What is the oldest reference to astrological ages of Aries / Pisces / etc?

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Peter Kirby
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What is the oldest reference to astrological ages of Aries / Pisces / etc?

Post by Peter Kirby » Fri Oct 13, 2017 10:02 pm

The Wikipedia and everyone else can point me to Hipparchus, who is commented on by Claudius Ptolemy, as having found that the year has a fixed length and that something called 'the precession of the equinoxes' (which you can imagine as the 'wobble of the North Pole' over several thousand years) explained the differences in the length of days from equinox to equinox.

This is all very astronomical, though. In its own way, it is science.

Who first had the idea to take the thousands of years for the full precession of the equinoxes, divide into twelve segments and call them "astrological ages"? Does anyone know of an ancient reference? (Before AD 500 or so?) Medieval? Anything?

I can tell you it's not in book 3 of the Almagest by Ptolemy, which discusses the precession of equinoxes. I read that.
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown

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Re: What is the oldest reference to astrological ages of Aries / Pisces / etc?

Post by andrewcriddle » Sat Oct 14, 2017 4:37 am

Astrology and Popular Religion suggests that the ideas concerned only develop in the 18th century CE.

Certainly, professional astrologers until recent times have tended to ignore or minimize the implications of precession.

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Re: What is the oldest reference to astrological ages of Aries / Pisces / etc?

Post by DCHindley » Sat Oct 14, 2017 11:15 pm

The subject of precession of the equinoxes used to be a big deal among "Sidereal" Astrologers like Cyril Fagan and Roy C. Firebrace. I cannot find my copy of their book Astrological Origins (1971) but there is a chapter in it on the subject.

IIRC, the hypothesis, which I think is generally correct, says that the earliest zodiacs marked their constellations in the sky by anchoring them to a point, usually the fixed star Spica around 0 degree Aries, which they (Firebrace & Fagan) called the Sidereal Zodiac.

On the other hand, what they say Hipparchus discovered was that the length of time it takes for the celestial sphere to make a full revolution in the sky (the sidereal year) was slightly different than the time between the occurrence of vernal points, where the seasons begin to lengthen every year (tropical year). When the vernal point, as calculated by observation, is used to create a relative (not fixed to a star) division of the sky, it is called the Tropical Zodiac.

These authors note that all preserved horoscopes were expressed in two popular systems, system A & system B (with vernal points corresponding to 10 degrees and 8 degrees Aries respectively), apparently originating in Babylonian astronomy at two different points in history. From these two popular systems all Ephemerides were calculated and used dutifully by astrologers of all stripes, including Greeks who learned of astrology from the Babylonians.

Per Otto Neugebauer & H B Hoesen, Greek Horoscopes (1959), the 2nd century CE astrologer/astronomer Claudius Ptolemy (see his Almagest) championed Hipparchus' tropical zodiac because of its value for explaining astronomical observations. This appealed to his not-inconsiderable astronomical interests.

However, when discussing horoscopes related to his astrological subjects (see his Tetrabiblos), Ptolemy actually expressed the positions of planets using one of two popular fixed Sidereal zodiacs (system A & system B) mentioned above. The other major writer of the same general period, Vettius Valens, also used one of these two Sidereal Zodiacs.

Maybe it is just me, but it seems that Ptolemy was not aware that there was a difference between Hipparchus' tropical zodiac and the earlier sidereal zodiacs.

Apparently, the full significance of the difference between the seasonal start of the tropical zodiac and the fixed starts of sidereal zodiacs was not realized until much later, like 17th century CE later.

So, in summary, Hipparchus did NOT discover "precession" but did define a tropical zodiac based on the vernal point. All astrology, on the other hand, appeared to be computed from the POV of sidereal zodiacs using popular ephemerides and interpolated for differing clima using Theon's "Handy Tables," among others.

DCH

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Re: What is the oldest reference to astrological ages of Aries / Pisces / etc?

Post by Peter Kirby » Sun Oct 15, 2017 2:19 am

DCHindley wrote:
Sat Oct 14, 2017 11:15 pm
However, when discussing horoscopes related to his astrological subjects (see his Tetrabiblos), Ptolemy actually expressed the positions of planets using one of two popular fixed Sidereal zodiacs (system A & system B) mentioned above. The other major writer of the same general period, Vettius Valens, also used one of these two Sidereal Zodiacs.
This is all very interesting! I feel that I should point out, though, that none of it addresses the OP's question.

"Who first had the idea to take the thousands of years for the full precession of the equinoxes, divide into twelve segments and call them "astrological ages"? Does anyone know of an ancient reference? (Before AD 500 or so?) Medieval? Anything?"

It's okay if you had no intention of answering the OP's question, but I wanted to be sure that the question that motivated the thread is understood (by anyone else, also).
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown

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Re: What is the oldest reference to astrological ages of Aries / Pisces / etc?

Post by DCHindley » Sun Oct 15, 2017 8:42 am

Peter Kirby wrote:
Sun Oct 15, 2017 2:19 am
DCHindley wrote:
Sat Oct 14, 2017 11:15 pm
However, when discussing horoscopes related to his astrological subjects (see his Tetrabiblos), Ptolemy actually expressed the positions of planets using one of two popular fixed Sidereal zodiacs (system A & system B) mentioned above. The other major writer of the same general period, Vettius Valens, also used one of these two Sidereal Zodiacs.
This is all very interesting! I feel that I should point out, though, that none of it addresses the OP's question.

"Who first had the idea to take the thousands of years for the full precession of the equinoxes, divide into twelve segments and call them "astrological ages"? Does anyone know of an ancient reference? (Before AD 500 or so?) Medieval? Anything?"

It's okay if you had no intention of answering the OP's question, but I wanted to be sure that the question that motivated the thread is understood (by anyone else, also).
Well, it seems that I didn't get what you intended from the OP. You talked about Hipparchus and precession and who came up with the idea of astrological ages that correspond to the 12 divisions of the zodiac. I just pointed out that Hipparchus did not invent the concept of "precession," but rather calculated the vernal point and used that as a starting point for a tropical zodiac. IMHO the concept was not known in antiquity, so there could not be any "astrological ages" connected to the signs of the zodiac. They did sometimes propose cycles of various kinds to explain variances between positions calculated based on circular orbits and observed positions.

The idea of astrological ages seems to be a modern astrological construct projected back into the past, but since Fagan/Firebrace are modern astrologers (not astronomers) they may know where to find ancient "proof texts" that confirm the ancients shared their belief in astrological ages. My guess, the origins were in the medieval period, and I know that Fagan/Firebrace discuss persons of influence in this period through the enlightenment, at least as it had to do with discovering "houses". They had a lot to say about Precession and Astrological Ages, so I am sure the inventor(s) of these ages came up somewhere.

I just don't know where my copy has gone. My library is all over the place and one shelf has even collapsed - a year ago!). If I find it I'll let you know, unless you can find a used copy for sale (it was reprinted in 2008).

DCH

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Re: What is the oldest reference to astrological ages of Aries / Pisces / etc?

Post by Peter Kirby » Sun Oct 15, 2017 12:39 pm

Okay, thanks.
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Re: What is the oldest reference to astrological ages of Aries / Pisces / etc?

Post by lsayre » Thu Oct 19, 2017 12:48 pm

There is good information here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astrological_age

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