The inceptions of the astrologer of the emperor Zeno – Introduction and case I

In Byzantine manuscripts and in Arabic translation, ten case inceptions in total are extant from the period between 474 and 487. Various evidence suggests that these inceptions belonged to the casebook of the court astrologer of the Byzantine emperor Zeno, who reigned from 474 to 475 and again from 476 to 491. Given the politically sensitive cases, the astrologer may have wished to remain anonymous, and this is the reason why no sources give his name. In any case, these inceptions constitute the only practical examples of Hellenistic inceptional astrology.

Six of the cases (I–III, V, and VII–VIII) are found in the original Greek in ch. 164 of ms Vienna, ÖNB, phil. gr. 108 (U) on ff. 299–301; excerpt for case V, they are also copied in chs. 15, 31, and 35–36 of Book IV of ms Paris, BNF, gr. 2419 (G). “Balchus’s” Book of Astronomy provides another source, where cases V and VII–X are found as chs. 88, 31, 59, and 57–58, respectively. The remaining cases IV and VI are only preserved in Arabic translation in Collection of Astrological Interrogations written by Abū Yūsuf Yaʿqūb ibn ʿAlī al-Qaṣrānī around 900. In this interrogational compendium, one finds Arabic versions of cases V and VIII–X as well, and textual evidence suggests that the Arabic versions are based on an intermediary Middle Persian translation probably made in the 6th century.

A new edition, translation, and thorough analysis of these cases will be provided in my PhD dissertation. In what follows, I provide the translations from the manuscript of my thesis. The astrologer used Ptolemy’s tables for the positions of the planets and the pivots and occasionally a degree-based calculation of the places beside the usual sign-based perspective.

Case I. A distressing letter contrary to the receiver’s expectations

This inception, an event chart, was cast for Saturday, 5 September 487. It was the 2nd diurnal hour, the hour of Zeus, and the relative positions of the Hour-Marker and the Midheaven prove it was cast for Constantinople at about 7 am, which must have been the arrival of the letter.

It is possible that the case is related to the blockade of Constantinople by king Theodoric of the Ostrogoths (475–526), which occurred during 487. Even though Theodoric had been invested with the consular title for 484, which is investigated in case VI, in 486, he revolted against the emperor once again. From his seat in Novae (near the present-day Svishtov, Bulgaria), he marched against the capital and besieged it during the military season of 487. The siege was ultimately a failure, but the Goths depopulated the region, cut the food supply and even an aqueduct. The devastation and threat impelled Zeno to promise Theodoric a great sum for their return, which the king accepted, and he led back his army to his lands.

The post-factum inceptions (event horoscopes) cast for the arrival of news, messages, and letter certainly interpreted to reveal not their content but the intentions of the sender or the source, the reliability of the information, and the hidden or undisclosed details. Here, however, the astrologer apparently abstains from sharing any actual circumstance; he only admonishes his readers to examine the disposition thoroughly and apply the guidelines inherited from the predecessors prudently.

This case was edited from ms Rome, Biblioteca Angelica, gr. 29 (E), a primary manuscript of “Balchus”, by Franz Cumont in CCAG 1, 106–107, and from U by Wilhelm Kroll in CCAG 6, 63–64. Neugebauer and van Hoesen, relying on these editions, provided an English translation of no. L 487 of their collection (Greek Horoscopes, 149–150). For the present translation, I re-collated E U as well as G and another primary manuscript of “Balchus”, ms Milan, BA, B 38 sup. (Martini–Bassi 88; A).

An important inception in which I was deceived and erred, and after finding the explanation, I marveled at its accuracy: on a letter received

(1) Year 204 Diocletian, 7 Thoth (= 5 September 487), a day of Kronos (= Saturday), the 2nd[1] diurnal hour. (2) There was brought a distressing letter to a certain person with everything contrary to the expectation of the receiver. (3) The inception was found as follows: Helios in the Virgin 10, Selene in the Balance 4, Kronos in the Archer [1]5;56, Zeus in the Balance 7;55, Ares in the Goat-Horned One 8, Aphrodite in the Lion 8, Hermes in the Virgin 25, the Hour-Marker in the Balance 0;41, the Midheaven in the Crab 0;48, the Lot of Fortune in the Balance 25, the Ascending (Node) in the Scorpion 2;24.

(4) I found that Zeus was commanding the hour by degree[2] and Aphrodite, the lady of the Hour-Marker, Selene, Zeus, and the Lot of Fortune, was in Good Daimon, capable of rising in the morning, additive in numbers, and dominating Selene’s third day,[3] and her (Aphrodite’s) twelfth-part was [in] the Scorpion,[4] and that the administrator, Zeus, was commanding the hour while being additive. Because of these figures, I judged too hastily and said that the letter had good news, but in fact, it contained the opposite.

(5) After (discovering) these (bad news), as I examined the inception thoroughly, I found that Aphrodite, the domicile-mistress of the inception,[5] had no authority over the Hour-Marker, Selene, Zeus, and the Lot of Fortune because they were intervened by Helios in the manner Dorotheus says.[6] (6) I also noticed that Ares and Kronos were enclosing Hermes, the Hour-Marker, Selene, and Zeus in the way Antigonus teaches;[7] but in particular, that Ares, while belonging to the oppositional party, was diametrical to the Midheaven.

(7) Therefore, in every inception, it is necessary to examine the interventions of Helios and the stars and the enclosures of the Hour-Marker, Selene, and the star having the authority over the domicile-mastership of the inception. (8) For not only the Hour-Marker and Selene were enclosed by Kronos and Ares but also Aphrodite,[8] who had greater authority over the inception: for Ares was diametrical to the Crab, and Kronos was tetragonal to the Virgin,[9] and therefore, nearly all the stars were found enclosed by the two malefics; this is the figure mentioned by Antigonus in the sixth case nativity of his book III.[10] (9) And if you seek the issue (the letter) specifically, see that Hermes is damaged by Kronos[11] and by being situated in the twelfth place.

[1] The manuscripts write “1st diurnal hour”, but it is clearly a mistake: see (4) below, where Zeus is given as the administrator, that is, the lord of the hour.

[2] As Zeus is 7 degrees away from the hour-marking degree, this phrase should refer to the fact that he falls in the 1st place taken by degree.

[3] The position of third-day Selene is 4 Scorpion, and Aphrodite is in the tenth to it.

[4] Precisely, it is 6 Scorpion.

[5] Such a calculation is exemplified in Revision19.5–8 of “Rhetorius” for a birth of 21 March 482, which was probably also analyzed by Zeno’s astrologer. By receiving Selene and Zeus in her domicile, Kronos in her bounds, Ares and Hermes in her trigon, and Helios in both her bounds and trigon, Aphrodite has seven claims over the stars, ahead of Kronos, who receives Ares in his domicile, Zeus in his trigon and exaltation, and Selene in his bounds, trigon, and exaltation, therefore having six claims.

[6] This is not the type of intervention described by Antiochus but another one known from the Arabic paraphrase of Dorotheus (3.2.25 Dykes = 3.2.29 Pingree), where Helios being at 22 Balance intervenes between Ares being at 7 Virgin and his hexagonal ray cast at 7 Scorpion. In this case, Helios being at 10 Virgin intervenes between Aphrodite being at 8 Lion and her hexagonal ray at 8 Balance, so she cannot exert her power over the Hour-Marker and the stars within it.

[7] The tetragonal rays of Kronos and Ares, which are cast at 16 Virgin and 8 Balance, respectively, enclose everything in between. This is a modified version of the second type of the degree-based enclosure described by “Porphyry”, Introduction 15.1.

[8] Aphrodite being at 8 Lion is enclosed by the diametrical and trigonal rays of Ares, cast at 8 Crab and 8 Virgin, respectively; this is the third type of the degree-based enclosure handed down by “Porphyry”, Introduction15.1.

[9] Here the author conflates the two different types of enclosures even though it is true that these rays define the borders of the enclosures.

[10] If the emperor Hadrian’s birth, preserved in Hephaestio, Apotelesmatics 2.18.22–52 and in a slightly different form, also in G U, is meant (which is Antigonus’s fr. 1 Heilen), this is not the case: for here Kronos at 5 Goat-Horned and Ares at 22 Fishes encloses all the other planets, which are located between these borders, bodily.

[11] By being in a left-hand tetragon with him, Kronos casts a destructive ray on Hermes; see “Porphyry”, Introduction 24.1–3, esp. 3.

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