As will have been obvious in the previous chapter, there are glimpses of a different world from our own to be found in the predictions of the astrological treatises. In this chapter I will be looking at some examples of such glimpses, considering which social contexts are evoked and the extent to which the treatises faithfully reflect the world around them.
The first problem is to determine the time and place of the social context. One scholar extracted as much evidence as possible from the standard astrological texts, which reached their final form in Byzantine times, in order to help reconstruct the world of the clergy in Egyptian temples of the Ptolemaic era. 1 Others have referred the same evidence to the Roman Empire. 2 The problem is due to the conservative nature of astrology: it is clear from even the few texts that we have that some sections were preserved in recognisable form over hundreds of years.
For a start, there are traces of Babylonian texts. When we find a term like ‘satrap’, 3 it reflects no Greco-Roman political scene, but that of the Persian empire. There are a number of texts which depend on Babylonian models 4 but have been adapted to suit local conditions. Some of the material in the first book of Hephaestion is most plausibly dated to the Hellenistic period. For instance, in a passage on eclipses and comets, reference is made to spelt, which was no longer cultivated in the Roman period. A prediction is made of a barbarian expedition against the Greeks bringing disorder to Macedonia and death in combat to the chiefs, which most plausibly relates to the years 280-275 BCE. And another eclipse mentioned seems