Dwelling in Signs: The Archetypal Phenomenology of Domicile Rulership

Dwelling in Signs: The Archetypal Phenomenology of Domicile Rulership

The twelve signs of the Zodiac are fundamental to Western Astrology. Each sign is identified with a thirty degree segment of the ecliptic, the sun’s apparent path through the fixed stars, and is said to signify various states of affairs.[1] A sign is, as St. Augustine observes, “a thing which, over and above the impression it makes on the senses, causes something else to come to mind as a consequence.” [2] I might, for example, stumble upon an imprint on a mountain trail and take it as a sign that a bear is nearby, perceive smoke in the distant hills and take it as a sign that people are camping there, or hear the word “Plato” and call to mind the famous philosopher. In these cases, I am not concerned with the immediate sensible properties of my experience—the feel of the dirt in which the pawprint is impressed, the billowing shape or color of the smoke, or the particular tones composing the word “Plato”—but with what these sensible properties signify. Zodiacal signs are signs in this sense, and were understood to be so in the ancient world. Varro, for example, observes that “signa ‘signs of the zodiac’ means the same thing as sidera ‘constellations’. Signa are so called because they significant ‘indicate’ something, as the Balance [Libra] marks the equinox.”[3] And a general consensus eventually emerged in which Zodiacal signs were thought to signify on account of their gender (masculine or feminine), quadruplicity (tropical, solid, or double bodied), and triplicity (fire, air, water, or earth).

In this paper, I examine an even more fundamental account of Zodiacal signification in classical astrology: Dwelling. I contend that it is through dwelling that a sign’s gender, quadruplicity, and triplicity manifest their particular characters.  In the first section, I set forth the traditional account of signs as houses, an account rooted in the Thema Mundi, the birth chart of the cosmos. In section two, I explain this account through the Heideggerian concept of dwelling. In section three, I explain how dwelling grounds a sign’s gender, quadruplicity, and triplicity, and how, by allowing these features to manifest themselves, dwelling thereby also preserves a space for planetary forces to step forth as concrete personal deities. And, finally, in section four, I develop this account using the Iliad and the Odyssey to illustrate how Mars dwells in its domiciles of Aries and Scorpio as Ares and Athena.

1. Signs as Houses of the Planets

Zodiacal signs were called “houses” (οἶκοι) in traditional astrology.[4] Specifically, signs were identified with the houses of particular planets. For example, Valens begins his description of the nature (φύσις) of the zodiacal signs as follows:

“Aries is the house of mars (Κριός έστιν οίκος ‘Αρεως), a masculine sign, tropic, terrestrial, governing, fiery, free, upward-trending, semi-vocal, noble, changeable, procuratorial, public, civic, with few offspring, servile, the Midheaven of the universe and the cause of rank, two-toned (since the sun and the moon make white lichen).”[5]

He gives similar accounts for the other signs, noting, for instance, that Gemini is “the house of Mercury”, Cancer “the house of the moon”, and Leo “the house of the sun.”[6]

The canonical assignment of planets to houses came to be known as the Thema Mundi, a representation of the planetary abodes at the creation of the cosmos.[7] Macrobius describes it as follows:

“[Ancient astrologers] offer the reason that these twelve signs are assigned to the influence of different divinities. They say that when the world was being born, at the very hour of birth, Aries…occupied the middle of the sky and the moon was in Cancer. The sun then rose in Leo, Mercury in Virgo, Venus in Libra, Mars in Scorpio, Jupiter in Sagittarius, and Saturn in Capricorn. Thus it came about that each of the planets was considered lord of the sign in which it was believed to have been when the world was born. The ancients assigned only one sign to the sun and one to the moon, those in which they were at the beginning, Cancer to the moon and Leo to the sun; but to the other five planets five more signs were allotted in addition to those in which they were stationed at the beginning, the second apportionment being resumed where the first left off. The last planet mentioned above was Saturn in Capricorn. In the second apportionment the order was reversed and thus Aquarius, following Capricorn, was allotted to Saturn, Pisces to Jupiter, Aries to Mars, Taurus to Venus, and Gemini to Mercury.”[8]

So, according to Macrobius, the sign of Leo is given to the Sun as its home, and the sign of Cancer to the Moon. The other planets are then each given two homes. Mercury dwells in Virgo and Gemini, Venus in Libra and Taurus, Mars in Scorpio and Aries, Jupiter in Sagittarius and Pisces, and Saturn in Capricorn and Aquarius.

Ancient astrologers took this primordial assignment of planetary residence to be crucial to understanding both planets and signs. For example, Firmicus Maternus claims that Petosiris and Nechepso, two key sources for Hellenistic astrology, “wished to prove that the fates of men are arranged in accordance with this birthchart [the Thema Mundi], the conditions of the planets, and the influence they exert on the chart.”[9] But it is not entirely clear what such claims are supposed to amount to. Though the Thema Mundi is offered as “an example for astrologers to follow in the charts of men”, the underlying rationale for this original assignment is absent.[10] There is clearly some kind of relation between planet and sign that makes the latter a fitting home for the former,  but we are left to speculate about the nature of this relation: What grounds it, and why are these particular planets given to these particular signs and not to others?

Chris Brennan suspects that this assignment must somehow be grounded in a natural consonance between planets their corresponding signs. He observes “from a practical standpoint, it seems that a planet’s domicile is a place that the planet enjoys being in because it is most well-suited to its own natural expression. In other words, when a planet is at home it can do what it wants, and what it wants to do is signify the things that come naturally to it.”[11] Planets enjoy residing in particular signs, because something about those signs allows them to signify what comes naturally to them. This intuition seems correct, but we need to further inquire into what this natural consonance consists in. What does it mean for planets to naturally want to signify some things rather than others, and what is it about their domiciles that allows them to do so more easily?  

Demetria George attempts to answer such questions by drawing an analogy to feudal estates and their natural resources. Like feudal lords, planets have particular objectives they want to achieve. And, like feudal estates, signs have a variety of natural resources to be used in furthering these objectives. She observes:

“It is useful to imagine each zodiacal sign as a different estate or feudal manor that has its own particular natural resources. A planet might dwell in one of its own estates in which it has access to a certain kind of power or resource…. However, some resources are better suited for some planets than for others. This is the reasoning for why planets can be more effective on some zodiacal signs than others.”[12]

So, on this view, Mercury, a planet that wants to communicate, is given to Gemini “because it is equipped with a state-of-the art business center and drone courier service.”[13] The Gemini estate has the resources Mercury needs to carry out its planetary will. And, given that different estates have different natural resources, Mercury might have a more difficult time living in different signs. “For instance, should Mercury find himself on the Taurus estate, no matter how beautiful the pastoral setting and delicious the organically grown food, the residence is out of range for phone and internet reception.”[14]

While this metaphor may be useful in making delineations, it does not adequately explain the natural consonance between planets and their dwellings. For there are several problems with this natural resources model of domicile rulership. First, it is not found in our source texts. Though signs are called houses, and planets can be referred to as house-rulers (οἰκοδεσπότης), Hellenistic astrologers made no explicit attempt to explain the relation between these concepts by appealing to the natural resources contained in signs. Second, this account does not explain what it is for a sign to have natural resources. The claim cannot be understood literally. The sign of Gemini has no physical business center and one will find no food (organically grown or otherwise) in Taurus. The metaphor thus needs to be explained, and so, by itself, is an insufficient rationale for domicile assignment. And, finally, and most importantly, I believe that understanding the relation between planets and their signs in terms of will and natural resources anachronistically reads our contemporary exploitative approach to nature, what Heidegger called enframing (Gestell), back into traditional astrology. While we might approach our environment through the will to power, seeking to set upon it yield maximum gain and minimal costs, I do not believe that we should presume that ancient astrologers had such a view.

We thus need a different account of what grounds the assignment of planets to their zodiacal dwellings, and I contend that such an account can be found in the concept of dwelling itself.

2. Heidegger on Dwelling

In his essay, Building, Dwelling, Thinking, the philosopher Martin Heidegger observes that we ordinarily assume that building is directed toward dwelling. I, for example, might build a house to dwell in it. On this conception, building and dwelling are two different activities, the former being pursued for the sake of the latter.[15] But Heidegger argues that this commonsense perspective overlooks “the more essential relation” between them, since “to build is already to dwell.”[16] According to Heidegger, dwelling is primary, and building is a mode of dwelling.

He offers an etymological argument for the ontological primacy of dwelling. He begins by considering the verb Bauen: “What, then, does Bauen, building, mean? The Old English and High German word for building, baun, means to dwell. This signifies: to remain, to stay in place.”[17] He sees traces of this in the word Nachbar, neighbor, meaning near dweller, and in buri, bueren, bueren, and beuron which all signify “dwelling, the abode, the place of dwelling.”[18] Heidegger then notes that there is an even deeper connection between dwelling and Being.

bauen, buan, bhu, beo are our word bin in the versions: ich bin, I am, du bist, you are, the imperative form bis, be. What then does ich bin mean? The old word bauen, to which the bin belongs answers: ich bin, du bist mean: I dwell, you dwell. The way in which you are and I am, the manner in which we humans are on the earth, is Buan, dwelling. [Die Art, wie du bist und ich bin, die Weise, nach der wir Menschen auf der Erde sind, ist das Baun, das Wohnen.] To be a human being means to be on the earth as a mortal. It means to dwell. [Mensch sein heißt: als Sterblicher auf der Erde sein, heißt: wohnen]”[19]

At this fundamental level, dwelling is Being. It is the way we are on earth and the environment wherein building, in its more specific forms, can occur. This primary form of dwelling is so familiar that it is “from the outset ‘habitual” (Gewohnte).[20]

And, as we dwell and build, we thereby care for what is before us. For bauen also means “to cherish and protect [hegen und pflegen], to preserve and care for, specifically to till the soil [Acker bauen], to cultivate the vine [Reben bauen]. Such building only takes care—it tends the growth [Wachstum] that ripens into its fruit of its own accord.”[21] Additionally, in dwelling we fashion (herstellen) man-made artifacts such as bridges and houses. In both caring and fashioning, dwelling consists in preserving the essences of things. Heidegger observes:

“But let us listen once more to what language says to us. The Old Saxon wuon, the Gothic wunian, like the old word bauen, means to remain, to stay in place. But the Gothic wunian means more distinctly how this remaining is experienced. Wunian means to be at peace, to be brought to peace, to remain in peace. The word for peace, Friede, means the free, das Frye, and fry means: preserved from harm and danger, preserved from something, safeguarded. To free really means to spare. The sparing itself consists not only in the fact that we do not harm the one whom we spare. Real sparing is something positive and takes place when we leave something beforehand in its own nature [wenn wir etwas zum voraus in senem Wesen belassen], when we return it specifically to its essence [wenn wir etwas eigens in sein Wesen zurückbergen], when we ‘free’ it in the real sense of the word into a preserve of peace. To dwell, to be set at peace, means to remain at peace within the free, the preserve, the free sphere that safeguards each thing in its nature. [Wohnen, zum Frieden gebracht sein, heisst: eingefriedet bleiben in das Frye, d.h. in das Freie, das jegliches in sein Wesen schont]. The fundamental character of dwelling is this sparing and preserving. [Der Grundzug des Wohnens ist dieses Schonen]. It pervades dwelling in its whole range.”[22]

Dwelling, then, is a letting be of the essences (Wesen) of things. When we dwell with things, we preserve their essences, allowing them to reveal themselves as they are. We do not obscure them by attempting to twist them to our purposes. And, as Heidegger has argued elsewhere, these essences are constituted by what he calls the fourfold: the crossing of earth, sky, mortals, and divinities. Heidegger thus claims that dwelling preserves the essences of things by preserving the fourfold that gives them their essence. [Das Wohnen schont das Geviert, indem es dessen Wesen in die Dinge bringt.][23]

Heidegger uses the example of a bridge to show how dwelling, as fashioning, preserves the essences of things. According to Heidegger, “the bridge gathers to itself in its own way earth and sky, divinities and mortals.”[24] It lets earth stand as earth by bridging the two sides of the stream. It brings the banks together as banks of a river and unites them with the surrounding landscape. “The bridge gathers the earth as landscape around the stream.”[25] And in opening itself to the sky, it allows the quality of light and weather to shine forth as it is. “The waters may wander on quiet and gay, the sky’s floods from storm or thaw may shoot past the piers in torrential waves—the bridge is ready for the sky’s weather and its fickle nature.”[26] Likewise, the bridge provides the path on which mortals make their way. “Always and ever differently the bridge escorts the lingering and hastening ways of men to and fro, so that they may get to the other banks and in the end, as mortals, to the other side.”[27] And, finally, the bridge allows the divinities to descend. “Now in a high arch, now in a low, the bridge vaults over glen and stream—whether mortals keep in mind this vaulting of the bridge’s course or forget that they, always themselves on their way to the last bridge, are actually striving to surmount all that is common and unsound in them in order to bring themselves before the haleness of the divinities. The bridge gathers, as a passage that crosses, before the divinities—whether we explicitly think of, and visibly give thanks for, their presence, as in the figure of the saint of the bridge, or whether that divine presence is obstructed or even pushed wholly aside.”[28] In the bridge, then, the essences of things are gathered and allowed to stand as they are in the fourfold. Hence, Heidegger concludes that “building thus characterized is a distinctive letting dwell.”[29]

Furthermore, Heidegger follows the philosopher and poet Hölderlin in contending that the primordial nature of dwelling is poetic. For it is poetry and language that gather the essences of things and lets them shine forth in its clearing. Heidegger contends that “poetry, as the authentic gauging of the dimension of dwelling, is the primal form of building. Poetry first of all admits man’s dwelling into its very nature. [Das Dichten lässt das Wohnen des Menschen allererst in sein Wesen ein.] Poetry is the original admission of dwelling. [Das Dichten ist das ursprüngliche Wohnenlassen.]”[30] Poetry, by fashioning an image in which God is made present in his absence, spans the distance between the unconditioned and the conditioned. Heidegger observes:

“The poet makes poetry only when he takes the measure, by saying the sights of heaven in such a way that he submits to its appearances as to the alien element to which the unknown god has ‘yielded’. Our current name for the sight and appearance of something is ‘image.’ The nature of the image is to let something be seen. By contrast, copies and imitations are already mere variations on the genuine image which, as a sight or spectacle, lets the invisible be seen and so imagines the invisible in something alien to it. Because poetry takes that mysterious measure, to wit, in the face of the sky, therefore it speaks in ‘images.’ This is why poetic images are imaginings in a distinctive sense: not mere fancies and illusions but imaginings that are visible inclusions of the alien in the sight of the familiar. The poetic saying of images gathers the brightness of sound and of the heavenly appearances into one with the darkness and silence of what is alien. By such sights the god surprises us.”[31]

Here Heidegger contends that it is through images that things yield themselves to appearing. To begin with a mundane example, when I look at an apple, I see something red and round. I see what Heidegger would call “the image” in these sensible properties. But, phenomenologically considered, I see not only the sensible properties of redness and roundness, but the apple appearing through them. For example, I know that if I were to walk around the apple, I would see its other side. And this other side of the apple, though visually absent, is nonetheless presented through the sensible impressions that I do see. A part of the apple, its backside, appears in its absence through the image that is present to me. God would constitute an even more extreme instance of this phenomenon, since God, unlike an apple, has no sensible properties whatsoever. Hence, when the unconditioned God appears in the conditioned world of experience, he remains “one with the darkness and silence of what is alien.” God’s appearance is thus always a surprise.

The poet must thus look to the sky to try to measure the span between God and man. Heidegger observes:

“Hence the measure is of the same nature as the sky. But the sky is not sheer light. The radiance of its height is itself the darkness of its all-sheltering breadth. The blue of the sky’s lovely blueness is the color of depth. The radiance of the sky is the dawn and dusk of the twilight, which shelters everything that can be proclaimed. The sky is the measure.”[32]

Here Heidegger claims that the sky is a fitting image for the distance between God and humanity, since the sky contains both light and darkness–light in that God presents himself through it, and darkness in that he nonetheless remains concealed. And the blue of the sky not only conveys translucence and calm, but also signifies depth and the anxiety it produces. Indeed, blueness permeates Hӧlderlin’s poem that frames Heidegger’s discussion, since it opens: “In lovely blue the steeple blossoms/ with its metal roof. Around which/ drift swallow cries, around which/ lies most loving blue. The sun, / high overhead, tints the roof tin,/ but up in the wind, silent,/ the weathercock crows…”[33] The blue depths thus encompass the poet’s work, and, as a result, Heidegger concludes that ποίησις is not merely a matter of personal self-expression. “The poet does not work over the experiences of his soul, but rather stands ‘under god’s thunderstorm’— ‘with a bare head,’ defenseless, abandoned and relinquished of his own accord” (GA 39: 30– 31).[34] The poetic task is to look to the skies, harken to its announcements, and attempt, to the best of his ability, to give names wherein God might be pleased to dwell.

Astrological Dwelling

The Core Account

I contend that the Heideggerian account of dwelling sketched above can explain why particular signs are given to particular planets as their houses in the Thema Mundi. The applicability of Heidegger’s account to astrology should not surprise us, since Hölderlin, Heidegger’s primary source, himself had astrological concerns in mind. Hölderlin is said to have formulated his account of dwelling by considering how Germans and Greeks differed in their “architechtonics of the skies.”[35] And again, Heidegger, following Hölderlin, maintains that poetry occurs by grace (χαρις) alone.[36] “As long as this arrival of grace endures, so long does man succeed in measuring himself not unhappily against the godhead. When this measuring appropriately comes to light, man creates poetry from the very nature of the poetic. [So lange diese Ankunft der Huld dauert, so lange glückt es, dass der Mensch sich misset mit der Gottheit. Ereignet sich dieses Messen, dann dichtet der Mensch aus dem Wesen des Dichterischen.]”[37] We thus once more have a correspondence between the poetic and astrological projects, since χαρις (grace), a key poetic concept, and χαιρω (to rejoice), a key astrological concept, share a common root.[38]

At their most basic level, signs are called houses because planets dwell in them. Signs constitute a clearing in which gender, quadruplicity, and triplicity are gathered to reveal themselves in their essential natures. Furthermore, in holding a space for these essences, signs constitute a fit abode for gods and goddesses. This view is suggested by Manilius when he assigns various tutelary deities to signs. He observes:

“[The next step is to] mark well the tutelary deities appointed to the signs and the signs which Nature assigned to each god, when she gave to the great virtues the persons of the gods and under sacred names established various powers, in order that a living presence might lend majesty to abstract qualities.”[39]

Manilius here claims that tutelary deities are assigned to particular signs so that numinous powers might personally dwell in them. [40] And, in assigning these tutelary deities to signs, he does not always identify these deities with their corresponding planets in the Thema Mundi. Rather, he assigns them as follows:

“Pallas is protectress of the Ram, the Cytherean of the Bull, and Phoebus of the comely Twins ; you, Mercury, rule the Crab and you, Jupiter, as well as the Mother of the Gods, the Lion; the Virgin with her sheaf belongs to Ceres, and the Balance to Vulcan who wrought it; bellicose Scorpion clings to Mars; Diana cherishes the hunter, a man to be sure, but a horse in his other half, and Vesta the cramped stars of Capricorn ; opposite Jupiter a Juno has the sign of Aquarius, and Neptune acknowledges the Fishes as his own for all that they are in heaven.”[41]

On Manilius’s account, Venus and Mars are, as expected, assigned to Taurus and Scorpio as they are in the traditional the domicile rulership scheme. But the other deities are given unexpected assignments. Pallas Athena, not Mars, is said to dwell in Aries; Apollo, not Mercury, in Gemini; Mercury, not the Moon, in Cancer; Jupiter and Cybele, not the Sun, in Leo; Ceres, not Mercury, in Virgo; Vulcan, not Venus, in Libra; Diana, not Jupiter, in Sagittarius; Vesta, not Saturn, in Capricorn; Juno, not Saturn, in Aquarius; and Neptune, not Jupiter, in Pisces.

I believe that writing off this account as an imaginative idiosyncrasy on Manilius’s part would be a mistake. Rather, we should read this passage in light of his earlier claim that numinal powers are made personal through dwelling in signs. So if we take a more abstract account of planetary meanings,[42] planets, by dwelling in signs, would assume a more personal presence. And, as a result, though modern archetypal analysis fails to capture the overall metaphysics of traditional astrology, it may play a useful role within this more limited domain of planetary dwelling in signs. In the next subsection, I will develop this account in more detail.

Signs as the Gathering of Gender, Quadruplicity, and Triplicity.

Zodiacal signs, then, are dwellings that create space for particular constellations of gender, quadruplicity, and triplicity, allowing each to manifest its particular nature. Let’s examine each of these in turn.

Gender. Gender is one crucial way that the essences of things are gathered in a sign. Signs are thus considered either masculine or feminine. Indeed, Ptolemy even goes so far as to say that this distinction is fundamental to the nature of things, claiming “there are two primary kinds of natures [τὰ πρῶτα γένη τῶν φύσεών], male [ἀρρενικός]and female [θῆλυς].”[43] A sign, then, will gather what resides within it to let the masculine appear as masculine and the feminine as feminine. There were various systems of assigning gender to sign, but one popular Pythagorean strategy superimposed it on the distinction between odd and even numbers, the former being considered masculine and the latter feminine.[44]

But this leads to a problem, since a sign’s being odd or even would then depend on where one begins counting. For example, if we follow the Thema Mundi and begin counting from the Ascendant, Cancer would be the first sign, and thus odd and masculine, and Leo would be even and feminine. Yet this conflicts with the traditional correlation of sign and gender, since, on the standard view, Cancer is considered even and feminine and Leo odd and masculine.

Macrobius attempts to provide a justification for numbering the signs in the traditional manner by claiming that we should begin counting at the Midheaven, a location occupied by Aries in the Thema Mundi. Macrobius argues:

“[Ancient astrologers] divulged the following reason for wishing Aries to be called the first, although there is nothing first or last in a sphere. According to them, at the beginning of that day which was the first of all days—that is, the time when the sky and the universe took their brilliant sheen, the day which is rightly called the birthday of the universe—Aries was in the middle of the sky; and because the middle of the sky is the summit of the universe, Aries was considered the first of the signs, since at the first dawn it appeared to be the head of the world.”[45]

Here Macrobius argues that Aries should be considered the first sign, because it occupies the midheaven in the Thema Mundi, and counting should begin with the head—with what is on high. Presumably, the idea here is that our counting should follow a natural sequence in which the head is given priority. For example, since the head gives directions to the rest of the body, there is a sense in which it has priority over them. And, similarly, since the midheaven is the high point of the Zodiac, there is a sense in which it represents the realm of the gods, and, so, has priority over what is below it.

As a result, Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius, and Aquarius are all considered to be odd numbered and thus masculine signs, and Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio, Capricorn, and Pisces are said to be even numbered and thus feminine signs.

Masculinity, in the ancient world, was associated with activity, or as Ptolemy calls it “active force”, and femininity with passivity, or “rest.”[46] Ptolemy also connects masculinity to drying and femininity to moistening.[47] Presumably, when things are dry, they break apart and stand out in their own determinate shapes, and thus would be associated with active force. And, when things are wet, they stick together and are rendered amorphous, and thus would be associated with passivity and rest.[48]

Quadruplicity. In addition to gender, signs also gather seasonal qualities. Hellenistic astrologers classified these qualities into three groups of four: Tropical (Cancer, Capricorn, Aries, and Libra), Solid (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius), and Double Bodied (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces). Though each sign is analogous to “the seasons that take place in them”, they nonetheless share certain ways of relating to those seasons.[49]

Tropical (τροπικός) signs inaugurate the seasons. Manilius explains:

“They are called tropic signs, since in them/ turn the four seasons of the year and untie the bonds/ which fasten them together; they bring change to/ the whole sky as it revolves on its axis, giving a new/ look to the works of man and the face of nature.”[50]

These signs thus correspond to the beginnings of seasons, dissolving old connections and forging new ones to constitute a novel horizon for nature and culture to reveal themselves. Cancer contains the summer solstice, and thus corresponds to the beginning of summer. It “prolongs the day to its greatest length and then shortens it in retreating by small degrees, increasing night by the amount which it stole from day.”[51] Conversely, Capricorn contains the winter solstice, and corresponds to the beginning of winter. “Capricorn forces sluggish winter through the shortest day and longest duration of night, and begins to lengthen daylight and dispel darkness; by turns it now controls the days losses and now repairs them.”[52] Similarly Aries inaugurates the Spring, and Libra the Fall, because of their corresponding equinoxes. They are “signs which level the hours of light and darkness.”[53] In Aries, light and dark are held in balance as light begins to predominate. “Then first the sea is calmed with tranquil wave, and the earth dares to send forth flowers in all their variety; then amid happy pastures the tribes of bird and beast hasten to mate and breed, and the whole woodland speaks with melodious voice and grows green to full foliage. So deeply is nature stirred by the potency of the sign.”[54] Conversely, Libra balances the day and night as darkness begins to dominate. “This is the season when the Wine-god comes down in full strength from the laden elm, and the rich must pours foaming from pressed bunches of grapes; and this the season when men commit the corn to the furrows, whilst the soil, relaxed by autumn’s warmth, opens to clasp the seed.”[55] In this manner, the tropical signs “mark the changing seasons….suffering not to persist in its initial state.”[56]

In contrast, solid (στερεός) signs gather the Seasons in their purity and intensity. Taurus cares for the unadulterated spring,  Leo the summer, Scorpio the fall, and Aquarius the winter. Following the beginnings of seasons in the tropical signs, solid signs reveal the abiding character of each of the seasons. Ptolemy, for example, notes that we are made more aware of seasons in their purity in these signs, since we have, by then, accustomed ourselves to their weather and so can experience the seasons with focus and clarity. He speculates that signs are solid “because when the sun is in them the moisture, heat, dryness, and cold of the seasons that begin in the preceding signs touch us more firmly, not that the weather is naturally any more intemperate at that time, but that we are by then inured to them and for that reason are more sensible of their power.”[57]

And, finally, double bodied (δίσωμος) signs, standing between the solid signs of one season and the tropical signs of another, concern the space between seasons. Just as the figures associated with them have two bodies, so too do these signs hold together the characteristics of two seasons. Again, Ptolemy explains that these signs are called double bodied because, “they are between the solid and the solistial and equinoctial [i.e. tropical] signs and share, as it were, at end and beginning, the natural properties of the two states of weather.”[58] Gemini partakes of both spring and summer, Virgo summer and fall, Sagittarius fall and winter, and Pisces winter and spring.

Triplicity. Signs are also grouped into four sets of three corresponding to the classical elements of fire, air, water, and earth.[59] These roots (ῥιζώματα) or elements (στοιχεῖα) were thought to be the fundamental constituents of things. The Pythagorean philosopher Empedocles was the first to articulate this concept, when he announced:

“Hear first of all the four roots of all things [τέσσαρα μὲν πάντων ῥιζώματα πρῶτον ἄκουε]: Zeus the gleaming, Hera who gives life, Aidoneus, and Nestis, who moistens with her tears the mortal fountain” (D57).[60]

Later philosophers took Empedocles to here identify Zeus with fire, Hera with air, Nestis with water, and Aidoneus with earth. These basic elements form different things when either combined by love or separated by strife. Plato, in the Timaeus, goes on to identify these elements with geometrical shapes, the so called Platonic solids, to account for their physical properties. He identifies fire with the tetrahedron, air with the with octahedron, water with the icosahedron, and earth with the hexahedron.[61]

And Aristotelians assign each element a natural place and motion, as Aristotle suggests in the following passage from the Physics:  

“Further, the typical locomotions of the elementary natural bodies-namely, fire, earth, and the like-show not only that place is something, but also that it exerts a certain influence. Each is carried to its own place, if it is not hindered, the one up, the other down. Now these are regions or kinds of place-up and down and the rest of the six directions. Nor do such distinctions (up and down and right and left, &c.) hold only in relation to us. To us they are not always the same but change with the direction in which we are turned: that is why the same thing may be both right and left, up and down, before and behind. But in nature each is distinct, taken apart by itself. It is not every chance direction which is ‘up’, but where fire and what is light are carried; similarly, too, ‘down’ is not any chance direction but where what has weight and what is made of earth are carried-the implication being that these places do not differ merely in relative position, but also as possessing distinct potencies.” (Physics, IV.1 trans. Ross).

On this view fire, thus naturally tends upward towards its natural place. Air too be moves upward, but not as forcefully as fire. Earth, in contrast, moves downward toward its natural place and so does water, but like air, with less force.

When correlating zodiacal signs with elements, Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius are assigned to fire; Aquarius, Gemini, and Libra to air; Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces to water; and the Capricorn, Taurus, and Virgo to earth.

By clearing a space for a particular gender, quadruplicity, and triplicity to reveal itself, a sign constitutes a dwelling in which planetary powers can manifest themselves concretely as personal gods and goddesses. In the next section, I will illustrate this claim by considering the case of Mars as it reveals itself as Ares and Athena in Aries and Scorpio respectively. 

4. The Iliad, the Odyssey, and Poetic Domiciles of Mars.

At its most general level Mars represents the realm of Becoming as it exists in-itself. Mars is nature in-itself, red in tooth and claw. Valens thus associates it with “force, wars, plunderings, screams,” and “violence.”[62] And Porphyry similarly claims:

“The [star] of Mars is fiery and bloody and like a branding iron. Therefore it speaks of the hot blood in us… and of the spermatic impulse and of feminine fetuses, of action and of both dangers, and courage, and anger, and daring, and violence, and perilous affairs, and of severe suffering, of military service, and both of war and the employment of iron, and wounds, and all those things that happen with quickness and panic. And it is called πυρόεις.”[63]

I contend that this general planetary power becomes personalized as a particular deity by dwelling in the zodiacal signs it rules, namely, Aries and Scorpio. According to Manilius the god and goddess assigned to Mars’ domiciles are Ares and Athena. This is a fitting assignment, since Ares and Athena are the primary war deities of ancient Greece. For example, in the Iliad, when Aphrodite complains to Zeus that she has been wounded in battle, he tells her to stay off the battlefield and leave the fighting to Ares and Athena.

“So she spoke, and the father of gods and men smiled on her and spoke to Aphrodite the golden, calling her to him: ‘No, my child, not for you are the works of warfare. Rather concern yourself only with the lovely secrets of marriage, while all this [warfare] shall be left to Athene and sudden Ares.’” (Iliad V:426-430 trans. Lattimore.)

Or again, when Ares is massacring the Greeks without restraint, Zeus sends Athena to check him:

“Then in turn the father of gods and men made answer: ‘Go to it then, and set against him the spoiler Athene, who beyond all others is the one to visit harsh pains upon him.” (Iliad V. 764-766)

These passages reveal Ares and Athena as two primary war gods of the Greek pantheon, thus explaining why Manilius would assign them to the houses of Mars.

Manilius entrusts Aries to Athena as her house and Scorpio to Ares.[64] Yet I contend that it is better to reverse this assignment and give Ares to Aries and Athena to Scorpio. For this better comports with the genders of the signs—the god Ares dwelling in the masculine sign of Aries and the goddess Athena in the feminine sign of Scorpio. Furthermore, I argue that when we look to the particular characteristics of these signs, a clear consonance emerges between deity and sign when we assign them in this way.

Manilius’ argument for his assignment appears to rest on a few poetic associations between the images of the signs and the exploits of the deities in question. For example, Manilius argues that the Ram’s wool is vital for commerce, since wool-working was so important that Athena “herself has claimed it for her own hands, of which she has judged it worthy, and deems her victory over Arachne a token of her greatness.”[65] Here Manilius refers to the story of Athena and Arachne in which Arachne boasts of her ability to weave wool, challenging the gods in her pride. She competes with Athena and wins, but Athena grows so angry that she rips up Arachne’s work, strikes her on the head, and turns her into a spider.[66] Yet, there is only a tenuous connection to wool in this story, and Athena does not stand out as a particular goddess. Any other vengeful deity could have served just as well to punish human hubris.

Manilius’ argument for associating Ares with Scorpio is similarly tenuous. He claims that “by virtue of his tail armed with its powerful sting…the Scorpion creates natures ardent for war and active service.”[67] But, as demonstrated earlier, warfare is also associated with Athena in Greek thought. So the symbolic association between the Scorpion’s stinger and martial activities is not sufficient to ground an exclusive association with Ares. Furthermore, Manilius’s association of the sign with those “who devote their leisure to the study of war and every pursuit which arises from the art of war”[68] better fits Athena the strategist than raging Ares.

In contrast, if we entrust Ares to Aries and Athena to Scorpio, we get a clear contrast between two modes of being in war, two modes of being that are poetically expressed in the Iliad and the Odyssey respectively.

Ares and the Illiad.

Homer’s Iliad recounts the story of the Achilles’ rage and its consequences. The story takes place near the end of the Trojan war, when Achilles, the greatest of the Greek warriors, is dishonored by Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek forces. As a result, Achilles withdraws from the battle and allows the Greeks to be massacred by the Trojans. Eventually, he allows his friend Patroclus to go out in his armor to defend the Greeks, but Patroclus is killed in battle by Hector, one of the greatest Trojan warriors. Achilles then directs his rage to the Trojans, goes into battle, kills Hector, and desecrates his corpse. His wrath only relents near the end of the poem when the gods give him a direct command to release Hector’s body, and Priam, king of the Trojans, sneaks into the Greek camp to plead for the corpse of his son. Achilles relents when he thinks of his own father who will mourn like Priam at his own impending death. The story ends with Hector’s funeral, as his people mourn for him and for all who have died.

The god Ares is intimately connected to this poem. We can see the connection at the very outset of the epic, when Homer invokes the muse, calling on her to sing of Achilles’ divine rage (μῆνις). Homer prays:

“Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians, hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished since that time when first there stood in division of conflict Attreus’ son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus” (I.1-7).

The muse thus sings of divine wrath and its devastation, a topic fitting for the war god Ares. It is a song of heroes and their deaths in battle. And the devastation that unfolds is not brought about by superior strategy, but falls upon the Greeks as they turn against each other in rage.

We also see a connection to Ares in the epithets used to describe the warriors throughout the poem.  These heroes are said to be “equivalent to swift Ares” [δὲ θοῷ ἀτάλαντος Ἄρηϊ καρπαλίμως] (XIII.295, see also, II.627, V.576, XIII.500), and Agamemnon addresses his troops as “servants of Ares” [θεράποντες Ἄρηος] (II.110, see also, VI.67, VII.382, and VIII.79). Indeed, Ares is even presented as presiding over Trojan war itself, and thus over the events of the Iliad.  In this scene, Helen is described as “weaving a great web, a red folding robe, and working into it the numerous struggles of Trojans, breakers of horses, and bronze-armored Achaians, struggles that they endured for her sake at the hands of Ares” ( III.125-128).

Indeed, Ares even appears personally in the poem, descending to rouse the troops to battle and sometimes actively engaging in combat himself (V.460-470). Similarly, Ares is said to enter Hector as he prepares for battle. “The armour was fitted to Hektor’s skin, and Ares the dangerous war god entered him [δῦ δέ μιν Ἄρης δεινὸς ἐνυάλιος], so that the inward body was packed full of force and fighting strength. He went onward calling in a great voice to his renowned companions in arms, and figured before them flaming in the battle gear of great-hearted Peleion.” (XVII.209-214).

And, when Achilles returns to the fight, he is described as looking like Ares.

“But the Trojans were taken every man in the knees with trembling and terror, as they looked on the swift-footed son of Peleus shining in all his armour, a man like murderous Ares [λαμπόμενον βροτολοιγῷ ἶσον Ἄρηϊ]. But after the Olympians merged in the men’s company strong Hatred, defender of peoples, burst out, and Athene bellowed standing now beside the ditch dug at the wall’s outside and now again at the thundering sea’s edge gave out her great cry, while on the other side Ares in the likeness of a dark storm cloud bellowed, now from the peak of the citadel urging the Trojans sharply on, now running beside the sweet banks of Simoeis.” (XX.44-53).

In this passage, Achilles is not only portrayed as resembling the war god, but Ares himself (along with Athena) gives a warcry as the two sides face each other in combat. There is thus a special consonance between Ares and the Iliad. And, when we examine the further details of this story, we will see that this poetic residence of the god, has features corresponding to Aries—the masculine, tropical, fire sign. Let’s examine each of these features in turn.

Masculine: Perhaps most obviously, the masculine aspect of the story can be seen in the fact that Ares, the god of war, is portrayed as a male deity. But, more importantly, we can see masculinity in the quality of the actions the Iliad recounts. Ancient authors associated masculinity with activity, and the Iliad recounts plenty of activity. Great armies face each other in war, and many battles are fought throughout the poem. Likewise, the conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles has a masculine character, since they quarrel over honor, and, more specifically, over war brides. Agamemnon, being forced to return his war bride Chryseis to her father, a priest of Apollo, takes Achilles’ war bride Briseis, so as not to lose honor. But this dishonors Achilles, inciting his rage and causing him to withdraw from the war. The drama of the Iliad thus has a martial masculine flavor to it.

Tropical: As a tropical sign, Aries initiates. This can again be seen in the actions of Iliad. The Iliad is, as noted earlier, a song of wrath. Achilles’ rage is something that erupts on the scene, turning the course of the Trojan war. The Iliad is thus a fundamentally tropical poem, since it focuses on a novel event and its consequences.

The Iliad’s tropical character is also manifested in the subsequent events of its plot. Multiple characters take decisive action, go out into battle, and turn the course of events. For example, Apollo smites the Greeks with a plague, and then heals them when Chryseis intercedes. Or again, Diomedes (V-VI), Hector (VIII), Agamemnon (XI), Patroclus (XVI), and Achilles (XX-XXII) are all given aristeia scenes where they go forth and route their enemies on the battlefield.

Fire: Fire embodies wrath and the fury of war. It was also associated with cutting and separation in the classical world. For example, Plato’s Timaeus identifies fire with the tetrahedron, since it, of all the elements, has the power to move and cut. For “the tiniest body belongs to fire” (56a trans. Cooper), and “the body that has the fewest faces is of necessity the most mobile, in that it, more than any other, has edges that are the sharpest and bet fit for cutting in every direction” (56a-b). The Iliad is fiery in this additional sense, since it too is a story of cutting. Large numbers of soldiers are literally cut down. And the Iliad cuts a metaphorical division between the undying gods, who appear almost comic when injured in battle, and mortals who meet their end on the battlefield. And it likewise divides Greek from Trojan, and Achilles and his warriors from the rest of the Greek forces.

Moreover, the image of fire itself occurs at several key junctures in the Iliad. For example, Achilles finally begins to relent and allows Patroclus to go out and fight in his armor, when the Greek forces suffer defeat and the Trojans begin to burn their ships. And the poem concludes with an image of fire in Hector’s funeral pyre.

“But when the young dawn showed again with her rosy fingers, the people gathered around the pyre of illustrious Hektor. But when all were gathered to one place and assembled together, first with gleaming wine they put out the pyre that was burning, all where the fury of the fire still was in force, and thereafter the brothers and companions of Hektor gathered the white bones up, mourning, as the tears swelled and ran down their cheeks. Then they laid what they had gathered up in a golden casket and wrapped this about with soft robes of purple, and presently put it away in the hollow of the grave, and over it piled huge stones laid close together. Lightly and quickly they piled up the grave-barrow, and on all sides were set watchmen for fear the strong-greaved Achaians might too soon set upon them. They piled up the grave-barrow and went away, and thereafter assembled in a fair gathering and held a glorious feast within the house of Priam, king under God’s hand. Such was their burial of Hektor, breaker of horses” (XXIV. 788-804.)

Athena and the Odyssey.

Just as Ares presides over the Iliad, so too does Athena over the Odyssey. The Odyssey tells the story of Odysseus’ return home after the Trojan war and the difficulties he faces along the way. In his absence, brazen suitors usurp his house and plunder it, seeking to marry his wife Penelope and to kill his son Telemachus. Odysseus, disguised by Athena, eventually returns to Ithaca and slaughters the suitors by means of a carefully laid trap.

Athena is, by far, the most active divinity in the story, personally intervening at almost every key juncture. She advocates for Odysseus among the Olympians at the outset of the poem (I.44-95). She appears in disguise to Telemachus, calling him to leave the island and seek news of his lost father (I.96-305). She disguises Odysseus as an old tramp when he returns to Ithaca so that the suitors will not recognize him (XIII.429-438). She inspires Penelope to devise the trial of the bow to gather the suitors in one place to be slaughtered (XXI.1-4). She fights alongside Odysseus against the suitors (XXII.205-209, 297-309). After the suitors are dead, and their families seek vengeance, Athena once more intervenes in Olympus to secure peace for the land (XXIV.472-476), and then personally fights beside Odysseus, Laertes, and Telemachus against the kinsmen of suitors. And, finally, she commands Odysseus to relent from fighting and show mercy so peace can be restored (XXIV.526-548). Thus, from first to last, Athena has a hand in the events of the Odyssey.

Furthermore, Athena remarks that she is fond of Odysseus because they are akin to each other. At this point in the story, Odysseus has landed in Ithaca, and Athena, disguised as a shepherd boy, comes to meet him (XIII.221-226).  Odysseus greats her with a clever lie. “And so he answered her again and addressed her in winged words; but he did not tell her the truth, but checked that word from the outset, forever using to every advantage the mind that was in him.” (XIII. 253-255 trans. Lattimore). Athena responds to his deceit by praising him for his craftiness and declaring that she loves him because they are alike:

“The goddess, gray-eyed Athene, smiled on him, and stroked him with her hand, and took the shape of a woman both beautiful and tall, and well versed in glorious handiworks, and spoke aloud to him and addressed him in winged words, saying: ‘It would be a sharp one, and a stealthy one, who would ever get past you in any contriving; even if it were a god against you. You wretch, so devious, never weary of tricks, then you would not even in your own country give over your ways of deceiving and your thievish tales. They are near to you in your very nature. But come, let us talk no more of this, for you and I both know sharp practice, since you are far the best of all mortal men for counsel and for stories, and I among all the divinities am famous for wit and sharpness; and yet you never recognized Pallas Athene, daughter of Zeus, the one who is always standing beside you and guarding you in every endeavor.” (XIII.287-301).

And she makes a similar claim when she remarks that:

“Always you are the same, and such is the mind within you, and so I cannot abandon you when you are unhappy, because you are fluent and reason closely, and keep your head always. Anyone else come home from wandering would have run happily off to see his children and wife in his halls; but it is not your pleasure to investigate and ask questions, not till you have made trial of your wife.” (XIII.330-336).

Athena here claims that she cannot abandon Odysseus because he, like she, thinks things through strategically. Rather than simply running home to greet his wife and son, he wants to survey the situation and test even his wife to make sure it is safe to reveal himself.

Hence, Athena, more than any other deity, plays an essential role in the events of the Odyssey. With this background in mind, we can see how the poetic dwelling of Athena in the Odyssey corresponds to the sign of Scorpio as it holds together femininity, solidity, and the element of water. Let’s examine each of the features in turn.

Feminine: Athena and Penelope play a central role in the story of the Odyssey, providing an obvious example of its feminine character.  Furthermore, the events of the Odyssey are more passive than those of the Iliad, and so, to the classical mind, are to that extent more feminine. Rather than telling a tale of rage and of exploits on the battlefield, the Odyssey recounts the story of a homecoming (νόστος). Battles are fought, but they are fought to secure the return of Odysseus and the restoration his family and community. Indeed, this passivity is even displayed in the poem’s first depiction of Odysseus as he, yearning for home, weeps on Calypso’s island. Odysseus is a passive captive on this island, freed only because of Athena’s intercession and Zeus’s consequent command, conveyed through Hermes, that he should be allowed to return home. Odysseus, in this scene, sits on the seashore,

“his eyes were never wiped dry of tears, and the sweet lifetime was draining out of him, as he wept for a way home, since the nymph [Calypso] was no longer pleasing to him. By nights he would lie beside her, of necessity, in the hollow caverns, against his will, by one who was willing, but all the days he would sit upon the rocks, at the seaside, breaking his heart in tears and lamentation and sorrow as weeping tears he looked out over the barren water.” (V.148-158).

This description of Odysseus’ predicament could just as easily apply to Chryseis and Briseis, the war brides in the Iliad. Moreover, femininity is also displayed in Odysseus’ concern for the purification of the home after the slaughter of the suitors (XXII.398-494) and in the secret signs by which he and Penelope recognize each other (XXIII.181-230).

Solid: Unlike the tropical Aries which initiates action, Scorpio, a solid sign, concerns sustained states of depth and purity. Given that it is a house of Mars, Scorpio concerns warfare. Yet it does not preside over the flaring up of war as Aries does, but over but over war as an abiding state. This is illustrated by the strategic warfare of Athena and Odysseus. Rather than jumping headlong into battle like the warriors of the Iliad, Odysseus, searching for the ideal time and place to strike, adopts various disguises and fashions elaborate plans to defeat his enemies. War, in a fixed sign, is like a spider’s web. The spider need only wait for its prey to walk into the trap.

Such strategic warfare requires a keen intellect. For example, the famous military strategist Clausewitz observes that “if the mind is to emerge unscathed from” the “relentless struggle with the unforeseen” in war, it must “even in the darkest hour” retain “some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth.”[69] He calls this kind of intellectual insight “coup d’oeil” and claims that it “refers not alone to the physical but, more commonly, to the inward eye…. to the quick recognition of a truth that the mind would ordinarily miss or would perceive only after long study and reflection.”[70]

Odysseus displays such genius when he surprises the suitors in the trial of the bow. Rather than directly assaulting them when he arrives home, as one can imagine Achilles or Agamemnon doing, Odysseus bides his time and strikes only after he has an advantage, employing what Clausewitz calls the principle of the concentration of forces.[71] According to Clausewitz:

“The best strategy is always to be very strong; first in general, and then at the decisive point. Apart from the effort needed to create military strength, which does not always emanate from the general, there is no higher and simpler law of strategy than that of keeping one’s forces concentrated. No force should ever be detached from the main body unless the need is definite and urgent.”[72]

Odysseus employs this strategy when slaughtering the suitors, since he gathers his few allies in one place to fall upon his captive enemies. And he makes sure that his men are armed while his opponents are not.[73] This allows Odysseus to bring all his force to bear upon a captive enemy.

Water: Water plays a prominent role in the Odyssey. The poem recounts a νόστος, a journey home over water. Not only does Odysseus undergo many adventures at sea, but his son Telemachus must also sail forth to learn his father’s whereabouts. Furthermore, we see a connection to water in the divine antagonist of the story, Poseidon, the sea god who bears a grudge against Odysseus for blinding his son Polyphemus. And the element of water is also present in the many (secret) tears Odysseus sheds throughout the poem.

Indeed the island of  Ithaca itself is associated with water, when Athena describes it as a land marked by its rainfall. She observes:

“See now, this is a rugged country and not for the driving of horses, but neither is it so unpleasant, though not widely shapen; for there is abundant grain for bread grown here, it produces wine, and there is always rain and the dew to make it fertile; it is good to feed goats and cattle; and timber is there of all sorts, and watering places good through the seasons.” (XIII.241-247).

And if we connect moisture and fertility in this manner, we can see a connection to water in the restoration of Odysseus’ home and of Ithaca’s social order. 

There is thus an interesting parallel between the Iliad and the Odyssey and the houses of Mars in Hellenistic astrology. As a result, they can serve as primary illustrations of how signs, in gathering gender, quadruplicity, and triplicity, erect houses for the gods and thereby allow planetary powers to dwell among us as divinities.

5. Conclusion

The Heideggerian concept of dwelling thus furnishes an interesting account of the natural connection between planets and signs. On this view, the assignment of planets to their domiciles in the Thema Mundi is grounded in the fact that signs, by gathering a particular gender, quadruplicity, and triplicity, allow planets to manifest themselves as personal gods and goddesses. “For the gods are the brightening ones, whose brightening offers the greeting sent by gaiety. Gaiety is the essential ground of the greeting, that is, of the angelic, in which the very being of the gods consists.”[74] It is for this reason that planets can be said to rejoice in particular signs, for, in them, these general powers dwell as ministering angels. This, again, is a concept captured poetically by Hölderlin:

Angels of the house, come!  May the power of Heaven spread

  Through all the veins of life, ennobling and invigorating

And dispensing joy!  So that joyful angels attend upon

  Human goodness every hour of the day, and that

Such joy as I experience now, when loved ones

  Are properly reunited, be suitably sanctified.

When we bless the meal, upon whom shall I call,

  And when we rest after the day’s activity, tell me,

How will I offer thanks?  Should I call the Highest by name?

  A god doesn’t like what is inappropriate.  Maybe our joy

Isn’t big enough to grasp him.  We must often remain silent,

  A sacred language is missing — hearts are beating and yet

Speech can’t emerge?  But the sound of string music

  Resonates hour by hour, and perhaps that pleases

The approaching gods.  Begin the music, and the worries

  Almost vanish which would have affected our joy.

Willingly or not, poets must often concern themselves

  With such things, but not with others.”

(Homecoming, VI. Trans. James Mitchell)[75]

Peter Yong, Ph.D.

[The image used in the Thumbnail of this blogpost is “The Mystical Nativity” by Botticelli and is in the public domain. It can be found here. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mystic_Nativity,_Sandro_Botticelli.jpg ].


[1] Some contemporary expositors of Hellenistic astrology, following a quip by Robert Schmidt, claim that this is a mistake and that signs don’t signify anything. I think this approach is misguided.  Schmidt roots this claim in a sentence from Valens in which he claims that “depending on its relationship with the house ruler, men born under this sign [Aries] will be brilliant, distinguished, authoritarian…” (Anthologies I.2)  etc. Schmidt appears to take this to mean that signs only signify in virtue of their house rulers, and that, as a result, signs in themselves have no semantic value. But if you look two sentences above, Valens begins the section by noting the significations of Aries, “a masculine sign, tropic, terrestrial, governing, fiery, free, upward-trending…the midheaven of the universe and the cause of rank” (I.2). Schmidt’s claim thus appears to depend on taking a few lines out of context.

[2] St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine II.1.1. trans. Shaw. Augustine goes on to gives some examples of signification as follows : “as when we see a footprint, we conclude that an animal whose footprint this is has passed by; and when we see smoke, we know that there is fire beneath; and when we hear the voice of a living man, we think of the feeling in his mind; and when the trumpet sounds, soldiers know that they are to advance or retreat, or do whatever else the state of the battle requires.” (Ibid.). He then goes on to distinguish natural and conventional signs. “Now some signs are natural, others conventional. Natural signs are those which, apart from any intention or desire of using them as signs, do yet lead to the knowledge of something else, as, for example, smoke when it indicates fire. For it is not from any intention of making it a sign that it is so, but through attention to experience we come to know that fire is beneath, even when nothing but smoke can be seen. And the footprint of an animal passing by belongs to this class of signs. And the countenance of an angry or sorrowful man indicates the feeling in his mind, independently of his will: and in the same way every other emotion of the mind is betrayed by the tell-tale countenance, even though we do nothing with the intention of making it known.” (II.1.2)

[3] Varro, On the Latin Language, VII.14. trans. Kent.

[4] This can be confusing since what we call “houses” in contemporary astrology, traditional astrologers called “places” (τόποι).

[5] Valens, Anthologies 1.2 trans. Riley.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Yet this assignment was by no means unanimous. See Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology, 228. N44 and 45.

[8] Macrobius, Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, XXI.24-26. Trans. Stahl.

[9] Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis, III.I.2, trans. Bram

[10] Ibid., III.I.10. Firmicus goes on to propose his own quasi-evolutionary rationale. He claims that in its beginning the world was ruled by Saturn in a state of uncivilized ferocity, and advanced more and more under different planets, until they came to be ruled by Mercury where they learned both civilization and wickedness. I don’t find Firmicus’ proposal very convincing for a couple of reasons. First, this kind of evolutionary approach does not seem to have been the norm in the classical world, where, instead of describing man as advancing from his primitive ancestors, he was said to have fallen from their heights. Second, and relatedly, such an account contradicts the idea that Saturn presided over a golden age for man. And, finally, it doesn’t make much sense for an astrologer to assign Mercury the role of bringing evil to the world when Mercury is associated with astrology. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Firmicus is later thought to have renounced the practice of astrology.

[11] Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology, 238.

[12] George, Ancient Astrology in Theory and Practice, 169.

[13] George, 175.

[14] George, 177.

[15] Heidegger, “Building, Dwelling, Thinking” in Poetry, Language, and Thought, trans. Hofstadter, 143.

[16] Ibid., 144.

[17] Ibid, 144.

[18] Ibid, 145.

[19] Ibid, 145.

[20] Ibid, 145.

[21] Ibid, 145.

[22] Ibid, 146-147.

[23] Ibid, 149.

[24] Ibid, 151.

[25] Ibid, 150.

[26] Ibid, 150.

[27] Ibid, 150.

[28] Ibid, 151.

[29] Ibid, 156.

[30] Heidegger, “Poetically Man Dwells” in Poetry, Language, and Thought, 225.

[31] Ibid, 223-224.

[32] Ibid, 224.

[33] Hӧlderlin, In Lovely Blue, trans. Sieburth.

[34] Trans., Mitchell in The Fourfold: Reading the Late Heidegger, 129-130.

[35] Heidegger, “Poetically Man Dwells”, 225.

[36] Ibid, 226.

[37] Ibid, 227.

[38] Planets are said to rejoice in particular signs and places.

[39] Manilius Astronomica, II.434-438, trans. Goold. [noscere tutelas adiectaque numina signis et quae cuique deo rerum natura dicavit, cum divina dedit magnis virtutibus ora, condidit et varias sacro sub nomine vires, pondus uti rebus persona imponere posset].

[40] This account runs contrary to Schmidt’s view that the Zodiacal signs should be thought of as more abstract than the planets. In addition to simply finding the account unmotivated, I think there are a couple of significant problems with such a view. First, I think his account of ζῴδιον as that which stands forth from a background is too broad, and thus fails to distinguish living things from non-living things, and, more importantly, planets from signs from houses. And second, his account of the zodiacal signs as the final causes of planetary motion strikes me as misguided. Claiming to follow Aristotle’s account in Metaphysics XII, Schmidt attempts to explain the irregular motion of the planets in terms of their pursuit of false goods, false goods which he identifies with the Zodiacal signs. Yet such an account encounters a problem since the erratic motion of the planets is supposed to be explained by the false goods encoded in the signs, yet the signs, as fixed stars, are not subject to irregular motion for Aristotle, and thus ought to be more perfect than the planets, not the reasons for their straying.

[41] Manilius, Astronomica, II.439-447.

[42] As I have argued elsewhere. See “The Grounds of Sect in Hellenistic Astrology: A Philosophical Account”.

[43] Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, I.6.

[44] Aristotle reports, “Other members of this same [Pythagorean] school say there are ten principles, which they arrange in two columns of cognates—limit and unlimited, odd and even, one and plurality, right and left, male and female, resting and moving, straight and curved, light and darkness, good and bad, square and oblong.” Metaphysics, I.5 986a21-26. Trans. Barnes.

[45] Macrobius, Commentary of Dream of Scipio, XXI.23.

[46] Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, I.7. See also, his claim in I.12 that “the male likewise rule and holds first place, since also the active is always superior to the passive in power.” Here he asserts that activity is intrinsically more powerful than passivity, and, as a result may have categorized them in terms of differences in power.

[47] Ptolemy, for example, asserts “of the forces already mentioned that of the moist is especially feminine for as a general thing this element is present to a greater degree in all females, and the others rather in males with good reason the view has been handed down to us that the moon and Venus are feminine, because they share more largely in the moist, and that the sun, Saturn, and Jupiter, and Mars are masculine, and Mercury common to both genders, inasmuch as he produces dry and moist alike.” Tetrabiblos, I.6

[48] For instance, water can be poured into various kinds of vessels and fit itself to the shape of each of them.

[49] Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 1.11.

[50] Manilius, Astronomica, III.618-624.

[51] Ibid., III.626-628.

[52] Ibid., III 637-640.

[53] Ibid., III, 644-645.

[54] Ibid., III, 652-657.

[55] Ibid., III, 662-665.

[56] Ibid., III, 666-668.

[57] Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, I.11.

[58] Ibid.

[59] The assignment of the triplicities (named because they group the signs into four groups of three) to the four elements took time to develop, and was not universal in the Hellenistic tradition. See Brennan, Hellenistic Astrology, 260.

[60] Fragment numbers follow Early Greek Philosophy V: Western Greek Thinkers Part. II ed. and trans. Laks and Most. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016.

[61] Plato Timaeus, 53c-57c.

[62] Valens, Anthology I.1 trans. Riley.

[63] Porphyry, Introduction to the Tetrabiblos, § 45, trans. Holden.

[64] Manilius, Astronomica, II.439-443.

[65] Ibid., IV. 134-136.

[66] See, for example, Ovid Metamorphoses, VI.

[67] Manilius, Astronomica, IV.217-222.

[68] Ibid., IV. 228-229.

[69] Clausewitz, On War, trans. Howard and Paret, 46-47.

[70] Ibid, 47.

[71] A fitting principle for a solid sign.

[72] Clausewitz, On War, 147-148.

[73] Though some problems occur in this regard because Telemachus leaves a door unlocked.

[74] Heidegger, “Homecoming/ To Kindred Ones” in Elucidations of Hölderlin’s Poetry trans. Hoeller, 39.

[75] “Engel des Hauses, kommt! in die Adern alle des Lebens,

Alle freuend zugleich, teile das Himmlische sich!

Adle! verjünge! damit nichts Menschlichgutes, damit nicht

Eine Stunde des Tags ohne die Frohen und auch

Solche Freude, wie jetzt, wenn Liebende wieder sich finden,

Wie es gehört für sie, schicklich geheiliget sei.

Wenn wir segnen das Mahl, wen darf ich nennen, und wenn wir

Ruhn vom Leben des Tags, saget, wie bring ich den Dank?

Nenn ich den Hohen dabei? Unschickliches liebet ein Gott nicht,

Ihn zu fassen, ist fast unsere Freude zu klein.

Schweigen müssen wir oft; es fehlen heilige Namen,

Herzen schlagen und doch bleibet die Rede zurück?

Aber ein Saitenspiel leiht jeder Stunde die Töne,

Und erfreuet vielleicht Himmlische, welche sich nahn.

Das bereitet und so ist auch beinahe die Sorge

Schon befriediget, die unter das Freudige kam.

Sorgen, wie diese, muß, gern oder nicht, in der Seele

Tragen ein Sänger und oft, aber die anderen nicht.” (Heimkunft: An die Verwandten, VI)

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