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II.1‑3

This webpage reproduces part of the
Tetrabiblos

by
Claudius Ptolemy

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1940

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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II.10‑13

Ptolemy
Tetrabiblos

p161 Cam.2 p74 Book II

4. Method of Making Particular Predictions.

After this introductory examination it would be the next task to deal briefly with the procedure of the predictions, and first with those concerned with general conditions of countries or cities. The method of the inquiry will be as follows: p75The first and most potent cause of such events lies in the conjunctions of the sun and moon at eclipse and the movements of the stars at the time. Of the prediction itself, one portion is regional;47 therein we must foresee p163for what countries or cities there is significance in the various eclipses or in the occasional regular stations of the planets, that is, of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars, whenever they halt, for then they are significant. Another division of the prediction is chronological; therein the need will be to foretell the time of the portents and their duration. A part, too, is generic; through this we ought to understand with what classes the event will be concerned. And finally there is the specific aspect, by which we shall discern the quality of the event itself.

5. Of the Examination of the Countries Affected.

We are to judge of the first portion of the inquiry, which is regional, in the following manner: In the eclipses of sun and moon48 as they occur, particularly those more easily observed,49 we shall examine the region of the zodiac in which they take place, and the countries in familiarity with its triangles, and in similar fashion ascertain which of the cities, p76either from their horoscope50 at the time of their founding and the position of the luminaries at the time, or p165from the mid‑heaven of the nativity51 of their then rulers, are sympathetic52 to the zodiacal sign of the eclipse. And in whatsoever countries or cities we discover a familiarity of this kind, we must suppose that some event will occur which applies, generally speaking, to all of them, particularly to those which bear a relation to the actual zodiacal sign of the eclipse and to those of them in which the eclipse, since it took place above the earth, was visible.

6. Of the Time of the Predicted Events.

The second and chronological heading, whereby we should learn the times of the events signified and the length of their duration, we shall consider as follows. Inasmuch as the eclipses which take place at the same time are not completed in the same number of ordinary hours53 in every locality, and since the same solar eclipses do not everywhere have the same degree of obscuration or the same time of duration, we shall first set down for the hour of the eclipse, in each of the related localities, and for the altitude of the pole,54 centres, as in a nativity; p167secondly, how many equinoctial hours55 the obscuration of the eclipse lasts in each. p77For when these data are examined, if it is a solar eclipse, we shall understand that the predicted event lasts as many years56 as the equinoctial hours which we discover, and if a lunar eclipse, as many months. The nature of the beginnings57 and of the more important intensifications58 of the events, however, are deduced from the position of the place of the eclipse relative to the centres. For if the place of the eclipse falls on the eastern horizon, this signifies that the beginning of the predicted event is in the first period of four months from the time of the eclipse and that its important intensifications lies in the first third of the entire period of its duration; if on the mid‑heaven, in the second four months and the middle third; if upon the western horizon, in the third four months and the final third. The beginnings of the particular abatements and intensifications of the event we deduced from the conjunctions which take place in the meantime,59 if they occur in the significant regions or p169the regions in some aspect to them, and also from the other movements of the planets, if those that effect the predicted event are either rising or setting or stationary or at evening rising, and are at the same time in some aspect to the zodiacal signs that hold the cause; p78for planets when they are rising or stationary produce intensifications in the events, but when setting, and under the rays of the sun,60 or advancing at evening, they bring about an abatement.

7. Of the Class of those Affected.

The third heading is that of generic classification, whereby one must determine what classes the event will affect. This is ascertained from the special nature and form of the zodiacal signs in which happen to be the places of the eclipses and in which are the heavenly bodies, planets and fixed stars alike, that govern both the sign of the eclipse and that of the angle preceding the eclipse. In the case of the planets we discover the rulership of these regions thus: The one which has the greatest number of relationships to both the regions aforesaid, that of the eclipse and that of the angle which follows it, both by virtue of the nearest visible applications or recessions, by those of the aspects which bear a relation, and furthermore by rulership of the houses, triangles, exaltations, and terms, that planet p171alone will hold the dominance. However, if the same planet is not found to be both lord of the eclipse and of the angle, p79we must take together the two which have the greatest number of familiarities, as aforesaid, to either one of the regions, giving preference to the lord of the eclipse. And if several rivals be found on either count, we shall prefer for the domination the one which is closest to an angle, or is more significant, or is more closely allied by sect.61 In the case of the fixed stars, we shall take the first one of the brilliant stars which signifies upon the preceding angle at the actual time of the eclipse, according to the nine kinds of visible aspects defined in our first compilation,62 and the star which of the group visible at the time of the eclipse has either risen or reached meridian with the angle following the place of the eclipse.

When we have thus reckoned the stars that share in causing the event, let us also consider the forms of the signs of the zodiac in which the eclipse and the dominating stars as well happened to be, since from their character the quality of the classes affected is generally discerned. Constellations of human form, both in the zodiac and among the p173fixed stars, cause the event to concern the human race.63 p80Of the other terrestrial signs,64 the four-footed65 are concerned with the four-footed dumb animals, and the signs formed like creeping things66 with serpents and the like. Again, the animal67 signs have significance for the wild animals and those which injure the human race; the tame signs concern the useful and domesticated animals, and those which help to gain prosperity, in consistency with their several forms; for example, horses, oxen, sheep, and the like. Again, of the terrestrial signs, the northern tend to signify sudden earthquakes and the southern unexpected rains from the sky. Yet again, those dominant regionsa that are in the form of winged creatures,68 such as Virgo, Sagittarius, Cygnus, Aquila, and the like, exercise an effect upon winged creatures, particularly those which are used for human food, and if they are in the form of swimming things, upon water animals and fish. And of these, in the constellations pertaining to the sea,69 such as Cancer, Capricorn, and the Dolphin, they influence the p175creatures of the sea and the sailing of fleets. In the constellations pertaining to rivers, such as Aquarius and Pisces, they concern the creatures of rivers and springs, and in Argo they affect both classes alike. Likewise stars in the solstitial70 or equinoctial signs have significance in general for the conditions of the air and the seasons related to each of these signs, p81and in particular they concern the spring and things which grow from the earth. For when they are at the spring equinox they affect the new shoots of the arboreal crops, such as grapes and figs, and whatever matures with them; at the summer solstice, the gathering and storing of the crops, and in Egypt, peculiarly, the rising of the Nile; at the autumn solstice they concern the sowing, the hay crops, and such; and at the winter equinox the vegetables and the kinds of birds and fish most common at this season. Further, the equinoctial signs have significance for sacred rites and the worship of the gods; the solstitial signs, for changes in the air and in political customs; the solid signs,71 for foundations and the construction of houses; the bicorporeal, for men and kings. Similarly, those which are closer to the orient at the time of the eclipse signify what is to be concerning the crops, youth, and foundations; those near the mid‑heaven above the earth, concerning sacred rites, kings, and middle age; and p177those near the occident, concerning change of customs, old age, and those who have passed away.

To the question, how large a portion of the class involved will the event affect, p82the answer is supplied by the extent of the obscuration of the eclipses, and by the positions relative to the place of the eclipse held by the stars which furnish the cause. For when they are occidental to solar eclipses,72 or oriental to lunar, they usually affect a minority; in opposition, a half; and the majority, if they are oriental to solar eclipses or occidental to lunar.

8. Of the Quality of the Predicted Event.

The fourth heading concerns the quality of the predicted event, that is, whether it is productive of good or the opposite,73 and of what sort is its effect in either direction, in accordance with the peculiar character of the species. This is apprehended from the nature of the activity of the planets which rule the dominant places and from their combination both with one another and with the places in which they happen to be. For the sun and the moon are the marshals and, as it were, p179leaders of the others; for they are themselves responsible for the entirety of the power, and are the causes of the rulership of the planets, and, moreover, the causes of the strength or weakness of the ruling planets.74 The comprehensive observation of the ruling stars shows the quality of the predicted events.

p83We shall begin with the characteristic active powers of the planets, one by one, first, however, making this general observation, as a summary reminder, that in general whenever we speak of any temperament of the five planets one must understand that whatever produces the like nature is also meant,75 whether it be the planet itself in its own proper condition, or one of the fixed stars, or one of the signs of the zodiac, considered with reference to the temperament proper to it, just as though the characterizations were applied to the natures or the qualities themselves and not to the planets; and let us remember that in the combinations, again, we must consider not only the mixture of the planets one with another, but also their combination with the others that share in the same nature, whether they be fixed stars or signs of the zodiac, by virtue of their affinities with the planets, already set forth.76

Saturn,77 when he gains sole dominance, is in general the cause of destruction by cold, and in p181particular, when the event concerns men, causes long illnesses, consumptions, withering, disturbances caused by fluids, rheumatisms, and quartan fevers, exile, poverty, imprisonment, mourning, fears, and deaths, especially among those advanced in age.78 He is usually significant with regard to those dumb animals that are of use to man, and brings about scarcity of them, p84ºand the bodily destruction by disease of such as exist, so that the men who use them are similarly affected and perish. With regard to weather, he causes fearful cold, freezing, misty, and pestilential; corruption of the air, clouds, and gloom; furthermore, multitudes of snowstorms, not beneficial but destructive, from which are produced the reptiles79 harmful to man. As for the rivers and seas, in general he causes storms, the wreck of fleets, disastrous voyages, and the scarcity and death of fish, and in particular the high and ebb tides of the seas and in rivers excessive floods and pollution of their waters. As for the crops of the earth, he brings about want, scarcity, and loss, especially of those grown for necessary uses, either through worms or locusts or floods or cloud-burst or hail or the like, so that famine and the destruction of men thereby result.

p183 When Jupiter80 rules alone he produces increase in general, and, in particular, when the prediction is concerned with men, he makes fame and prosperity, abundance, peaceful existence, the increase of the necessities of life, bodily and spiritual health, and, furthermore, benefits and gifts from rulers, and the increase, greatness, and magnanimity of these latter; and in general he is the cause of happiness. With reference to dumb animals he causes a multitude and abundance of those that are useful to men and the diminution and destruction of the opposite kind. He makes the condition of the air temperate and healthful, windy, moist, and favourable to the growth of what the earth bears; he brings about the fortunate sailing of fleets, the moderate rise of rivers, abundance of crops, and everything similar.

Mars, when he assumes the rulership alone, is in general the cause of destruction through dryness and in particular, when the event concerns men, brings about wars, civil faction, capture, enslavement, uprisings, the wrath of leaders, and sudden deaths arising from such causes; moreover, fevers, tertian agues, raising of blood, swift and violent deaths, especially in the prime of life; similarly, violence, p185assaults, lawlessness, arson and murder, robbery and piracy. With regard to the condition of the air he causes hot weather, warm, pestilential, and withering winds, p86ºthe loosing of lightning and hurricanes, and drought. Again, at sea he causes sudden shipwreck of fleets through changeable winds or lightning or the like; the failure of the water of rivers, the drying up of springs, and the tainting of potable waters. With reference to the necessities produced upon the earth for human use, he causes a scarcity and loss of dumb animals and of things which grow from the earth, and the loss of crops by drying as the result of hot weather, or by locusts, or by the beating of the winds, or by burning in places of storage.

Venus, when she becomes sole ruler of the event, in general brings about results similar to those of Jupiter, but with the addition of a certain agreeable quality; in particular, where men are concerned, she causes fame, honour, happiness, abundance, happy marriage, many children, satisfaction in every mutual relationship, the increase of property, a neat and well conducted manner of life, paying honour to those things which are to be revered; further, she is the cause of bodily health, alliances with the leaders, and elegance of rulers; as to the winds of the air, of temperateness and settled conditions of moist and p187very nourishing winds, of good air, clear weather, and generous showers of fertilizing waters; she brings about the fortunate sailing of fleets, successes, profits, and the full rising of rivers; p87of useful animals and the fruits of the earth she is the preëminent cause of abundance, good yields, and profit.

Mercury, if he gains the rulership, is, generally speaking, in nature like whatever of the other planets may be associated with him. In particular, he is above all stimulating, and in predictions concerning men is keen and very practical, ingenious in any situation; but he causes robbery, theft, piracy, and assault, and furthermore, brings about unsuccessful voyaging when he is in aspect with the maleficent planets, and occasions diseases of dryness, quotidian agues, coughs, raising, and consumption. He is the cause of events taking place which concern the priestly code, the worship of the gods, the royal revenues, and of changes in customs and laws, from time to time, in consistency with his association with the other planets on each occasion. With reference to the air, since he is very dry and swift on account of his nearness to the sun, and the speed of his revolution, he is particularly apt to arouse irregular, fierce, and changeable winds, and, as might be expected, thunder, hurricanes, chasms in the earth, earthquakes, and lightning; sometimes by these p189means he causes the destruction of useful animals and plants. p88At setting he diminishes waters and rivers, at rising fills them.

Such are the effects produced by the several planets, each by itself and in command of its own nature. Associated, however, now with one and now with another, in the different aspects, by the exchange of signs,81 and by their phases with reference to the sun,82 and experiencing a corresponding tempering of their powers, each produces a character, in its effect, which is the result of the mixture of the natures that have participated, and is complicated. It is of course a hopeless and impossible task to mention the proper outcome of every combination and to enumerate absolutely all the aspects of whatever kind, since we can conceive of such a variety of them. Consequently questions of this kind would reasonably be left to the enterprise and ingenuity of the mathematician,83 in order to make the particular distinctions.

It is needful to observe what affinity exists between the planets which govern the prediction and the countries or the cities for which the event is signified. For if the ruling planets are beneficent, and have familiarity with the subjects affected, and are not overcome84 by planets of the opposite sect, they more powerfully produce the benefits natural to them; p191even as, when they bear no familiarity, p89or are overcome by their opposites, they are less helpful. But when they are of the injurious temperament and govern the prediction, if they have familiarity with the subjects affected or are overcome by the opposite sect, they do less harm; but if they are neither lords of the countries nor are overcome by the planets that have familiarity with those countries, they exert all the more intensely the destructiveness of their temperament. Usually, however, those men are affected by the more universal ills who in their own genitures happen to have the most essential places,85 by which I mean those of the luminaries or of the angles,86 the same as those that furnish the cause of the general misfortunes, that is, the places of the eclipses or the places directly opposite. Of these the positions most dangerous and hardest to avoid are those in which either of the luminaries is in possession of the very degree of the place of the eclipse, or the degree opposite.

9. Of the Colours of Eclipses, Comets, and the Like.

For the prediction of general conditions we must also observe the colours at the time of the eclipses, p193either those of the luminaries themselves, or those of the formations that occur near them, such as rods,87 halos, and the like. p90For if they appear black or livid they signify the effects which were mentioned in connection with Saturn's nature;88 if white, those of Jupiter; if reddish, those of Mars; if yellow, those of Venus; and if variegated, those of Mercury. If the characteristic colour appears to cover the whole body of the luminary or the whole region surrounding it, the predicted event will affect most of the parts of the countries; but if it is in any one part, it will affect only that part against which the phenomenon is inclined.

We must observe, further, for the prediction of general conditions, the comets89 which appear either at the time of the eclipse or at any time whatever; for instance, the so‑called "beams," "trumpets," "jars," and the like,90 for these naturally produce the effects peculiar to Mars and to Mercury — wars, hot weather, disturbed conditions, and the accompaniments of these; and they show, through the parts of the zodiac in which their heads appear and through the directions in which the shapes of their tails point, p195the regions upon which the misfortunes impend. Through the formations, as it were, of their heads they indicate the kind of the event and the class upon which the misfortune will take effect; p91through the time which they last, the duration of the events; and through their position relative to the sun likewise their beginning; for in general their appearance in the orient betokens rapidly approaching events and in the occident those that approach more slowly.


The Editor's Notes:

47 Ptolemy divides inquiries about cities and countries into four heads; what place is affected, the time and duration of the event, the generic classification of the event (i.e. what classes, genera, it will affect), and the quality, or nature, of the event itself. His terminology is Aristotelian. The next four chapters deal with the four phases of the inquiry.

48 Johannes Laurentius Lydus (De ostentis, 9) deals with a system of prediction whereby eclipses of the sun refer to Asia and those of the moon to Europe. Ptolemy makes no such sweeping distinction.

49 Ptolemy takes no account of eclipses not visible at the place concerned.

50 That is, the sign in the ascendant, or horoscopic position, at that time.

51 The mid‑heaven was regarded by many, including Ptolemy, as the most important of the centres, or angles, even surpassing the horoscope itself in its significance in certain ways. Cf. Bouché-Leclercq, p271 (with n2).

52 That is, bear an aspect to.

53 Civil hours, twelfth parts of the day-time or the night-time. they vary in length according to the latitude and the time of the year. Cf. the note on horary periods, III.10 (p292, n2).

54 That is, the latitude; from this the centres or angles can be determined.

55 An equinoctial hour is the time measured by the passage of 15° of the equator (1/24 of 360°) past the horizon or other fixed point.

56 A distinction is made because solar and lunar eclipses are of very different lengths; a total lunar eclipse may last nearly two hours, compared with eight minutes in the case of the sun.

57 καταρχαί, that is, when the predicted event is due.

58 ἐπιτάσεις, "intensifications," as opposed to "relaxations"; a metaphor drawn from the tightening and loosening of the strings of a musical instrument.

59 During the period of the predicted effect (Bouché-Leclercq, p351).

60 Too near the sun to be visible; combustus; cf. Bouché-Leclercq, p111, n3. "Advancing" is the same as "adding to its motion"; cf. above, p115, n4.

61 The anonymous commentator on Ptolemy gives as examples of reasons for preferring one to another that it is (p171)in the superior hemisphere, or is "adding to its motion," or rising, or if these characteristics appear in all the rivals, that it is of the proper sect.

62 The reference is to the Almagest, VIII.4. They are πρωινὸς ἀπηλιώτης (matutine subsolar), πρωινὸν μεσουράνημα (matutine culmination), πρωινὸς λίψ (matutine setting), μεσημβρινὸς ἀπηλιώτης (meridianal subsolar), μεσημβρινὸν μεσουράνημα (meridianal culmination), μεσημβρινὸς λίψ (meridianal setting), ὀψινὸς ἀπηλιώτης (vespertine subsolar), ὀψινὸν μεσουράνημα (vespertine culmination), and ὀψινὸς λίψ (vespertine setting).

63 Cf. I.12 for classifications of the signs. Rhetorius, ap. CCAG, I.164 ff., names as signs of human form Gemini, Virgo, Libra, Aquarius, and (in part) Sagittarius. (p173)Among the extra-zodiacal constellations might be cited Orion, Perseus, Andromeda, etc.

64 Rhetorius, loc. cit., names Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio.

65 Aries, Taurus, Leo, Sagittarius (Rhetorius, loc. cit.).

66 To be sought among extra-zodiacal constellations, such as Draco, rather than the zodiac.

67 θηριώδη; Taurus, Leo, and Scorpio, according to Rhetorius, loc. cit.

68 Rhetorius, loc. cit., names Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces.

69 Rhetorius, loc. cit., designates as watery (ἔνυδρα) Pisces, Cancer, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Sagittarius, of the zodiac.

70 Cf. I.11.

71 Ibid.

72 Planets become feminized by the occidental position (cf. I.6) and hence oppose the sun; in oriental position (p177)they are masculinized and oppose the moon. Hence the effect is minimized. When, however, they work with the sun (in oriental position and masculine) or with the moon, the eclipse has a greater effect. Cf. Bouché-Leclercq, p353, n3.

73 As Bouché-Leclercq (p355) points out, the natural tendency in antiquity would be to assume that any eclipse portends evil. Ptolemy's predilection for classification causes him to examine the question in the light of the nature and characters of the planets (cf. I.5).

74 According to the anonymous commentator (p71, ed. Wolf), the reason why the luminaries exert such power is that they are the ones which submit to eclipse and thereby determine the places of eclipses and the rulers of these places.

75 Cardanus, p201: ". . . when he says, for example, (p179)that Saturn does this or that, he understands this to refer not only to Saturn but to any star, even a fixed star, that may be of Saturn's nature; as those in Cetus and some in Orion" (cf. I.9). Similarly signs of the zodiac, or terms, could thus substitute for the planets.

76 I.e. in I.9.

77 Cf. I.5. Saturn is one of the maleficent planets (ibid.).

78 Saturn (Kronos) is pictured as an old man.

79 For rains of fish, frogs and other things cf. E. S. McCartney, Trans. Am. Phil. Assn., 51, 112 ff., and Classical Weekly, 24, 27; also A. S. Pease, ed. of Cicero, De divinatione, p274. Mice, frogs, insects, and the like were thought to be spontaneously generated from earth, mud, or rain; cf. Thorndike, History of Magic and Experimental Science, I.325, 491.

Thayer's Note: The specific reference here seems to be to snow-worms, mentioned in McCartney, p104.

80 A beneficent planet.

81 That is, exchange of houses.

Thayer's Note: to use the correct modern astrological term, mutual reception.

82 Cf. I.8.

83 μαθηματικός is here used to mean "astrologer," as for example at the very end of the Tetrabiblos (p458, l. 21).

84 καθυπερτέρησις, supereminentia, exists when one planet is superior to another, or is to the right of another in the astrological sense (i.e. preceding it in the direction of the diurnal movement of the heavens). Cf. Bouché-Leclercq, p250.

85 A geniture (horoscope, nativity) of any individual or event has its point of departure the horoscope in the proper sense, i.e. the degree of the ecliptic which is rising (p191)above the horizon (in the ascendant) at the moment. This point determines a series of divisions of the ecliptic of 30° each, a duodecimal system superimposed upon that of the zodiacal signs and differing therefrom. These divisions are the "places" (also called "houses," somewhat ambiguously) of the geniture.

86 The angles, or centres, of a geniture are the horoscope or orient, the superior mid‑heaven (upper culmination), the occident, and the inferior mid‑heaven (lower culmination). See Bouché-Leclercq, pp257‑259.

87 "Luminous sheaves," according to Bouché-Leclercq, p355. The expression must refer to rays of light.

88 Cf. I.4, for the powers of Saturn and the other planets.

89 Cf. Boll-Bezold-Gundel, pp51, 129; who quote Julius Caesar, II.2, "When beggars die, then are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes."

90 Other astrologers and non-astrological writers classified the comets much more elaborately by their shapes and their associations with the planets, of which they were supposed to be the fiery missiles; Ptolemy is much more conservative in what he says. See Bouché-Leclercq, pp358‑359, and for a more detailed ancient account Hephaestion of Thebes, pp97.31‑99.22 (ed. Engelbrecht).


Thayer's Note:

a οἱ κύριοι τόποι: "ruling places" would have been a better translation.


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