Category Archives: Byzantine astrology

The (erected by Cardanus) horoscope of the top Byzantine/ Renaissance astrologer Trapezuntius!  

   (Portrait of the top Byzantine/ Renaissance astrologer George Trapezuntius)

Many historians nowadays are beginning to realize that the contribution of the Byzantine scholars to the Italian Renaissance – although much praised  – in reality has been underestimated! I could share my own testimony here – for the little it counts for – since I am researching Byzantine astrology for many years and I have come to the conclusion that the Byzantines Astrologers have substantially influenced their European colleagues – and the Renaissance Astrology in general!

A leading figure of the Byzantine and Renaissance Astrology – a figure that directly and indirectly influenced many European astrologers – is George of Trebizond (or George Trapezuntios)! He was born in 1396 in the island of Crete. His family originated from Trebizond in Pontus (now Trabzon in Turkey but back then a major Greek-Byzantine city and an important astronomical and astrological center). Trapezuntius was a true cultured Astrologer (we might call him today an “omniscient” as he was an astronomer, a mathematician, a translator, orator, philosopher, physician etc.).

People know next to nothing about Byzantium and the Byzantines. So, to make you realize – in the blink of an eye  – how important Trapezuntius has been to the European astrology I am inviting you to take a look at the photo below. It shows a list of the books that the famous English astrologer William Lilly had in his possession (he enlists them himself at the end of his book “Christian Astrology”). In this list we can clearly see that Lilly was studying the Georgius Trapezuntius’ book “In centum Ptolomei Aphorismos”!

In those times Crete was under Venetian rule. Thus, in 1496 Trapezuntius – having already distinguished himself in literature, philosophy and science – moved to Venice in order to work as a secretary at the powerful politician and humanist Francesco Barbaro. Alongside his work he began teaching Greek (which was becoming “fashionable” back then in Italy) and probably astrology too! His fame spread rapidly throughout Italy and he was soon receiving invitations to teach at various universities (he taught at the ones of Vincenza, Florence and Rome). A few years after, an even greater recognition came for him by the hand of the very Pope Gregory IV (a great lover of literature and the arts) who appointed him an apostolic secretary!

In all those years Trapezuntius (apart from teaching letters, phisosophy, oratory and eventually translating greek texts into latin) was most probably practicing and teaching astrology too! We have a testimony on this from the famous Italian astrologer Lucas Gauricus. In his popular book “Tractatus astrologicus” Gauricus collected/ computed the horoscopes of the most illustrious scholars of his era and among them he displays the one of Trapezuntius! You may see it below in its square form that was very popular up to a couple of centuries ago. Gauricus is “tagging” Trapezuntius as an astronomer (a term that in the language of that era means mostly an astrologer!)

Below this horoscope Gauricus is adding some info on Trapezuntius (in Latin): “He was born in the island of Crete, whose latitude is 36 degrees. He has been a professor of letters in many Italian cities and a distinguished astronomer. He himself recorded all his relative birthday events (Gauricus means here the specific date and time of every Trapezuntius’ Solar Return) and he computed this particular natal chart, in various Greek and Latin forms”!

The above horoscope looks neat and well calculated but in reality it is somehow inconsistent! First of all, it indicates as Trapezuntius birth year the one of 1395. In his biographies though Trapezuntius is reported as been born in 1396. To make things more complicated, the planetary positions in this horoscope do not correspond to the very year indicated on it (1395) but to the year 1396! Furthemore, the indicated time of birth is 12:20 “An. Mer.” (meaning “Ante meridiem”), resulting to 00:20 AM. Thus Trapezuntius’ full data of birth should be April 4, 1396, 00:20 in Iraklion – Crete. By providing these data to the overall infallible astrology program “Solar Fire Gold” we get the chart you see below (I am using the Porphyry house system that was the most popular in that period – Gauricus is using another house system that is none of the ones we are familiar with. I think it is the obsolete by now “Bianchinus”).

What strikes us immediately is the fact that the Moon is in Aquarius and not in Pisces. Actually it is in the 16th degree of Aquarius, almost half a sign away from the position indicated by Gauricus (1 degree of Pisces). In fact, on that specific date the Moon would enter the sign of Pisces at 22:18 – almost 22 hours after the time indicated on Gauricus chart! For the rest, the other planetary positions are almost coinciding!

There is though another major Italian Renaissance astrologer who somehow paid tribute to Trapezuntius by publishing his horoscope as well: Hieronymus Cardanus!  In his book “Liber de exemplis centum geniturarum” (“A Book of a hundred nativities’ examples”, in which Caedanus is analyzing many horoscopes that were already present in Gauricus “Tractatus Astrologicus” – plagiarizing thus Gauricus, a common practice back then – he includes as well the horoscope of our brilliant Byzantine scholar. Cardanus was a “Ptolemaic” astrologer and that was an additional reason for him to honor the “par excellence: Ptolemaic Trapezuntius – whose books most probably had thoroughly read! Actually, he is presenting the horoscope of Trapezuntius on the very first pages of his book – second only to the horoscope of Petrarch!
Cardanus is using the Equal House planetary system and certain planetary positions in his chart are identical to the Gauricus ones – to the minute! (Venus’, Saturn’s and the North Node’s)! But we find again here a wrong natal Moon for Trapezuntius: 2 degrees and 20 minutes of Pisces – instead of the 16 degrees and 52 minutes of Aquarius). So, either the birth data of Trapezuntius is wrong and he indeed has a Pisces Moon or his data is right and his Moon is in Aquarius (it was miscalulated by both Gauricus and Cardanus – or simply Cardanus blatantly copied Gauricus, changing slightly the positions of some planets so that they do not all match the ones provided by Gauricus…).

In any case, we are rather perplexed by the apparent miscalculation of the Moon from the part of both Gauricus and Cardanus. Especially Cardanus – apart from being an excellent astrologer / astronomer – is considered one of the greatest mathematical minds in the history of mankind! And even if this Trapezuntius’ horoscope was casually found by Gauricus and Cardanus in some manuscript and was merely copied to their books, they should have accurately verified every single planetary position on it before publishing it.

We should add a precious piece of information here: John Monfasani – a major Trapezuntius’  modern biographer –  is arguing that this great personality was born on April 3, 1395 (if this is the case then his Moon is in Virgo – and that Moon reflects very well the fact that he was very productive, that he worked for a long time as a secretary and that he was attracted by young girls). Apparently though Monfasani is not a great astrology connoisseur, because he draws the conclusion that Trapezuntius was born on the 3rd of April out of a personal note the latter wrote, stating that on the 3rd of April 1453 he was having his 58th Solar Revolution. Every astrologer knows though that a solar revolution may occur a day before our calendric birthday – so Trapezuntius might very well have had his 58th Solar Return on the 3rd of April 1453 while actually his birthday was on the 4th of April.

Of course, if Trapezuntius in 1453 was celebrating  his 58th (and not his 57th) Solar Return  then he must have been born in 1395 and not in 1396! There is though an elemenet capable of causing a certain confusion: a byzantine year was starting on the 1st of September! The byzantines that is were celebrating the first day of their new year 4 whole months before the Italians! This sort of discrepancy might have brought a certain difficulty in the conversion of the byzantine years into the corresponding Italian ones.

In 1447 the patron of Trapezuntius Pope Eugene died and Nicholas V took his place. Nicholas maintained Trapezuntius as an apostolic secretary – and as a translator of Greek secular and religious texts! At about this time Trebizond translated into Latin the “Almagest” of Ptolemy adding to it a commentary of his own in Latin – a commentary that would become very popular throughout Europe for the next four centuries!

                              (A commentary of Trapezuntius on Ptolemy’s “Almagest”)

In the new papal entourage though another scholar figure was becoming the center of attention: Poggio Bracciolini. Perhaps in order to differentiate himself from Trapezuntius – or to advance a “fellow patriot” of his in front of the unstoppable stream of Greek culture that was ever more sweeping Italy – Bracciolini imposed the rather minor (as we know today) Latin orator Quintilianus as the supreme intellectual figure of the day! Trapezuntius – who obviously felt unfairly sidelined by this meteoric rise of Bracciolini – began to feverishly shatter Quintilianus in his speeches and letters. Thus he inevitably came into conflict with Bracciolini himself – and obviously with the circle of Bracciolini’s “supporters”. That was a big mistake, because no matter how just Trapezuntius was (and how unfair Bracciolini) ultimately Trapezuntius was all alone in this fight – while Bracciolini as a typical Aquarius (and as an Italian of course) had numerous and powerful allies.

The pretence for dismissing Trapezuntius was given to the Bracciolini’s entourage at a meeting of the apostolic secretaries. There, Bracciolini made ​​an ironic comment to Trapezuntius who got up and  threw a powerful punch in his face (we shouldn’t forget that Trapezuntius was as Aries – and if he was born in 1396 he had his Mars in Aries too!). By committing this explicitly violent act against the vain reviver of Quintilianus he fell completely out of favour and eventually was forced to leave Rome in 1452 and move with his family to the – ruled by the Spaniards’ back then – city of Naples.

In Naples George of Trebizond worked as a secretary to the King Alfonso of Aragon. This was one of the his most flourishing periods, as he wrote then his two major astrological essays: the “A Short essay on Antiscia” (“Brevis de antisciis tractatus”) and “Why the judgements (predictions) of the astrologers are failing in our times” (“Cur his temporibus astrologorum judicia fallant “). At the same time, he translated into Latin the astrological work of pseudo-Ptolemy “Centiloquium”, which became as well a mega hit throughout Europe. Furthermore, he continued teaching and one of his disciples – in this dominated by Vesuvius city – was Giovanni Pontano, who would later on become a major humanist and astrologer! And while his Naples sojourn started pretty well, after a few years Trapezuntius began experiencing problems there too…

At a certain point Pope Nicholas V summoned Trapezuntius back to Rome. There he met (and probably even taught) Regiomontanus, who around the year 1462 was living  at the Roman villa of the Byzantine cardinal Bessarion – who had turned his house into a cradle of hellenism and humanism). But the environment in Rome was still “toxic” to this Greek emigre and he consequently fell victim to new adversities and intrigues. He left Rome and travelled to his fatherland Constantinople – which had fallen by then to the Ottoman Turks. Apparently the Turks were not very much thrilled by the Trapezuntius’ literary and astrological virtues, so he returned to Rome. But he was again treated in a hostile manner (as he had sought to establish relations with the arch enemies of Christendom the Turks). He finally died around 1473, destitute and suffering from dementia (he was wandering like a fool through the streets of Rome), without ever been acknowledged for the pivotal role he played in the revival of the ancient Greek-knowledge (and of astrology in particular) in the renascent Europe…

Thomas Gazis
Copyright: Thomas D. Gazis

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Constantinople’s inauguration horoscope

In the 4th century CE the Roman empire was entering a phase of decline that would ultimately lead it to its demise. Thus it’s not very suprising the fact that in 324 CE the emperor Constantine the Great took the radical (and somehow heretic) action to transfer the capital of his empire from Rome to Constantinople – almost fifteen hundred kilometres to the east! The location that was about to become the future Constantinople was back then just a small citadel named (by its greek founders) “Byzantium”. But thanks to a construction frenzy that lasted 6 years Constantine built magnificent buildings, fora, baths and an hippodrome and managed to metamorphose the humble citadel into a cosmopolitan city that would rival Rome itself!

And then, the day of the inauguration of the city came! Which actually had to be determined by an astrologer (astrology was rife in the Roman empire and was about to become rife in the Byzantine empire too)! There are two major byzantine historians (Zonaras and Kedrinos) specifically mentioning the inauguration date of the new capital Constantinople: on the 11th of May 330 (Old Style)! It was a date established by the emperor’s personal astrologer Valens who – as the historians are detailing – worked very hard and for a long time in order to find a uniquely propitious date.

Fortunately, we have a byzantine source reporting the time of the inauguration too (see Magdalino’s “The occult sciences in Byzantium”, page 168). It is “at two hours and 26 minutes”. The phrase “at two hours” does not mean “at two o’ clock”. The byzantines counted their day from dawn on. Thus, “at two hours and 26 minutes” means “two hours and 26 minutes after the sunrise”. But there is another catch here. These byzantine hours and minutes are not exactly like the ones we are familiar with. A byzantine daily “hour” for example is the result of the division of the natural day in 12 equal parts. Thus, a byzantine daily “hour” might very well range  from 45 to 75 minutes (depending on the season and on the latitude of the location)! To spare the computations, “two daily hours and 26 minutes” for the latitude of Constantinople on the 11 of May equal 2  hours and 53 of our modern time! And since the Sun rose at 5:51 on the 11th of May 330 CE the time of the inauguration is approx. 8:44 am. (and I say approximately because the byzantines did not possess precision clocks and they relied upon raw sundials and water clepsydras).

Having in our hands the exact date and time of Constantinople’s inauguration we can now erect its inauguration horoscope! It is the one you see below (rendered somehow “hellenistically” – no moderns planets in it):

So, Constantinople is a Taurus with Moon in Leo and the Ascendant in Cancer. Back in 330 CE  the astrologers were using the “Whole Sign Houses” system of domification. They were computing the Ascendant alright (19 degrees of Cancer in this case) but the sign of the Ascendant was becoming (in its entirety) the “First House” (or to be more precise “The First Place”), the following sign was becoming the “Second Place” and so on. In the above chart, the First Place corresponds to the entire sign of Cancer! And without doubt, having the two benefics in the First Place (that is Venus and Jupiter, with Venus being the dispositor of the Sun and Jupiter being in Sect) seems to be an excellent election!

Moon and Saturn are in the Second Place of “material posessions” (and the new empire had to have a lot of them!). I would like to add a peculiar note here. The 11th century byzantine emperor Manuel Komnenos was an excellent astrologer. I was reading a long letter he wrote defending astrology against an important theologian – monk who was refutating it (letter preserved in CCAG V.1, 108). To give more credit to astrology Manuel mentions that Constantine the Great inaugurated Constantinople in accordance to the election made by his astrologer Valens. And Manuel Komnenos draws a rather bitter innuendo here when he goes: “Valens who was a monk himself elected the Saturn of Contantinople to be in the Second Place, so that the money of the citizens go to the monks – as we can see happening in our times!” Voila! Saturn in the Second Place! Here I had a testimony that the above inauguration chart for Constantinople is the right one!

In hindsight Valens’ election was a good one. After all Constantinople endured for more than a thousand years, till she fell to the ferocious ottoman army. The Turks had made an epic decend from central Asia to the Byzantine land (corresponding roughly to today’s Turkey) and in 1453 managed to breach the walls of Constantinople, occupying the city and renaming it Istanbul.

Of course we have to have at least an elementary knowledge of hellenistic astrology in order to realize whether this a nicely elected chart or not. The Sun is “in Sect” and in the Eleventh Place of “Good Spirit”! The “daemon” (known as well as “Part of Spirit” – a part that the byzantines were using a lot) most probably is in the Eleventh Place of “Good Spirit” (the Φ symbol you see at the first degree of Taurus) and that is an ideal domification because it means that the new capital would be a brilliant city protected and “guided” by good spirits (I am saying “most probably” because if Valens had miscalculated the positions of the Sun and the Moon even by some degree then the “daemon” might very well be in the Ninth Place of “God” – and that would be a jolly domicafication too)! The benefic North Node of the Moon stands in the Tenth Place and that’s a sign that the city will excel in everything and will become renowned!

And for those who are knowledgeable in hellenistic/traditional astrology (or who would like to learn more about it) it would be proper to include here an excellent traditional analysis of the inauguration chart of Constantinople from the part of the distinguished Serbian astrologer Goran Konchar:

“What stands out for me in short is this: both benefics are in the First Place in the fertile sign of Cancer, culminating from an angular Point of Fortune (Venus in her triplicity/decan rules it, while Jupiter is the exalted lord of the ascendant and receives her!) in the 4th Place. This is an excellent indicator of the city’s growth, fame and wealth. The Moon as the ascendant lord and the ‘natural’ ruler of the Point of Fortune is in a partile, sextile with it from it’s 11th sign – again, very good, especially for acquisition of wealth. At the same time, the Moon is waxing in a diurnal chart but is placed under the earth in its halb and in mutual reception with the chart luminary, the Sun in the excellent 11th Place – both lights as sources of life in fixed signs (durability) their mutual agreement/sympathy still made more firm by the placements in antiscia signs – the attempt to ensure harmony/good will between rulers and the populace. Moreover, both lights are also in the terms of the benefics! The Moon is additionally over the imperial star Regulus. The malefics rule the 7th Place of enemies in Capricorn and both are afflicted/weakened. Saturn is in the turned 8th, not beholding its domicile and impeding himself (detriment) in the bounds of Mars while the Sun is in a superior square to it, and applying – death and destruction of the enemies, even though they may prove to be a very tough nut to crack (a superior malefic in a fixed sign). Mars is applying to him as well by superior sextile, providing for more damage. Mars is made even more impotent than Saturn by its position in Gemini in the 12th , the house of its sadness (Ibn Ezra). The chart has the ascendant of Thema mundi, an attempt to create a world – ruling city?”

As Goran is pointing out, I think that indeed Constantine’s the Great intention was to build from scratch a world ruling cosmopolis! Under this point of view, the election that his astrologer Valens made for the inaguaration of the city was a good one! Certainly this is not the most perfect election ever made (some byzantine historians purport the story that Valens was postponing the inauguaration for 14 whole years because he could not find the proper – perfect – planetary configurations!). But ultimately nothing is perfect. Constantinople started its life as a Roman city, it was soon turned into a predominately Greek one and finally in 1453 CE ceased to exist – as the Turks militarily occupied it and altered its essence…

Thomas Gazis
Copyright: Thomas D. Gazis   

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The first English astrologers were Greek – Byzantines (and oddly enough Saints)!

 

The story I am going to tell you is true, but it might very well have been just another Canterbury tale. It is a story that connects in strange ways England and Byzantium. It started in medieval England, in the year 667 CE. The city of Canterbury was then one of the most prominent Anglo – Saxon cities in Britain. Its people had been converted from pagans to Christians just 2 generations before (in 597 CE, by Saint Augustine). The Episcopal See of the city though – founded by St. Augustine – was left vacant in that specific year. And that was serious, because the Canterbury See was (and still is) considered England’s primary See.

To fill the gap, the king of Kent sent emissaries to the Pope in Rome, asking him to appoint a new Archbishop to Canterbury. Back then not very many people were eligible for such a place – most of the people could not even read, let alone debate on religious matters. Not to mention that to the high ranked priests in Rome the idea of moving to a distant, misty and (still) barbaric land was not promising at all. With limited choices available Pope Vitalian’s mind went to certain monasteries in Italy run by Byzantine monks – the Byzantines considered then the most erudite scholars in Europe.

You may read the whole article here

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Byzantium’s vital contribution to Astrology

Since my early childhood Byzantium enchanted me with its glorious and mystical aura! I think I have to blame the Sunday church for this kick. Of course as a kid I didn’t like at all the forced awaking on early Sunday mornings (Sunday was the only day off school and I just wanted to sleep long). Not to mention that when in church I couldn’t understand much, because the Christian Orthodox Mass was said (and still is) in ancient Greek! But the chant of the priests and of the chorus coming to me through the mist of inebriating incenses, oh yes that was something! New worlds were opening to me, like the ones depicted in the frescoes I was contemplating on the walls and on the dome of the church over me: austere saints, agonizing martyrs, lavishly dressed emperors, scenes of parables and life situations I could not decipher back then – all in a pure Byzantine esoteric manner. Byzantium had fallen some 5 centuries ago to the Turks, but I was still immersed in it, into its divine melody and fascinating iconography, into the exotic names of long forgotten Byzantine cities and provinces that the priest was occasionally mentioning as he was reading the Gospel. Although irrevocably perished Byzantium was all alive to me, I could experience its mysticism and ecstasy!

The Byzantine empire lasted more than a thousand years (324 – 1453 CE), it was culturally prominet in its times, it enlightened the otherwise plunging into Dark Ages Europe and it comprised the largest, brimming with lofty buildings and monuments, most cosmopolitan city of the western hemisphere: Constantinople (today’s Istanbul)!

But how can it be an empire so great – heir of the Hellenistic empire – not to have impacted Astrology at all? How comes we never see in the usual “Astrology Time lines” any entry on some Byzantine astrologer or any other kind of byzantine contribution? Actually if you take a closer look to these “Timelines” you will  notice a gap: they start by mentioning several ancient astrologers and achievements and then abruptly shift into the late Middle Ages, mentioning Arab and European astrologers of the time, then they move to Renaissance, to Northern European astrologers and so on. But you will not find a single entry on Byzantium!I think the best argument to make you realize how important Byzantium has been astrologically is to stress the fact that even William Lilly was studying books of byzantine astrologers! Specifically, Lilly owned the books: “In centum Ptolomei Aphorismos” by Georgius Trapezuntius, a prominent Greek – Byzantine scholar / astrologer. Plus, the “Paraphrasis in 4 libros Ptolemei” by Leo Allatius, who was Greek – Byzantine too. He mentions both in ηισ “Christian Astrology”.

Lilly mentions as well the book “De mutatione Aeris” by Petrus de Abano. Although Italian by nature, Peter of Abano was byzantine by education (he went to study in Constantinople and stayed there for 20 whole years)! And you would be surprised to know that even Gerolamo Cardano, although a prominent astrologer himself, revered much the aforementioned Greek – Byzantine astrologer Georgius Trapezuntius – insinuating to the fact that he might have been given lessons by Trapezuntius himself or by some other Byzantine scholars who fled to Italy in the 15th century, a little before or after Byzantium’s fall to the Turks.  Lilly acknowledges both Abano and Cardanus in his famous “Christian Astrology” book. So, directly or indirectly Byzantine astrologers influenced enormously William Lilly! And since I mentioned Trapezuntius, it is plausible that the very Regiomontanus was instructed by Georgius Trapezuntius – during the Regiomontanus’ stay in Rome.

How could it be otherwise? Byzantine astrology is the direct heir of the Hellenistic one. Major astrological figures like Paulus Alexandrinus, Olympiodorus and Stephanus Alexandrinus belong – at least chronologically – to the Byzantine Era. Byzantium managed  – in times of darkness, hardships, wars and religious fanatism – to breed even its own astrological schools, like the superb one of Rhetorius (late sixth century), and the innovating one of John Abramius (14th century). A Byzantine astrologer (Theophylus of Edessa) was invited  by the Caliph al-Mansur to Bagdad (around 765 CE) and he introduced to the arabs the much advanced by then Byzantine astrology. And how serepiditious was the fact that among Theophylus’ audience stood the illustrious Masha’ allah, the man that set the paradigm for Arab astrology!

But the Byzantine astrology saga does not end here. Surprisingly – as you will see in my next post – two Byzantine scholars were actually the very first Astrologers in Anglo-Saxon Britain!

Thomas D. Gazis

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