Skyscript home page


Bethem's Centiloquium
   Transcribed and annotated by Deborah Houlding

'Bethem' is the name by which the 10th-century astrologer Muhammad ibn Jabir Al-Battani (a.k.a. Albategnius,c.850-929) is commonly referred to in Latin astrological works. He was reportedly born at Harran, a major city of ancient Mesopotamia which lies on the Balikh River, close to Urfa, in Turkey today, the son of Jabir ibn Sinan al-Harrani who had an esteemed reputation as an instrument maker in Harran. He grew up to become the leading astronomer and mathematician of his time.

Amongst his astronomical achievements he is remembered for creating improved tables of the solar and lunar motion, measuring the eccentricity of Earth's orbit and the inclination of Earth's equator to its orbital plane, and establishing the more accurate length of the year used in the Gregorian calendar. He is also remembered for introducing the use of signs in mathematics. Given his reputation for genius, it is unsurprising that he ranks with Ptolemy and the legendary Hermes for having a well known centiloquium of aphorisms attached to his name.

The Fihrist (Index) of al-Nadim, compiled in the 10th century to give an account of important works available at the time, mentions several important astronomical and astrological texts by Al-Battani, describing him as:

... one of the famous observers and a leader in geometry, theoretical and practical astronomy, and astrology. He composed a work on astronomy, with tables, containing his own observations of the sun and moon and a more accurate description of their motions than that given in Ptolemy's 'Almagest'. In it moreover, he gives the motions of the five planets, with the improved observations he succeeded in making, as well as other necessary astronomical calculations. Some of his observations mentioned in his book of tables were made in the year 880 and later on in the year 900. Nobody is known in Islam who reached similar perfection in observing the stars and scrutinising their motions. Apart from this, he took great interest in astrology, which led him to write on this subject too: of his compositions in this field I mention his commentary on Ptolemy's 'Tetrabiblos'.

It is not known when and where this collection of aphorisms was first published, but David Juste's introduction to the Latin text (available as a pdf file on the Warburg website) informs us that the tract is identical with the De consuetudinibus of Abraham ibn Ezra (ca. 1090-1167) and often occurs in manuscripts together with other astrological texts of Abraham ibn Ezra translated from a French version by Peter of Abano (1257-ca. 1315).

Henry Coley's English translation (reproduced here) contains many inserted comments, most of which have been identified in the footnotes. John Partridge also published a his own English translation, but this is so similar to that of Coley's, including the inserted comments, that it appears to be nothing more than a republication of Coley's.

Bethem's Centiloquium Englished.

1. We will begin this book according to the custom used in the judgment of the stars.

2.Thou mayest know, when a planet is retrograde, he is as a man infirm, stupefied and solicitous.

3. If cadent, he is as a man dead, and hath no motion.

4. If combust, as a man in prison, without hope of liberty.

5. If stationary to retrogradation, as a healthful man receding from health; yet there is hope of recovery remaining.

6. If Stationary to direction, as a sick man amending.

7. If besieged, as a man fearful between two enemies (i.e.) when between the two infortunes.

8. A planet between Jupiter and Venus, is as a man pleasant and free from want and trouble.

9. If aspected of the infortunes from the fourth house, as a man on whom death is approaching.

10. A planet in aspect of his enemy, as a man fearing to be trapanned[1] or betrayed.

11. A planet in conjunction of an infortune, is as one fighting with his enemy.

12. A planet in conjunction of a fortune, is as one in his friend's embraces.

13. A planet in another's house who rules the same trigon, is as a man in the house of his friend.

14. Cadent from house or exaltation, he is as one absent from his abode.

15. A planet in his house or exaltation, is as one in his castle or strong hold.

16. If there retrograde, he is as a sick man at home.

17. If combust in his own house,[2] he is as a man confined thereto by his king.

18. If in his own dignity and cadent, as a man vexed and fearful.

19. Fortunate planets retrograde are unfortunate: if cadent from angles, or their houses, &c. as one hoping for good but misses it.

20. A fortune retrograde with an infortune strengthens the infortune's nature but abates the worth of his own.

21. An infortune in his own house direct, and there joined to a fortune, his malignancy shall turn to good.

22. A planet in the last degree of a sign is as one falling from his estate.

23. A planet in the first degrees of a sign, he is but weak in signification.

24. From the first degree to the fifteenth, a planet is rising; but from the 15th to the 25th, he is complete in strength.

25. A planet in the last five degrees of a sign, is as a man leaving his house.

26. An earthy planet in the ascendant strong, argues good in any thing, i.e., a planet ruling the earthy triplicity.[3]

27. A planet not in his own house [is] as a man knocking at another's door, and his signification is to be slighted, he having no power in that place.

28. When planets are with the sun, their significations and power are abated & much lessened thereby.

29. When planets are in the last degrees of a sign retrograde, their judgments are transmitted, their light lessened, and their strength and glory abated.

30. A planet seven degrees distant from the Sun in his own house, retrograde, is as a man in his castle in the power of his enemy, striving to abandon slavery.[4]

31. A planet in the house of his enemy, is as a man in such a condition; viz., a real prisoner.

32. A planet in his own house, free from affliction, declares the perfection of the question, or thing interrogated.

33. The Moon separating from a planet shows what is past.

34. But applying to one, denotes what is to come.

35. If she be separating from Saturn in any question, she shows sorrow, discord, trouble.

36. If from Jupiter, mirth, pleasure, wealth, and good fortune, &c.

37. If from Mars, contention, strife, bloodshed, bonds, false-witness, &c.

38. If from the Sun, she signifies sicknesses, cares, fears, imprisonments, &c.

39. If from Venus, then judge lust, sport, laughter, dancing, singing, &c.

40. If from Mercury, judge according as mercury is posited.[5]

41. The Moon applying to a planet shows things to come, according to as her application is with them.

42. The Moon fortunate in the morning,[6] the querent's business prospers the better all day long; one born then, will be fortunate, &c.

43. But if she be unfortunate in the morning, it shows corruption of the question, &c. He that is then born, dies quickly; or will be sickly. [7]

44. The Moon in conjunction with Saturn, usually proves an ill day for every work, &c.

45. The Moon in conjunction with Jupiter, is observed to be a good day for all things in general.

46. The Moon in conjunction with Mars, is unfortunate for every purpose, as has been experienced.

47. The Moon in conjunction with the Sun, is fit for private business; he that then falls sick, dies. [8]

48. The Moon in conjunction with Venus, 'tis a good day, chiefly in love matters.

49. The Moon in conjunction with Mercury, 'tis a good day; chiefly for contracts and writings.

50. The Moon in opposition to Saturn, a bad day in all things, especially to Saturnine people.

51. The Moon in opposition to Jupiter, laudable in all things, (vix credo) for oppositions rarely produce good effects. [9]

52. The Moon in opposition to Mars, begin nothing of weight that day, for no good can be expected.

53. The Moon in opposition of the Sun, good in no manner of work or business, therefore to be avoided.

54. The Moon in opposition of Venus, a laudable day in all things (vix credo). The contrary often happens, especially to women. [10]

55. The Moon in opposition to Mercury, shows a good day for every work. Not for contracts I'm sure. Let them be excepted. [11]

56. The Moon in square of Saturn, is a bad day; chiefly in meeting with kings and great persons. Let not noble and eminent men then take journeys, for they will prove ill. The sick man will hardly escape, that is, taking sick at such at time.

57. The Moon in square of Jupiter is a good day in access to great men, to attain friends. But in trine to Jupiter is much better.
58. The Moon in quartile of Mars is unfortunate in all things; chiefly contending with great men, [and] in marriage. The sick man dies or bleeds that then falls sick.

59. The Moon in quartile to the Sun, is good to manage the affairs of great persons, but the trine aspect must be preferred before it.

60. The Moon in quartile to Venus is good in all things, chiefly in love matters. These aphorisms must be warily understood.[12]

61. The Moon in quartile of Mercury is a good day to merchandize, study, or converse with kings, &c.

62. The Moon in sextile of Saturn is good to converse with ancient people, or to begin any work of a Saturnine nature.

63. The Moon in sextile of Jupiter, good to settle things, and to do justice, to marry, &c.

64. The Moon in sextile of Mars, is good to fight an enemy, to reduce or divide an army.

65. The Moon in sextile to the Sun, is a good day to manage the affairs of great persons.

66. The Moon in sextile of Venus, is excellent in all things, chiefly in love-matters.

67. The Moon in sextile of Mercury, is a singular good day for contracts, agreements, merchandizing.

68. The Moon in trine of Saturn, is a good day to talk to magistrates; to build, till, &c.

69. The Moon in trine of Jupiter, is a good day in all things; but principally to meet kings, judges, lawyers, &c.

70. The Moon in trine of Mars, is a good day to begin war & end controversies; to hunt or converse with martialists.

71. The Moon in trine of the Sun, is a day good to meet kings, princes, & nobles, or court or to petition their favour, &c.

72. The Moon in trine of Venus, is good for every thing, chiefly in marriage-matters and all love affairs.

73. The Moon in trine of Mercury, good to converse with lawyers, scribes, secretaries, &c.

74. Saturn in the ascendant hurts the question, and when retrograde there he destroys it.[13]

75. Saturn in the tenth house, he destroys the most hopeful things, let it be in a nativity or question.

76. Saturn in the seventh, oft changes the business, and brings mischief to it by some means or other.

77. Saturn in the fourth, shows an unhappy end of every business, though carried on with much care and pains.

78. What Saturn bindeth, Jupiter dissolveth.

79. The like doth Venus, in what Mars bindeth.

80. The Moon separating from Jupiter or Venus, undoes what's bound by Mercury, in any nativity, question or election.

81. The three superior planets in opposition of the Sun, corrupt and hinder the question.

82. Saturn in quartile of the Sun, shows a good progress; but a bad end of a thing.

83. Saturn in quartile or opposition of Jupiter, dissolves oppression and violence threatened.

84. Saturn in conjunction, quartile or opposition of Mars, prohibits mirth, impedes or destroys the question though never so hopeful.

85. Saturn in conjunction, quartile or opposition of Venus in the tenth, the question then propounded aims at dishonesty.

86. Saturn in conjunction, quartile or opposition of Mercury destroys the question, makes things that are impertinent and idle, more impertinent and idle.

87. Jupiter in conjunction, quartile or opposition of Saturn, hinders his evil portended, and turns it to good.

88. Jupiter in conjunction, quartile or opposition of Mars hinders the force of generation and corruption.

89. If he be in conjunction, quartile or opposition of Venus, shows the aptness of the question and its good end.

90.If he be in conjunction, quartile or opposition of Mercury, the business inquired after comes to a good end, with an addition to what the querent expects.

91. The infortunes in the ascendant or second house strong, shows the querent's fortune to be transmitted from evil to good. Understand the same both in nativities and questions.[14]

92. But if in those houses unfortunate, it is then changed from good to evil, which must be left to the astrologer's judgement to determine.

93. Tis the same when they are posited in any of the other angles. An ingenious artist knows how to apply these.

94. The lord of the ascendant in the via combusta, the question is corrupted. The combust way is from 15d. of Libra to 15d. of Scorpio.[15]

95. An infortune in the tenth or fourth from the ascendant of the question, obscures the matter or thing quesited, and the querent shall tremble (says Bethem) to think of the evil attending it.

96. An infortune in the ascendant or second, fortunate, portends the business to answer the querent's desire; but shows him to reap small gain thereby.

97. If in the same houses unfortunate, it denotes the matter or thing enquired after will come to nought.

98. Few degrees horoscopical,[16] and the lord of the ascendant in the ninth or sixth[17] descending, the querent never obtains the thing he expects; the fortunes cadent and infortunes angular, the same.

99. A planet signifying any matter, evilly disposed at the time of the querent's first moving, the same. [It] denotes a vexatious and unhappy end to the thing required; if well disposed, judge the contrary.

100. When the significator of a thing is in reception, or good aspect of an infortune in an angle, the querent's business then may be accomplished; but he usually takes away what he gives hopes of at the last. The knowledge of reception is, when a planet shall be in the house or exaltation of another [and that other in his], and both of them there free from the beams of the infortunes.[18]

[ - Here Ends the Hundred Aphorisms of Bethem - ]

Notes & References:

  1 ] Trapanned - ensnared by trickery.
Back to text

  2 ] The Latin text says house or exaltation.
Back to text

  3 ] The text which follows 'i.e.' is Coley's interpolation which should be treated with caution; in fact his translation of this whole aphorism may be unreliable. The Latin word translated as 'earthy', agrestis, may mean earthy or rustic, but it could also mean feral or wild, an astrological term applied to unaspected planets. The Latin text reads Planeta agrestis in ascendente, in quo habet auctoritatem...
'... planet in the ascendant, which has authority/rulership ...'. There is no mention of triplicities in the Latin manuscript reproduced on the Warburg website.
Back to text

  4 ] That is, the planet (and not the Sun) is in its own house/sign. This aphorism provides a telling point upon the current debate of whether a planet in its own sign suffers the effect of combustion.
Back to text

  5 ] Because Mercury is adaptable, and in signification is influenced by its environment and the planets it is in aspect with.
Back to text

  6 ] The root of the word 'morning' is the same as that of 'rising' so this aphorism may have originally held connections to the traditional view that the Moon is unfortunately placed in the ascendant. Also note the following footnote.
Back to text

  7 ] Aphorisms 42 and 43 together bear a resemblance to the 7th aphorism recorded by Ibn Ezra, and may be an attempt to capture the essence of the same principle:

'On the day when the Moon is with the baleful planets, nothing which one may ask will be completed properly if there is a planet in the ascending sign; if the Moon should be in one of the poles of the meridian, then it is worse, because it forecasts fear in mind and sickness in body; if it should be in the falling [cadent] houses, it indicates fear but not sickness'.

The 120 Aphorisms of Ezra are reproduced online at
Back to text

  8 ] By 'private business' secret business is meant rather than personal affairs. The Moon conjunct the Sun is combust; ie - a New Moon, generally considered good for things which need to be kept secret, but debilitating for most other things.
Back to text

  9 ] Vix credo - 'I scarcely believe it': this, and the rest of the aphorism is added by Coley to show his disagreement.
Back to text

  10 ] The comment 'Viz credo. The contrary often happens, especially to women' is an addition by Coley - the Latin text reads: Quando Veneti, dies laudibilis in omni opera, praecipue in coitu, et rebus mulieru, quaerendo amicitias & societares earu, reverti muliere separate bonu, aptu etia e iter agere. 'When [the Moon is in opposition] of Venus, the day is good for all things, especially for love making and women's things, questions of friends and societies ...'
Back to text

  11 ] Added by Coley. The Latin text describes this day as media rather than laudabilis, suggesting a middling or moderate day rather than a good one.
Back to text

  12 ] Added by Coley, who finds it hard to believe that the Moon's square to Venus is good for all things. By 'warily understood' he means that those aphorisms which he has commented should be treated with caution.
Back to text

  13 ] An early reference to one of the classic 'considerations before judgement'.
Back to text

  14 ] The Latin text explains this and the following aphorism differently: The change of fortune, from bad to good, is expected where there is a fortunate planet in the 1st house and an infortune in the 2nd.
Back to text

  15 ] The definition of the area of the Via Combusta is not specified in the Latin text.
Back to text

  16 ] That is, on the ascendant. This is another aphorism that has influenced the commonly known 'Considerations before Judgement'.
Back to text

  17 ] The Latin text says 6th or 12th, which seems more logical.
Back to text

  18 ] The definition of what reception is does not appear in the Latin text.
Back to text


© Deborah Houlding, 2007.

More Astrology Texts