Cultural Vistas

Massimiliano Franci (CAMNES – Firenze)

Astrology and its myths do not really belong to the astronomical world of the ancient Egyptians. Despite this, having already been considered the place of wonders par excellence since ancient times, Egypt has become the cradle for all kinds of occult science, thanks to a consolidated and uncritical faith in the profound wisdom of its priests. Unfortunately in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, this misunderstanding assumed enormous proportions. Pico Della Mirandola in his Disputationes ad versus astrologiam divinatricem reduced Egyptian knowledge almost to divinatory astrology alone and underlines 'how far those who in Egypt drew auspices from the stables in Egypt go away from the truth'. But Pico could no longer read the Egyptian papyri, otherwise, by scrolling through the so-called Teaching of Ani (1300 BCE) he would have known how the inhabitants of the land of the Nile related to oracles: 'make offerings to God and be careful not to offend him. Do not question the images of him and do not get too close to him when he appears in the procession, do not get close to him to carry him and do not disturb the oracle he renders'. And again in the Teaching of Amenemope of the first millennium BCE: 'Do not fall asleep in fear of tomorrow: At dawn, what will it be like tomorrow? Man does not know what tomorrow will be like'. The exhortation was to face tomorrow regardless of what it could bring with itself. The few Egyptian astronomical documents discovered, show how they were more interested in the practical use of astronomical information and only secondarily in their mythological function.

Cristian Tolsa (Barcelona)

The Tensions between Astronomy and Astrology in the Hellenistic World

The link between astrology and astronomy in Greek and Graeco-Roman culture is far from clear. Most famously, Claudius Ptolemy (second century) prioritized mathematical astronomy for reasons of epistemological certainty at the beginning of his astrological work (the so-called Tetrabiblos), but his painstaking explanation reveals that this matter was not settled among the various kinds of practitioners. The astrologer Vettius Valens for one in some passages of his Anthologies characterizes astrological methods as more precise than astronomical tables and procedures, exaggerating the importance of the inevitable small discrepancies between astronomical models and observations and at the same time minimizing the arbitrary nature of astrological procedures. More generally, astronomical procedures necessary for astrological practice are rarely discussed in astrological manuals, which gives the impression that astrologers placed themselves at a distance from astronomers. On the other hand, some astronomers at the time when astrology took off in Hellenistic Egypt appear to have rejected the new practice (Cicero, De divinatione). My aim is to explore the implications of these tensions for the ancient conceptualization of the two doctrines and their interactions, as well as, hopefully, to compare the situation in the Hellenistic milieu with other astronomical/astrological cultures.