Page:EB1911 - Volume 02.djvu/844

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ASTROLOGY

among cattle, in a third bad crops—not necessarily because these events actually took place after such a phenomenon, but by an application of the general principle resting upon association of ideas whereby anything premature would suggest an unfavourable occurrence. A thin halo seen above the new moon was pictured as a cap, and the association between this and the symbol of royalty, which was a conical-shaped cap, led to interpreting the phenomenon as an indication that the ruler would have a successful reign. In this way a mass of traditional interpretation of all kinds of observed phenomena was gathered, and once gathered became a guide to the priests for all times.

Astrology in this its earliest stage is, however, marked by two characteristic limitations. In the first place, the movements and position of the heavenly bodies point to such occurrences as are of public import and affect the general welfare. The individual’s interests are not in any way involved, and we must descend many centuries and pass beyond the confines of Babylonia and Assyria before we reach that phase which in medieval and modern astrology is almost exclusively dwelt upon—genethliology or the individual horoscope. In Babylonia and Assyria the cult centred largely and indeed almost exclusively in the public welfare and the person of the king, because upon his well-being and favour with the gods the fortunes of the country were dependent in accordance with the ancient conception of kingship (see J. G. Frazer, The Early History of Kingship). To some extent, the individual came in for his share in the incantations and in the purification ritual through which one might hope to rid oneself of the power of the demons and of other evil spirits, but outside of this the important aim of the priests was to secure for the general benefit the favour of the gods, or, as a means of preparing oneself for what the future had in store, to ascertain in time whether that favour would be granted in any particular instance or would be continued in the future. Hence in “liver” divination, as in astrology, the interpretations of the signs noted all have reference to public affairs and events and not to the individual’s needs or desires. In the second place, the astronomical knowledge presupposed and accompanying early Babylonian astrology is essentially of an empirical character. While in a general way the reign of law and order in the movements of the heavenly bodies was recognized, and indeed must have exercised an influence at an early period in leading to the rise of a methodical divination that was certainly of a much higher order than the examination of an animal’s liver, yet the importance that was laid upon the endless variations in the form of the phenomena and the equally numerous apparent deviations from what were regarded as normal conditions, prevented for a long time the rise of any serious study of astronomy beyond what was needed for the purely practical purposes that the priests as “inspectors” of the heavens (as they were also the “inspectors” of the sacrificial livers) had in mind. True, we have, probably as early as the days of Khammurabi, i.e. c. 2000 B.C., the combinations of prominent groups of stars with outlines of pictures fantastically put together, but there is no evidence that prior to 700 B.C. more than a number of the constellations of our zodiac had become part of the current astronomy. The theory of the ecliptic as representing the course of the sun through the year, divided among twelve constellations with a measurement of 30° to each division, is also of Babylonian origin, as has now been definitely proved; but it does not appear to have been perfected until after the fall of the Babylonian empire in 539 B.C. Similarly, the other accomplishments of Babylonian astronomers, such as their system or rather systems of moon calculations and the drawing up of planetary tablets, belong to this late period, so that the golden age of Babylonian astronomy belongs not to the remote past, as was until recently supposed, but to the Seleucid period, i.e. after the advent of the Greeks in the Euphrates Valley. From certain expressions used in astrological texts that are earlier than the 7th century B.C. it would appear, indeed, that the beginnings at least of the calculation of sun and moon eclipses belong to the earlier period, but here, too, the chief work accomplished was after 400 B.C., and the defectiveness of early Babylonian astronomy may be gathered from the fact that as late as the 6th century B.C. an error of almost an entire month was made by the Babylonian astronomers in the attempt to determine through calculation the beginning of a certain year.

The researches of Bouché-Leclercq, Cumont and Boll have enabled us to fix with a considerable degree of definiteness the middle of the 4th century B.C. as the period when Babylonian astrology began its triumphal march to the west, invading the domain of Greek and Roman culture and destined to exercise a strong hold on all nations and groups—more particularly in Egypt—that came within the sphere of Greek and Roman influence. It is rather significant that this spread of astrology should have been concomitant with the intellectual impulse that led to the rise of a genuine scientific phase of astronomy in Babylonia itself, which must have weakened to some extent the hold that astrology had on the priests and the people. The advent of the Persians, bringing with them a conception of religion of a far higher order than Babylonian-Assyrian polytheism (see Zoroaster), must also have acted as a disintegrating factor in leading to the decline of the old faith in the Euphrates Valley, and we thus have the interesting though not entirely exceptional phenomenon of a great civilization bequeathing as a legacy to posterity a superstition instead of a real achievement. “Chaldaean wisdom” became among Greeks and Romans the synonym of divination through the planets and stars, and it is not surprising that in the course of time to be known as a “Chaldaean” carried with it frequently the suspicion of charlatanry and of more or less wilful deception. The spread of astrology beyond Babylonia is thus concomitant with the rise of a truly scientific astronomy in Babylonia itself, which in turn is due to the intellectual impulse afforded by the contact with new forms of culture from both the East and the West.

In the hands of the Greeks and of the later Egyptians both astrology and astronomy were carried far beyond the limits attained by the Babylonians, and it is indeed a matter of surprise to observe the harmonious combination of the two fields—a harmony that seems to grow more complete with each age, and that is not broken until we reach the threshold of modern science in the 16th century. To the Greek astronomer Hipparchus belongs the credit of the discovery (c. 130 B.C.) of the theory of the precession of the equinoxes, for a knowledge of which among the Babylonians we find no definite proof; but such a signal advance in pure science did not prevent the Greeks from developing in a most elaborate manner the theory of the influence of the planets upon the fate of the individual. The endeavour to trace the horoscope of the individual from the position of the planets and stars at the time of birth (or, as was attempted by other astrologers, at the time of conception) represents the most significant contribution of the Greeks to astrology. The system was carried to such a degree of perfection that later ages made but few additions of an essential character to the genethliology or drawing up of the individual horoscope by the Greek astrologers. The system was taken up almost bodily by the Arab astronomers, it was embodied in the Kabbalistic lore of Jews and Christians, and through these and other channels came to be the substance of the astrology of the middle ages, forming, as already pointed out, under the designation of “judicial astrology,” a pseudo-science which was placed on a perfect footing of equality with “natural astrology” or the more genuine science of the study of the motions and phenomena of the heavenly bodies.

Partly in further development of views unfolded in Babylonia, but chiefly under Greek influences, the scope of astrology was enlarged until it was brought into connexion with practically all of the known sciences, botany, chemistry, zoology, mineralogy, anatomy and medicine. Colours, metals, stones, plants, drugs and animal life of all kinds were associated with the planets and placed under their tutelage. In the system that passes under the name of Ptolemy, Saturn is associated with grey, Jupiter with white, Mars with red, Venus with yellow, while Mercury, occupying a peculiar place in Greek as it did in Babylonian astrology (where it was at one time designated as the planet par excellence), was supposed to vary its colour according to changing