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Typo in Ptolomy's Terms according to Lilly?

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Joined: 09 Jul 2012
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Location: Scottish Borders

Posted: Fri Aug 03, 2012 6:42 am    Post subject: Typo in Ptolomy's Terms according to Lilly? Reply with quote

High-Lord Clinton Garrett Soule recently brought up an interesting point regarding errors in the table of essential dignities in Christian Astrology, which coincidentally is a matter I have been looking at recently.

My own enquiry came about when I was reading Partridges (Vace Mecum) definition of Peregrine, in which he states that, "a planet it peregrine when he is in a sign and degree where he hath no essential dignity, as Mars in 26 degrees of Gemini is peregrine because he hath no dignity there &c" Now, if you go to the table of essential dignities according to Ptolomy as printed in CA, it will be seen that Mars has Term in 26 degrees of Gemini.

Interestingly enough, the table of essential dignities according to Ptolomy as printed in Partridge is exactly the same as in Lilly. And Coley too comes to that. So, Partridge chose an example for peregrination that was not actually correct.


If you look at the tables of essential dignities in Ptolomy's Tetrabiblos (the so called "Egyptian" table and his own) it can be seen that the Terms in Gemini for Mars and Saturn are transposed compared to the table printed in CA. If Partridge had been looking at this original table, his example would have been correct.

I wondered if perhaps Lilly's table was taken from a different MS of Tetrabiblos than was used by Robbins for the Loeb edition, but the table in the Ashmand translation of Proclus' paraphrase of the Ptolomy original has the same terms for Saturn and Mars in Gemini.

All the ancient texts from around the era of Ptolomy or earlier have other differences from each other, but would appear to agree that Saturn follows Mars having Terms in Gemini. So, did Lilly, or his printer, make an error which was propagated on by later authors and/or their printers? Or did Lilly lift his version of Ptolomy's Terms from a source nearer to his own time?

I would be grateful for some enlightenment on this matter.

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Posted: Fri Aug 03, 2012 1:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Geoffrey,

Have you looked at the annotated Lilly on this site?

In a footnote the editor Deborah Houlding mentions other sources consistent with Lilly. I fear that you will not find a right answer to this one as no one appears to know the rationale behind it all but good luck anyway.


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Posted: Sun Aug 05, 2012 6:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thankyou Matthew, that was very enlightening indeed. It seems that Deborah Houlding has, with great diligence, run this particular rabbit to earth as far as it may be done

As you say Matthew, the problem with the Terms is that the scheme by which the order is derived is obscure and commentators from Ptolomy onwards have struggled to make sense of them. Deborah Houlding, in her excellent and scholarly paper "Ptolomy's Terms and Conditions", has a determined tilt at making sense of the order of the Terms and comments (on page 31) "....I believe that this single inconsistent detail (Venus following Jupiter in the Terms of Leo) probably is revealing genuine error in transmission, but I leave this as an assumption which can only be verified against other ancient sources as and when they come to light."

And here I may be able to bring some light!

Just last year a translation of two cuneiform tablets held at the British Museum turned out to be a partial table of the Terms. These tablets are from Babylon and date from around the 4th century BCE, so very shortly after the equal signed zodiac as we know it was developed. These tablets thus represent the very earliest record we have of the Terms, which is well known to have had their origins in Babylon, rather than Egypt as Ptolomy stated.

In brief, I give the Terms below as listed. I miss out the degrees as they are only partly intelligible. I trust the abbreviations are obvious.

Ar: JU, VE, ME, SA, MA
Ta: VE, ME, JU, SA, MA
Ge: ME, JU, VE, MA, SA
Ca: MA, VE, ME, JU, SA
Le: JU, VE, SA, ME, MA
Vi: VE, ME, JU, MA, SA
Li: SA, ME, JU, VE, MA
Sc: MA, VE, ..............

This table verifies Venus following Jupiter in the Terms of Leo. And, Saturn follows Mars at the end of the Terms of Gemini. There are, however, a number of other differences from the tables of Terms given by Ptolomy.

I have had a brief stab at coming up with a scheme which delivers this table. This is not the place to go into detail, but I have been reasonably successful by considering the five rows of the table to be an expression of the five dignities taken in order. The order starts with the Triplicities (day and night), followed by Exaltations, Sign, Fall and Detriment. They are arranged according to rules which closely follow those outlined by Deborah Houlding, but with a few notable differences.

My scheme does not reproduce the table completely however, and I wonder if the Babylonians threw the Normal Stars into the mix. The Normal Stars were important in Babylonian astrology/astronomy at this time, and I would expect a scheme of Terms to reflect the positions of the Normal Stars in the Zodiac by virtue of the properties they would have in terms of a particular planet. They would possibly fill these in first, and then arrange the order of planets around them.

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