was thriving at that time.
However, by the time the Olympiodorus Commentary was written in 564 C.E., the fortunes of the Roman Empire had changed dramatically. The Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 C.E., and the West Roman Empire had disappeared by 476 C.E. In contrast, the East Roman Empire had grown and prospered, especially under Justinian, who was emperor when the Commentary was composed. It was now officially (at least to modern historians) known as the Byzantine Empire. Stablility, however, ended with Justinian’s death in 565, as barbarians began attacks on the Empire.
Astrology itself, though at times under siege, continued to be pursued. Julian of Laodicea wrote on katarchic astrology around 500 C.E. The Centiloquy, spuriously attributed to Ptolemy, was probably written in the 5th or 6th century. John the Lydian, a contemporary of Olympiodorus, wrote On Omens and On the Months. Rhetorius, probably also a contemporary, compiled a collection of excerpts of earlier astrological writings.
Why should anyone be interested in the writings of some fairly obscure ancient Greek astrologers? Classical scholars will find value in the scientific and philosophical thought expressed in these works (and astrologers should, too). If, as astrologers, we believe it is important to have an accurate view of astrology’s past history and doctrines, then that in itself should be sufficient. Herein we find the foundations of our art and a chance to explore it in the language of its ancient practitioners. We can readily apply the material explained in these texts to modern astrological practice with quite successful results. Along with Ptolemy and Vettius Valens, the writers Paulus Alexandrinus, Olympiodorus and the anonymous scholiast(s) comprise some of the best sources we have of Hellenistic astrological theory and practice. Among other subjects discussed in these works, the following should provide an inspirational sample of what these astrologers have to offer to us.
Paulus’ description, and Olympiodorus’ explanation, of the calculation and use of lots to determine astrological outcomes can easily be applied today, particularly with computer programs available to do the tedious calculation for us. We are provided not only the theory behind the lots, but the underlying rationale as well: “…we will begin from the Lot of Fortune, since rather this goddess [Fortune], more kindred to things here, has begotten increasing and lessening circumstances, for which reason…Hermes Trismegistus affiliates her with the Moon.” (Olympiodorus, Practicum 22) If you have ever wondered about the reasoning behind the Part of Fortune (to say nothing about any of the other lots), this book will provide you with the answer.
The dodekatemoria give another whole layer of technique just begging to be tested and employed by modern astrologers. We see echoes of it in modern harmonic theory, as the dodekatemorion is calculated like the 13th harmonic. Here we find out how to apply it to charts. For example: if you calculate the dodekatemorion of Venus or Jupiter, and it connects to the important personal planets or points of the chart, that will have a positive effect on life circumstances. “The dodekatemorion of the benefics contributes much whenever it falls in the zoidion where the Sun, Moon or star of Hermes is, or on one of the four pivots, the Lot of Fortune or Spirit or even Necessity, or on the prenatal conjunction or whole moon.” (Paulus, Chapter 22) This is specific information we can quickly use in our own work, and a technique long lost to astrologers.
Application and Separation
Our modern understanding of these terms differs greatly from the way in which the Greeks used it. For instance, the closer an applying aspect was by degree, the sooner in life the effects of that aspect occurred. In Greek doctrine, degrees of application can be as much as 15, or even 30! And separations are equally important: if the separation is from a malefic and the application to a benefic, the outcomes are much different than if the other way around. Application and separation of the Moon was particularly important: “Without the inspection of these phases, I mean of course the application and separation which the Moon makes to the stars by body and by figure, it is impossible to interpret anything concerning a nativity…. For these phases are that strong.” (Olympiodorus, Practicum 16)
The terminology used by these authors to describe the phases of the Moon is brilliantly instructive in learning more about how the Greeks perceived the Moon. Metaphors of birth and death abound in their descriptions. It is possible that until these writers we have not been able to understand or appreciate the importance the Greeks placed on the Moon and its phases.
The Doctrine of Sect
Interpreting a chart differently by discerning whether the birth was in the day or night is given close attention in these texts. Diurnal planets (Sun, Jupiter and Saturn) are more beneficial in a diurnal chart, and the same goes for nocturnal planets (Moon, Venus and Mars) in a nocturnal chart. For example, in speaking of Mars in the 6th house: “If also Mars [in the 6th] is not figured by benefics, it does not thus increase great evils, if it should not be contrary to sect.” (my italics) (Scholion 60) Consideration of sect in chart interpretation is a constant throughout these three works, though barely considered by most astrologers today.
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Last Updated 9 March 2003