Hellenistic astrology has long suffered from a translation problem. Ancient Greek is a difficult language to translate into English for a number of reasons. Translations by astrologers can sometimes lack the erudition of those by classics scholars. On the other hand, translations by scholars can sometimes lack the attention to details which are important to the practicing astrologer. A translation project started earlier this offers new scholarly translations of Greek texts at an affordable price to an astrological audience.
Translations of many early Hellenistic texts have been made by astrologers like Robert Schmidt, James Holden, Andrea Gehrz, and Eduardo Gramaglia which range from sufficient to exceptional in quality of translation. Astrologer-led translations can also sometimes suffer from assumptions and/or inexperience which leads to poor interpretations and/or fanciful speculation. I, as a beginning Greek student, also run into this with my own attempts to translate Greek. Additionally, there are times when the best English translations are difficult to hunt down or prohibitively expensive.
A few translations also exist from true scholars of the classics, such as Frank Robbins translation of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos and Mark Riley’s of Valens’s Anthology. As translations by scholars, they bring with them an overall higher quality of translation from someone more experienced with the nuances of the language. However, as translations by non-astrologers, they can potentially suffer from a failure to recognize specific wording, technical details, or terminological distinctions critical for a practicing astrologer as particularly significant.
The HOROI Project
The HOROI Project was started on Patreon earlier in 2020 by Levente László, a classical philologist from Hungary who is working on a PhD pertaining to Greek-language astrology. For as long as one makes a $5 recurring monthly donation, the project provides access to all of the Greek-language texts that László has published there. Currently, more than a dozen full text translations are available, many of them of long texts which were provided in installments.
Given the translator’s philological background and active focus in that area, we can expect quality scholarly translations from him. In fact, we can expect that the quality of the translations and his insights into the texts will only improve as he translates more and more texts.
It is unclear whether László is himself an astrologer. I am unaware of him demonstrating any astrological analysis, or even publicly expressing an interest in practical astrological analysis. Still, he has ample familiarity with the history of the subject. He also appears to keep up with many of the concerns of astrologers in the community. He answers questions posed by astrologers within the project page and the project’s audience is largely traditional astrologers.
László has provided some additional information about his background, views on translation, and views on traditional texts in an interview. He has a more down-to-earth perspective on issues of textual reconstruction and the translator’s mission. For instance, he has a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to issues of reconstructing and authenticating controversial texts like those attributed to Antiochus. In this sense, he offers a valuable and refreshing new scholarly perspective on many textual issues.
You may have noticed that I often describe the translations as Greek-language astrology, rather than Hellenistic astrology. This is on purpose as some of the project’s translations are of Byzantine texts originating after the period of Hellenistic astrology proper. For instance, some texts are from the 10th and 11th centuries, and some are Greek translations of Arabic works.
That’s not to say that Hellenistic astrology has only a small place in the project. The amount of Hellenistic astrology translated for the HOROI Project is immense. Some highlights so far include Anonymous of 379 on the Bright Fixed Stars, Paulus Alexandrinus (ongoing), a Teucer text on parans, some fragments of Julianus of Laodicea (5th century), Porphyry’s Introduction to the Tetrabiblos, an Anonymous Commentary on Ptolemy (post-Porphyry but pre-7th century), and various texts attributed to Rhetorius. Another highlight is the summary of Antiochus, which, contrary to Schmidt’s problematic “reconstruction”, doesn’t include a concept of “detriment”.
For those interested in Perso-Arabic medieval astrology, there are also some gems. Most notable is “Abū Saʿīd Shādhān, Discourses with Abū Maʿshar on the Secrets of Astrology” (9th century). It was translated from Arabic into Greek as part of a late 10th or early 11th century Byzantine collection. This is a large text of nearly 100 chapters on Abu Ma’shar’s astrology and it repays study.
Importance of Primary Source Texts
I’ve long recommended that traditional astrologers move from secondary sources to traditional texts as quickly as possible. I appreciate many astrologers coming to my site to learn traditional astrological techniques and explore my perspective. I hope I have something to add to what can be gained from a reading of primary sources. Still, no one should consider themselves a traditional astrologer if they do not regularly revisit the actual primary source texts. Today, there appear to be far too many astrologers who have learned Hellenistic or medieval astrology from a modern “authority” yet are ignorant of the actual content and variety present in traditional texts.
Learning Greek, Arabic, and/or Latin is a noble and ideal way to approach the source texts. You will have the most intimate access to the words of the ancient astrologers. However, learning such languages is not necessary and sometimes not even practically possible for the common traditional astrologer. Additionally, it is not always enough to gain a better understanding of a text, as sometimes anything less than an advanced scholarly proficiency in the language yields false assumptions. Therefore, there is always a strong need for more quality, scholarly, astrology-conscious translations of ancient texts into modern languages, such as those found at the HOROI Project.
Today, a significant number of important texts can be found online for free. Those texts and the HOROI Project are vital sources of ancient texts for the student on a budget while at the same time worthy of the attention of even the most experienced traditional astrologer of means.
As I’ve noted, the “subscription” provides access to all of the texts that the project has translated, as well as those it will translate while you’re an active subscriber. At $5/month it is the best deal you’ll find this holiday season.
Additionally, the access allows one to comment on translations. You can ask questions of the translator, and he has been very responsive in the past.
This Solstice/Great Conjunction/Christmas/Hanukkah Holiday give yourself or a loved one the gift of quality English translations of traditional Greek astrological texts. Support the translation efforts of the HOROI Project with a monthly subscription.