Johannes Lydus on comets

Comets – like the one it’s told showed the road to Magi- the learned astrologers arrived from far East in order to worship the baby Jesus – always show supernatural events because of their unpredictable nature;  they suddenly appeared in the sky and suddenly disappeared, they did not have a fixed path like the wandering stars. They did not have any place in the fixed and perfect world of Greeks, but they rather were harbingers of chaos and disorder.

The same Aristotle – judging their nature was foreigner to the perfection of the sky was obliged to reduce them to simple meteorological phenomena. Still when comets showed themselves where they were not allowed to be, it was the whole Aristotle’s system of the world which was dismissed.

The standard text for comets- repeated in all the astrological texts- comes from Pliny:

The Greeks name these stars comets; we name them Crinitae, as if shaggy with bloody locks, and surrounded with bristles like hair. Those stars, which have a mane hanging down from their lower part, like a long beard, are named Pogoniæ. Those that are named Acontiæ vibrate like a dart with a very quick motion. It was one of this kind which the Emperor Titus described in his very excellent poem, as having been seen in his fifth consulship; and this was the last of these bodies which has been observed. When they are short and pointed they are named Xiphiæ; these are the pale kind; they shine like a sword and are without any rays; while we name those Discei, which, being of an amber colour, in conformity with their name, emit a few rays from their margin only. A kind named Pitheus exhibits the figure of a cask, appearing convex and emitting a smoky light. The kind named Cerastias has the appearance of a horn; it is like the one which was visible when the Greeks fought at Salamis. Lampadias is like a burning torch; Hippias is like a horse’s mane; it has a very rapid motion, like a circle revolving on itself. There is also a white comet, with silver hair, so brilliant that it can scarcely be looked at, exhibiting, as it were, the aspect of the Deity in a human form. There are some also that are shaggy, having the appearance of a fleece, surrounded by a kind of crown. There was one, where the appearance of a mane was changed into that of a spear; it happened in the 109th olympiad, in the 398th year of the City. The shortest time during which any one of them has been observed to be visible is 7 days, the longest 180 days. ((Pliny the Elder, The Natural History II, 22.—OR THE STARS WHICH APPEAR SUDDENLY, OR OF COMETS))

This is Aristotle lesson.

The standard text for comets includes nine categories which are (pictures are taken from the illuminated manuscript De Figura seu imagine mundi by Ludovicus de Angulo- a very famous text because it includes another variant of Albumasar’s illustrated decans  and because Angulo was the author of a famous translation of IbnEzra.

But there is a second tradition, which derives from Nechepso-Petosiris  and it is preserved in Johannes Lydus, a Byzantine compiler of the V century CE  (through the intermediation of Campesius in De Ostentis) and in Hephaistio of Thebes  (( Hephaistio of Thebes, Apotelesmatics I,24 translated and edited by Robert Schidmt, Project Hindsight )).

Campesius Treaty on the comets

Miles

The so called Miles comet is under Venus, and it’s so called for its speed:  it sheds slanting fire rays, letting just a light line and again it coils in a short circle, now spreading around and now gathering these lines with great speed and quickness. When this comet rises as fire from West to East throwing its rays as arrows, it threatens a Persian invasion, so it is necessary that  a great army of soldiers would run at East, and that soldiers allocated in every point of the Earth would arrive in Syria; but the number of soldiers will be not enough,  and  new enrolments will be necessary.
Plague will  spread, and will be very strong, especially between horses – not  between Persians’ ones, but the ones coming from Europe against Persians. And this is the first result of the plague. However Persian luck will not last: they will  flee in front of the great army lined against them and leave
cities they conquered, and their  fugitive King will die, killed by his men. Then Persian richness will be preyed. Crops will be  scarce  and farmers will be killed by  plague. However Europeans will not remain in Persian lands, or indulge there, but they will come back in their country when the battle will be over.

A burning comet will herald these events; if it is pale, it heralds wars, but  not against the Persians, and especially earthquakes and disasters which will  fall on people. Plague will fall on cattle and there will be a great famine.

If this kind of comet is looking towards South, and it throws against that direction pale and acute fire rays, on the summer solstice a terrible plague and a great number of misfortunes of this kind will hit Libya. If it is looking North, on the contrary Libya will declare war to Northern countries and a great ally will be at its side. Being weaker, it will  employ  a foreigner army, firstly it will be stronger than its enemies but after a while misfortune will arrive, and then the death of almost all of them, even the king will be kept and imprisoned. Libya means the region between from the Red Sea to Cadice, or Tartesso or the so called Cadice in Mauritania. In fact the influence of stars is not  restricted to Egypt but includes the whole Lybia, and especially Mauritania, which confines at North with Europe, being divided just from it by the channel,  which it is called from local people “fretus”.

Winners will be hit by plague, and they would prefer death in battle, and then famine and dryness will follow, especially in Egypt and survivors would consider life as a punishment. An awful illness will affect young people, Nile will desert them and a pestilent dryness will follow.

If the comet will appear in the West there will be wars, destruction of armies, famine and death of cattle as far as Pillars of Hercules.
If it moves towards Boote, there will be a great coldness and bad weather as far as the Black Sea and enemies will sack their lands. Firstly the inhabitants will suffer many damages but with the help of the army then they will win their enemies and will make prisoners between their kings.
Winner army will move southwards, it will attack cities and  have some glory but  Gods will  leave enemies and give their help to winners.

This when Miles comet is pale, but if it is very pale in a uniform way, it signifies civil wars rather than wars, not for this less cruel, and with less victims. If it appears in the milky way (this comet anyway cannot shine in the East for more than 7 days) heralds long misfortunes, if for a short period, short duration.

Xiphias

this star is under Mercury, and it has an influence as strong as the preceding one, and surely more negative. If it is seen at East near Persians, Ethiopians nobles will poison their king. The same in Phenicia, where  poor people will kill some powerful men.
Rumours will  spread without any foundation of truth.
If it looks at south it heralds the same for Egyptians and Libya, but while for Egyptian misfortunes soon will be at their end, in Libya people will be consumed by inner wars.
If it looks at West, it threatens the same for kings of those places,  from rumours to open war. If it appears in the North , the comet heralds  that northern people will mix  with Libyan people, and the daughter of Libyan lord will be married to a Northern king, she will conjure against the father and betray him, taken by an impious passion for her husband.

Lampadia

It is so called  for its shape and it is under Mercury too. If it appears in the East heralds that the fog  will  damage  vineyards: in fact this fog generates some insects, rodents of vineyards. Damages will be widespread, especially in Armenia, Euphrates, Phenicia and Taurocilicia. Fog will be present day and night and the light of  lamps will be useless.  Darnel will grow between fruits, and moisture will generate plague and will be harmful for crops, rivers will overflow,  and violent rains, and thunders and then dryness will follow and even perennial rivers become dry.
If the comet appears in the South dryness will be stronger and air more pestilential: Nyle will be dry and snakes everywhere.
If it appears in the North dryness will be overcome by coldness of that point, fire will burn in forests and on the mountains and inhabitants of cities will be  not safe, there will be many victims, especially in Egypt. If it rises in the West, it heralds thunders falling on earth and  killing cattle, and  many fires.

Comet

This is under Jupiter influence, and it is so important that the rest of them is known with its name. When it shines with its light and silver rays towards East, if Jupiter is in Cancer, Scorpio or Pisces,  it heralds a great fortune for Persians. They will rebel, will reach Roman regions and will conquer cities and fortresses; they will  take a great number of prisoners and prey many riches and then they will comeback in their homeland – and nobody could resist them. When on the other hand it rises in the opposite direction, it will bring misfortunes to the ones it is turning its back.
If it appears in the South the Nile will be full of water and  peace and prosperity, peace for everybody will reign in Egypt.
If it is turned in the opposite direction, towards the West, giving its back to  East, Roma will have many fortunes: they will fight against Persians, and kill their king. Roma will have whatever sort of goods, there will be exhibitions, generous gifts, horse races, and a general peace will reign.
If it appears with South at its back, Europeans will attack Libya and especially people from the North West will challenge people from South West.
Soldiers of borders will defeat Southern people, towards East and Egypt.

Discobolus

This comet is so called for its shape, because it is round and uncertain the direction it moves to; when it rises, it heralds misfortunes for everyone and  it cannot be collected to any planet because it has its origin from the Sun.  It threatens general disorders, wars from the North, death for important people and prosperity of mean men, moreover it brings danger for people in command. Roman legions will be defeated everywhere arriving almost to the general ruin.

Typhoon

This comet has its origin from the reflection of light in the air; it has the shape of a sickle, it’s bright and gloomy, terrible. In the places where it appears they will have negative events in general, violent war and civil wars, riots and famine. Important leaders will be killed, especially if the comet will shine for 3 or 4 days. If it appears for a longer period, it threatens ruin and general destruction of every thing and negative events will last. Roman soldiers will be killed in war, and Roman fortresses will be kept.

Plague will appear and no prayer will be fulfilled, and silliness of the kings will cause continuous changes in judges. There will be violent and deadly fires and whole cities will be turned into dust, and general and insurmountable catastrophes everywhere, especially in the West.
From East will start a great war on the West, and because of  quarrels coming from East the greater part of the army will be destroyed. Riots will rise inside soldiers, and factions will revenge one on the other. Winners will  soon lose their luck and fall in ruin:  everywhere many misfortunes lasting for many years as the the number of days  the comet will be manifest.
(( Johannes Lydus. (cura Ilaria Domenici) Sui segni celesti. Le porpore, 29. Milano: Medusa, 2007. ))

Written by Margherita Fiorello, CIDA certified member, for heaven astrolabe blog @ year 2010. If you want to be notified the next time I write something, subscribe to my RSS feed.

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