ORIGINS OF WESTERN ASTROLOGY


Assyrian star chart circa 650 BCE

Assyrian star chart circa 650 BCE

The earliest surviving birth chart was drawn for a child born in the region of modern Iraq, just south of Baghdad on April 29, 410 BC— “when Socrates was about sixty and Plato seventeen years old.” All in all, some 205 individual horoscopes, most of them Greek, have been preserved from ancient times. As early as 1300 years before Christ there is a Hittite translation of a Babylonian omen text offering personal predictions according to the month in which the child is born. Herodotus, in his Histories, wrote that long before his own time (the 5th century BC), “the Egyptians had learned how to foretell by the date of a man’s birth his character, his fortunes, and the day of his death.”

The astrological knowledge of the Greeks also goes far back. Philostratus, writing in the early Christian era, states that astrology was known in Greece as early as 1184 BC. Plutarch claims that Hesiod, the Greek poet who lived 800 years before Christ, was an adept. Various constellations, such as Orion, the Pleiades, and the Great Bear were certainly familiar to the Greeks when the Odyssey of Homer (in which they are named) was composed.

One thing seems certain; that astrological knowledge came to include Pythagorean concepts of equation and proportion; the mystical meaning of number; and the idea that man is a microcosm (miniature version) of the universe, bound by a system of affinities to the planets and stars. With the conquests of Alexander the Great, such occult learning spread, as both Mesopotamia and Egypt came under Greek rule. It was in Hellenistic Egypt that Western astrology developed out of an amalgam of Babylonian, Greek, and Egyptian elements. That system had zodiac signs; sign rulers; fixed stars; a doctrine of comets and eclipses; the four elements; and celestial houses.

The development of the art helps explain the profusion of planetary and other zodiac symbolism in architecture and painting, and on contemporary coins. Throughout the whole period there was a vibrant convergence of ideas east and west— from India to Egypt— across the Greek world.

Cancer Crab on Greek Coin

Cancer Crab on Greek Coin

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