Exegesis Volume 2 Issue #24
Exegesis Digest Thu, 08 May 1997
Date: Thu, 8 May 1997 14:42:20 +0000
From: Francis G. Kostella
Subject: Some more on Ptolemy
Given the responses to my proposition thus far, I wanted to provide a little more background detail before responding to any specific points. My concern is that people may be making the assumption that if we drop PTSB (Ptolemy's Theory of Seeds and Beginnings) that we are then obligated to abandon nativities, or that they are somehow invalidated, or that birth times lose their radicality, but the proposition does not directly address those points, and says nothing, positive or negative.
What the proposition desires is to have astrological theory match actual astrological practice, something which PTSB does not do.
Perhaps an examination of the quotation from Ptolemy might be appropriate. In the Loeb Series translation that I have at hand, in Book 1, Chapter 2, Ptolemy broadly enumerates some basic elements of astrology: motions of the planets, aspects, and so forth, fixes them within his conception of the universe (and his philosophy), then says:
| If these matters be so regarded, | all would judge it to follow | that not only must things | already compounded be affected | in some way by the motion | of these heavenly bodies, | but likewise the germination | and fruition of the seed | must be moulded and conformed | to the quality proper to | the heavens at this time. | The more observant farmers | and herdsmen, indeed, conjecture, | from the winds prevailing | at the time of impregnation | and of the sowing of the | seed, the quality of what | will result; and in general | we see that the more important | consequences signified by | the more obvious configurations | of sun, moon and stars are | usually known beforehand, | even by those who inquire, | not by scientific means, | but only by observation.
He then goes on to rant a bit about the quality of intelligence doing the observation, the superiority of a scientific approach, and to refute a few attacks against astrology, he then continues:
| But in an inquiry concerning | nativities and individual | temperaments in general, | one can see that there are | circumstances of no small | importance and no trifling | character, which join to | cause the special qualities | of those who are born. For | differences of seed exert | a very great influence on | the special traits of the | genus, since, if the ambient | and the horizon are the same, | each seed prevails to express | in general its own form, | for example, man, horse, | and so forth; and the places | of birth bring about no small | variation in what is produced.
He then goes on to attribute differences in men to countries and rearing etc. Then moves to detailing other issues and only gets back to nativities in Book 3. In Chapter 1 of Book 3 he gets back to the "seeds":
| . . . in cases which the | very time of conception is | known . . . it is more fitting | that we should follow it | in determining the special | nature of body and soul, | examining the effective power | of the configuration of the | stars at that time. For to | the seed is given once and | for all at the beginning | such and such qualities by | the endowment of the ambient; | and even though it may change | as the body subsequently | grows, since by natural process | it mingles with itself in | the process of growth only | matter which is akin to itself, | thus it resembles even more | closely the type of its initial | quality. | | But if they do not know the | time of conception . . . | we must follow . . . the | moment of birth . . . for | it too is of great importance . . . | and with reasonable propriety | would the former be called | the genesis of human seed | and the latter the genesis | of man. . . . and even if | it seems that the ambient | at the time of birth contributes | nothing towards his quality, | at least his very coming | forth into the light under | the appropriate conformation | of the heavens contributes, | since nature, after the child | is perfectly formed, gives | the impulse to its birth | under a configuration of | similar type to that which | governed the child's formation | in the first place. Accordingly | one may with good reason | believe that the position | of the stars at the time | of birth is significant of | things of this sort, not, | however, for the reason that | it is causative in the full | sense, but that of necessity | and by nature it has potentially | very similar causative power.
OK, that's a mouthful, and requires reading a few times, but my sense of it is that Ptolemy posits special developmental properties of seeds that are stamped by the ambient. The claim that birth and conception are similar is made without comment or proof. I'm still puzzling over the implications of these words, the whole issue seems muddied and hurriedly glossed over. I welcome alternate readings, or some point of view that can make this into the basis of our astrology. As such, it seems a weak foundation upon which to build blindly. At the very least, some debate about this topic is not out of order for this list.
Having just finished my first reading of Ptolemy, I'm amazed and flabbergasted. Amazed that parts of Ptolemy are far better than most modern astrology writing, and flabbergasted that the majority of it seems to be useless claptrap. I suppose that the sexual proclivities of various ancient nations and the winds, the winds, the winds, were interesting and useful a few thousand years ago, but the sum of the book does not seem to bear the weight of a complete astrology. A beginner left on a desert island with only a copy of Ptolemy would have utterly useless astrological skills, I fear (I'm much more impressed with Firmicus, who, lacking a need to fit astrology into a tidy theory, at least wants to provide the student with enough information to start working with nativities).
Given the modern conception of the world, and the universe, I think it is not improper to examine Ptolemy's views anew to see how they jibe with our modern understanding. Certainly, having endured for thousands of years, Ptolemy's astrology deserves to have its wheels kicked a few times, eh? Given the current trend towards traditional astrology, and the weak theoretical side of astrology, we have a lot of work to do.
--fran (I will respond to the proposition replies shortly)
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