The colour of fixed stars

The following text was written by Franz Boll in 1917 and has been translated from Italian from a collection of chosen essays.  (( Franz Boll, Astronomia e astrologia nel mondo antico, Nino Aragno Editore 2008 )). The original version is published in the Neue Jahrbucher, XXXIX, 1917, page 19 et ff, as Astronomische Beobachtungen im Altertum.

It is especially dedicated to lovers of fixed stars, of which Boll is surely the unsurpassed reference.

In fact while the article has been written almost 100 years ago still it maintains all its freshness: if the texts mentioned by Prof. Boll are now well known to traditional astrologers, due to the work of Giuseppe Bezza and Robert Schmidt, many of the problems mentioned yet don’t have a solution, for the example the controversy about the “true” colour of Sirius.

in my opinion it is not a coincidence Prof. Boll’s academical career started discussing his doctoral thesis on Claudius Ptolemy, who seems to have not such a good press at the moment among some traditional astrologers, which for me it’s inexplicable.  On the other hand if a scholar as Boll judged Ptolemy not so overrated, maybe we should give him more credit 🙂

Even in this essay Boll starts from Ptolemy and his Almagest, in particular from the chapters dedicated to the fixed stars, the 7th and the 8th. Here stars are shortly described according a brief description and grouped for the first time (together with Hipparchus) according their apparent magnitude in six classes. As example this is  the Latin version printed in 1515 : (( Claudius Ptolemy, Almagestum Cl. Ptolemei Pheludiensis Alexandrini astronomorum principis: opus ingens ac nobile omnes celorum motus continens, Venetijs : felicibus astris eat in lucem: ductu Petri Liechtenstein Coloniensis Germani … ex officina eiusdem litteraria, 1515. die. 10. Ja. (Venetijs : ingenio labore & sumptibus Petri Liechtenstein Coloniensis, 1515. die. 1. Jan. ))

From the 1515 Latin edition of Almagest
From 1515 Latin edition of Almagest

On the other hand he describes the astrological qualities of the fixed stars in the ninth chapter of the I book of  Tetrabiblos: basing on both texts Boll writes some notes on the colors ancient astrologers and astronomers used in describing fixed stars. In fact Ptolemy does not  mention his method, so we should trust on Ephaestio Theban:

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 color, as the ancients and the divine Ptolemy laid out. (( Hephaistio of Thebes, Apotelesmatics, book I translated by Robert Schmidt, Project Hindsight Greek Track, VI))

So Boll speaks,  pictures and notes were instead found by the gentle translator…
mf

THE USE OF A CHROMATIC SCALE IN MODERN AND ANCIENT  OBSERVATIONS OF STARS

Over the past decade, modern astronomy has placed a particular interest in the color of the stars. H.Osthoff, from Cologne, who has been dealing with this type of observations for 25 years, has published in “Astronomische Nachrichten” (CLIII 1, 1900) (( H. Osthoff, Die Farben der Fixsterne, in Astronomische Nachrichten, 153, 1900))

the first page of Osthoff article
the first page of Osthoff article

a catalogue of the colors of 1009 fixed stars, making use of a decimal range of colors from white to red, focusing in particular on the observation of the Northern part of sky and examining the most controversial opinions on the fixed stars which experienced a color change. An appreciated integration of Osthoff’s research has been provided in the same journal (CLXVI, 1904) by J.  Moller from Elsfleth with a list of 169 fixed stars, including, specifically, all the stars up to a magnitude of 3.4 ranging from 20 ° South declination to the South Pole. Moller has converted his data on the basis of Osthoff chromatic scale, conducting his observations in the tropical area of Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, both by naked eye and with telescope, while Osthoff had been working in Cologne between 1885 and 1893 with a terrestrial telescope, and between 1893 and 1899 with a Steinheil refractor. Then, because of a colleague’s – M. Wolf- courtesy, I was informed of the publication in a  journal not available for me – the Journal of British Astronomical Association- of large lists, work of many observatories, of the color of the bright stars of almost all parts of the sky and that the Jesuit Father JG Hagen, of the “Vatican Astronomical Observatory III” revised (1911) the work of B. Sestini on stellar colors. (( John George Hagen, Benedetto Sestini, Colori stellari osservati a Roma negli anni 1844-1846 Roma, Tipografia poliglotta vaticana, 1911.))  Finally, F. Kruger,  director of ‘Ole Roemer’ Observatory of Aarhus, recently died in 1916, informed me, having the kindness to send it, of  his new catalogue of colored stars from the North Pole to 23 ° South declination.

Osthoff scale
Osthoff scale from "Relation Between the Color and the Period of Variable Stars" Journal: Popular Astronomy, Vol. 16, 1908, p.322

At this point there arises a question: the ancients paid interest to the color  of the fixed stars? The answers to this question which we find in the historians of ancient astronomy do not offer any explanation and indeed, for what I have found, never even find useful to raise the problem. Humboldt, whose description of the cosmos has never lost its value for the history of astronomy, briefly explained the matter noting that “Greeks astronomers knew only red stars.” In effect, they are present in Ptolemy’s large catalog of fixed stars, a catalog, which,  do not  offer us  always with the desirable reliability and accuracy, the result of the observation of the ancients on the position and size of each star. To be precise, only six stars are marked as ‘reddish’: Arcturus, Aldebaran, Pollux, Antares, Betelgeuse, Sirius. In the ancient writers here and there there are similar data on the number of these stars, and in this way seems archived  any other consideration.

However, we received an entire mass of data on the stellar coloration, which often is extended even to stars of third magnitude, which however does not change the fact that these observations remain unclear for being disclosed in an expressive form so foreign to the modern astronomical lexicon, and in a such arbitrary way to the point that these lists have not yet received any attention. In 1903 I had the opportunity to mention very briefly to the matter in Sphaera,  (( Franz Boll, Sphaera. Neue Griechische Texte Und Untersuchungen Zur Geschichte Der Sternbilder, (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1903).  )) but only in the last two or three years I have been able to examine in more detail these obscure indications from ancients, and comparing them with modern data.  About the most  important of them, a chapter of Ptolemy astrological treatise, the Tetrabiblos – the authenticity of which, after my research, is no longer questioned, resulting indeed confirmed many times –   must be said that its text should be critically determined; other sources are partially known through the Catalogue of the Codices of Greek Astrologers CCAG. In this regard, I would like to present here a brief report on the achievements due to my investigation of these sources, accompanied by some examples.

In Tetrabiblos,  which, depending from more ancient sources, tries to remove as much as possible the religious component of astrology in an effort to sketch a kind of primitive astrophysics, there is a chapter, which in the first instance, for the most part without making  any division into groups, puts the astral images of the Zodiac, according to its individual parts -hence the Northern and Southern images – in parallel with planets. So, for example, stars located in the ‘portion’ of Taurus (the Bull in the sky seems to appear neatly as an halved image) should have the same mix of elements, ie translating in Latin the Greek word krasis, the same temperamentum of Venus and of Saturn to a limited extent; the Pleiades, the same temperament of the Moon and Mars; the other stars of the same class as Hyades, the temperament of Saturn and partly of Mercury. Among the bright stars of Orion, some are distributed on the behalf of Mars and Mercury, others on the behalf of Jupiter and Saturn. In order to conclude with another example the bright stars of Drago without exception, are under the competence of Saturn and Mars.

If we carefully consider the text, we will notice that in general the comparison is supposed only with the five planets known in antiquity: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. The Sun and the Moon, joined with the first five make the system of the seven planets, are only considered in relation to nebulae and the Pleiades star cluster.

In a series of other documents, found among the writings of an Anonymous astrologer of  the year 379 AD and of a Greek-Egyptian astrologer of the sixth century – who both in all probability, as I will show in a future treatise ultimately refer to the lost first book of Phases, another of Ptolemy’s works – are mentioned thirteen stars among the brighter ones, therefore the first and second magnitude stars, and among these precisely those that, in the likeness of the planets are on the zodiac or at not great distance from it. In the relative texts are listed, without exception, only the five planets; most of the fixed stars are put in relation not with a single planet, but with two, so often it is possible to appreciate the connection of  a fixed star with a couple. By contrast, a short chapter, which I brought to light from a Viennese manuscript, which bears in the heading the name of Ptolemy as  author but which, however, as it seems obvious, cannot be traced back to him and that therefore I will mark with the name of Pseudo-Ptolemy seems to follow a different criterion: each of bright stars is connected only with one planet and, specifically, between only four of the five planets, all except Venus. We know that Venus, by far the most visible planet, which at East can even cast a shadow and can be seen in daylight, so both by  Babylonians and the most ancient Greek philosophers such as Democritus, was put with the Sun and the Moon in a triad and was in this way separated from other planets. It is clear therefore that the similar approach adopted by the Pseudo-Ptolemy about Venus is not the result of mere will of a single hand, but emerges from an ancient tradition, ultimately from the Babylonian one.

It is often referred to the Babylonian origins even in the chapter, for so many other aspects so much divergent which is Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos. His author explicitly states he does not desire to refer something new, but only the observations of the ancients, without clearly mentioning who they were. However  whoever could have been the source of his information, it is surely difficult to doubt of the Babylonian matrix of the whole theory. Among other things, the author reveals his source because in his text the Sagittarius/Centaur in the zodiac is winged, an element occurring only for the Babylonian Centaur and never in the Greek one; the Greek zodiacal Sagittarius looks like a centaur, instead of the wings wears, in imitation of another archaic image of the East, a fur coat or a flowing vest. In Denderah Zodiac, which is actually a overall representation of the sky, the centaur is winged. I was able to demonstrate as early as 1903 even in the light of other sources, the direct transmission in Egypt, not mediated through Greece, of the Babylonian zodiacal images.

Flamsteed Atlas, 1753 (from the wonderful site Atlas coelestis)
Sagittarius of Flamsteed Atlas, 1753 (from the wonderful site Atlas coelestis)

Now, which is the meaning of the original Babylonian correlation of the fixed stars with planets?  If it is claimed that this or that fixed star, or this or that group of stars, has the precise ‘mix’ of elements of the only planet Jupiter, or Jupiter and Saturn, or it has – which would have the value of a synonymy –  the same ‘strength’, or ‘energy’ of these two, then it would not be possible to doubt that the same divine power embodied in those planets can be traced also in the related fixed stars. Why come into play just Jupiter and Saturn, and not any other planet?

Girolamo Cardano (d. 1576), the defender of astrology, put in discussion by Scaligero the Elder and Scaligero the Younger, philosopher and astronomer, commentator of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, and whose ponderous work in ten volumes  in folio lies covered with dust in libraries, did not completely realize these planetary connections. Even the first great atlas of the modern era, the one of Johann Bayer of Augsburg (1603), whose connotation of the stars with Greek and Latin letters (as, for example alpha Virginis) is still in use today, describes, along with every fixed star or each group of fixed stars or entire astral images the corresponding nature of the related planet. We find such expressions as  ‘de natura Saturni‘,  ‘omnes de natura Saturni et Jovis‘ and similar, which clearly shows as Bayer’s reference was Cardano or Ptolemy. It is likely, moreover, that Bayer had other sources, because at the time Arabs had not lost a certain tradition of studying and interpreting stars. Even the great Scaligero does not show in respect to the subject his usual perspicuity, and the same Bayer offers no justification for this parallelism.

With the triumph of Enlightenment  even in this field the tradition was completely lost. Only the Berliner astronomer Argelande occasionally mentions, about Alexander von Humboldt, a remark which should be read as evidence of the importance he gave to this connection with planets, nonetheless neither Humholdt or him were able to start from this knowledge for their research. Apart from the mention I made in 1903, I found only in F.X. Kugler, the most worthy scholar of Babylonian astronomy, an entirely accidental remark revealing his understanding of the issue, while in his essay (1914) E. Weidner seems to wander in a area of erroneous assumptions. So far no one has reviewed that chapter of Tetrabiblos and its parallel texts using them for the purposes of the history of astronomy, just as no one has systematically analyzed the significance of the Babylonian data.

COLORS AND PLANETARY NATURE OF STARS: TWO EXAMPLES

Yet, this or that hint found in some ancient author should make us ponder on the fact that here we are not in front of a mere empty speculation, but an effective natural observation.We mention in particular a remark made by Hephaestio of Thebes, an astrologer of the fourth century AD.

Hephaestio appears to totally continue the approach of the chapter of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos: introducing his speech, in fact, Hephaestio notes that these similarities between planets and fixed stars are due to the color of celestial objects. This is confirmed by a whole series of testimonies, even minor, which, besides, I was able to know only in recent years; in particular, there was recovered something of great value of which so far the history of astronomy had no knowledge: the existence of not just one but many catalogs of colored stars dating back to the ancient world.

Modern astronomy, however, would have differently proceeded  and would not have attributed the color of the fixed stars only through the comparison with a planet. On the one hand, it is clear, unfortunately, the great uncertainty found in Babylonian texts and slightly lesser in the Greek ones, in the connotation of the diversity of colors; and on the other, which is the most striking element, it reveals the need for a religion reference to specific deities, leading to indicate, rather than a specific color, the corresponding colored planet.

The verification of individual data, on the basis of Hephaestio and other ancient writers, confirm the importance given to the catalog. I will supply as evidence of it a couple of examples. As we noticed above, Aldebaran, the beautiful shining star of Taurus, according to Ptolemy text, as in Rhetorius, as well as those of Anonymous of 379 AD and the Pseudo-Ptolemy,  falls within the range of stars ascribed to Mars. According to Osthoff scale, the color of this star has an intensity of 6.4 and the color of Mars has an intensity ranging between a value of 7.9 according Moller’s observations and a value of 7 according to Osthoff scale, while in the middle position there would be, according to Moller, the planet Saturn with a color intensity value of 5.3. We see now as Aldebaran is still connected to Mars because of its well known red color.

The other stars which are in the head of  Taurus, ie the stars  gamma, theta, delta and epsilon plus a couple of very small stars, have, according to Ptolemy the same temperament as Saturn (and, at least to some degree, as Mercury, which is close enough). (( Says Ptolemy: “of the stars in the head, the one of the Hyades that is bright and somewhat reddish, called the Torch, has a temperature like that of Mars; the others, like that of Saturn and moderately like that of Mercury;”))  Now, as already mentioned, in Osthoff chromatic scale Saturn obtains, according to Moller observations, a degree of color intensity of 5.3. The stars of Hyades, have, respectively, the color values of 5.2-5.6 and  5.5-5.7.

The Corona Borealis from Bayer Atlas
The stars of Taurus from Bayer Atlas (from Atlas Coelestis site)

About this matter I shall just mention another item I shortly touched before (a full explanation would take us too far.) The ‘bright’ stars of Drago, according  the Tetrabiblos, belong to Saturn and Mars. According to Ptolemy the constellation of Drago has no star  brighter than  third magnitude (Bayer however, attributes to Alpha Draconis the second magnitude, but Ambronn considers this star of magnitude 3.8 or 3.6, ie the same size as established by Osthoff in his scale). Since Hipparchus and Ptolemy also sometimes use marking not only as  bright  the stars of the first two, but also of the third, class of magnitude, this notation, even if this is a third-magnitude star, does not create any problem even in Tetrabiblos. The stars of the Drago, to which Ptolemy gives the third magnitude, correspond in the usual Bayer nomenclature, to the stars alpha, beta, gamma, zeta, eta , iota, kappa, lambda to which  can be added the star  theta, whose magnitude is between the fourth and the third. According to Osthoff the colors of these stars are located in the following sequence of color intensity values: 2, 1, 5.0, 6.4, 2, 1, 4.9, 5.7, 2, 1, 7.0 , ending with 4.0. We see that three stars, which have a much weaker colour, are opposed to four stars of chromatic intensity between 4 and 5 and two stars of intensity between 6 and 7. Next, as regards the most intensely colored stars, it is quite obvious their characteristic of being stars, falling because of the color, under the area of planet Saturn (which has a color value of 5.3) and Mars (with a color value oscillating, depending on the approach taken in the observation, between 7.0 and 7.9). The stronger colour is privileged, while the three weaker coloured stars have been ignored, since it is evident not all the stars were considered, but rather only the brighter ones.

These are, not according to Ptolemy, but to the more accurate data by Osthoff , the following four stars: gamma,  eta, beta,  delta, whose size varies between 2.4 and 3.2: the four brightest stars, within the constellation of the Drago have respectively values of color intensity 6.4, 4.9, 5.0, 5.2. It is possible to see here the affinity of colored stars with the intense colour of Saturn. It is not a coincidence that this planet, compared with most of colored stars and with Mars coming at the second place,with all the evidence is placed by Ptolemy in the first place on the basis of observational data available at that time.

Draco, Hevelius Atlas 1690
Draco from Hevelius Atlas, 1690

I think the examples given are more than enough, reserving for a more extended work the discussion in detail of the inevitable things to correct and arbitrary judgments in which I incurred. Here I would only add a few considerations.

It was evident during the verification of the data, that the particular fixed stars which value, according to Osthoff or Møller observations, would be higher than 6- therefore, according to Kruger color intensity scale, with a yellow light prevailing on red -are usually associated with Mars; the fixed stars associated with Saturn are mostly in the spectrum of the chromatic class 5, while those in Jupiter area have an intensity of color around the value 3.4, those referring to Venus have color values between 0 and about 2.6.

Therefore arises a more pronounced difference than what occurs in reality: according to Moller the average color of Jupiter and Venus is very similar (value: 3.6), while according to personal communications from Osthoff there would be a slight difference between the color values of the two planets: 3.4 for Venus versus 3.6 for Jupiter.

THE BRIGHT SKIES OF BABYLONIA

If in this regard one cannot help to observe a tendency to create schemes, which is unavoidable when we take as reference planets, and this is more evident in a small planet like Mercury so difficult to observe. It would appear that generally  in the proximity of major stars are stored small groups of fixed stars, whose color prevent from measuring their smallness. So, for example, the constellation Corona Borealis belongs to Venus and Mercury: the star Alpha Coronae Borealis –  of second magnitude – whose color, according Osthoff, has an intensity of 2.2, lies under the sphere of Venus, while the smallest stars -beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, iota,  according to Ptolemy all of magnitude 4, are associated with Mercury.

If the smallest stars are neglected, it is impossible to deny how it is risky, even for the stars to the third magnitude, the attempt to assign them lower values of color. I must at this point, leave the task of establishing the exact limits of the possibility of observation to modern astronomy.  Scholars have so much and variously discussed about the quality of observation of Babylonian sky. While for many contemporaries the atmosphere of Mesopotamia valley is a negligible information, the ancients attributed to it a great importance, and indeed an observer active in the current war, B. Stern, refers to the extraordinary clear air of the region for the actions of artillery. Regardless of it, it should be noted however that, being based on the tables attached to my work, the number of exact indications far exceeds the incorrect data and that, for the latter, the problem of imprecision can be easily remedied, practicing eyesight especially for nearer stars.

About this, we have an elegant example of observation from Hipparchus, passed on to us by Ptolemy in the beginning of the seventh book of the Almagest: between the northern foot of the constellation Virgo, mu Virginis, and the right foot of the constellation of Bootes (zeta Bootis) there are two stars, of which the Southern one (109 Virginis), bright and similar to the one located at the Bootes foot, is diverted to the East by a line drawn between the stars mu Virginis and zeta Bootis.You can observe that  it is not stated “similar for its brightness”, but rather “bright and similar to zeta Bootis)’: from which it would be preferable to think of a similarity between zeta Bootis and 109 Virginis, not concerning their brightness. In Osthoff (No. 579 and 585), we find that the star zeta Bootis has an apparent magnitude of 4.0 and the star Virginis 109 4, 1, and the color degree is 2.8 for both stars. Regardless of whether Hipparchus meant to indicate the similarity in terms of apparent magnitude or color, remains the fact that the modern researcher ends up to fully confirm the correctness of the ancients’ observations.

Hipparchus observation from the VII book of Almagest
Hipparchus observation from the VII book of Almagest

A SHIFT IN THE COLOR OF SIRIUS?

There is, however, a problem that should be faced, which intrigued many astronomers, without without never achieving full clarity. It ‘s the assertion, made by the ancients about Sirius red color.

According to a personal communication I received by Osthoff, this is a matter that nowadays astronomers consider solved. Schiaparelli would explain it partly due to miswritten codices, partly to the mix-up between Procyon and Sirius (which however according to Osthoff has just 2.9, thus showing a light between the yellowish white to light yellow).Schjellerup, as I have seen giving a look to Kugler’s Sternkunde  (1, p. 243) (( Franz Xaver Kugler, Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel. Münster in Westfalen: Aschendorff, 1907.)), supposes the relating places in the Almagest should be considered corrupted. In many ways, it should be necessary to get the better of the present uncertainty.

Among the testimonies survived about the red color of Sirius only a few are actually useless: in particular the one found in Cicero, who, quoting a line from Aratus mentions Sirius as a star with a red light (rutilo cum lumine)  ((Phaenomena 326-34)) and Avienus, where there are expressions like “multus rubor” and “rutilus“. Indeed, both in Cicero and  in the bombastic style adopted by Avienus the meaning of terms such as rutilus or rubor is compressed up to mean simply the brilliance. Even  to what Horace says in a well known  line of Satyres should not be given an absolute importance, because the poet may have been strongly influenced by the reference to heat of the Dog days (while it is much less likely that Horace meant to refer to the sacrifice of a red-haired she-dog during the ceremony of augurium canarium).

Luckily the only sure witness is the one we are given from Seneca in his  Quaestiones nalurales: Seneca in fact states there is no reason to wonder of the difference of terrestrial fumes since even the sky has not the same color (non unus appareat color rerum) and, conversely, if the Dog is definitely red, Mars it is in a milder way, while for  Jupiter, this planet does not show any red color at all, but rather a pure white splendor (acrior  sit Caniculae rubor,Martis remissior, Jovis nullus in Lucem Puram nitore perducto. (( Cicero, Quaestiones Naturales, I,1, 6))  Here seems possible to doubt about the fact Seneca wished to mention there  their color, because cannot put into discussion the brightness or resplendence of Jupiter, which is much brighter than Mars or the Dog Star.Equally undeniable, however, is that in the Almagest Sirius appears as a reddish star  characterized by the same expression which in the text also mark Aldebaran, Antares, Arcturus Pollux and Betelgeuse. (( Translator Note: which are the only other stars mentioned by Ptolemy as red stars)). The textual tradition  is entirely consistent in this regard and, as we can say with absolute certainty after Heiherg, critical edition (( Claudii Ptolemaei Opera quae exstant omnia … : cure Johan Ludvig Heiberg , Ptolemy, Franz Boll , Friedrich Lammert , Ae. Boer., 1898 in aedibus B. G . Teubnerig. )) fully guaranteed, so that nothing but an expression of empty discretion of will call into question its correctness. There are also two indisputable evidences, independent  one of the other, about the red color of Sirius, but conversely  in Manilius (I, v. 409), the Roman poet of the age of Augustus and Tiberius, and perhaps to imitation of this place, in the later Avienus (II, v. 1376), the attribute caeruleus (bluish) given to Sirius is surely certified .

The  status quaestionis has been definitively clarified by the chapter of Tetrabiblos before mentioned, and by its thematically close texts. In Tetrabiblos Sirius, as we have already seen, because of its color, belongs to Jupiter and, in limited way, to Mars, or, conversely, to Mars and Jupiter, as can been seen in Rhetorius, the Egyptian astrologer  of the sixth century AD.,  in the Syrian scholar Theophilus of Edessa, who in the eighth century translated Homer into Syriac, and  in several Parisian excerpta. Conversely, for the Anonymous of 379 AD Sirius belongs only  to  Mars while the Pseudo-Ptolemy puts it only under Jupiter. From these elements surely follows  that Sirius was not seen as a red star, otherwise it would not have been possible to compare it too, and even in the first instance, with Jupiter, marked with a yellow-white color. It is, moreover, consequently impossible for Sirius, as Humboldt among others, has stated, to be an example of color change and that the red colour  vanished over time.

Rather than the flashing red, so clearly distinguishable in this star, should be considered, drawing on Plassmann, the reason why for the ancient Sirius was a red star. Indeed in this regard could be mentioned the observations on the horizon, because of  the closeness to the horizon, where because of the marked glittering accompanied with some prismatic color shift, actually Sirius and other stars  could appear red. “In these circumstances,” as Osthoff pointed me out  “the actual color of the star Capella can, for a few seconds, entirely disappear due to flashing red.” On the other hand, considering the importance of the meaning that the center of the sky had for astrology and because of the certainty of having regularly observed stars in their transition through the meridian, it does not seem reasonable to focus very much on the horizon.

NEBULAE

I would like as conclusion, to mention the fact, now stressed by the discovery of new texts, that  in ancient times were observed more double stars and star clusters than the ones can be inferred from the Almagest large catalog of stars. As we learn from a testimony based on a text published just a few years ago, the smallest clusters of stars were considered by the astrologers exceptionally powerful, almost invincible in their action, and worthy of special attention. I do not intend here to explain why among other things, these stars were used in astrology to predict failures and sufferings of  body and soul.

I will mention only the fact that the nebulae were connected with the Moon and, more rarely with the Sun, while ancients were inclined to associate Mercury with pairs of stars (such as alpha and beta Geminorum) and large clusters of lesser stars.

One may wonder why just the Sun and the Moon may appear adequate for being related with the blurred nebular clusters. However, this is precisely the mythical basis that without fear of making mistakes, rules, in all these considerations, archaic speculations in ancient Greece. Locating a very small star with the naked eye is undoubtedly an effort for the eyesight. As a result, the astrologer was inclined to fear that these kind of stars, for example from the nebula of Cancer, which is known as Praesepe, would result in a damage to the eyes for those who are born under their influence, even if they never would devote themselves to astronomical observation.

According to a widespread ancient way of thinking the Sun and the Moon are the eyes of sky from which, in a peculiar astrological perspective, follows the close relationship among the Sun and the Moon on one side and those nebulae on the other. All this it should sound incredibly naive to the modern reader, nonetheless we regret the fact that the observations allowed by that astrological fancy have not reached us in a greater number. If even astrologers were satisfied with a schematic work and certainly a superficial approach, still dominates in the astrological theory a religious element, the faith in the incarnation of gods in the stars and thereby the certainty  to explore their wills and future intentions through a faithful observation, the more exact and proper as possible.

Translated by Margherita Fiorello, CIDA certified member, for heaven astrolabe blog @ year 2011. If you want to be notified the next time I write something, subscribe to my RSS feed.

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