The History of Astrology -- Another View
by Robert Hand
What did the Egyptians add to Babylonian astrology? We cannot say for certain,
but internal evidence indicates the following. The use of a rising degree may
or may not have been found in pre-Hellenistic Babylonian astrology. But the
Hellenistic writers attributed the use of houses, or signs used as houses to
Hermes. For Hermes we should understand a reference to Hellenistic Egyptian
sources. It is probable that aspects are also Egyptian but we cannot say for
certain. The lots are almost certainly Egyptian as well as most of the systems
of rulership. Only the exaltations have a clearly Mesopotamian origin.
At any rate it is quite likely that the entire apparatus of horoscopic
astrology was in place by 1 C.E., quite possibly several centuries earlier.
One of things that we have found in our studies of the later Greek writers is
that they are already dealing with a later era of astrology. They have their
"ancients" and they have already begun to misunderstand some of the ancient
teachings. One of these writers, Vettius Valens, actually went traveling
through Egypt looking for masters of the old traditions, much like modern
Americans have gone to India to study astrology and various sacred teachings.
While most of the Greek writers seemed to have studied from books, Valens
studied with at least a few living teachers of the old traditions. And it is
clear from his work that much of what they taught would never have been
written down but for Valens.
What Happened Next
Whatever may have been the language of Egyptian astrology when it first began
to come into being, by 1 C.E. it was Greek. This is not to say that there were
no astrology texts written in Coptic, the last form of ancient Egyptian, but
no clear reference to any has survived.
All of the Egyptian texts that are referred to in the later literature seem to
have been written in Greek. Possibly some were translations from Coptic. The
use of Greek had important consequences. Although the Persian empire was a
truly cosmopolitan empire with a considerable level of equality among the
races that made up the empire, no one language
came to predominate. No doubt Persian was used for official purposes, but
Babylonian and Egyptian also continued to be used in their own areas in
preference to Persian. But when Alexander the Great conquered all of Persia
and Egypt, and advanced all the way into northwest India, Greek became the
dominant language not only for official purposes, but also for any purpose
that involved communicating from one ethnic area to another. The original
languages continued to be used for local purposes, such as Aramaic (which
completely supplanted Babylonian) and Coptic. But a scholar or traveler could
go anywhere from Greece in the west to India in the east and Egypt in the
south and be understood. Any idea expressed in Greek could have a similar
range of travel.
Even after the Persian revival beginning first with the Parthians and later
with the Sassanids (see chronology given earlier), the Bactrian peoples of
what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan continued to have Greek speaking rulers
until the early centuries C.E. Consequently the Babylonian methods embodied in
Egyptian astrology as well as the Egyptian methods themselves could travel
into India without difficulty. This accounts for the fact that all of the
technical words in Indian astrology whose origins can be found in another
language are Greek, not Babylonian, not Coptic, nor earlier Egyptian. What is
also interesting is that there appear to be few, if any, technical words in
Greek astrology that have their origins in any other language.
Below is a partial list of some of the terms in Hindu astrology that appear to
have a Greek origin.
1. Zodiacal Signs