The Hellenistic/Vedic case for ascensions

Astrology is not an archetype as many tend to think, but rather it is a model of the sky which is transmigrated from place to place, adapted to the local cultures, improved, enriched from the multicultural mix, it is in a word like a living being.

This idea is not new, it is well known inside academies, but not so between astrologers, in part because of the modern idea of “archetype”, in part because cultural barriers and impossibility to face the fact that the Mediterranean sea was in the Antiquity the real centre and core of the world.
III century BC world map

III century BC world map

Already in 1903 Franz Boll in Sphaera presenting the whole German translations of Albumasar’s decans attributed the part of his “Indians say” text to the Indian astrologer Kanaka. ((  Franz. Boll, Sphaera. Neue Griechische Texte Und Untersuchungen Zur Geschichte Der Sternbilder,. Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1903. ))  From this hint his friend Aby Warburg in a very famous lecture kept in Rome in 1912 (( Aby Warburg,  La Rinascita Del Paganesimo Antico Contributi Alla Storia Della Cultura. 1. ed.]. Firenze: La Nuova Italia, 1966. )) reconstructed the whole story of Schifanoia frescoes and their astrological images, from Alexandria to India, from India to Baghdad and eventually from Baghdad to Ferrara.

David Pingree shortly told the whole story (( David Pingree,“The Indian Iconography of the Decans and Horâs.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 26, no. 3/4 (1963): 223–254. )) focusing on the passage from Greek to Indian decans and deities: for example for Virgo, the Isis Pelagia  became for Indians a girl with a torch on a boat.

Isis Pelagia
Isis Pelagia

Obviously there are more than one evidence that Indian astrology came in contact and absorbed from Hellenistic astrology, but one of the more astonishing ones is for me the chapter about ascensions in Varahamihira’s Brihat Jataka.
Varahamihira was the most famous Indian astrologer, lived between 505 and 585 and worked in Ujjain, and thanks to him the mathematical school there became very important.

In the first book of  his Brihat Jataka he writes:

The Mana (measurement) of the first six signs from Aries are 20, 24, 28, 32, 36 and 40 respectively; and those of the next six signs are 40, 28, 24 and 20 respectively. (( Varahamihira, The Brihat Jataka of Varaha Mihira (cura N. Chidambaram Iver). Madras: Thompson & Co., 1905. ))

What these mana are?

Nothing else than the ascensional times of system A based on Babylon. What “ascensional times” are? They are the times a sign takes to rise at the ascendant.

Having 24 hours and 12 signs one could believe that a sign takes 24/12= 2 hours. Unfortunately it is not like that, because of the obliquity of the ecliptic, and some signs take more than 2 hours and so are called “long ascension signs“, others take less than 2 hours and so are called “short ascension signs“.

Vettius Valens is less dark and enigmatic about them and explains how to calculate them:

Aries rises in 20 <equatorial times………..If to the 20 of Aries we add 4, the result is 24. In this time /24K/ Taurus will rise. Then Gemini in 28, Cancer in 32,  Leo in 36, Virgo in 40, Libra in 40. From Scorpio to Pisces subtract in the same manner. (( Vettius Valens, Anthologies, transl. by M. Ripley))

How does Valens obtain these times? Very easily!

Each couple of opposite signs takes 60 times, so Libra will have 60-20 Aries= 40.
If I subtract the greater from the smaller, we have 40-20=20 which I should distribute between the remaining 5 signs of a zodiac half  (the other as we have seen it is specular). In practice 40/5=4 which I should add to the signs.
If Aries is 20 Taurus will be 20+4=24, Gemini 24+4= 28 and so on….
These are the wonderful Varahamihira’s mana, exactly correspondent to Vettius Valens’ ascensional times.

Unfortunately for Varahimihira mana, ie ascensional times, vary depending on Klima, the latitude.  Valens obviously used the Hellenist ones, because he was an Hellenistic astrologer, but what about Varahamihira?  Obviously he cannot know Babylon, which was kept by Alexander the Great 🙂 and moreover he lived in a place with a latitude of 23  – Babylon has a latitude of 32, so the ascensional times are completely different.

According Ben Dykes in fact the ascensional times for latitude 23 are: 22.85 for Aries-Libra, 25.92 for Taurus-Aquarius, 30.6 for Gemini-Capricorn, 33.75 for Cancer-Sagittarius, 33.88 for Leo-Scorpio, 32.96 for Virgo-Libra.

What happened is that Varahamihira took his data from an ancient Hellenistic text, which was obviously common in India considering all the evidences scattered in Indian texts. It’s just another case of transmission of astrology between Greece and India, that’s all 🙂

Written by Margherita Fiorello, CIDA certified member, for heaven astrolabe blog @ year 2012. If you want to be notified the next time I write something, subscribe to my RSS feed.



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