Cosmos and Character:
Topics in Hellenistic Astrology
Andre Henriques MA reviews Dr Dorian Geiseler Greenbaum's lecture series
Over three successive Wednesdays, from late March to mid-April 2016, Dorian Greenbaum offered to the Sophia Centre Alumni Association three online seminars covering topics of her specialist subject, Hellenistic astrology. With an audience of roughly half current students, half graduates, of the MA CAA, Dorian was a skilful guide through the multi-layered complexity of what we currently know about this key period in the history of Astrology, a period which defined the building blocks of the system that continued to be used for the next two thousand years.
We started the journey with an analysis of the origins of Hellenistic astrology, which, as MA students may remember, was influenced by astrological, cosmological and philosophical ideas from Babylon, Egypt and Greece (including Plato and the Stoics). These ideas all came together in the 'Alexandrian ferment', Antiquity's melting pot, at least as far as astrology is concerned, and there they flourished. We were also reminded of the beautiful and mysterious myth of Er, and how the philosophy behind Hellenistic astrology was mainly Greek, encompassing ideas about souls choosing their earthly lives by lots, and choosing their personal daimon, their guiding and guardian 'spirit'.
From then on it was uncharted territory for many of us, as we were diving into the practices and ideas of those ancient astrologers that defined this period, such as Ptolemy and Vettius Valens. Dorian displayed an impressive range of quotations from philosophers and astrologers, giving them clear and incisive voices, with many of these quotes being her own astrological-savvy translations. Discussing fate and determinism in Valens' astrology, and aided by the Middle Platonism concepts of Necessity and Providence, Dorian argued that Vettius Valens was aware of these Platonic ideas, and the astrological lots he used in his practice had visible philosophical links with them. Valens also wrote that his own personal daimon, similar to Socrates' daimon described by Plato as an inspiration and guide, led him to the practice of astrology!
Showing how to calculate the Lots of Fortune and Daimon from the positions of the Sun, Moon and Ascendant
The Lots of Daimon and Fortune were looked at in detail in the second lecture, with discussions on how these two concepts were approached by Plato, (especially in the myth of Er), but also in older texts such as in Hesiod, and in art from Ancient Greece to the Hellenistic period. These two lots were much used in antiquity, and we were guided through fascinating quotes from authors such as Manilius, Valens, Paulus Alexandrinus, and Dorotheus. We were also shown by Dorian the practical technique of calculating these lots, and how some of these ancient astrologers were interpreting them in a birth chart.
The Lots of Eros and Necessity were approached in the third and final lecture, mapping them amongst a myriad of connections and influences, from Hesiod to the Orphics, Plutarch and the Hermetic texts, and (surprise!) Plato again, and his spindle of Necessity, once more the philosophical and cosmological matrix for astrological concepts. Different astrologers were calculating these lots differently, and Dorian presented a thought-provoking theory of two astrological traditions, one Egyptian, another Hermetic, that could explain, with philosophy, why astrologers like Valens and Firmicus Maternus arrived at different calculations. There was much food for thought, and a clear sense of excitement about how much more research and innovative ideas are yet to come from Dorian and others in this field!
How the Lots of Eros and Necessity were Calculated according to Vettius Valens
Plenty of time for questions was given throughout the lectures, many of them prompting discussions and insightful remarks by the audience, with Bernardette Brady contributing from her own wide knowledge too.
Darrelyn Gunzburg, Janet Carrol, and everyone from the Alumni Steering Committee should be proud of yet another very successful Alumni event, and I believe all of the attendees enjoyed and were grateful for these lectures. I certainly was! Thank you Dorian for three such brilliant evenings! I'm sure many of us are already looking forward to the next stage of the Alumni journey, with the South African Sangoma Rod Suskin. The MA CAA and the Alumni enterprise are really a journey of continuous learning and sharing, and maybe, following Valens, we can thank our personal daimons for having found this path to knowledge, and finding much fulfilment in it!
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