The Astrological Story
Western astrology as we know it today appeared as first Mesopotamian, then Greek, astral divination with some Eygptian influences. The planets and prominent stars, identified as divinities in ways that have remained extraordinarily stable over time, were omens conveying the will of the gods, largely in response to royal concerns. The origins of many key elements of the astrological tradition – the planetary identities, zodiacal signs, risings and settings, etc. – developed between its origins around 2000 BCE and the fifth century BCE, when natal astrology first appeared. The same period saw an effort to systematize divination through what we would now view as astronomical and empirical observations.
This astrology was then affected by Greek geometric and kinetic models, which added the aspects, or angles of separation between planets and points, and emphasized the importance of the horoscopos or Ascendant, the degree of the sign rising on the eastern horizon. (The first known horoscopic nativity dates from 4 BCE.) Astrology also interacted significantly with Empedoclean elements, Aristotelian cosmology, Hippocratic humours and (slightly later) Galenic temperaments. The general movement – especially as influenced by Ptolemy (c.100–170 CE) in his Tetrabiblos – was in the direction of a more universal and systematic application to any individual or event. At the same time, however, the ancient astrological interrogation of the stars qua divine will in relation to human desires met with and mutually strengthened Greek practices of katarche and Roman aurispicium and augurium, giving rise to horary astrology – the practice of seeking (and sometimes finding) the answer to a question in a map of the heavens for the moment it is asked, or received. Persistently insusceptible to a ‘rational’ explication, it has commonly been disowned even by most astrologers (see Curry 1989; Cornelius 2003 ).
Astrology played an increasingly important role in Roman life, although largely in populist and overtly political contexts. One response was a capable critique by Cicero, but a more fruitful course followed in the wake of Alexander the Great’s conquests, whereby Greek astrology spread to Persia and throughout Eastern Asia as far as India, where it interacted with local cosmo-religious knowledge to produce