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Claudius Ptolemy:
Tetrabiblos


[image ALT: A woodcut of the head and shoulders of a man in late middle age. He is bearded and moustached and wears a slashed silk blouse and an elaborate flat hat, and holds a paper in his hand. It is an imaginative Renaissance 'portrait' of the Greek astronomer and mathematician Ptolemy.]

An imaginative portrait of Ptolemy: woodcut by Theodore de Bry (1528‑1598). The caption reads:

Sustinuit caelos humeros fortisimusº Atlas
Incubat ast humeris terra polusque tuis.

— Powerful Atlas held up the heavens on his shoulders:
But the very earth and its pole rest on yours.

public domain:
exemplar in the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology
at the Smithsonian Institution, from a photograph on its website.

The Text of the Tetrabiblos on LacusCurtius

The text on this website is the English translation by Frank Egleston Robbins in the Loeb Classical Library, 1 volume, Greek text and facing English translation: Harvard University Press, 1940; and despite what you may have read on a widely followed cult site out there, it is complete. It is now in the public domain pursuant to the 1978 revision of the U. S. Copyright Code, since the copyright was not renewed at the appropriate time, which would have been that year or the year before. (Details here on the copyright law involved.)

A Greek text of the Tetrabiblos is provided at Perseus.

There are many copies of the Tetrabiblos online, usually in English translation, but in other languages as well. Most of those I've looked at are unreliable: full of scanning errors, incomplete, or tendentiously edited. The best may be the transcription of the 1822 Ashmand translation at the Internet Sacred Text Archive, which has the further merit of giving Ashmand's notes; although the student needs to beware of errors in any Latin and especially Greek, and should not get the idea that there is anything "sacred" about the text, either in itself or in the mind of its writer or of his readers. Also, Ashmand himself was a man of his time, and left a few passages untranslated, burying the Greek in footnotes — for example the purported homosexual habits of northern barbarians (II.3, Cam.2 p62).

The Author and the Manuscripts

Despite Ptolemy's prominence in his own time and popularity for 1500 years afterwards, rather little is known about him; so that Prof. Robbins's introduction, which in fact is mostly given over to a discussion of the manuscripts and editions, is about as good as you're going to get.

Transcription and Proofreading

As usual, 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.)

The individual books of the work are too long to fit comfortably on single webpages, and I divided each one into several webpages. The divisions are at the most sensible places I could find.

This transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents below, the sections are therefore shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree. As elsewhere on this site, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme. Should you spot an error, however . . . please do report it.

Further details on the technical aspects of the site layout follow the Table of Contents.

Book
Chapters (links are to each chapter in turn)

I

II

III

IV

Chapter Numbering, Pagination, Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the Loeb pagination is indicated by local links in the sourcecode and appears in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this linep57): it's hardly fair to give you "pp53‑56" as a reference and not tell you where p56 ends. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

The margins of the Loeb edition also give the pagination of Camerarius' second edition: in this online transcription, you'll find it visible in the left margin. It should be noted that (a) it applies not to the English translation of course, but to the Greek text; and (b) the Loeb edition neglects to mark the pages precisely in the Greek: for these reasons the Cam.2 pagination on this site is also only approximate.

Both chapters (numbers in the headings) and the pages of Camerarius' edition mark local links, according to a consistent scheme; you can therefore link directly to any passage. Some other local links have been inserted as needed for cross-reference, and occasionally for other purposes. If you have a website and would like to target a specific passage that does not have its own local link yet, just ask.

Notes and Apparatus, Terminology

Prof. Robbins's translation is annotated with explanations or cross-references; I've included them here. At the same time, the reader knowledgeable in astrology will find them a curiously mixed bag, under- or over-explaining, and sometimes unclear or hostile to the subject matter; here and there I've made some further adjustments then of my own.

The Greek text is not accompanied by a full apparatus, but occasional notes mark a variant or a crux; I've reproduced only those referred to in the English notes: more would have been pointless, less would have been unfair.

In distancing himself from modern astrology, Prof. Robbins has wound up inventing his own translations rather than using the customary modern terminology: e.g., "quartile" instead of "square", "depression" instead of "fall", "exchange of signs (houses)" instead of "mutual reception", etc. Although odd, they should pose no problem to the astrologer, and I've made no changes to the translation, except for a note at the first occurrence of each, mostly as an aid to the layperson who might wish to pursue the question.


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Site updated: 2 May 12