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Arabian Astrology
by James H. Holden

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Note: This page reproduces an entire section of James Herschel Holden's recent book, "A History of Horoscopic Astrology" (Tempe, Az., American Federation of Astrologers, 1996, pp. 99-129). This thoroughly researched book is a history of the development of Western astrology from its origin among the Babylonians and its subsequent creation in its present form by the Alexandrians down to modern times. Special attention is given to the working conditions and techniques used by astrologers during the last two thousand years, and precious excerpts are given from the books of several astrologers in each period.
 

      In the 8th century the Arabs [1]  developed a thirst for knowledge. They became aware that the Byzantines, Persians, and Hindus knew things that they did not - particularly the Byzantines. They invited learned foreigners to come to Islamic territory and especially to Baghdad. They also sent emissaries into the other countries to obtain books, while at home they eventually set up both private and government bureaus to translate foreign books into Arabic.

      Among the books they acquired in this way were books on astrology and astronomy. It must be remembered that while much of the classical Greek literature on all subjects had already been lost by the 8th century, a fair amount still remained - much more than remained by the 15th century when the Medici and other (mostly) Italians frenziedly gathered up a selection of what little was left and brought it back to Italy before the Turks sacked Constantinople and the other Greek cities and destroyed most of what remained. (Remember that the loutish knights of the Fourth Crusade had sacked Constantinople in 1204 and undoubtedly destroyed a great deal of the ancient literature that was still extant at that time.)

      The earliest important astrologer among the Arabs of whom we have any information was Nawbakht the Persian (c.679-777), who was court astrologer to the Caliph al-Mansūr (d. 775). He does not seem to have written any books, but history records that he was selected to head up a group of astrologers and astronomers to make the election [2]  for the refounding of the city of Baghdad on 31 July 762 at about 2 PM (Sagittarius is rising in the election chart). One of his assistants was the young Jewish astrologer Māshā'allāh (see below). Nawbakht retired some years before his death and was succeeded as court astrologer by his son Abū Sahl ibn Nawbakht (d. 786), one of whose sons, Abū Sahl al-Fadl ibn Nawbakht (c.735-c.815), was court astrologer to the Caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd (reigned 786-809) and supervisor of the royal library. He wrote at least seven books on astrology, but only fragments of them remain. Two of his grandsons were court astrologers to the Caliphs al-Ma'mūn (813-833), al-Wāthiq (842-847), and al-Mutawakil (847-861). And a sixth generation descendant of Nawbakht the Persian, Mūsā ibn Nawbakht (c.840-c.940) was the author of an extensive work on astrological history, [3]  following in the footsteps of Albumasar (see below).
 

Theophilus of Edessa

      The first notable astrological writer among the Arabs was a Greek, Theophilus of Edessa (c.695-785), who in his old age became court astrologer to the Caliph al-Mahdī (d.785). [4]  This account of him appears in the Syriac Chronicle of Bar-Hebraeus (1226-1286) [5] :

Theophilus served the Caliph al-Mahdī, who esteemed him very much because of his superiority in the art of astrology. It is said that one day the Caliph wanted to take a trip into one of his provinces and to take his court with him. The Caliph's wife sent someone to say to Theophilus: "It is you who have advised the Caliph to take this trip, thereby imposing upon us the fatigue and boredom of the journey, which we don't need. I hope therefore that God will make you perish and disappear from this world, so that, rid of you, we may find some peace." Theophilus replied to the servant who had brought him this message: "Return to your mistress and say to her: "It is not I who have advised the king to take this trip; he travels when it pleases him to do so. As for the curse that you have cast upon me for God to hasten my death, the decision about it has already been taken and affirmed by God; I shall die soon; but do not suppose that I shall have died so that your prayer might be fulfilled; it is the will of my Creator that will accomplish it. But you, O Queen, I say to you: "Prepare a lot of dust for yourself; and when you learn that I am dead, pile all that dust on your head." When the Queen had heard these words, she was seized with a great fear, and she wondered apprehensively what the result would be. A little while afterward, Theophilus died and twenty days after him the Caliph al-Mahdī also died. That which Theophilus had determined came to pass.

Theophilus wrote four treatises on astrology in Greek (some excerpts from which are edited in the CCAG):

      This is a work on military astrology, partially based on Indian astrology; it is the only medieval Greek astrological treatise devoted entirely to military astrology. It begins like this: [6]

The nature of the stars is specific, O most excellent Deucalion; their energy does not have a single dwelling-place but a variegated one and diverse [characteristics] suitable for every type of astrological influence, and each one of these things is especially made known in one generality for the active [planet] with regard to the disposition and characteristic emphasis alloted to it, for example in wars Mars and in speech Mercury, and in agricultural matters Saturn, and in matters of love Venus; for while these have [their nature] thus, not only does Mars activate war, but Saturn also accomplishes the ruin of kings and the taking of cities, as it is found in the mundane astrological influences. But Mars also makes arsons and pestilential sicknesses and droughts and scarcities of fruits. Similarly too, Mercury [makes] armed robberies and disorders and irregularities in life, or else it is called "the messenger," and it awards peace.

Similarly too, in genethliacal astrological influences, we find the stars acting one way and another and signifying in accordance with their configurations and their alternations of houses - [sometimes] indeed the malefics acting as benefics and the benefics being inactive, but still the astrological influences are activated in accordance with the chart and the determination of their individual degrees. And in view of this, the wise men of astrology made use of the stars by a mixture of their natures - not only distinguishing [them] in their most individual [significances] and according to [the nature of] each but also in those [significances] that are the most general and specialized - for example, about war; and they used all the stars and also the lights for working with a single chart.

And I kept this in mind because I know that military methods are seldom found in [the books of] the ancients, other than that from the mundane astrological influences [we can see that] there is going to be war and captivity in a this or that land, neglecting of course the more particular things, and in particular the expeditions or counter-expeditions that are made, [the rise of] tyrants, and those actions that are done in season and are provoked, I say, by two armies when they are encamped facing and attacking each other, of which it was difficult to find accurate day-by-day accounts in the books of the ancients.

And, having turned my mind to this, I thought it necessary to make a change and to draw from the genethliacal and horary systems some elections for war that have plausibility together with the truth, since I had also really had the proof of these in many [instances] - having been forced, as you knew, by those ruling at that time to take these things in hand, at the time when we made the expedition with them into the eastern regions in the country of Margiane, [7]  and [there] we suffered successive military calamities, with much cold and an inclement winter, as well as with much fear and countless controversies.

But, while arranging these elections into some physical conformity of order, I have neglected none of the things that are needed and required in connection with military affairs, and I have composed a book entirely for this [purpose], having the military elections along with those for information about tyrants and cities that are being besieged and such like.

But it is necessary [that] you approach this treatise with great care and diligence, and by [using] the meager theory make for yourself a combination of the influences of the signs and the stars, I mean of the planets and the fixed stars, and the luminaries, and the lots that are there and their rulers, and you will not err, if God is willing.
 

    A "second edition" of this work contained matter ascribed to Zoroaster and Julian of Laodicea in Chapters 24-41; a recension of that edition was made about the year 1000 and still another by the Byzantine astrologer John Abramius in the late 14th century, when Eleutherius Eleus incorporated excerpts from this work in the compendium he issued under the name Palchus (see below).

    It contains some Indian astrological material and is also partly dependent on Rhetorius's compendium of astrology.     A treatise on elections related to the matters ruled by each of the 12 houses. It depends mainly on Dorotheus and Hephaestio of Thebes.       This is a treatise on mundane astrology that explains how to make annual and monthly predictions. It contains a section that discusses the beginning of the year according to the Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, and Arabs.

      These books have been preserved more or less intact, along with fragments of their Arabic versions. Some selections from the Greek texts have been published in the CCAG. [8]  We may hope for critical editions of the texts by David Pingree.
 

Indian Astrologers at Baghdad

      During the last half of the 8th century a number of Indian astrologers visited the court at Baghdad bringing with them Hindu books on astronomy and astrology. The best known of these was Kankah, who came to Baghdad during the reign of the Caliph al-Ma'mūn (754-775). Here is what al-Nadīm [9]  says about him and a few of the other Indian scholars:

Kankah the Indian
Among his books there were: Calculations for Nativities, about periods of time
Secrets of Nativities; Conjunctions, a large book; Conjunctions, a small book.

Jūdar the Indian
Among his books there was Nativities, in Arabic.

Sanjahil the Indian
Among his books there was Secrets of the Questions.

Naq (Nahaq) the Indian
Among his books there was Nativities, a large book.
 

      With the Indian astrologers came their astronomical theories and tables, which were based upon the false concepts of a grand conjunction at some remote epoch and of an integer number of revolutions of the planets in a certain time period. Furthermore, unlike Ptolemy's tables, the Indian tables gave positions in a fixed zodiac. These principles had already passed to the Persians two centuries earlier. The result was a set of tables, such as the Zīj al-Shāh or Tables of the King, which were similar but not identical to the Indian tables. Both Māshā'allāh and Albumasar utilized these or similar tables (Albumasar is said to have constructed a set of his own based on a 360,000 year time period) in preparing their "astrological World histories." Fortunately, these aberrations were confined to a few Arabian astrologers.

      Nevertheless, from the Indian astrologers listed above (and perhaps from a few others) a small amount of Indian astrology entered into Arabian astrology. But their greatest contribution was to make known to the Arabs the marvelous Indian invention of special signs for the numerals - what we call Arabic numerals because it was through Arabic writings that Western Europeans became aware of them. Prior to this, the Arabs, like the Greeks, had used the numerical values assigned to the letters of the alphabet, so that the Arabic letter dal, like the Greek letter delta, had to serve not only as the letter d but also as the numeral 4. Better still, the Indians had invented a symbol for zero, which was lacking in the Arabic and Greek alpha-numerals.

      Confusing as it must have been, with Persian and Indian influences intermingling in the Greek mainstream, the hundred and fifty year period from about 775 to 925 was the golden age of Arabian astrology. Its leading figures were:
 

Māshā'allāh

      Māshā'allāh (c.740-c.815), known in the West as Messahalla, was a Jew from Basra who was the leading astrologer of the late 8th century. His original name was either Jethro or Manasseh (the authorities differ); Māshā'allāh is an Arabic phrase that means 'what has God done'. As a young man he participated in the founding of Baghdad. Māshā'allāh was the author of more than two dozen astrological treatises that were considered to be authoritative by both the Arabs and the Western Europeans. [10]  Among his books were The Revolution of the Years of Nativities [Solar Returns], The Revolutions of the Years of the World [Aries Ingresses], Conjunctions, Letter on Eclipses, Reception of the Planets or Interrogations, and a book on The Construction and Use of the Astrolabe. Two lists of his known works have been published. [11]  There is an English translation of the four chapters of Māshā'allāh's Book of Nativities [12]  and a modern Spanish translation of the books on The Revolutions of the Years of the World, Conjunctions, and Reception of the Planets or Interrogations[13]  Here is an extract from the latter work:

You have to know that reception is formed through the exaltations and the domiciles, but either way, it is the same thing: for example, if any one of the seven planets is found in the exaltation of another or in its domicile, and the same thing if it unites with another by important aspects; or if they are both in one sign, and one of them is in the exaltation of the other in union with it, when it unites itself with it by body (Conjunction).

For example, Saturn in 20° Aries and Mars in 15° Aries; in this case, Mars unites with Saturn by body, and Mars receives Saturn in its domicile, but the latter is not in reception with Mars.

This occurs when there is not any planet in notable aspect that is found closer to the conjunction with Saturn, that is, with a value of a few degrees before Mars; then the true union is in the same degree, as well in conjunction as in aspect.

Another example is of connection and reception: when Saturn was in 20° Aries, and Mars in 10° Capricorn, and none of the other planets is closer to Mars in union with Saturn, that is within a few degrees. If Mars is united with Saturn within a degree, in such case they are found to be in mutual reception by domicile, since Mars receives Saturn because it is in its domicile, and Saturn receives Mars because it is also in its domicile.

Also, for the same reason, the exaltation is like the domicile: but the exaltation is of greater importance in the kingdom; i.e. if the question is about the king [because] the lord of the exaltation is stronger than that of the domicile. Hence, when the Sun is in 10° Aries and Mars in 10° Capricorn, the Sun is united to Mars, and Mars receives the Sun because it is in its domicile; but the Sun does not receive Mars because it is not in its domicile. Likewise, each of the other planets can be united to its companion by domicile or by exaltation, by important aspect, or by being in the same sign, and if it projects or sends its disposition and the former receives it over the one that sends it, the action [of the question] takes place, by the will of God. [And in the present example] the Sun in this aspect does not receive Mars because it is not found in its domicile or exaltation, but the same Mars does receive the Sun that is in its domicile. [14]

If the Sun were in 1° Libra and Saturn in 25° Aries, and no other planet were in Aries nor in any aspect closer than the Sun with relation to Saturn, and Saturn does not leave Aries before the Sun unites with it in the same degree, then when the Sun exactly aspects Saturn, the Sun receives Saturn, and Saturn receives the Sun. Therefore, each one of them receives its companion in that place by exaltation. And if it is found in opposition and square, [it signifies] an evil error, difficulty, worry, and disappointment; and in trine or sextile, rapidity and sharpness. And when the Sun unites with Saturn and Saturn receives the Sun, and the same was received by the Sun, that is in its domicile or exaltation, they will balance and will realize the action by the will of God.[15]
 

      Māshā'allāh was familiar with Persian and Indian astrology and is said to have used the Persian Zīj al-Shāh mentioned above, a set of astronomical tables compiled for Shāh Khusrau Anūshirwān in the sixth century. These were based on an earlier Indian set and therefore were referred to a fixed zodiac. A later summary of his book On Conjunctions, Religions, and Peoples has been published, translated into English by E.S. Kennedy, and with an extensive commentary by David Pingree. It is an outline of World History (from the Middle Eastern point of view) on a framework of Aries Ingress charts (referred to a fixed zodiac) and Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions. [16]

      In Māshā'allāh's later years an Arabic translation of Dorotheus's Pentateuch became available to him, and he used it as a basis for his Book of Nativities[17]  His best known pupil was Abū Alī al-Khayyāt (see below).
 

Omar Tiberiades

      Abū Hafs 'Umar ibn al-Farrukhān al-Tabarī (d.c.815), known as Omar Tiberiades, was of Persian descent. Around the year 800 he translated the Pahlavi version of Dorotheus's Pentateuch into Arabic. [18]  Pingree says he completed a paraphrase of Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos in the summer of 812, presumably from a Pahlavi version. [19]  His Book on Nativities was translated into Latin by John of Seville as De nativitatibus secundum Omar (Venice: J.B. Sessa, 1503; etc.). Not surprisingly, it relies heavily on Dorotheus. This book was often quoted by Western astrologers.
 

Albohali

      Abū 'Alī al-Khayyāt (c.770-c.835), known as Albohali, was a pupil of Māshā'allāh and the author of ten or more books on astrology. [20]  His work on natal astrology was strongly influenced by Dorotheus's Pentateuch, which was available to him in an Arabic translation. Albohali's book contains three example horoscopes from the Pentateuch and seven more from some unidentified Greek source with charts of the 4th and 5th centuries (one of which is also found in Rhetorius). See James H. Holden, Abu 'Ali al-Khayyat The Judgments of Nativities (Tempe, Az.: AFA Inc., 1988), an English translation of the 1546 Nürnberg edition by Joachim Heller of John of Seville's 12th century Latin translation. Here is an extract from Albohali's book (Chapter 35. Friends):

Decide the condition of friends from the 11th house and its lord, and from the planets that you find in it, and from Venus, and from the Part of Friends. [21]  If most of these are fortunes, it signifies that the native will have many friends and companions, and especially if there is an application between the lord of the 11th and the lord of the ASC. And if you find fortunes in the 11th sign, [22]  or in square or opposite aspect to it, [23]  it signifies that the native will have many friends and associates, and that they will be fortunate. And if you find evil [planets] in it, or in square or opposite aspect to it, it signifies few friends and associates and that their assets will be scanty.

And if the planet that has the most dignities in the house of friends is Saturn, it signifies that most of his friends will be old men, slaves, and captives. But if it is Jupiter, many of them will be nobles and rich people of great worth and repute. And if it is Mars, most of them will be [military] leaders and princes and warlike men. But if it is the Sun, most of them will be [military] leaders and princes, kings, and nobles. But if [it is] Venus, they will be women and effeminate men. But if it is Mercury, they will mostly be writers and businessmen and wise men and artisans. But if it is the Moon, most of his friends will be nobles, but many [others] will be commoners. And so every star signifies according to its own nature; and according to its strength and fortunate or unfortunate [condition], the native will have advantage or disadvantage.

Besides all this, look at the lord of the ASC and the lord of the 11th, and the application that is between them and their mutual reception, and how much one of them makes the other fortunate or unfortunate, and their places in the circle. For if they are in mobile signs, it signifies that the native's friends will seldom be constant in their attitude towards him. But if [they are] in common signs, it indicates that sometimes there will be friendship and at other times it will break up. But if they are both in fixed signs, it signifies firm and lasting friendship of the friends towards the native.

But where the lord of the ASC impedites the lord of the 11th, the friends will suffer some impediment from the native. But if the lord of the 11th impedites the lord of the ASC, the native will receive some harm from his friends. And if each of them makes the other fortunate, the friends and the native will have mutual good and benefit among themselves. But if the lord of the 11th does not aspect his own house and Venus does not aspect the lord of her domicile, and the lord of the Part of Friends [does] not [aspect] the Part, it signifies that the native will be odious to men, nor will he delight in their company, being a lover of solitude. But when the house of friends is made fortunate and is essentially good, it signifies good circumstances and good fortune for the friends. [But] if it is made unfortunate, conversely it threatens them with bad luck and poverty.
 

Zahel

      Sahl ibn Bishr (1st half of the 9th cent.), another Jew, was a master of horary astrology. He is very often cited by later astrologers as Zael or Zahel. The Latin versions of his five short treatises, Introduction to Astrology, The 50 Precepts, Judgments of Questions, Elections, and The Book of Times appear to be the principal medieval source of rules for Horary Astrology and Elections. [24]  There is a modern Spanish translation by Demetrio Santos. [25]

      The first treatise contains a chapter entitled "The 16 Modes that Signify the Accomplishment or Destruction [of the Question]." These are the particular aspects or configurations that give the necessary indications in horary astrology. They are: Perfection, Deterioration, Conjunction, Separation, Translation [of Light], Collection, Prohibition, Reception, Non-Reception, Void of Course, Return, Giving Virtue, Giving Disposition, Fortitude, Debility, and Conditions of the Moon. This is followed by separate chapters defining each of these modes in detail.

      Guido Bonatti lists these modes (along with their badly corrupted Arabic names) in the 4th of his "146 Considerations." [26]  Ibn Ezra discusses some of them in detail in Chapter 7 of The Beginning of Wisdom. And William Lilly explains those that he considers most important: Application, Separation, Prohibition (and Refrenation), Translation of Light, Reception, Void of Course, Frustration, Hayz, Combust, and Collection. [27]

    The second treatise contains The 50 Precepts [of Horary Astrology], of which the first three are these: [28]

First Chapter. Know that the significator, which is the Moon, whose circle is nearer the earth than those of the other planets, more than all the other planets is the one most like the things of the earth. Do you not see that a man begins by being small and then increases until he attains full growth? The Moon does the same thing. Therefore, take it to have the the signification of all things, because its good state is the good state of everything, and its bad state is the bad state of everything. And it strikes, that is it commits, its disposition to that one on which it casts its rays, and to that one of the planets to which it is joined, and it sends its light to that same planet; and that planet is termed the receiver of the disposition because it receives that which was committed to it. Therefore, the Moon itself is the informer of these planets; and it pacifies them, and it carries from some of them to others.

Second. The evil planets signify a bad state and evil on account of excess or superfluity. The force of cold or heat in those things that are overcoming and impediting. But if there is a planet in the domicile of a malefic or in its exaltation, it receives it and restrains its evil from it. Or if there is an aspect of the malefics by trine or by sextile aspect, it is restrained, and by the fact that it is an aspect of friendship without any enmity to fortune; but because they are of a temperate nature and an equable configuration - that is, because they are tempered by heat and cold - they always perform and advance [the matter], whether they receive another planet or not. But reception between these is more useful and better.

Third. The stars have two modes: namely good and evil. Wherever, therefore, you see malefics, i.e. evil planets, pronounce evil; and wherever you see the fortunes, pronounce good.
 

Albumasar

      Of all the Arabic writers on astrology, the most imposing is Ja'far ibn Muhammad Abū Ma'shar al-Balkhī (c.787-886), known in the West as Albumasar. He began his career as a student of the Hadīth or traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, but in his 30's or 40's he gave that up and turned his attention to astrology (see the entry for al-Kindī). Thereafter, he became famous not only as the leading authority on astrology but also as a court astrologer and a professional astrologer. His knowledge of the subject was encyclopedic. Some fifty books are credited to him, [29]  of which the best known are The Great Conjunctions and The Great Introduction. The Great Introduction or the Introductorius maior was translated by John of Seville - his translation was never printed but is preserved in numerous MSS. An inferior translation by Hermann of Carinthia was published by Erhard Ratdolt at Augsburg in 1485 and again in 1489.

    The Great Introduction is exactly what its title implies - an elaborate and comprehensive treatise of astrology. The Great Conjunctions, or De coniunctionibus, translated by John of Seville, ed. by Johannes Angelus (Augsburg: Erhard Ratdolt, 1489) is an elaborate treatise on mundane astrology with special reference to the conjunctions of Saturn and Jupiter. Book 1, Chapter 3 discusses the conjunctions that signify the advent of prophets or violent men [tyrants] and their characteristics. A short extract from it will give some idea of the great depth of detail to be found throughout the work:

The knowledge of their garments is received from the planet which was in the tenth house from the ruler of the ASC at the time of the mutation [30]  and the conjunction. But if there was no planet in the tenth, the planet is accepted that is the ruler of the tenth house from the ASC. If Saturn is the significator, it signifies that the greater part of the clothing of the citizens of that sect will be black clothes, sc. of rough and dirty hair. And if it is Jupiter, the clothing will be that of religious persons, such as wool for example, and such like. And if it is Mars, the clothing will be colored with red and pale shades. And if it is the Sun, silk clothing. And if it is Venus, clean clothing and similar to that of women. And if it is Mercury, the clothing will be decorated with embroidery. And if it is the Moon, the clothing will be white and such like.

And the knowledge of their mounts is received from the planet which is in the fourth [house] from the ruler of the ASC at the time of the mutation conjunction. But if there is no planet in the fourth from it, the ruler of the fourth [house] from the ASC will be the significator. And if it is Saturn, it signifies that the greater part of the mounts of that sect will be broken-down horses; and if it is the Sun, [fine] horses; and if it is Mercury, asses; and if it is Venus, camels; and if it is the Moon, bulls and cows.

      Albumasar's pupil and assistant Sa'īd Shādhān wrote a lengthy account of his master's sayings and some of his interesting cases. It is preserved in Arabic and in Greek and Latin versions (the Latin is only a short extract). Thorndike examined the Latin version and wrote an interesting article on it. [31]  He cites several interesting anecdotes, of which the following are samples:

Said Albumasar: Once with some travelers I went to Baldac [Baghdad] and I stayed with a friend of mine who knew a little astronomy [astrology], and he asked me how the Moon would be the next day, and I said, "In quartile aspect with Mars." And he said to me, "Then don't you leave"; and I said to him, "I have no intention of departing on such a day, but the other passengers [travelers] won't listen to us." He said, "Let's test them." So I said to them, "Tomorrow is an unfavorable day, wait, and I'll feed your animals." They would not acquiesce, so I let them go and stayed on with my friend. When they would be leaving, I observed the horoscope [ASC] and it was Taurus and Mars in it. And the Moon was in Leo in quartile aspect to Mars. I said to them, "For God's sake don't go at this hour," but they laughed at me and went off. I said to my friend, "I'm sorry for those senseless men." And we sat down and ate and drank. While we were still drinking, there came in some of the company who had been saved. For they had fallen among thieves and some were slain, others wounded, and the thieves made off with whatever they carried. Moreover, those who had escaped came at me with sticks and stones, saying, "These things happened because of your superstition, in order to confirm what you said." And I barely escaped. And then and there I swore that I would never discuss the science of astronomy [astrology] with the man in the street.

Said Albumasar, "We were with the army of the Cumans and many of us astronomers [astrologers] were sitting in a tent and someone was approaching. One of the astronomers [astrologers] said, 'Let's see what he is going to say.' So we observed the ascendant which was Sagittarius in the terms of Mercury. And the Moon was there at that hour void of course. And I said, 'He is full of idle talk and a useless fellow.' And we questioned him when he arrived and he talked a lot of nonsense. And all the astronomers [astrologers] marvelled at my great experience.

"Aposaites [Abū Sa'īd Shādhān] said that, although [his master] Albumasar was very rational and supreme in science, whenever the moon was diametrically opposite to the Sun, he fell down and shook. He had no record of his nativity [32]  but had made a universal interrogation. Virgo was the horoscope [ASC] of the interrogation, while the Moon was in Scorpio diametrically opposite to the Sun and configured with Mars. And such a figure signified epilepsy. He had the custom of having fruit and anything he liked set before him, and ate once a day and drank wine for the rest of the day, and he had a marvelous thirst. "He told me, 'If I could stop drinking wine for one year, I would be cured of epilepsy."

      Thorndike cites another anecdote of Albumasar that was recorded by the Arabic historian Ibn Khallikān (13th century): "[Albumasar] was singularly fortunate in his divinations," and he gives this example. An official who had gone into hiding to escape arrest and who knew that the prince would ask Albumasar to discover his place of retreat, tried to hamper the investigation by sitting for days on a golden mortar placed in a vessel which contained blood. Albumasar, on consulting the stars, reported that the fugitive was on a mountain of gold in a sea of blood, but that he did not know of any such place in the world, and the prince was able to lure the official from his hiding-place only by a promise of amnesty. When the official returned and told of the trick he had employed, the prince marveled both at the artifice and the skill of Abū'l-Maashar in making the discovery." [33]

      One of Albumasar's books which is unfortunately lost was the Kitāb al-ulūf or Book of the Thousands. This book contained Albumasar's outline of World History on a framework of Aries Ingresses and conjunctions, but also with an elaborate system of profections. [34]  Pingree has been able to restore a substantial portion of this work from citations by later Arabic writers. In his book The Thousands of Abū Ma'shar (London: The Warburg Institute, 1968), he discusses Albumasar's theory in great detail. This gives us an interesting look at the developed form of this branch of mundane astrology. An earlier and somewhat different version is found in a book by Ibn Hibintā that summarizes a lost work of Māshā'allāh, On Conjunctions, Religions, and Peoples. [35]  See also a later treatment in the Kitāb al-Kāmil by Mūsā ibn Nawbakht (see above).

      A book of more general interest is Albumasar's short book, Flores astrologie or Liber florum, "The Flowers of Astrology" or "The Book of Flowers", which was also translated by John of Seville (Augsburg: Erhard Ratdolt, 1488. repr. 1489 and 1495). It is an anthology (whence the title) of Albumasar's larger works on mundane astrology with special reference to the "Revolutions of the Years of the World" or Aries Ingresses [36]  as modern astrologers call them - that is, charts set for the moment when the Sun enters the sign Aries. This book was very popular in the late Medieval and Renaissance periods. There is an unpublished translation by James H. Holden, The Book of Flowers (Dallas: The Translator, 1985. privately circulated). It begins as follows (Chapt. 1. Finding the Lord of the Year):

Albumasar said: First, you ought to know the lord of the year; and the knowledge of this thing is known from the hour of the entrance of the Sun into the first minute of the sign Aries. Know, then, the ASC in that same hour as most certainly as you will be able; verify the cusps of the twelve houses of heaven because error falls in this if it is neglected. And when you have done this, look at the lord of the ASC along with the rest of the planets - the one then who has more strength from the testimonies of the circles of the angles.

And whichever planet you have found in the ASC, the 10th, the 7th, or the 4th angle, afterwards the 11th, the 9th, [and] finally the 5th. And you shall not prefer the MC to the ASC, nor the 5th house to the 9th, but let it be done according to the aforesaid scheme. And if you have found a planet in the ASC, you shall not seek another one of those which were in the houses of the planets. Similarly, if there was no planet in the ASC, and there was one in the MC, you should not look at the other houses of the planets. Similarly, if there was no planet in the MC, but [there was one] in the seventh [house], you should not look at the other houses. Similarly, if not in the seventh, but in the fourth, you shall not pay attention to the other houses of the planets. And the one which you have found in these houses, that one will be the dispositor of the year if he has any dignity, sc. of domicile, or exaltation, triplicity, terms, or face. But if there is in the ASC a planet that has no dignity in it, and there is in the MC having [dignity of] terms and face, [then] because it has doubled its dignity, that is the one that is sought, and you shall not seek another. And if there is after them a planet in the seventh which has [the dignities of] domicile, exaltation, terms, triplicity, or face, [then] that is the one sought.[37]

      Another of Albumasar's books is a general treatise on the Revolutions of the Years of Nativities or what are now called solar returns. The Arabic text is preserved, as is a Byzantine Greek translation [38] and a Latin translation made from the Greek. [39]  Still another book with the same title but a different text is known in Latin; it begins, Omne tempus breve est operandi[40]  These would seem to be the oldest books on solar returns known in the West. The latter work begins thus:

All time for working is short, and the work of [making] the revolution of years is drawn out. It is necessary for us to copy out a few things from many, so that from the fruit of so great a work we may not slight everything negligently. And before everything else it must be stated what utility we can gain from the revolution of years or what reason there is to revolve the years, since in the ASC of the nativity there is signified everything that is going to happen to the native, as some of those who argue against revolutions have said. To which the reply is that the wisdom of the philosophers testifies to the fact that the signification of human events cannot be understood from a single significator, but [rather] from two or more because the testimony of one thing in so great a matter cannot suffice; therefore, according to the authority of the greater [philosophers], we ought to revolve the years because in the revolution of years there are planets in other places in which they were not [found] in the nativity; and it is necessary that their significations in the figure be commingled with the signification of the revolution, so that both the quantity and the quality of the accident [41]  may appear more openly.

For example, if a planet in the nativity signifies that anything good or evil will happen in the future, the quantity of it cannot be known in any particular year except through the revolution because when the years are revolved, if the planets in the revolution signifiy the same thing [as those in the nativity], there will be a great accident in [those] times, either good or evil. but if the planets of the revolution did not signify anything about this, that evil will be happening moderately, i.e. it will be neither entirely good nor entirely evil, for the good is natural, and from its signification natural, but the accident will be evil and [this is] from the signification of that same year.

Again, if the planets of the nativity signified to the native anything of evil in every year, it will happen. And [if] the planets of the revolution signify [something] to the contrary, [then] that natural evil from the natural signification would [actually] be good, and it would [also] be good from the signification of that same year. Of which an example is that if the planets of the nativity signified to the native that in each year the native might acquire wealth, and the planets of the revolution signified the loss of that same wealth, [then the native] will acquire wealth from that same source from which it will be expected and in which he may have trust, so that this would be a natural signification. But losses will happen to him from adversity or [from] men who disturb his acquisition or they will make expenses for him, and so, in some way or other he would lose what he had acquired or he would acquire less.

Again, if the planets of the nativity signified evil, and the planets of the revolution signified good, he would find in that same year loss or evil. But he would find some friends who would restore the loss to him in part and would help him or he would find advice by means of which he might evade those evils. And this would be done because it would not be undertaken and because he had no faith in it. But if there were good signification in both [charts], and he would find many good things in what will be undertaken and in what will not be undertaken, and he would find helpers who would help him and from whom advice would be forthcoming.

Similarly, understand about evil the other way around. And he would find many evils, and there would not be anyone who might help him, and he would not find advice by means of which he might evade this. And, to say it briefly, a single significator will not suffice, just as we have said above, because there is [such a thing as] much good and moderate good, and similarly with evil; and the planets of the nativity signify the native's accidents universally, i.e. those past, those present, and those in the future. And this signification is not sufficient because what it signifies about the future it signifies potentially, but in the revolution it signifies something in actuality because then it signifies only the present [occurrence] of the thing signified, i.e it will signify that particular thing absolutely happening in that same year, distinct namely from other significations. And already [we are able] in the revolution to see more openly and lucidly the quantity and quality of the signification of the nativity, and it should not be passed over that some have said that the revolution of the years is unnecessary and that the sign of the profection would suffice. [42]  To which it might be replied that because even though we may look at the sign of the profection, still it is necessary for us to know its house and the house of its ruler in the circle at the time of the revolution, and, according to those houses of the time, their significations. For, just as the Sun, when it has passed through the four seasons of the year, returns to its original place and begins to be renewed another time, so should the accident be renewed, so that through it the strength or debility of the planets may more perfectly be demonstrated at that present time and their significations might be better understood.

Accidents also are due to the houses of the planets through that very book in which the substance of the nativity is equated, and not through a variety of books can they be generated by the judgments of individual actions. [43]  For this reason our predecessors established revolutions. And in fact the utility of a revolution is that the astrologer can see in advance what may be proper for the native [to do] in that same year, and he may do that thing or whatever is proper in order to abstain from [doing] it. For example, if someone wishes to travel, the astrologer can look to see whether the planets in that same year signify travels for him and whether he will be fortunate in that or not, and then he can travel. But if he sees it otherwise, [then] he can abstain from it.

For all the rich and wise men of the Babylonians, Persians, and Egyptians, as well as the Indians, when they wished to do any particular thing, were always careful to consider their own revolutions, in which if they found the signification to be useful for that thing which they wished to do, [then] they did it. But if it was otherwise, then they abandoned [the idea]. Their kings too, when they wished to send their military commanders to [wage] war, if they saw that the revolution of the year of him whom they wished to send signified for him [that he would have] victory over their own enemies in that same year, [then] they sent him. But if not, they sought out another one for whom his revolution signified victory, and they sent him, and doing thus in all their actions, they attained success. And so they did in everything.

The work and the sequence of the revolution is [to be done] just as I shall tell [you] in the present book. When, with the return of the year, the Sun has gone around the whole circle and has returned to that very [degree and] minute and second in which it was [placed] at the hour of the nativity and has taken up the position from which it departed, [then] you may know that that is the hour of the revolution. Therefore know thus what the hour is and what sign is ascending. And having established the ASC, you shall determine the houses from it, and do just as I shall tell you in the present book.

You shall begin to make the figure of the revolution of the year with all the things that are in it [such as] the planets - namely, you shall make the figure round or rectangular [44]  and divide it into 12 [sections]; [and] you shall divide it according [to the way] men are accustomed to divide it. And know the ASC of the year just as was said above, along with its own degree and minute, and write it in each of the houses; then write the twelve signs in their own succession in each house, that is in each sign; and the houses will be divided by their own degrees and minutes according to how they are equated, that is [by] times through parts of hours and by sections of the direct circle; and write in that [chart] the planets of the revolution of the year in accordance with their status of ascension or descension or retrogradation and the other things that go along [with them]. Write also their aspects and their dodecatemories and the dodecatemories of the degrees of the 12 houses and the parts and the head and tail [of the Dragon]; and let each and everyone [of these] be [written] in its own sign in which it was [posited] at the hour of the revolution of the year. After [doing] that, write in it the planets [and] the ASC of the nativity [itself] in accordance with their status and their aspects and their dodecatemories and the dodecatemories of the houses, and the parts and the head and tail [of the Dragon] in their own houses and in the signs in which they were [posited] in the nativity. After this, write in it the location of the ASC of the nativity and the place of the profection of the year from it, i.e. from that same ASC of the nativity; then write in it the location of the profection of the division [of time] and its ruler and its partner in the division, [i.e.] the ruler of the fardar; [45]  and the one that divides with it and the ruler of cycle - each of these in the sign and in the terms in which it is [posited]. And if in the radix of the nativity there was, in the ASC or in the angle of the MC or with either of the lights or with those of the seven planets which were in the angles, any one of the fixed stars, [then] write that one there.

And when you have done this, there are collected together for you in the figure of the revolution of the year 14 planets and the head and the tail [of the Dragon] in two [separate] places and the aspects of the planets of the nativity and of the revolution in 98 places. Then the twelve degrees of the signs and of the planets of the revolution or of the nativity in 38 places; but the parts will be in accordance with what you have made [of them] - few or many.

And when you wish to describe in any of the houses where some of the planets are [posited] - several in number, you ought first of all to begin with the one that has few degrees [46] ; then you will write the one that follows it in its degrees, [and so on] until [you come to] the one with the latest degrees. After this, you will look at the aspects and the parts and the dodecatemories and the faces of the [planets] similarly until you have finished with whatever was in the 12 houses according to this method. And when you have done this, then you have put in proper order the figure of the revolution of the year.

      The next chapter explains how to judge the solar return chart. It is too long to reproduce here. But what is cited above should be sufficient to demonstrate the high degree of sophistication of this technique as practised by the master astrologers of the Arabian period. Note in particular that Albumasar also takes into account the classical profection (the 12-year one) along with the Persian profection mentioned above. Obviously, a considerable amount of time and effort was needed to construct such a chart. And a skilled astrologer was required to interpret the complex diagram after it was made. Special study and much practice is required to be able to successfully delineate such a chart.

      One reason I have cited this passage at length is because it sets forth very plainly several facts about natal horoscopes and solar returns (or any other method of judging future prospects for a particular time). The first fact is that the natal horoscope specifies the whole life of the native and its mixture of successes and failures. The second fact is that the individual solar returns specify what will happen - within the limits set by the natal horoscope - in individual years. The quality of the natal chart therefore governs what can happen in any particular year. If the natal chart is totally good and the native lives in a favorable or at least a neutral environment, then no affliction in a subsequent solar return is capable of indicating anything more serious than a minor annoyance. Conversely, if the natal chart is totally bad, then the least affliction in a subsequent solar return will indicate a serious occurrence, while the best indication in a solar return will indicate only a small benefit.

      This is nothing more than common sense. The familiar bell curve of statistics applies - there are a relative few totally miserable people on one end, a relative few totally fortunate people on the other end, with the great mass of humanity somewhere in between. Nearly all humans live lives in which both good fortune and bad fortune are mixed. Examples are easy. A beloved parent or other relative may die, bringing much sorrow to a native, while at the same time leaving him a nice inheritance - perhaps through a bad aspect of Saturn and a near simultaneous good aspect of Jupiter. A promotion at the office or factory may bring increased income but also increased responsibility and more stress. Many occurrences ("accidents" - to use the astrological term) in life are mixed - partly good and partly bad. Most humans live complex lives. [47]  Common sayings such as, "Lucky at cards, unlucky at love" or its reverse find their realization in individuals.

    Just as a physician learns through education and experience to sort through various physical indications and determine the probable cause of a patient's illness or condition, so does an astrologer in the same way learn how to predict both the general course of a client's life and its probable course within a given time period.

      I believe this tract of Albumasar's, except for its use of the profections, would have been approved 800 years later by the French astrologer J.B. Morin. And since Māshā'allāh's treatise on solar returns, The Revolutions of the Years of Nativities, is lost (see above), Albumasar's books on solar returns are perhaps the earliest that have come down to us.
 

Al-Kindī

      Al-Kindī (c.796-873), the "philosopher of the Arabs." An exceedingly prolific author whose innumerable works included some twenty or more "epistles" on various topics in astrology. According to the Fihrist[48]  it was he who first interested Albumasar in astrology. As the story goes, Albumasar was persistently attacking al-Kindī for some of the latter's philosophical opinions and continually causing him to have to waste time by defending himself. So al-Kindī introduced Albumasar to astrology. He promptly fell in love with the subject and gave up philosophical controversy. We can all thank al-Kindī for having played this trick on Albumasar.

      Al-Kindī wrote hundreds of books on a variety of topics (he seems to have been the Isaac Asimov of the ninth century). Among those he wrote on astrology, the following are the best known in the West:

De iudiciis astrorum [The Judgments of the Stars; with works of other writers] Venice: Peter Liechtenstein, 1507.

De pluviis, imbribus et ventis ac aeris mutatione [Rains, Storms and Winds, and Change in the Air; with works of other writers] Venice: Peter Liechtenstein, 1507.

    Carmody says [49]  that al-Kindī's books on meteorological astrology were prime sources for later writers on that branch of the art.
 

Albubater

      Abū Bakr al-Hasan ibn al-Khasīb (late 9th century), known in the West as Albubater, wrote an introduction to astrology, a book on the revolutions of nativities (what modern astrologers call "solar returns"), and a very popular book on natal astrology, which was translated c.1225 at Padua, Italy, by Salio (or Solomon) - the De nativitatibus, which was published in an astrological compendium at Venice in 1492 and in another in 1493. There is a modern Spanish translation by Demetrio Santos of the 1492 edition: Sobre las natividades (Barcelona: Edicomunicación, 1986). It is divided into 206 chapters ranging in length from a single sentence to several pages. Each one covers a specific topic and gives one or more natal configurations that indicate some tendency or condition that the native will have. Many of these appear to have been taken from actual nativities, while others have a theoretical look. [50]  Here are some brief examples:

20. The native's modesty.

Jupiter in the ASC of a nativity without any aspect to Mars indicates that the native will be modest. When the Moon is in the ASC and in the terms of Saturn or in its face [decan] and Mars is in the DSC and Jupiter is in aspect with the Moon, the native will be modest.

85. Natives who are bald.

When the ASC is in Leo, Virgo, Scorpio, or Sagittarius and Mars is in those signs, the native will be bald.
When the ASC is in Cancer and Mars or the Moon is in it, or when Mars aspects it by square or opposition, the native will be bald.
When the Part of Fortune and the Part of Faith and their rulers are in Aries, the native will be bald.

94. Natives who are Carpenters.

When Mars is aspected by Mercury from the house of profession and the sign of that house is one of those of seed and earth, the native will be a carpenter or [a member] of the profession that works with wood and iron.
And if Venus aspects them, the native will be a maker of trumpets, flutes, or citharas, or [other] stringed instruments.
If Saturn aspects them, the native will be a carpenter of houses and of anything that the architects need [to be made] of wood.
If the Sun aspects them, the native will be a maker of shields and other equipment that are made for kings and for war.
If Jupiter aspects them, the native will be a constructor of instruments that are used by priests and ecclesiastics, or instruments with which stones are raised.
If the Moon aspects them, the native will be a constructor of boats and bridges.
When Saturn, Mars, and Venus are at the same time in a masculine sign of Mars, and especially in Aries, Leo, or Sagittarius, the native will be a carpenter or seller of wood (firwood).
 

    This is only one of a group of chapters that give the astrological indications for various professions, among them weavers, shoemakers, leather workers or harness makers, painters, sculptors, dyers, earth movers, mariners, iron workers, entertainers, etc. William Lilly, in his "Introduction to Nativities" (Christian Astrology, p. 632), mentions "Albubater a learned Arabian Physitian, out of whose Writings most of our Astrologicall Aphorismes are collected."
 

The Nine Judges

      An anonymous compilation of extracts from nine Arabian astrologers was translated into Latin under the title Liber novem iudicum 'The Book of the Nine Judges'. The authors cited are Abendaiat, Māshā'allāh, Dorotheus, Jirjis, Aristotle, Albumasar, Omar Tiberiades, al-Kindī, and Zahel. This book was often cited by the later medieval astrologers in Western Europe, and is preserved in several MSS, but it was never printed. Carmody calls this Liber novem iudicum I.

      Another book of the same sort and with the same title, but with some different authorities cited (e.g. Ptolemy and Albohali) was also popular. It was printed by Peter Liechtenstein at Venice in 1509 (in an omnibus edition with other books). Carmody calls this Liber novem iudicum II[51]

    Some other well-known figures of Arabian astrology belong to the later 10th or even the 11th century, of whom the most notable were:
 

Haly Embrani

    'Alī ibn Ahmad al-'Imrānī, a resident of Mosul, Iraq, who died in the year 344 A.H. (955/956 A.D.), was a mathematician, astrologer, and book collector. [52]  He was known in the West as Haly Embrani and was the author of a book on elections Kitāb ikhtiyārāt, 'Book of Choices', which was translated into Latin in Barcelona in 1134 by Abraham the Jew under the title Liber electionum, 'Book of Elections'. This book was a favorite of the late medieval astrologers and was finally printed at Basel in 1572. [53]  Haly Embrani was famed as a teacher; one of his students was Alchabitius (see below).
 

Alchabitius

      Abū al-Saqr al-Qabīsī 'Abd al-'Azīz ibn 'Uthmān (d. 967), known in the West as Alchabitius or less commonly as Abdilaziz, was the author of a book, Introduction to the Art of Judgments of the Stars, dedicated to the Sultan Sayf al-Dawlah (c.916-967). It became one of the most popular astrological treatises in the West. The Latin translation by John of Seville, Alchabitii Abdilazi liber introductorius ad magisterium judiciorum astrorum, was printed more than a dozen times. Beginning with Erhard Ratdolt's edition published at Venice in 1503, it was often printed with the commentary of John Danko (14th century).

      Carmody says Alchabitius's book contains "a complete presentation of astrological practices and materials, with definitions, distinctions, numerous lists of place names by climates and influences, and many long [passages quoted from ] Dorotheus and Māshā'allāh." [54]

      The system of house division to which Alchabitius's name is attached was expounded by several other Arab writers of his time, but since his book was very widely read in Europe after its translation in the 12th century, the system was generally ascribed to him. Actually, as we have seen above, it was explained, with an example chart of 428 A.D., by Rhetorius the Egyptian, so it goes back at least to the fifth century. This system was the principal one used in the late middle ages and the renaissance until it was supplanted by the Regiomontanus system, which first became known to most astrologers in 1490.

Nallino gives a mathematical explanation of the house system [55]  (since it also appears in the astronomical work of al-Battānī), and he adds an observation of his own followed by a similar one by Delambre: [56]

In this division of the houses, not only do two unequal series of cusps appear, but the absurdity is also found which Delambre notes about Alchabitius on p. 502, saying:

"The last six houses are always diametrically opposed to the first six, from which there results a kind of absurdity. The quadrant of the equator between the meridian and the western horizon is found to be divided according to the nocturnal arcs, although it belongs to the day; the quadrant between the western horizon and the lower meridian is divided according to the hours of the day, although it belongs to the night. As for the rest, the calculation is extremely simple, and it is perhaps this that has enabled it to pass over the absurdity that we have just remarked."

      This criticism is invalid! In the case of the Alchabitius system, the twelfth and eleventh house cusps are found by trisecting the arc of right ascension between the ASC and the MC, while the ninth and eighth house cusps are found by trisecting the arc between the MC and the DSC. The same rule is used for both quadrants. Thus, there is no absurdity. Delambre and Nallino were simply looking at the procedure incorrectly.

    However, considering the severe distortion of the quadrants in the higher latitudes, that can result in double interceptions of signs on one side of the meridian and tiny houses only a few degrees in extent on the other side (not to mention that the Alchabitius and all the other quadrant systems fail completely at and above the arctic and antarctic circles, it would appear that the only reasonable house systems are the original Sign-House system (still in use in India) and its derivative the Equal House system.
 

Haly Abenragel

    'Alī ibn abī al-Rijāl, Abūl 'l-Hasan (d. after 1037), called Albohazen Haly or Haly Abenragel in Latin, was court astrologer to the Tunisian Prince al-Mu'izz ibn Bādis (first half of the eleventh century). The Outstanding Book on the Judgments of the Stars, which was translated into Old Castilian at the court of Alphonso X the Wise (1226-1284) under the title El libro conplido en los iudizios de las estrellas, 'The Complete Book on the Judgments of the Stars', edited meticulously by Gerold Hilty from MS 3065 of the National Library in Madrid (Madrid: Real Academia Espańola, 1954). A Latin translation was made from the Castilian version. Haly cites his sources (many of whom have not been identified). His book was very popular with the late medieval astrologers, such as Bonatti and Leopold. In fact, according to Carmody, [57]  most references by later astrologers to "Haly" refer to Haly Abenragel (and if not to him, usually to Haly Abenrudian, for whom see below), but there were also a few other "Halys."

      Unfortunately, MS 3065 contains only the first five of the eight books; hence, it is an incomplete MS of The Complete Book. However, a Latin version was made from a MS now lost that contained the complete Castilian translation. It was first published as Praeclarissimus liber completus in judiciis astrorum, 'The Very Famous Complete Book on the Judgments of the Stars' (Venice: Erhard Ratdolt, 1485). The printed book proved to be as popular with Renaissance astrologers as MS copies had been with their predecessors. It was reprinted in 1503, 1520, 1523, 1525, 1551, and in 1571 along with The Book of the Nine Judges. Carmody says the Latin text of the 1551 edition has been stylistically "improved." William Lilly tells us that all editions other than the Basel edition of 1571 are defective. [58]  But since that edition also contains The Book of the Nine Judges, Lilly may have thought that it was part of Haly's text, and, not finding The Book of the Nine Judges in the earlier editions, he may have judged them to be defective for that reason.

      The contents of all eight books are listed in the Castilian text on p. 3 of Hilty's edition:

Both in the first book and in the second and in the third, he speaks about questions and all the things that are useful for them. And in the fourth and the fifth book, he speaks of nativities. And in the sixth book, he speaks of the revolutions of nativities. And in the seventh book, he speaks of elections. And in the eighth book, he speaks of the revolutions of the years of the world.
 

Al-Bīrūnī

      Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Bīrūnī (973-1048?) was born in a suburb of Khiva, the capital of Khwarizm, whence his name (al-Bīrūnī means literally 'the suburban'). [59]  He was a sort of universal scholar and thus in some ways like Claudius Ptolemy, although he was an honest, capable observational astronomer, which Ptolemy was not. He spent several years in India, during which time he learned Sanskrit and consulted with leading Indian astronomers and astrologers. He was not favorably impressed either by their knowledge or by their books. In his India he characterized their astronomical knowledge as being "a mixture of pearls and dung," and he says that he never met a Hindu who could point out the stars of the nakshatras in the night sky.

      Al-Bīrūnī's own works in Arabic were not translated into Latin by the twelfth century translators, but four of them are now available in English translation: The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms trans. & ed. by C. Edward Sachau (London, 1879), Alberuni's India trans. by Edward C. Sachau (London, 1888), The Book of Instruction in the Elements of the Art of Astrology trans. by R. Ramsay Wright (London: Luzac & Co., 1934), which actually contains introductions to astronomy, mathematics, and astrology, and Al-Biruni on Transits trans. by Mohammad Saffouri and Adnan Ifram with a commentary by E.S. Kennedy (Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1959). See the Bibliography for further publication details. Al-Bīrūnī liked to make lists of things, [60]  and he had an obvious gift for didactic writing, but at the same time his books contain many odd bits of knowledge on a wide variety of subjects. They are a delight to read.
 

Haly Abenrudian

    'Alī ibn Ridwān (988-1061 or 1067) was called Haly Abenrudian in the West. He was the author of a number of short treatises on various astrological and medical topics. His De revolutionibus nativitatum, 'The Revolutions of Nativities' was edited by Luca Gaurico (1476-1558) and printed at Venice in 1524; his Tractatus de cometarum significationibus per xii signa zodiaci, 'Treatise on the Significations of Comets in the 12 Signs of the Zodiac' was printed at Nürnberg in 1563; but he was perhaps best known for his commentaries on Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos and pseudo-Ptolemy's Centiloquy.

      After the eleventh century astrology declined in Islamic territory, especially after the sacking of Baghdad and the destruction of its great library by the Mongols under Hulagu Khan in 1258. [61]
 

Abraham Ibn Ezra

      Somewhat later than the Arabs was the great Jewish scholar Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089?-1167). In addition to Bible commentaries and a Hebrew grammar, he wrote more than fifty books on astrology and astronomy, based on Arabic works but containing his own opinions and theories. [62]  His best known astrological work is 'The Beginning of Wisdom' (Sefer Reshit Hokmah) written in 1148. There is a modern edition (by Francisco Cantera) of the Hebrew text and the text of the Old French translation (made by Hagin le Juif in 1273) with an English translation of the Hebrew by Raphael Levy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1939). A French translation of The Beginning of Wisdom and of The Book of Reasons (Sefer ha-Te'amim) has also been published:

Ibn Ezra, Abraham ben Meļr, Le livre des fondements astrologiques (précédés de) Le Commencement de la Sapience des signes. [The Book of the Fundamentals of Astrology (preceded by) The Beginning of Wisdom of the Signs] Paris: Retz, 1977.

      Chapter 8 of the Beginning of Wisdom contains 120 "prognostics" for horoscopes, revolutions, and questions. Here are some examples [63] :

2. If the Moon is moving by itself [void of course], that indicates any futile thing, and it signifies that anything which the asker requests can not possibly occur.

3. The planet which enters into conjunction or into aspect with the Moon prognosticates every future thing and anything which the asker will expect; if the planet is favorable, it will be a boon; if the planet is unfavorable, it will bring harm.

4. The separation from the Moon denotes things which have passed; if it separated in conjunction or in aspect with a helpful planet, it was beneficial, and with a harmful planet, it was sinister.

8. The planets move in two faces, one helpful, the other harmful; no matter where you find the planet to be favorable, predict good; for the opposite position, predict the opposite.

12. The favorable [benefics] always prognosticate a boon, and the unfavorable [malefics] prognosticate harm. Nevertheless if the unfavorable one should be in its exaltation, the effect will be good, although it will involve pain and sorrow.

89. The star [planet] which moves beneath the rays of the Sun [is "under the Sunbeams"] is like a man in prison.

91. The star, which is about to assume a retrograde motion [is "static retrograde"], is like a man bewildered and trembling at the misfortunes which will befall him.

92. The star which retrogrades is like a twitching and rebellious person.

93. The star in its second station ["static direct"] is like a man who expects good luck.

110. The star in the second house is the same as the person who is in the house of his assistants.

114. The star in the sixth house is equivalent to a weak man running away.

115. The star in the seventh house is the same as a man prepared for battle.

116. The star in the eighth house is related to a person beset with fear and terror.

117. The star in the ninth house refers to a man leaving his place to go into exile or a man who has lost his high rank.
 

      Along with some of his other treatises it was translated into Old French and Catalan, from both of which languages Latin versions were subsequently made. One of his astronomical works, The Book of the Fundamentals of the Tables explains how to calculate what were later called Placidus cusps [64]  - five hundred years before Placidus reinvented them.
 


[1]  Here and elsewhere I use the term Arabic and Arabian to refer in general to those persons of whatever race who wrote in the Arabic language. Thus, the term Arabian astrologers includes Māshā'allāh, who was a Jew, and Nawbakht, who was a Persian. However, in some cases I have identified either an individual's race or nationality. « Text

[2]  See the chart in al-Bīrūnī's The Chronology of Ancient Nations (London, 1879; repr. Frankfurt-am-Main, 1984), p. 263. Al-Bīrūnī says it was Nawbakht the Persian (c.679-777), court astrologer to the Caliph al-Mansūr (d. 775), who drew the chart. « Text

[3]  The Arabic text of his book has recently been edited from the unique MS in the Bibliothčque Nationale in Paris, translated into Spanish, and provided with a learned preface by Ana Labarta, Al-Kitāb al-Kāmil/Horóscopos históricos (Madrid: Instituto Hispano-Įrabe de Cultura, 1982).« Text

[4]  See the discussion by David Pingree in the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. 3 vols.). The notes that follow are mainly taken from that source, but I have revised some of the book titles and added a note from CCAG V.1, p. 230. « Text

[5]  CCAG V.1, p. 230 n.5, which contains a French translation by Rubens Duval of the original Syriac. « Text

[6]  The Introduction is edited by F.Cumont in CCAG V.1, pp. 233-234. « Text

[7]  The Greek name for Khorāsān (today a province of NE Iran). Cumont thinks this campaign probably took place in the winter of 757-758, when the local ruler raised an insurrection, and troops were sent by the Caliph al-Mansūr to put down the rebellion. « Text

[8]  See CCAG, vols. 1, 4, 5.1, 8.1, 11.1. « Text

[9]  Muhammad ibn Ishāq al-Nadīm lived in Baghdad in the latter years of the 10th century. He was the head of a bookselling establishment and compiled what amounts to a general catalogue of the books that were available in the Arabic language in his day. As mentioned in an earlier note, this extremely valuable book has been translated into English as The Fihrist of al-Nadīm. The current reference is to Fihrist, vol. 2, pp. 644-645. « Text

[10]  One of his short works is available in English - see Kennedy, E.S. & Pingree, David, The Astrological History of Māshā'allāh (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971). « Text

[11]  See Lynn Thorndike, "The Latin Translations of the Astrological Works by Messahala" in Osiris, xii (1956): 49-72; and Pingree's article on Māshā'allāh in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography. No. 15 in Pingree's list is the Kitāb tahwīl sinī al-mawālīd or Book of the Revolution of the Years of Nativities. Pingreee says the Arabic text is lost, but it is partly preserved in the work of a later writer. It seems likely to me that this book and The Revolutions of the Years of the World may have contained the earliest instructions on how to cast and interpret what are now called "Solar Returns" and "Aries Ingresses." The invention of these two techniques may therefore be credited to Māshā'allāh, although it is possible that he found them in the now lost books of some earlier writer or writers. « Text

[12]  In Appendix 2 of Abu 'Ali al-Khayyat: The Judgments of Nativities, trans. by James H. Holden (Tempe, Az.: A.F.A. Inc., 1988), pp. 86-91. « Text

[13]  Translated by Demetrio Santos in Textos astrológicos medievales (Madrid: Editorial Barath, 1981) in two parts (Part 1: Māshā'allāh; Part 2: Ibn Ezra). Māshā'allāh's book contains six horary charts, five from the year 791 and one from 794 (see the list in Neugebauer & Van Hoesen, Greek Horoscopes, p. 172. One of these, the chart for 11 April 791 is quoted by Guido Bonatti in Treatise 6, Sixth House, Chapt. 4 « Text

[14]  Note by Demetrio Santos: "The exaltation or the reception by domicile, or whatever, requires, to be effective, that an aspect or union be formed between the planets. The planets can be in good or evil signs, in reception or not, but only when the planets located there activate their connection by forming aspects is the deed realized." « Text

[15]  Translated from the Spanish version of Demetrio Santos, Textos astrológicos medievales, Book I, pp. 14-15. « Text

[16]  Kennedy, E.S., and Pingree, David, The Astrological History of Māshā'allāh. Also, see the entry for Albumasar below. Those who wish to study these elaborate astrological historical schemes can consult the books cited (including the Kitāb al-Kāmil by Mūsā ibn Nawbakht mentioned above). « Text

[17]  A short tract (No. 14 in his list) edited by Pingree from Paris MS 7324. His edition is printed in Appendix 3 to The Astrological History of Māshā'allāh cited above. The text (but not the comments on the example horoscopes) is translated into English by Holden as mentioned above. See Holden's translation for comments on the charts. « Text

[18]  See p. XIV of the Preface to David Pingree's edition of the Arabic version of Dorotheus, Dorothei Sidonii Carmen astrologicum (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1976). « Text

[19]  See David Pingree's article on Omar in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography. The article contains a verified list of the books written by Omar. (Pingree says the lists of Omar's works and those of his son Abū Bakr Muhammad ibn 'Umar given in al-Nadīm's Fihrist are confused.) « Text

[20]  See the list in the Fihrist, vol. 2, p. 655. « Text

[21]  Albumasar, al-Bīrūnī, Leopold, and Guido Bonatti give the formula Mercury - Moon + ASC by day and by night. (Ibn Ezra gets it backwards by mistake.) This part also appears in the list given in the oldest MS of Heliodorus's Commentary on Paul, but it says to reverse it by night. However, the same MS in a different place contains a scholium on Hephaestio of Thebes which says that in the fourth book [of the Pentateuch] of Dorotheus he takes the Lot of Friendship with the same formula 'by day and by night', which agrees with Albumasar. « Text

[22]  Albohali used the Sign-House system of houses, so the 11th sign = the 11th house. « Text

[23]  Note that these are aspects to the 11th sign itself whether there are planets in it or not. This was a common procedure of the Greek astrologers (and following them, the Arabs), but one usually ignored by modern astrologers. « Text

[24]  First printed together by Bonatus Locatellus at Venice in 1493/1494 along with books of five other astrological authors (Abū Bakr, Bethem, Hermes, Māshā'allāh, and Rāzī). « Text

[25]  Textos astrológicos Zahel-Hermes-Bethen-Almanzor (Collección Mirach). « Text

[26]  He also uses one of Zahel's charts (set for 5 July 824) as an example in Treatise 6, First House, Chapt. 4. « Text

[27]  Christian Astrology, pp. 107 ff. « Text

[28]  Translated from my unpublished edition of the Latin version. « Text

[29]  See the detailed list by David Pingree in his article on Abū Ma'shar in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography. « Text

[30]  A mutation occurs when the conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn change from one triplicity to another, which occurs every 238 years. « Text

[31]  "Albumasar in Sadan" in Isis 45, Pt. 1 (May 1954):22-32. « Text

[32]  This would seem to negate Pingree's contention that the horoscope in Book 3, Chapter 1, of Albumasar's The Revolutions of Nativities, which is set for 10 August 787, is that of Albumasar himself. « Text

[33]  Ibn Khallikan's Biographical Dictionary, English translation by Baron William MacGuckin de Slane, (Paris, 1842-1843. 4 vols.), vol. 1, p. 325. « Text

[34]  These are generally unknown to modern astrologers and are referred to by academic scholars by their Arabic or Persian names: The Tasyīrāt (four profections moving at 1( per thousand years, per 100 years, per 10 years, and per year respectively); the Intihā'āt (four profections moving at 1 sign per year period); and the Fardārāt, a mixed bag of profections related to planets and signs. See David Pingree, The Thousands of Abū Ma'shar, pp. 59ff, for details. « Text

[35]  See the book by E.S. Kennedy and David Pingree, The Astrological History of Māshā'allāh. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971). « Text

[36]  An Aries Ingress is obviously a horary chart set for a time certain, for which the question is, "What sort of year will it be for the people, animals, and crops in this particular location?" « Text

[37]  Presumably in the case where it has three or more dignities, while the one in the MC has only two. « Text

[38]  Edited by David Pingree, Albumasaris De revolutionibus nativitatum (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1968), but the Greek translation covers only Books 1-5 and Book 9, Chapter 7, of the nine books of the Arabic text. Book 3, Chapter 1, contains a horoscope set for 10 August 787, "Someone was born in the 4th clime in a city whose latitude is 36°, and the ASC was Taurus 2 degrees and 54 minutes, etc." Since this is close to the year Albumasar was born, Pingree thinks it is his horoscope. But see the remark of Albumasar's disciple Shādhān above. « Text

[39]  Falsely attributed to Hermes when it was printed in the 16th century: Hermetis philosophi de revolutionibus nativitatum libri duo incerto interprete, 'Two Books of Hermes the Philosopher on the Revolutions of Nativities', translator unknown (Basel: H. Wolf, 1559). « Text

[40]  See Lynn Thorndike, HMES 1, p. 651 n.1. « Text

[41]  The word "accident" in the older astrological literature simply means "occurrence" or "event." « Text

[42]  The classical Greek astrologers relied on profections (and direction of the ASC degree) and did not use solar returns. Evidently in Albumasar's time some astrologers still followed the older procedure. As we noted above, they may have been introduced by Māshā'allāh some fifty years or so earlier. « Text

[43]  This sentence is not altogether clear. Perhaps some words have fallen out of the text. In any case the word "book" seems to be an error either of translation or of copying. « Text

[44]  Note that both shapes of charts are mentioned. « Text

[45]  Probably the "small fardar" - a Persian profection of 75 years, subdivided as follows - Sun 10 years, Moon 9 years, North Node 3 years, Jupiter 12 years, Mercury 13 years, Saturn 11 years, South Node 2 years, Mars 7 years, and Venus 8 years. See the list in The Thousands of Abū Ma'shar, p. 62. « Text

[46]  That is, the one that is closest to the cusp or beginning of the house. « Text

[47]  This should be plain even to critics of astrology, who frequently state that astrology presents a maze of contradictory indications to the astrologer, who then arbitrarily picks out a few that he likes and ignores the others. Not so! Good and bad indications all operate in some way or other. One would think that even the critics would be able to see that this is the way life is. « Text

[48]  al-Nadīm, Fihrist, vol.2, p. 656. « Text

[49]  Francis J. Carmody, AAASLT, p. 79. « Text

[50]  Many such aphorisms appear in the writings of the classical astrologers, e.g. Firmicus and Rhetorius. Not having the Latin text at hand, I have translated the examples that follow from Santos's Spanish version. « Text

[51]  See Francis J. Carmody, AAASLT, pp. 103-112 for more information and for a list of chapter titles from the printed version. « Text

[52]  See al-Nadīm, Fihrist, vol. 2., p. 667. Apparently the Arabic texts of his books are lost. « Text

[53]  See Francis J. Carmody, AAASLT, pp. 137-139. « Text

[54]  Francis J. Carmody, AAASLT, p. 144. « Text

[55]  An understandable one with diagrams, unlike the abstruse explanation and planispheric diagram given by Neugebauer and Van Hoesen in Greek Horoscopes, p. 139. « Text

[56]  Carlo Alphonso Nallino (1872-1938), Al-Battānī sive Albatenii Opus astronomicum (Milan: Reale Osservatorio, 1899-1907. 3 vols.), vol. 1, pp. 248-249. Arabic text with a Latin translation and commentary. The reference to J.B. Delambre (1749-1822) is to his Histoire de l'astronomie du Moyen āge, 'History of Astronomy in the Middle Ages' (Paris, 1819) « Text

[57]  Francis J. Carmody, AAASLT, pp. 150-154. « Text

[58]  William Lilly, Christian Astrology, p. 838. « Text

[59]  His horoscope is preserved in the MSS and was published by Wright in his edition and translation of al-Birūnī's book (p. 191). He was born near Khiva, Uzbekistan, on 4 September 973 at 4:58 A.M. L.A.T. with the Sun and Mercury rising in Virgo. « Text

[60]  He not infrequently displays a wry witticism, as when he says (Sect. 476) "It is impossible to enumerate the lots which have been invented for the solution of horary questions, and for answering enquiries as to prosperous outcome or auspicious time for action; they increase in number every day, but the following 97 different lots, 7 of which belong to the planets, 80 to the houses and 10 to neither are those most commonly in use." He would no doubt shake his head sadly if he could know of the "Part of Plastic" proposed by a 20th century astrologer. « Text

[61]  For further details of the books of the Arabian astrologers known in the West, see Francis J. Carmody, Arabic Astronomical and Astrological Sciences in Latin Translation (AAASLT) Some additional information is given in the older survey by Dr. Heinrich Suter in his Die Mathematiker und Astronomen der Araber und ihre Werke (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1900) and in Bayard Dodge's ed. and trans. of The Fihrist of al-Nadīm, vol. 2. « Text

[62]  See the short article with bibliographical references in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography, the Introduction to The Beginning of Wisdom, and the comprehensive study by Raphael Levy, The Astrological Works of Abraham Ibn Ezra (Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1927). « Text

[63]  Raphael Levy's translation. « Text

[64]  See the paper by James H. Holden "House Division II" in the AFA Journal of Research, vol. 5, no.2 (1989):33-52. The Latin version of Ibn Ezra's book was edited by José Millįs Vallicrosa, El libro de los fundamentos de las Tablas astronómicas (Madrid-Barcelona: Instituto Arias Montano, 1947). « Text


 
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James H. Holden: Arabian Astrology
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