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Bill Thayer

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Firmicus Maternus:
Mathesis

The Author and the Work

Rather than any introduction of my own, the best thing I can do is to direct the reader to David McCann's expert article, Julius Firmicus Maternus: Profile of a Roman Astrologer.

The Text on LacusCurtius

The Latin text is that of the critical edition by Wilhelm Kroll (1869‑1939) and Franz Skutsch (1865‑1912), published by B. G. Teubner, 1897 and 1913. The edition is available online, split between two sites, in a photocopy-PDF format (Vol. I) and miscellaneous formats (Vol. II); see the page at Hellenistic Astrology. The LacusCurtius edition is from my own hardbound exemplar, but pretends to no other virtue than being easy to search, quote and link to; as with all the other classical texts on my site, each chapter and section (occasionally a few other passages as well) has its own local anchor according to a consistent scheme.

Firmicus' Latin is very easy, especially if you are conversant with astrology. An English translation of the work, however, by Jean Rhys Bram was published in 1975 (Noyes Press, Park Ridge, IL). It remains under copyright of course and is therefore not onsite. A Spanish translation of most of the work is also available online at Biblioteca Astrología (Books I‑III, Books IV‑VI).

As almost always, I retyped the text rather than scanning it: not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if successful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

At any rate, the Latin text is being thoroughly proofread; as elsewhere onsite, those Books linked here on blue backgrounds I believe to be errorfree, those on red backgrounds have not been completely proofread yet, the same scheme being repeated in the header of the pages themselves — but in either case, if you find an error, please do report it!

I: Arguments for astrology: we are not in control of our own destiny, nor do gods look out for the world and regulate it for the best.

II: Positions and places in astrology: the signs, the constellations and their parts, the houses decans and terms, the aspects, etc.

III: The planets — including the conjunctions of the neutral Moon and Mercury — in the houses; preceded by a brief section on the horoscope of the universe (an axiomatic construct to underpin Man the Microcosm).

IV: The aspects of the Moon; also the Part of Fortune, the lord of the nativity, the climacteric years, full and empty places, etc.

V: The Ascendant in the various signs; the planets in the signs (a lot seems to be lost).

As mentioned, the text is that of the Teubner edition: Volume I (Books I‑IV), 1897; Volume II (Books V‑VIII), 1913. It is now in the public domain pursuant to international law, since the copyright expired on Jan. 1, 2010: the beginning of the calendar year following the seventieth anniversary of the death of the longer-living author. (Details here on the copyright law involved.)

Apparatus

The basic information about the manuscripts, including their list of sigla, is given by the editors in their brief preface to Volume I. As they state there, they give their full apparatus criticus only in the second volume, at that time many years in the future; and in both volumes, they also provide a basic running apparatus with the text; both seemed to me a case of diminishing returns for today's Web, and I omit them: all the more so that it can be consulted at the photostats I mentioned earlier.



[image ALT: A square astrological chart, the lineaments of which are given by Firmicus Maternus in Book 2 of the 'Mathesis'. It serves as the icon for that work on my site.]

The icon I use to indicate this subsite is a streamlined version — my redrawing — of the astrological chart illustrating an early printed edition of the Mathesis (see the page at Armagh National Observatory, with its interesting commentary), the lineaments of which are given in words by Firmicus in II.29.10‑20. It should be pointed out that although the wording of II.29.10 suggests that Firmicus subjoined a chart to his text, it is lost, and this is not it; nor is this a sample of what an ancient astrologer would have drawn, but represents the practice of the Renaissance and the modern classical age. At any rate, I've corrected one small error; color-coded the planets, blue for the benefics, red for the malefics, purple for the mixed; and removed the aspect lines, which since Firmicus doesn't give the precise positions of the planets, cannot be determined from the data and are probably flat wrong.


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Site updated: 11 Jun 14