The hermetic Lots. A chapter from Pico’s Disputationes

One of the most influential and read book against astrology is surely the Disputationes adversus astrologiam divinatricem written by one of the emblems of Renaissance, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and published after his death in 1496 by his brother. The reason why Pico left at his back the Theses about magic and kaballah and was pushed to write a book against astrology like Disputationes is a mystery, but even from a quick look to the text is evident that Cesare Vasoli (the greater expert of Renaissance together with Eugenio Garin)  is right when he writes listing all the possible theories of different scholars:

Lastly, there is room for whom desire to recognize  in this work, as in all the ones of his last Florentine staying, the beginning of a deep change inside the philosophical culture in the end of the century, oriented to a recovery of Aristotlean tradition, to philological and critical exactness.
CESARE VASOLI
(( Cesare Vasoli,  La polemica contro l’astrologia, in Le filosofie del Rinascimento,  Mondadori, 2002 ))

It’s evident reading some pages, like the ones translated below, the deep aversion for Arab astrology.  For example writes Pico: Haec noster Aboasar qui nisi scripsit ebrius, hac certe scripsit insanus. Garin translates: If Albumasar was not drunk when he wrote this, then he was mad.

Some years later, with the same spirit, Cardano, with the goal of coming back to the purity of Ptolemaic tradition, freeing astrology of mistranslations, errors and fantasies of Medieval astrology, will talk about Arab nugae.

Another mistery is where Pico studied astrology. Chapter after chapter, Pico shows to know all the different techniques of Renaissance astrology, and having read Hellenistic, Latin, and Arab sources, which fluently quotes.

Maybe Gaurico is right when in his Tractatus (( Luca Gaurico, L. Gaurici Tractatus Astrologicus, in Quo Agitur De Præteritis Multorum Hominum Accidentibus Per Proprias Eorum Genituras Ad Unguem Examinatis, Etc. Romæ, 1552. )) comments Pico birthchart with his usual good heart, saying that the famous and erudite philopher wrote a book against astrology only because three astrologers foretold he would die at 33, prophecy which  proved to be true.

So Pico’s animosity was mostly directed to astrologers rather than astrology.

Gaurico on Pico
Luca Gaurico - The killing direction is the Ascendant to Mars- the Ascendant is hyleg here.

The following chapter about Hermetic Lots is taken from Italian version (with Latin text) of Disputationes, translated by Eugenio Garin.

Here I’m adding a table for calculation of Hermetic Lots ((  see too Chris Brennan, The Theoretical Rationale Underlying the Seven Hermetic Lots ))

Table of hermetic lots
Table of hermetic lots

Liber Sextus Chap. XVIII. Which is the origin of Lots, and the conflict between astrologers to calculate them.

And even the Lots they use in every prediction, are not just pure fantasy, a vain, arbitrary dogma?
Calculate, they say, the intercurrent degrees between this and that planet; when you have counted the same number starting from the horoscope, where the number falls there will be the meaning of each thing, it should be regarded not unlikely planets and stars. Which  crazier thing  than this can be imagined ? Not only because it assumes a natural force in the sky where there is no star, no light, no other quality, as there is not certainly in that position – where the number falls, but since this way of counting is in turn an arbitrary imagination, nor it can have any physical reason.

Albumasar, very vain as usual, desired to find the reason for the Lots such calculated, which nobody did of the ancients. And so he found a way to say something where, among many rumors, does not express anything. The whole of all his words is eventually this: when two planets signify the same thing, the distance between them has also a prefiguring force. Which however  should be computed from the horoscope, since the future  events should be seen if  good or bad, knowing the place which the significator planet reached  starting from the horoscope. Thus, for example, being the Sun and Saturn the stars of the parents, it must be numbered the interval from which each other are separated from the Ascendant, and in the degree so determined will be the significator of parents, as if it somehow could put together the power of the Sun and Saturn. This is Albumasar sharp invention, which is supposed exactly what I deny, and above all I fight: that this distance has a power, for which the limit of an interval  so made, calculated from the Ascendant would have in itself some effectiveness.

It’s precisely this, of course, that should be explained, and not doing that at all, this is not an explanation of that thesis, but a simple statement that, as we have seen, not only is ineffective not giving any evidence of what it is searched, but it is false and contrary to the principles of astrologers, when the authors of the Lots, as we said, supposed the Lots of the same planets, not of things and events; which were invented later from the most recent (astrologers).

As for the Lots of the planets, which consistency may have Albumasar theory, when he says that the Lots are derived from the range of two planets signifying the same thing, while on the other hand from none of the planets except the Sun and the Moon the distance is taken, at least according to Hermes, who was the first inventor of this theory of the Lots in his book entitled Panaretos, but it is the planet of which is searched the Lot, and  from the Lot of the other of  luminaries?
He derives in fact from the Venereal Lot from the Lot of the Sun and Venus, and in this, as we noted in the first book, Albumasar and Alcabitius were wrong; he derives  Mercury Lot by the Lot of the Moon, which it is called Fortune, and from the same Mercury (they were wrong in this too) ; he derives Mars Lot from Mars and the Part of Fortune; Jupiter’s one from the Lot of the Sun and Jupiter; the Sun and Moon one from the other, as it is manifest to everybody. Nothing else is intended through the Lots, except what each planet belonging to the Lot, means.

Add that the Lots of the things  are not drawn by the planets signifying such things for the astrologers; because it is true that Mars signifies brothers, and yet the Lot of brothers is drawn from Jupiter and Saturn, and never from Mars. All the ancient astrologers ask to Saturn for the Lot of marriage, even if that planet never signifies marriage. Therefore Albumasar’s claim  is not only light and vain, assuming just what we are discussing, but totally alien from the opinion of the authors of this theory which we are disputing, authors who were driven from a different reason from this charlatan’s dreams after so many centuries.

The first opportunity of the error was in fact this: the ancients thought that the Eastern degree, namely the horoscope, corresponds to the Sun, estimating the Moon a sort of Sun lieutenant, so they desired to have a second horoscope corresponding to the Moon and believed that it should be in a place as far from the East as much as   the Sun and Moon  are distant in a geniture, and they called that place the Part of Fortune on the ground we shall show soon. This teaches Ptolemy himself in the third book of his predictions, warning that all the ancients agreed to put the distance of the the Part of Fortune from the horoscope as identical to that of the Moon from the Sun, and that was not different the opinion of those who in the night charts, rather calculate it starting from the Moon towards the Sun and then  they turn from the Ascendant to the preceding signs, so that they end at that very place where also those who, counting from the Sun to the Moon, count following the order of signs.

As for the reason of the name, I suspect that, having put almost two horoscopes, one of the Sun and the other of the Moon, to the first, namely the  real and solar one,   they confer the Lot of body and the soul, to the second, lunar and fortuitous, the  Lot  of fortunes, namely all those things outside of us, so that from the first we get our fate, from the second our affairs. So the lunar horoscope was called Part of Fortune, and Ptolemy gets his predictions about fortunes from no other point than this.

These parts are generally called Lots, instead Firmicus calls them places. Having been now accepted this argument, a certain Hermes the Egyptian, without well pondering the reasons of this ancient doctrine, thought to derive from all the planets similar Lots, and so he  drew the Lot of Saturn and the Lots of other (planets) in his book called Panaretos, and called the Lot of the Sun Agathodaimon, and namely the Good God or Demon, Jupiter’s one Nike, that is Victory, Mercury’s one Ananke, or Necessity, Venus’ one Eros, Love, Mars’ one Audacity, Nemesis the one of Saturn, and in arranging them he followed the method to derive each Part from the distance of the planet to which is a part in respect to the Part of the Sun or the Moon: the Sun for Venus and Jupiter and in the other cases, the Moon. And when was needed using  the Sun, he stated that the computation should start from it in a day chart, and in a night chart by going from the planet to the Lot; and the contrary when we use the Part of Fortune, but in any case the number should be drawn from the horoscope, because he saw that the ancients used this method for the Part of Fortune, which mutatis mutandis he applied for the other ones, without caring that the conjecture, whatever it is, according to which the ancients defined the Part of the Moon did not suit to other planets, with which the Sun is not in the same family or order, on which necessarily one can get a match in the horoscope as well as the East corresponds to the Sun.

God would want this freedom of fiction was contained in these boundaries! Paul Alexandrinus, a few centuries younger than Hermes of whom we spoke,  added to the Lots of planet other four Lots, not anymore of stars, but of things, namely fathers, sons, brothers and marriage. This acute invention was later occasion of innumerable delusions, because Lots of every trifle were endlessly imagined in the sky.

In every Arab and Latin astrologer so you find the Lots of chickpeas, beans, lentils, barley, onions and a thousand other things. That Chaldeans never used Lots I’m inclined to believe, not only just because it is an Egyptian invention, but because Porphyrius, writing his astrological institutions according the opinion of the Chaldeans, did not mention it. Ptolemy, except for the Part of Fortune, disdains all the others, even though he would have done better if he had refused that too, being the horoscope of the Moon and all that they put there vain and arbitrary. – But this seems a venial mistake, if we compare to where the license of astrologers with their futile rashness led, on the ground of a single example of a Lot.

We see now why astrologers observe the distances between the two planets counting from the horoscope. They found it in the Part of Fortune, and the ancients had followed that policy, because they looked for almost an horoscope, so that part should be placed to the East, to the same distance separating the motion of the Sun from the Moon: then, ignoring the origin of that doctrine, they imagined the tales told by Albumasar. If they say that they are moved on the basis of experience rather than reasoning, I will answer as I have always done so far, that those experiences which men do not get along do not have any authority; and this happens even about the Lots as in any other astrologic statement.

And firstly the same part of Fortune everyone always put in a different place: Ptolemy, whether a day or night nativity, teaches to compute it starting from the Sun to the Moon, while others argue that in a night chart it should be counted from the Moon to the Sun. Heliodorus and Firmicus put the Lot of Venus by the Daimon to Venus day and night; Alcabitius, on the contrary, following Albumasar, by the Part of Fortune to the Part of the Daimon in the night, and in the day from the Daimon to Fortune; the same Abenragel in the night and in the day from Venus to Fortune. Arabs calculate the Lot of parents in the day births from the Sun to Saturn, in the night ones from Saturn to the Sun; Heliodorus, if Saturn is hidden under the rays, both in the day and night, proceeds from Mars to Jupiter. The Lot of the brothers is calculated by Firmicus in the night from Jupiter to Saturn; the Greeks do so at night, but during the day from Saturn to Jupiter. They extraordinarily disagree on marriage: if you want the Lot of the husband, Alcabitius always calculates it from the Sun to Venus, Heliodorus from Saturn; Firmicus Maternus, following the ancients, wants we proceed from Saturn to Venus in the day but at night we should start from Venus, and then he states, as well as many others, he experienced that in the day and night charts we should always proceed from the Sun to the Moon. If we investigate a woman nativity, Firmicus wants to calculate it in the day from Mars to Venus, in the night from Venus to Mars, others always from Venus to Saturn, which Abenragel states it was Vettius Valens opinion. Alcabitius says was Hermes’one. Abenragel wants us to proceed always from the Moon to Mars, others always from the Sun to Mars, and in the same way disagree of the rest. But it is tedious to examine everything.

Arabs calculate the part of the peregrination from lord of the ninth in the first minutes, the Greeks from the Sun to Mars. The Part of inheritance, the ones from Saturn to the Moon, the others from Saturn to Venus; the Part of the servants, the ones from Mercury to the Moon, the others from Mars to the Moon. The Part of the Mother, all the ancients calculate from Saturn to the Moon, then counting the number from the horoscope as they were used to do for everything; the Arabs calculate it from the Moon to the first minute of the eighth house, and then add so many degrees as the ones travelled by Saturn in the sign where it is located, and the resulting sum from the beginning of the sign where Saturn is entering – for the following signs. But we do not have so much time to waste to remember all their fantasies. Anyone can clearly see that results are not based on trustworthy experiments, but every (astrologer) according his mind has shaped his dogmas.
GIOVANNI PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA (( Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Disputationes Adversus Astrologiam Divinatricem, cura e traduzione Eugenio Garin. Firenze: Vallecchi, 1946.  ))

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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3 thoughts on “The hermetic Lots. A chapter from Pico’s Disputationes

  1. LOL @ Pico’s comment about Abu Mashar. So are you in the “Hermetic Lots are fictive” category along with Pico?

  2. No, I’m not there.
    Criticizing Albumasar was trendy at the end of XV century, I don’t think he was so an awful astrologer. But Disputationes is a bestseller of Renaissance, one of the most influential book for the next generation of astrologers, and I was curious to give a look inside.

  3. I agree, attacking all Muslim science was a large part of the Renaissance, and Abu Mashar was part of that. Still a funny line though. 🙂

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