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'On Airs, Waters and Places'
The Bodily Humours
Hippocratic Principles: A Place in Today's World?
About the Author
Notes and References

This article was published in the Feb./Mar. 2012 edition of the Mountain Astrologer magazine.

Hippocrates, Humours and Temperament-Theory in the Traditional Teachings of Astrology and Medicine by Deborah Houlding

To such a discovery and investigation what more suitable name could one give than that of Medicine? since it was discovered for the health of man, for his nourishment and safety, as a substitute for that kind of diet by which pains, diseases, and deaths were occasioned.
                     - Hippocratic Writings, On Ancient Medicine (IV).1

This quote, attributed to Hippocrates, demonstrates the ancient understanding of what ars medicina, 'the art of medicine', concerns. The term medicina derives from the Latin media, which generally means 'medium' or 'middle', but in this context means 'middle way' - to imply balance, temperance and the avoidance of extreme experiences that are injurious to health. We might think of medicine as something to be taken in tablet-form or administered from a bottle, but the ancient art of medicine was the application of a philosophy, designed to develop harmonious interaction with external influences and the cycles of nature. This involved awareness of environment and lifestyle, and knowledge of how a controlled administration of food could counter physical extremes, restore inner balance, and regain a healthy temperature to the body.

Originally, medicinal philosophy was heavily concerned with the intake of food, and the need to adjust the diet during periods of illness so that an appropriate quantity, as well as type of food could support the altered needs of the body. The Hippocratic Writings deliver strong arguments that if either the quantity or type of food is incorrectly administered, then the body's needs are depleted rather than replenished, and the food will then increase the state of illness, or 'feed the disease'.

For the art of Medicine would not have been invented at first, nor would it have been made a subject of investigation (for there would have been no need of it), if when men are indisposed, the same food and other articles of regimen which they eat and drink when in good health were proper for them, and if no others were preferable to these. (OAM, III.)

The Latin word regimen appears frequently in traditional astrological and medical texts. We find it in medieval and renaissance references to the 'regimen of health', and many texts which take that phrase as their title. Regimen means 'controlled' or 'regulated' and in medical matters it is used interchangeably with the word 'diet' to mean 'daily routine' or 'prescribed way of living', describing a conscious approach to eating with the intention of enhancing bodily function. Similarly, the word 'diet' originates from the Greek word diaita, which anciently held the same meaning as regimen to denote a 'daily allowance'; this primarily referred to food but could also relate to matters of daily hygiene or 'the daily routine'.

In later ages, the approach to medicine lost touch with some of its underlying holistic philosophy. The onus shifted from the patient maintaining a balanced lifestyle and giving ongoing scrutiny to their regimen of health, towards the expectation that the physician would act as a medical crisis attendee, called upon to relieve the pain of accumulated bodily disease. Under this crisis approach, powerful herbal remedies and poisons came to the fore and the matter of the daily diet dropped from focus. This lies at odds with the original Hippocratic quest to discover and rectify the origin of the illness based on the belief that the human body naturally inclines towards health when in a state of emotional and physical balance. This later approach has thrown the emphasis upon the development of manufactured pharmaceuticals, which are often designed to treat the symptom rather than the underlying life-style cause.

The ancient studies of astrology and medicine are not mutually dependent, though the two subjects often integrate with each other, being united in their roots. Although astrologers are not qualified to practice medicine, nor to offer medical advice, an understanding of astrology helps to illuminate the philosophical basis of ancient medicine, whilst the principles of humoral medicine were expected to be understood, as a prerequisite consideration for many of the astrological arguments given in the first and seconds books of Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos. The subtleties of humoral philosophy become evident in the works attributed to the Greek physician Hippocrates, who taught in the late 5th century B.C.E. These pioneering works are well known to have been strongly influential upon the Roman physician Galen in the late 2nd century C.E., though little attention has been given to how the principles were called upon by Galen's contemporary Ptolemy, in his explanation of why mundane astrological influences are affected by the genetic modifications that have developed between the inhabitants of various regions, leading to temperamental differences of culture which need to be kept in mind when individual horoscopes are judged.2


Engraving of bust of Hippocrates (ca. 460-370 BCE) by Peter Paul Rubens, 1638. The only (roughly) contemporary reports of Hippocrates are found in Plato's Dialogues. In 'Phaedrus' Plato reveals Hippocrates' view that the nature of the body must be understood as a whole.3 In 'Protagoras', Plato refers to Hippocrates as an illustrious physician, a teacher of medicine, an Asclepiad, and a native of Cos.4 Cos is the Greek island where Empedocles, a generation before, had founded a medical fraternity and developed the theory that the universe is driven by varying qualities of heat, cold, moisture and dryness.5 The title 'Asclepiad' suggests Hippocrates had taken the Oath of this fraternity, which bound its practitioners to strict medical ethics - this still survives in its ancient form, written in Ionic Greek dating to the 5th century B.C.E.6 The Oath swears by Apollo, the god of healing; by his demi-god son Asclepius (the mythical healer whose snake-entwined staff remains a symbol of medicine)7 and by Asclepius's mythical daughters: Hygeia (health, cleanliness and sanitation) and Panacea (curative medicine: in myth Panacea is the owner of a potion used to heal all ailments, from which the term panacea meaning 'cure all' derives). The Oath is now known as the 'Hippocratic Oath' and is still widely used in medical practice, although its text has been amended over time.

Roman statue (2nd cent.) based on a 4th century BCE Greek statue of Asclepius holding his snake entwined staff, from his sanctuary in Epidauros (Athens Museum). The only extant evidence of the teachings of Hippocrates comes from texts ascribed to him, which started to circulate in the century succeeding his death. The bulk of these was collated into a corpus in the 3rd century. The collection is large, believed to be commingled with works from other authors, but nonetheless demonstrates a prevalent classical philosophy in which illness is not seen as punishment from the gods (as in ancient Babylonian belief) but as the direct result of seasonal and environmental conditions, poor diet and inadequate hygiene. It is from the Hippocratic Aphorisms that we find early expression of the famous dictum used by historical astrologers "Life is short and art is long".8

In The Book of Prognostics Hippocratic philosophy establishes the decumbiture principle of illnesses experiencing regular periods of crisis and intermission, which occur a set number of days after the manifestation of symptoms. For example, we are told that if critical symptoms worsen on the seventh day after commencement (in decumbiture the crisis point of the Moon's square), the patient is in danger of death on the fourteenth day (the Moon's opposition).9 As a general decumbiture principle, the Moon's critical periods, as marked by its square and opposition transits to its place in the decumbiture chart, are considered more critical in acute illnesses than in chronic illnesses. This idea is also present in the Hippocratic Aphorisms, (number 23): "Acute diseases come to a crisis in fourteen days".10

Decumbiture philosophy is founded upon the Hippocratic theory of "humours" (from the Latin: umor/humor, "moisture," as in humid), a word which relates to the state of bodily fluids and the condition of the seasonal and celestial ambience which defines 'the quality of the air'. The latter is descriptive of how the natural environment impinges upon the patient's health, and is explored in detail in the Hippocratic text that acts as a basis to Hippocratic medical theory: 'On Airs, Waters, and Places'. From this preliminary text we see that, whilst a great deal of the medical philosophy is based on the concept of diet determining health, the notion is not simply "You are what you eat," but "You are what you breathe, what you eat, what you drink, and what you receive by way of sunshine, weather, and the landscape of your locality". All of these define the individual temperament, just as they have created the genetic features of every ethnic community.

Hippocrates: 'On Airs, Waters, and Places'

Because of the general nature of the principles covered, the importance of this Hippocratic text is easily underrated. However, it has great significance as a founding philosophy which shows why different temperament types are held by different ethnic types (as defined by their local geographical-celestial relationship) and by those born at different seasons of the year. Its relevancy in regard to individual temperament is evident within Ptolemy's argument, in Tetrabiblos II, that the fate and character of the individual is only properly understood by reference to the collective of which he or she is a part:

Since, then, prognostication by astronomical means is divided into two great and principal parts, and since the first and more universal is that which relates to whole races, countries, and cities, which is called general, and the second and more specific is that which relates to individual men, which is called genethlialogical, we believe it fitting to treat first of the general division, because such matters are naturally swayed by greater and more powerful causes than are particular events. And since weaker natures always yield to the stronger, and the particular always falls under the general, it would by all means be necessary for those who purpose an inquiry about a single individual long before to have comprehended the more general considerations.11

Ptolemy's point is developed in later astrological works, such as the 12th-century text, Nativities and Revolutions, by Avraham Ibn Ezra,12 which offers similar arguments for why a natal interpretation can be subject to error if the astrologer does not judge with consideration of the cultural and ancestral context. The warning is comparable to that given for the potential failure of an electional chart, when it is made without reference to the natal chart of the individual concerned. Astrology recognises a hierarchy of effect, so that no chart judgement can be viewed as complete without some consideration of the larger cycle of patterns and connections from which it extends. Ezra gives the example of when a natal chart carries the signature of "rising in rank," which can only be judged to mean rising to a better professional position than expected, given the social status of the family:

For if two are born at the same moment in the same country, and one is the son of a minister and the other is the son of a lowly servant, and it is within the influence of the nativity to rise to a high rank and great authority, the son of the minister will become king and the son of the servant will become a merchant.13

This principle defines the limit by which astrologers can reliably draw descriptive profiles from nativities or horary charts. For example, if the planetary signification describes someone as tall or dark, how are we to qualify this? For a horary chart, which is more self-contained and specific to the situation under scrutiny, we might expect this to mean by comparison to the local average. For a birth chart, it can only be judged by comparison to ethnic type and family expectations. It would be foolish to consider the chart of an unknown individual without knowledge of gender or culture, and then attempt to provide a detailed and reliable physical profile. We need to know the context, as Ezra demonstrates when discussing signatures of beauty and the effects of signs of long or short ascension on the Ascendant:

If the rising [sign] is of the signs that are long in ascension, especially if the rising degree is in the first face and the Moon is in a sign of long ascension, then we shall judge that native will be taller than his parents, and the opposite if it is in the ones of short ascension. In the same way you will judge regarding the native's beauty relative to his parents.14

We see the first clear statement of this principle in the Hippocratic treatise 'On Airs, Waters, and Places', which offers detailed explanation of how external humours (e.g., quality of winds, clarity of water, types of air) have combined with the shape of the physical landscape (whether shaded or light, nestled or open to elements, flat or mountainous and rugged, abundant or sparse in vegetation), to determine the evolution of ethnic features and physical types. Hence, communities that have settled in hot climates, which experience the full effect of the Sun's heat from southern winds, are described as being "choleric" in their temperament and so predisposed to feverish illnesses, epilepsy, diarrhoea, haemorrhoids, sudden strokes that result in paralysis, and (in women) excessive menstruation and miscarriage. Their bowels are expected to be looser and so, when in sickness, these natives are prone to evacuate bodily poisons through diarrhoea rather than through vomit.

By comparison, communities that have settled in cold northern climates, and are subject to northern winds, are described as being "melancholic" in their temperament, and more naturally predisposed to illnesses such as pleurisy and lung diseases, constipation, tuberculosis, cataracts of the eyes, the bursting of blood vessels, and (in women) infrequent menstruation and inclination towards infertility, although, being of a more retentive disposition, such women have less fear of miscarriage when pregnancy occurs. Because the physical environment is harsher and the body is more subject to tension and external strain, the physique is firmer, more squat, less flabby, and the digestive system works harder, resulting in compacted faeces, resistant to quick evacuation. Therefore, in sickness, melancholic types are expected to evacuate poisons through vomit rather than through bowel movements.

Communities that experience a more moderate or easterly exposure enjoy the temperate effect of winds which are warm and clear in their moisture content and so not excessively drying. This results in a wholesome, sanguine temperament, which gives clear complexions, a healthy colour to the skin, little proclivity towards disease, and easy fertility. Communities turned towards the opposite aspect, which do not enjoy this creative warmth but suffer long exposure to the languid moisture of western winds, are the least healthy of all, being described as "pale and enfeebled" and prone towards all illnesses, though none in particular. (Although the northern winds are cold, there is at least a purifying effect in their dryness which gives resistance to airborne illnesses; whereas community types defined by coldness and moisture breathe in impure airs, lack the resistance of dryness, and fall prey to contagious diseases.) Hippocrates associates this temperament type with the seasonal effects of autumn, which are as contrary to creative health as spring's seasonal effects are restorative to it. (See diagram below.)

humours (23K)

Although many Hippocratic propositions inevitably seem archaic, the manner in which they consider the effect of climate and environment upon communal temperament and health predispositions presents a theory of evolutionary design that is comparable in concept to the 'groundbreaking' doctrines of Darwin. The assessment is essentially meteorological, judging location and weather factors to be capable of creating genetic differences in communities, in the same way that agricultural crops may flourish, suffer, mutate, or adapt to altered climate and environment.

The subsequent judgement of individual temperament then requires equally complex analysis. In this, Hippocrates' work provides the first clear example of the doctrine of elements proposed by Empedocles - in which health is seen as the correct proportion between the "elements" of fire, earth, air, and water (presenting the properties of heat, cold, dryness, and moisture, respectively) - being used in a way that contributes directly to the development of astrological medical theory. However, Hippocrates shows criticism of Empedocles' teaching that health can only be understood by analysis of individual temperament; instead, he argues that medicine, correctly applied, must involve acknowledgement of environment and lifestyle, too:

Wherefore it appears to me necessary for every physician to be skilled in nature, and to strive to know, if he would wish to perform his duties, what man is in relation to the articles of food and drink, and to his other occupations, and what are the effects of each of them to everyone. It is not enough to know simply that cheese is a bad article of food, as disagreeing with whoever eats of it to satiety, but what sort of disturbance it creates, and with what principle in man it disagrees; for there are many articles of food and drink naturally bad which affect man in a different manner … For cheese (since we used it as an example) does not prove equally injurious to all men, for there are some who can take it to satiety without being hurt by it in the least; on the contrary, it is wonderful what strength it imparts to those it agrees with; but there are some who do not bear it well, their constitutions are different, and they differ in this respect, that what in their body is incompatible with cheese, is roused and put in commotion by such a thing; and those in whose bodies such a humour happens to prevail in greater quantity and intensity, are likely to suffer the more from it. But if the thing had been pernicious to all of man, it would have hurt all. (OAM, xx, p. 7)

The Bodily Humours

The ancient physician understood that the Hippocratic approach to health was not solely about combating illness through broad diet and herbal medicine principles, but that it involved a comprehensive and detailed analysis of individual temperament, ethnic tendencies, and external environmental factors. Then, the physician was required to learn the specific details of medicine and to know which natural treatments could be derived from foodstuffs, plants, and herbs.

It is at this level that the theory of humours is used to consider how the condition of internal fluids creates internal proclivity or resistance to health. The general proposition is that man is created from the same four elements that cause the origin of all life, and each element is predominant within the bodily fluids (humours). It is the unique balance of these that reflects individual physical and temperamental characteristics. Fire is used as an archetype for that which gives heat; it is hot and dry, corresponding to the humour of yellow bile. Earth represents that which is cool and dry, corresponding to black bile. Air denotes warmth and moisture, corresponding to blood. Water is cold and wet, corresponding to phlegm. Since individuals are usually born with a predisposition towards one of these humours, that humour will characterise the conditions and limits of the individual's natural, healthy state.

During disease, when one humour assumes a destructive proportion, medical treatment aims to subdue its effect by application of its opposite. One way of doing this is through the patient's intake of food, since the theory holds that all plants, like humans, are naturally inclined towards one of the humours. Therefore, someone suffering through an abundance of yellow bile (hot and dry, acidic in effect) would be administered medicine or food which is noted to be phlegmatic (cold, moist, and emollient) in effect. The assessment of humours is based upon the analysis of bodily fluids, and in this, blood (viewed as the source of all life-giving energy) is particularly important. Although blood is a humour in itself, the term was also used loosely as being indicative of all bodily fluids, so the principles of the categorisations went as follows:
  • The red component of blood was identified as the essentially blood-like humour, termed sanguine after the Latin sanguineus, "bloody." Since all humours combine in the composition of blood to generate life, a sanguine temperament signifies health, balance, mixture, and avoidance of extremes. This humour is considered creatively warming and moistening in effect, governed by the temperate planet Jupiter and associated with spring and the element of air. It takes its seat in the liver where blood is processed, the liver being traditionally governed by Jupiter.15 The sanguine humour is also associated with sweet or pleasing aromas and savours.

  • What was anciently described as the frothy yellow component of blood (because it brings acidic disturbance) was termed yellow bile. Its medieval Latin name was cholericus, from the Greek cholerikós meaning "bilious," which is the way that the Hippocratic texts refer to it.16 Bile is stored in the gall bladder, the seat of this humour, and we see its psychological effect upon character within descriptive references to audacious people having "a lot of gall" or being referred to as "bilious", meaning that they are impetuous, impatient, and easily angered. Physically, such people are considered prone to acidic digestive disorders, internal ruptures, and gall-related problems; the gall bladder, as well as the humour itself, being governed by Mars.17 This is a fiery humour, associated with summer, drying in effect, and corresponding to bitter, caustic tastes. Its related bodily discharge is urine. The effect when it assumes a disproportionate influence is described as follows:

    Thus, when there is an overflow of the bitter principle, which we call yellow bile, what anxiety, burning heat, and loss of strength prevail! But if relieved from it, either by being purged spontaneously, or by means of a medicine seasonably administered, the patient is decidedly relieved of the pains and heat; but while these things float on the stomach, unconcocted and undigested, no contrivance could make the pains and fever cease; and when there are acidities of an acrid and aeruginous [greenish] character, what varieties of frenzy, gnawing pains in the bowels and chest, and inquietude, prevail! And these do not cease until the acidities be purged away, or are calmed down and mixed with other fluids. (OAM, ix, p.7)

  • What was described as the mainly white component in blood was referred to as phlegm, from the Latin phlegma, or Middle English flueme, meaning "discharge". Phlegm describes a thick, heavy, and slow-moving mucus, which as a quality of temperament signifies sluggishness (based upon poor heat circulation), physical apathy, and emotional sensitivity. Its effect is mainly moistening and cooling; hence, it is governed by the moistening planet Venus and associated with the element of water. It takes its seat in the lungs where phlegm is produced, but it governs all forms of free-flowing bodily discharges, including tears and runny noses. Despite the associations with lethargy and lack of active physical vitality (since vitality is fuelled by heat, which phlegm lacks), the phlegmatic humour has an important role to play in the maintenance of health. Its biological function is, as Culpeper puts it, to "make the body slippery and fit for ejection."18 Being associated with the discharge of that which is no longer useful, it is linked to the autumnal season of natural decline. Although Venus is the principal ruler of this humour, its associated flavours and savours are more akin to those traditionally related to the Moon, described by William Lilly as offering "a watery or slightly sweet taste, but overall lacking strong flavour," and authors such as Culpeper considered the phlegmatic humour to be co-ruled by the Moon.19

  • Finally, what was seen to be the heavy, dark component of blood is black bile, traditionally known as melancholy, from the Greek melan ("black") + cholerikós ("bile"). This represents a toxic sediment which shows itself in tumours and cancerous growths. As a predominating temperament, melancholy is cold and dry, retentive, and linked to the process of decay and physical aging. It takes its seat in the spleen, which acts as a reservoir for compacted blood, is involved in the destruction of worn-out red blood cells and platelets, and distributes other waste fluids to the appropriate organs to be eliminated as sweat or tears. This humour is associated with the element of earth, governed by Saturn, and symbolically corresponds to winter and coldly bitter savours (as distinct to the caustic bitter savours of the choleric humour, governed by Mars).20 Its related bodily discharge is faeces.

Table of Tempers and Humoural Associations

Hippocratic Principles: A Place in Today's World?

The astrological legacy of the Hippocratic texts is a subtle one, but important concepts are evident in their details which were central to the development of core astrological principles. Yet, whilst Hippocrates' influence on the medical doctrine promoted by Galen is widely appreciated, astrologers have paid scant attention to how the Hippocratic teachings on humours helped to shape the philosophical defense of astrology presented within Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos.

Ptolemy's definition of astrology as a beneficial and natural study drew from the Hippocratic argument that the quality of seasonal and celestial influences at any time is imprinted upon the character of anything brought into germination or manifestation at that time.21 Like the Hippocratic texts, the Tetrabiblos avoids the the analogies of 'Fire', 'Earth', 'Air', and 'Water' when making reference to the elements, and most of the reasoning given for astrological effects is expressed in terms of seasonal and humoural influences, by which things are increased or injured according to the prevailing mix of warmth and moisture, or their excesses or absence. Ptolemy also agreed with the Hippocratic principle that full understanding of the individual temperament is only obtained by evaluating the humoural effect of the planetary configurations against consideration of the genetic influence of geological, ethnic, and personal family traits.22

This approach, more complex and comprehensive than any single horoscope analysis allows, provides a theoretical basis for the "seasonal imprint theory" which was lately explored as a supposedly revolutionary breakthrough of scientific knowledge. In 2010, Vanderbilt University published the findings of a research study that had probed the question of whether environmental factors, particularly light, can markedly influence neural development. The study claimed to provide "the first evidence for seasonal imprinting of biological clocks in mammals" and reached the conclusion that both human personality and prevalence towards disease are proven to have links to the season of birth.23 The study leader, Douglas McMahon, failing to appreciate what astrological analysis actually concerns, summarized its purpose with a disclaimer which protested a little 'too much' against any obvious comparisons with astrology: "It's important to emphasize that, even though this sounds a bit like astrology, it is not: it's seasonal biology!"

Astrology is, of course, the original exploration of 'seasonal biology', so it is regrettable that a study of only a few months duration cannot admit its shared interest with the analysis that astrology has invested into thousands of years of considering how celestial temperaments become embedded within the character and express themselves in matters of health, psychology, the mundane concerns of collective groups, and political and geological changes, too. Carl C. Jung understood this point very well, and captured the principle succinctly in proposing that "whatever is born or done at this moment in time has the quality of this moment in time".24 However, Jung's theory of synchronicity did not seek to explore the mechanics of why this should be the case. That level of reasoning can only be glimpsed in the detailed expositions of great ancient philosophers like Hippocrates, whose names linger in our collective memory, though most of us have forgotten why.

Science inevitably endeavors to create new models, using novel terminology and the latest tools of assessment that are in keeping with the fashions of its era, in order to reassert its role in the ongoing progression of knowledge. Modern science adds the benefit of biological examination and the understanding of DNA imprints in the study of genetic codes, and it is fairly obvious that it will have no need to return to theories that extend symbolic analogies with the four principal components required to establish life. Philosophy, however, holds a place of value too, and even old ideas can remain a source of new insights and enlightenment. Philosophy inspires the mind to seek an understanding of nature without the aid of any tool but human reason, the instinct to question, and the ability to conceive sensible imagined solutions. Although the model used by Hippocrates is now outdated, the basic reasoning that each individual is the product of the quality of a moment of time, set against the collective inheritance of geological and celestial effects, has not been superseded in its logical reasoning. In this respect at least, it remains rational and relevant, as does the resulting Hippocratic argument that health relies on maintaining awareness of natural rhythms, which cannot prevent an ultimate decline but can at least recognise the benefits of knowing when to seek expansion and growth, when to retreat into periods of recession, and how to maximize health by seeking harmony between the inner and outer worlds in the process.

Deborah Houlding Deborah Houlding has been an astrological researcher and practitioner for more than 25 years. Past editor of The Traditional Astrologer magazine and author of The Houses: Temples of the Sky (Wessex, 2006), she currently runs the astrology Web site at Deborah is also the principal of the STA school of traditional horary astrology. Her personal website is at www.

Also by Deborah Houlding:

Gauricus and the Warning of Death given to Henry II

Charts & Symbols in Early Astrology: a Study of Chart Form L497
Ptolemy's Terms and Conditions
An Annotated Lilly, volume I,

Notes & References:

  1 'On Ancient Medicine' (hereafter OAM) from Hippocratic Writings, (c.4th cent. BCE), tr. F. Adams. Vol. 10 in R.M. Hutchins ed., Hippocrates, Galen. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica; 1952; p.2. back to text

  2 See for example, Tetrabiblos, II, chap. 2, where Ptolemy describes the inhabitants of communities that have settled close to the equator as having black skins, small statures, and thick woolly hair, as a protective response to the burning heat of their location, whereas inhabitants of high northern regions, defined by their colder environment and its greater share of moisture, have a physique that is paler and taller, with finer hair, reflecting personality characteristics that are described as being "somewhat cold in nature". Any community which suffers an extreme of environment is supposed to lack the benefits of civilization, whereas communities that live in temperate regions enjoy easier lifestyles and a more balanced (sanguine) disposition, being more moderate in colour, stature and physique. Several other regions are discussed with consideration of the mix that these kinds of environmental factors describe. Ptolemy explains that the summary considerations should be kept in mind by the astrologer, whilst warning that since they concern communities as a whole, the traits will be found "generally present, but not in every individual". back to text

  3 "Hippocrates the Asclepiad says that the nature even of the body can only be understood as a whole." - Plato, (380 BCE) 'Phaedrus', The Dialogues of Plato, ed. William Chase Greene; tr. B. Jowett. New York: Liveright Publishing, 1927. Online: Internet Classics Archive,, retrieved 8 July 2011. back to text

  4 Ibid., "Hippocrates of Cos, the Asclepiad" - Plato, 'Protagoras', tr. B. Jowett. Online: Internet Classics Archive,, retrieved 8 July 2011. back to text

  5 Explored more fully in 'The Greek Philosophers' by Deborah Houlding, Traditional Astrologer, issue 19 (Ascella: Jan. 2000) pp.26-32. back to text

  6 Edelstein, Ludwig and Temkin, Ancient Medicine. Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, 1987; p.56. The Oath has undergone revision over time; the ancient version reads:

I swear by Apollo the healer and Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea, and all the gods and goddesses, that, according to my ability and my judgment, I will keep this Oath and stipulation - to reckon him who taught me this art equally dear to me as my parents; to live in common with him and, if necessary, to share my goods with him; To look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art. I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone. I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion. But I will preserve the purity of my life and my arts. I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.

In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves. All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal. If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot. (OAM, xii)
back to text

  7 The constellation figure Ophiuchus is identified by the Roman writer Hyginus (Astronomica II) as Aesculapius, who was said to incarnate in the form of snakes. Although capable of destruction with its poisonous bite, the snake's ability to shed its skin also makes it a potent symbol of healing and regeneration. The staff of Aesculapius, a rod with an entwining snake, remains the official insignia of the American Medical Association. back to text

  8 'Aphorisms' (I.1); OAM, p.131: "Life is short, and Art long; the crisis fleeting, experience perilous, and decision difficult. The physician must not only be prepared to do what is right himself, but also to make the patient, the attendants and externals co-operate".

This appears in altered form in the text edited by William Lilly: [Jerome] Cardan's Choice Aphorisms; from the Seven Segments of Cardan (II.1):

Life is short, Art long, Experience not easily obtained, Judgment difficult, and therefore it is necessary that a Student not only exercise himself in considering several Figures, but also that he diligently read the writings of others who have treated rationally of this Science, and make it his business to find out the true natural causes of things by experiments, to know the certain places and processions of the Planets and Fixed Stars, Constellations, etc., but above all to be a passionate lover of truth.

The Hippocratic Aphorisms are put together to represent the 'bullet points' of the main principles expressed in the wider collection of Hipparchus's writings. back to text

  9 'Prognostics' 15; OAM, p.22. back to text

  10 The following aphorism (24) establishes the principle used to determine the judicial and intercedental periods in acute diseases, saying "The fourth day is indicative of the seventh; the eighth is the commencement of the second week; and hence, the eleventh, being the fourth of the second week, is also indicative; as being the fourth from the fourteenth, and seventh from the seventh". back to text

  11 Robbins, Frank E. (ed.) 1940. Tetrabiblos. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press (Loeb Classical Library). ISBN 0-674-99479-5. II.1, p.119. back to text

  12 Ezra, Avraham Ibn (12th cent.) The Book of Nativities and Revolutions, translated from the Hebrew by Meira B. Epstein. Arhat Publications: 2008. back to text

  13 Ibid., pp.2-3. back to text

  14 Ibid., pp.14-15. back to text

  15 For Jupiter as the significator of the liver, see Wiliam Lilly's Christian Astrology (1647), p.63. back to text

  16 For example, in 'On Airs, Waters and Places' ch.10, regarding the effect of a cold and dry spring following a warm and wet winter: "Men of a phlegmatic temperament are likely to have dysenteries; and women, also, from the humidity of their nature, the phlegm descending downwards from the brain; those who are bilious, too, have dry ophthalmies from the heat and dryness of their flesh". back to text

  17 For Mars as the significator of the gall, see Lilly, C.A., p.67. back to text

  18 Culpeper, "An astrologo-physical discourse of the human virtues in the body of man," originally published in his English Physician and Family Dispenstory, 1653, reproduced online with annotations by Deborah Houlding at (April 2009), PDF, p.2. back to text

  19 Lilly C.A. p.82, of the Moon: "Of saviours, the fresh, or without any flavour, such as is in herbs before they be ripe, or such as do moisten the brain, &c."… "Those herbs which are subject to the Moon have soft and thick juicy leaves, of a waterish or a little sweetish taste; they love to grow in watery places, and grow quickly into a juicy magnitude". back to text

  20 It is difficult to give food examples of the differences in these savours, because Mars governs hot, sharp savours like mustard, which are not pleasant on their own but work well combined with other foods; whereas Saturn governs savours which are distasteful, and we tend not to include them in the diet. It is easier to recognise Saturn’s rulership over savours in the taste of herbs: Mars rules garlic and nettles, but Saturn rules toxic-tasting herbs like box and fern — the type of taste that humans naturally seek to avoid. back to text

  21 See Tetrabiblos, I.II headed: "That knowledge by astronomical means is attainable, and how far". Ptolemy asserts that successful analysis of the temperament, though difficult to attain, is capable of being determined by someone who is able to regard the data "both scientifically and by successful conjecture." His argument is that if a person can reliably predict the general weather patterns and their effects upon agricultural seeds and animals from the knowledge of the celestial cycles, "Why can he not, too, with respect to an individual man, perceive the general quality of his temperament from the ambient at the time of his birth … and predict occasional events, by the fact that such and such an ambient is attuned to such and such a temperament and is favourable to prosperity, while another is not so attuned and conduces to injury?" (Robbins, p. 13) back to text

  22 Tetrabiblos, I.2: "We should not object to astrologers using as a basis for calculation nationality, country, and rearing, or any other existing accidental qualities" (Robbins, p. 19). Most of book II is given to exploring the stereotypes of nations in astrological terms. back to text

  23 "Babies' biological clocks dramatically affected by birth light cycle", in Vanderbilt News, posted online December 6, 2010 at

"The season in which babies are born can have a dramatic and persistent effect on how their biological clocks function. That is the conclusion of a new study published online on Dec. 5 by the journal Nature Neuroscience. The experiment provides the first evidence for seasonal imprinting of biological clocks in mammals and was conducted by Professor of Biological Sciences Douglas McMahon, graduate student Chris Ciarleglio, post-doctoral fellow Karen Gamble and two undergraduate students at Vanderbilt University."
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  24 C. G. Jung, The Collected Works of C.G. Jung: The Spirit of Man, Art and Literature, Vol. 15, "Richard Wilhelm: In Memoriam," para. 82, Princeton University Press, 1966. Jung declared:

"The fact that it is possible to reconstruct a person's character fairly accurately from the birth data shows the relative validity of astrology. It must be remembered however, that the birth data are in no way dependent on the actual astronomical constellations, but are based on an arbitrary, purely conceptual time-system … If there are any astrological diagnoses of character that are in fact correct, this is not due to the influence of the stars but to our own hypothetical time qualities. In other words, whatever is born or done at this moment in time has the quality of this moment in time."
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© Deborah Houlding - all rights reserved; published online, July 2013.