About beibenie stars and their virtues

A couple of weeks ago  Dr. Ben Dykes- one of my favourite translators, one of the very few to have a proper curriculum studiorum, when the  greater part has a self education, ie no title and competence – posted in Deborah Houlding site a preview of his last work Persian nativities–  which includes al-Khayyat’s Judgement on nativities, and Liber Aristotilis,  a work written by Mashallah and then translated in Latin by Hugo of Santalla around 1100, which is more interesting for me.

At page 76 (from preview) there is a rare pearl: the chapter about beibenia stars.

From Girolamo Vitali, Lexicon Mathematicum Astronomicum, 1668
Girolamo Vitali, Lexicon Mathematicum Astronomicum, 1668

Stelle beibenie, how they were called, are the heart of the celestial images, the first magnitude stars, ie Regulus of Leo, Antares of Scorpio, Spica of Virgo, Alphard of Hydra, but several  stars  of second magnitude are included too.

They were listed in a standard list which describes virtues of these stars when they are with the Lights or when ascending with the Ascendant or culminating  with MC , or posited in the remaining angles, as the one given by Mashallah in Dykes translation, but especially known is the Latin version known as Liber Hermetis de stellis fixis que dicuntur Beybenie or in short Liber de stellis beibeniis, published several times before 1500.

The word beibenia could be found even in another famous text, the Centiloquium, in several aphorisms concerning fixed stars:

Aphorism n.29: The fixed stars do design immeasurable and admirable preferments, which notwithstanding determine in unusual calamities, unless the planets concur in judgment, or be in conjunction with them
Aphorism n.29: The fixed stars do design immeasurable and admirable preferments, which notwithstanding determine in unusual calamities, unless the planets concur in judgement, or be in conjunction with them (Coley translation)

In the same way the word was stranger to Latin scholars, it was stranger to Arabs, from which the word was taken: for example the astrologer Al Biruni gives a wrong translation for it, because he says it comes from the Persian word for “desert”, because fixed stars were often a guide for travellers in the Arabian desert.

But the source of the word beibenia explains very clearly the origin of this list of the stars, which was explained by Henning only in 1942  (( W. B. Henning,  “An Astronomical Chapter of the Bundahishn.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1942) 229-48.)).

The Arab word was a transcription of a Pahlavi word, which was in turn just  the Persian transcription of the Greek word “aplanes” – fixed 🙂

As we saw in the post about transmission of astrology so again we have  a Greek text, arrived to Arab astrologers through the medium of Pahlavi, and then translated from Arabian to Latin.

From Kunitzsch
From Kunitzsch

The oldest text about “beibenie” is a chapter from an Anonymous astrologer writing in my city in 379 AD, which has been translated in English by Robert Schidmt with the  title “Anonymous of 379: Treatise on the Bright Fixed Stars”  (( Anonymous,  Treatise on the Bright Fixed Stars.” Project Hindsight, Greek Track )) and on line in English translation based on Bezza’s version from Greek. (( Giuseppe Bezza, Arcana Mundi: Antologia Del Pensiero Astrologico Antico (Milano: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 1995). ))

The same text can be found at least in Rhetorius- in note in Dykes translation in fact- and Teophilus of Edessa.

At the present we have Albumasar version (in arabic) while original Mashallah work is lost – we have the Latin version  by Hugo of Santalla, and the other independent version of Salio, through which derives  Liber de stellis beibeniis, and another  version, the Hebrew Sepher Hermes.

Ptolemy in Tetrabiblos is  silent enough on fixed stars- he just mentions the planetary temperament of stars of the 48 constellation.

Hephaistio of Thebes explains how colours are imputed: (( quoted  in Claudius Ptolemaus, Commento al Primo Libro della Tetrabiblos di Claudio Tolemeo: con una nuova traduzione e le interpretazioni dei maggiori commentatori (cura Giuseppe Bezza), 2° ed. (Milano: Nuovi Orizzonti, 1992).  ))

The power and nature of the fixed stars is also taken according to the similarity to the planets of the powers and natures suggested by colour, as the ancients and the divine Ptolemy have laid out (( Hephaestio of Thebes, Apotelesmatics, translated by Robert Schidmt (Berkeley Springs: Project Hindsight- Greek track, 1994).  ))

The anonymous  astrologer – together with the rest of astrologers who adapted his text- describes their qualities and virtues with some effectiveness.

Stars- 30 in the original version- are 14 of first magnitude (Ptolemy mentions 15) and 16 of second magnitude. Other authors can slightly differ in giving the list, and in every they always update the longitude given in the original list. (I’m following Daria Dudziak’s English translation in CieloeTerra site, where you can read the whole text with Bezza’s notes.)

I. stars of  Venus- Mercury nature: Spica, Vega, Deneb, Fomalhaut

they make the natives well-known, famous and resourceful, but also very learned and erudite, fond of philosophical dissertations, eloquent, creative, perspicacious, ingenious and clever, keen on music and arts and good-hearted. These natives are also nice and pleasant, they like fine and voluptuous things, they have a delicate palate and prefer peaceful and soft activities, they are cheerful and merry, wise, sensible and reflective as well as able, skilful and lucky.

II. stars of Jupiter-Mercury nature: Alphecca, Castor, Zubeneschamali

the natives become fond of literature and humanities, scholars, popular orators, ingenious and clever people, keen on music and arts, people who hit the target, good-looking, able to carry on a lot of activities and skilful at many things, dignified, pious, religious, suitable for and capable of doing business, very well-known or people who purchase gold and silver and other riches thanks to relations, connections or successful trading and who keep their noble feelings and nature even during their misfortunes.

III.stars of Jupiter-Mars nature: Regulus, Antares, Sirius, Menkalinan, Altair

it makes people who are born with a disposition of this kind become illustrious generals that subdue regions and cities and peoples, it makes them people who govern, who are inclined to action and act quickly, people who are not submissive and do not accept to be subdued, people who speak frankly, who have a taste for struggle and take pleasure in fighting.

IV.stars of Jupiter-Saturn nature: Rigel, Algol, Rukbat Alrami, Capella, Alnilam

the natives own a lot of things, they are very rich and they have possessions in several countries and cities or towns, they are country-loving people and they have a bent for and are skilful at building houses.

V.stars of Mars nature: Pollux

a person who is born is fit for being in command, skilful, expert and clever, energetic and vigorous, active, temerarious and foolhardy, is not submissive and do not accept to be subdued. Moreover, the native is yearning and greedy, hard-hearted, tough, proud and haughty, a military leader, tyrannical, glorious.

VI.stars of Mars-Mercury nature: Bellatrix, Procyon, Alpheratz, Betelgeuse, (Vindemiatrix), Scheat

leaders, people who are valiant, able, skilled, strong and vigorous as well as full of energy, versatile, cunning and shrewd, people who are capable of doing a lot of varied activities and are competent at many things. These stars also give rise to wise and sensible people, with a shrill voice, deceptive people and they make people who are successful and have good results, obstinate and stubborn people, they who are impetuous, impulsive, insatiable and greedy in their desires, who corrupt both young boys and maidens, perjurers and oath-breakers.

VII.stars of Venus- Jupiter nature: Rigil Kentaurus (called Toliman too), Achemar, Arcturus

the natives become pure and honest, nice, agreeable and pleasing, fond of music, fond of their friends and friendly, pious, liberal, generous and munificent, wise and sensible, fond of listening to other people. These people are men of good judgement and give good advice, they have a noble and majestic mind, a kind heart, they are people of good feelings, self-possessed and moderate in the pleasures of love and they are greatly favoured by women.

VIII.stars of Saturn-Venus nature: Denebola, Alphard, Zosma

they make the natives prosperous, they make them have many possessions and really well-known and also people who are subject and slave to passions, do obscene and indecent things or speak effeminately. Moreover, these stars make the natives people who love the virtue and who criticise the pleasures of love using stern and severe words and as the years go by and they get older they take part in some priestly offices and services.

IX.stars of Mars-Venus nature: Aldebaran

the natives become prosperous and very rich and they subdue and govern towns, cities and regions.

Please notice that Anonymous’ text and Rethorius one are the only ones who includes all 30 stars, the other versions have less, while Vindemiatrix is not listed in the original text, but mentioned in the other ones.

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.



Ben Dykes, Persian Nativities, The Cazimi Pres, 2010

David Pingree, “From Alexandria to Baghdād to Byzantium. The transmission of astrology,” International Journal of the Classical Tradition 8, no. 1 (2001): pages 3-37.

Paul Kunitzsch, « Liber de stellis beibeniis. Textus Arabicus et translatio latina », in Hermetis Trimegisti Astrologia et Divinatoria, Turnhout, 2001 (Corpus Christianorum. Continuatio Medievalis, 144C), pp. 9-81

Paul Kunitzsch, « Origin and History of Liber de stellis beibeniis », in Hermetism from Late Antiquity to Humanism. La tradizione ermetica dal mondo tardo-antico all’umanesimo (Atti del Convegno internazionale di studi, Napoli, 20-24 novembre 2001), éd. P. Lucentini, I. Parri, V. Perrone Compagni, Turnhout, 2003, pp. 449-460

ARGO Forum:  (thread about problems of  translations)


2 thoughts on “About beibenie stars and their virtues

  1. Dear friends,
    I am working on a new edition and translation (German) of a middle persian Text on Cosmogony and Cosmology (Great Bundahishn).
    In Chapter II parag. 7. there is a astr. Term “a-wiyâbânig”, the antynom. of “wiyâbânig” (stellae beibeniae, ἀπλaνής („Fixstern“). Is there a lat. tecnicus terminus for a-wiyâbânig?

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