Texts and More
On this page I present a variety of links to resources for further study. I start with software recommendations, then recommended texts with notes. This is followed by recommended courses and links to other resources on the web that explore traditional astrology. If you are looking or links to other traditional astrology sites then please check the sidebar of the page for “Good Sites”.
When it comes to software, I include here only free resources. I prefer open source software as there is a need for flexible and adaptable software in astrology, and open source astrology allows for modification. See the lesson where I introduce charting and my series of articles on software for more information.
Morinus is the best free traditional astrology out there and also happens to be open source and available in a variety of “flavors”. I actually recommend using all three, especially if you switch between modern and traditional astrology. Note that you can copy your horoscope files (hors) from one program to another. You just copy the files from the hors folder of one program and paste them into the corresponding folder in the other one. In most articles on this website you can find chart examples from Morinus.
Flavors of Morinus
The regular version of Morinus is good for both traditional astrology and modern astrology. It includes the ability to do profections, returns (including precessed), primary directions, progressions, transits, and more.
The traditional version of Morinus drops some of the features of the regular version and adds a few more features for the traditional astrologer. The purpose of this version is to get rid of some of the confusing options and clutter that would not apply to astrology pre-1700. I tend to prefer this flavor of Morinus.
Valens is a traditional version of Morinus optimized for Hellenistic astrology. It included a zodiacal releasing feature and a couple other additions while removing some of the traditional astrology features that don’t apply to Hellenistic astrology. I actually use this version the least, but it is a handy free way to do your zodiacal releasing.
Planet Dance is a free astrological program with advanced capabilities. I find it a bit more cluttered than Morinus also packed with many more features. It is not open source but does allow for a certain degree of modification with scripts by way of its AstroBasic features. It is improving constantly and its programmers are particularly open to feature suggestions. You can find more information here.
The books linked to below are all ones that I recommend. Courses, secondary texts, and introductory material (such as the lessons on this site) are important. However, all students of traditional astrology must eventually focus their studies on the actual texts of the tradition. These are rich, varied, and perplexing works. We are still not yet at the point in traditional astrology where their errors have been fully overcome and their treasures have been fully unlocked. Therefore, traditional astrology needs you to study these texts!
Hellenistic astrology is often difficult to approach directly but is the foundation upon which all western horoscopic astrology was built. However, all students of traditional astrology must eventually focus their studies on the actual texts of the tradition. These are rich, varied, and perplexing works. We are still not yet at the point in traditional astrology where their errors have been fully overcome and their treasures have been fully unlocked. Therefore, traditional astrology needs you to study these texts!
Dorotheus of Sidon
Dorotheus was a 1st century CE Hellenistic astrology. His five book poem on astrology, Carmen, included four books on natal astrology and one on katarchic (electional/event) astrology. It was hugely influential on subsequent Hellenistic and Perso-Arabic astrology. Excerpts of the original Greek poem survive but the best full surviving source is a late 8th century Arabic translation of a 3rd century Persian translation of the Greek. The English translation by Ben Dykes is from that Arabic edition and includes the excerpts and copious notes comparing texts and exploring the techniques. Must have! See my review for a fuller look at this text.
The Dykes translation supersedes the earlier one by noted historian of science David Pingree. However, the Pingree translation still stands as a very good one for those who would like to compare the two. See my article on free texts for a link to free copies of the first three books of the Pingree translation.
Ptolemy is the most famous of the Hellenistic astrologers. He wrote in Greek in the 2nd century CE. In his astronomical work, the Almagest, he provided the most compelling geometrical model of the heavens of the ancient world. In that work he also provided the most compelling arguments in favor of using the tropical zodiac by popularizing the work of Hipparchus (2nd century BCE) on precession. However, it is his astrological work, the Tetrabiblos, which most interests us.
Like Dorotheus, the Tetrabiblos doesn’t survive in the original Greek. We have late Greek editions (13th century) and early Arabic editions (~9th century). As with Dorotheus, there is also the work of Hephaistion (5th century) who wrote in Greek and drew heavily upon both authors, often quoting them. The best widely available translation is that of Robbins (1940). That translation is also available free online.
Better translations (and from a better edition) of Books I, III, and IV were made by Robert Schmidt of Project Hindsight. At one point digital editions of them were available. Please contact Ellen of Project Hindsight ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) for inquiries regarding availability.
While less influential upon the later tradition than either Dorotheus or Ptolemy, Valens wrote a huge treatise rich in predictive techniques and example charts in the 2nd century CE in Greek. Current translations are based on three surviving manuscripts which date to the 14th century or later. While the manuscripts are rather late, they are in Greek (i.e. not translated) and are considered reliable.
The only available English translation of the full 9 books of the Anthology is that of Mark Riley (2010), available for free online.
Better translations of some books were made by Robert Schmidt of Project Hindsight. At one point digital editions of them were available. Please contact Ellen of Project Hindsight ( email@example.com ) for inquiries regarding availability.
Porphyry of Tyre
Porphyry is a famous Neoplatonic philosopher. He wrote an Introduction to the Tetrabiblos in the 3rd century CE, largely consisting of a summary of astrological definitions given by Antiochus of Athens. The lost set of definitions given by Antiochus (called the Thesaurus) appears to have been the richest and most detailed explication of Hellenistic astrological terminology. As such, modern attempts to reconstruct all the technical distinctions of Hellenistic astrology have tended to focus on our sources for Antiochus, for better or worse (see “Note on Antiochus” below). Porphyry’s rather concise treatment of astrological definitions makes for a must-have reference.
Porphyry was the earliest of the authors paraphrasing Antiochus whose works survive. The surviving manuscript of Porphyry’s Introduction is a Byzantine compilation (~10th century and probably by Demophilus). It is not perfect as some material appears to be missing, and it has some material from Sahl (9th century Perso-Arabic astrologer) tacked at the end, as well as some later commentary added. Still, it is in Greek (not translated) and David Pingree has expressed that sections 1-45 are likely the work of Porphyry.
Note on Antiochus
It is unclear if the lost foundational texts of the tradition (namely Nechepso, Petosiris, Hermes, Asclepius) explicated terms in exactly the same manner or detail as Antiochus. This is important as those texts appear to have established the “system” of Hellenistic astrology in the narrow sense. By system I mean the key notions regarding the planets, signs, topic assignment, and configurations which set Hellenistic astrology apart and were drawn upon by all significant Hellenistic astrologers.
Similarly, and in the same vein, it is unclear how influential the particular distinctions explicated in Antiochus were upon the tradition. The major figures of Hellenistic astrology of the first 5 centuries of the common era (Dorotheus, Ptolemy, Valens, Maternus, Paulus Alexandrinus, Hephaistion) show little evidence for having stuck rigidly to the particular terminological apparatus of Antiochus. Therefore, while the distinctions in Antiochus show practical promise and a heightened clarity, we should be wary about accepting them as too representative of “the system”.
Debates About the System
Students of Hellenistic astrology will become familiar with the divisive debates about what Antiochus meant for specific concepts. They should take it all with a grain of salt. While contemporary Hellenistic astrologers debate about the correct interpretation of “maltreatment”, it is unclear that actual ancient Hellenistic astrologers even used the concept as such until Rhetorius at the end of the Hellenistic tradition. Additionally, our surviving textual sources for Antiochus are rather late, sometimes confusing, and occasionally disagreeing. Therefore, while Antiochus wrote a valuable reference work, its role as the definitive Hellenistic system is prone to exaggeration.
Julius Firmicus Maternus
Maternus wrote the most important Latin treatise on Hellenistic astrology in the 4th century CE. It is particularly important on account of its size and its focus on natal factors. There is some predictive natal astrology but the bulk of the work pertains to delineating individual natal factors in the familiar cookbook style. Maternus also has interesting information on the use of antiscia and twelfth-parts as body doubles for the planets.
This handbook was believed to have circulated in the west for hundreds of years. Extant manuscripts of the first four books were written in the 11th century. Manuscripts of all eight books are from the 15th century. Unfortunately, there are pieces of the text that are missing and/or corrupted. Most significantly, we have lost the description of the planets and the bulk of the description of the twelve signs from Book II.
Paulus was a 4th century astrologer writing in Greek. His work, The Introduction, was commented on over the following couple centuries, most notably by the late Hellenistic astrologer Olympiodorus (6th century). I am not aware of the antiquity of our surviving manuscripts but they seem to have all included the later commentaries, set apart. The text of Paulus was particularly influential in the revival of Hellenistic astrology as it was the first Hellenistic text translated by Project Hindsight.
The text is largely representative of mainstream Hellenistic astrology with some minor departures when it comes to certain lots and the calculation of twelfth-parts. It includes one of the clearest and most effective explanations for the astrology of profession. The later commentaries are valuable as they show the development of Hellenistic astrology post-Paulus including the rise of quadrant houses and the growth in the number of lots used.
I recommend the translation by Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum (2001) but it is out of print. It is especially good because it contains the scholia and the commentary of Olympiodorus. The translation by James Holden (2012) also appears to include the scholia but maybe not all of the Olympiodorus material. Unfortunately, the Holden translation, which is the one most widely available, is the only one I haven’t read.
The Project Hindsight translation by Robert Schmidt (1993) has its strengths and weaknesses. It is a great translation but was Schmidt’s first major translation of Hellenistic astrology so the notes occasionally reflect some misconceptions of the tradition as a whole. It also doesn’t include the valuable later commentaries. Please contact Ellen of Project Hindsight ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) for inquiries regarding availability (a digital edition may be available).
Hephaistion of Thebes
Hephaistion (Hephaistio) wrote a three-book compilation in the 5th century which synthesized the works of Dorotheus and Ptolemy, called Apotelesmatics. The first two books pertain to natal and mundane astrology. The third book is particularly important as it is katarchic (electional/event) astrology in the tradition of Dorotheus. All three books represent some of the best checks on the antiquity of material in the surviving manuscripts for Dorotheus and Ptolemy. The Byzantine manuscripts for Hephaistion are said to be some of the best preserved of antiquity and were influential upon the Byzantine tradition.
Project Hindsight translations by Robert Schmidt were made for the first two books. They are high quality translations. Please contact Ellen of Project Hindsight ( email@example.com ) for inquiries regarding availability (a digital edition may be available). The third book, which is the most important Hellenistic work of electional astrology aside from Dorotheus, is available in an excellent translation by Eduardo Gramaglia. That edition of the third book is highly recommended as it includes extensive commentary and Dorothean fragments.
Rhetorius the Egyptian
Rhetorius is typically considered the last great astrologer of the Hellenistic tradition. His Compendium was written in Green in the 6th or 7th century and drew on a wide variety of sources. One of the sources that Rhetorius drew upon was Antiochus of Athens, or at the very least Porphyry’s summary of Antiochus. It is suspected that he drew upon both, as he sometimes differs from Porphyry and does not mention Porphyry by name but does cite a philosopher as a source. In any case, while there is evidence that Rhetorius adapted some of the Antiochus definitions in his work, he is also often used as a check against Porphyry’s summary (an additional partial Byzantine summary of Antiochus is also used in this manner).
Rhetorius is not only another source for Antiochus but his text is rich with material on professions and on delineation of the placement of house rulers in different houses. The Compendium is a large and sometimes disorganized text, showing evidence of corruption and additions. The surviving manuscripts for Rhetorius are from the late middle ages and Renaissance. Apparently, there was a lot of material attributed to Rhetorius in the late middle ages which was not his work. For instance, a paraphrase of Teucer of Babylon on the planets was attributed to Rhetorius, but appears to have been added to Rhetorius by later compilers. That paraphrase of Teucer also shows additions and corruptions that suggest it doesn’t accurately reflect Teucer, such as the addition of the concept of detriment (a concept lacking in Hellenistic astrology).
An English translation by James Holden is available and is a good one. The introduction has a valuable exploration of some of the textual issues.
Translations of less influential texts, sometimes very ancient ones are also available. Some of those (including the Michigan Papyrus and Serapion) are discussed in the article on free texts. The Michigan Papyrus is a badly damaged and fragmentary 2nd century CE text in Greek on astrology. It has some interesting and unique content. The Serapion material is a fragmentary text on astrological definitions from about the 1st century which has had some evident corruptions and additions on its way down to us. Take it with a grain of salt.
The Astronomica of Manilius is the oldest surviving Hellenistic text (1st century CE) and was written in Latin. It has some valuable information on constellations, helpful for those who want to use constellational parans. However, it is written in verse, doesn’t discuss some of the most important astrological factors (including the planets), and can be idiosyncratic and ambiguous when it comes to some matters (such as assigning topics and finding longevity). The Goold translation continues to be a valuable addition to any astrologer’s library.
Manetho is an early 2nd century CE astrologer who wrote a treatise in Greek. His text has some interesting details and pertains mainly to delineating various placements and configurations. It was translated by Robert Lopalito as a dissertation but it can be a little hard to come by (try interlibrary loan).
Greek Horoscopes by Neugebauer and Van Hoesen is a compilation of chart examples from Hellenistic texts (including fragments) with the text that accompanies them. For instance, the chart examples given by Valens are there as well as examples from more obscure astrologers including what may be the first example of an horary chart. You can buy a print edition or preview the whole text online on Google Books.
Secondary References for Hellenistic Astrology
The best reference work on Hellenistic astrology at this time is Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune by Chris Brennan. See my review of the book for more information. I think that with just that book and some online resources, such as my site, you can dive into studying source texts directly.
For those in need of a bit more hand holding as far as interpretive principles and techniques are concerned, I recommend the book Ancient Astrology in Theory and Practice by Demetra George. It has a convenient workbook format that aids with steady progress.
An Alternative Introduction
One of the earliest modern introductory texts on Hellenistic astrology was Astrological Roots: The Hellenistic Legacy by Joseph Crane (2007). This remains a very approachable starting point for beginners and is a particular bargain at $12 for the Kindle version in the US. Its strong points are in the clear explanations geared particularly to beginners and modern astrologers with no experience in Hellenistic astrology. I recommend it for beginners as it explores many matters other introductory texts never touch on like fixed stars and primary directions. It is a valuable addition to one’s library and is an easy-to-read journey through diverse aspects of the tradition. However, this text has some weaknesses that one should be aware of, so what follows is mainly a rant on a few of the noteworthy soft points.
Some weaknesses pertain to earlier misconceptions regarding doctrines and textual relationships. For instance, Crane regularly attributes pretty much anything and everything Rhetorius wrote in the 6th/7th century to Antiochus of the 1st/2nd century. Rhetorius wrote a huge text which drew on Antiochus only for certain definitions, so most of the “Antiochus said” statements in Crane are false attributions. For instance, there is no compelling evidence that astrologers prior to the 5th century used a concept of detriment, but Crane cites statements by Antiochus (actually Rhetorius) that sound a lot like detriment. This gives the impression that detriment was an important interpretive principle of Hellenistic astrology that most early Hellenistic astrologers (Dorotheus, Valens, Ptolemy, Porphyry, Maternus, Paulus) just chose not to use, emphasize, or even mention. However, Brennan and George can be accused of doing similar things with the concept when they include it in their systems.
There are some minor things that I found personally annoying in the text as well. Abu Ma’shar is said to have practiced a late form of Hellenistic astrology, which belies the significant differences between his late Perso-Arabic astrology and Hellenistic astrology. He also inaccurately presents the twelfth-parts of Paulus (thirteen-parts) as the Hellenistic standard form of them when in fact only Paulus used them. The other Hellenistic astrologers used the same twelfth-parts as the Babylonians and the Indians.
More significantly, I often find Crane’s special techniques for topics to be too focused on Ptolemy and not very compelling in terms of conclusions. I often did not agree with his interpretation of techniques in Ptolemy. When it is time for the special technique for the soul, Crane takes the Ptolemaic approach which is a bit at odds with the more typical Hellenistic focus on the Ascendant, its lord, the sect light, and the Lot of Spirit. Then Crane also takes the planet with most testimonies over the Moon and Mercury collectively, rather than the Moon separate from Mercury to distinguish the irrational mind from the rational. Additionally, he takes the closest aspect rather than all regards, and he doesn’t include co-presence as a factor because it is not technically a “regard” which belies the fact that it is more influential than the regards. Confirming that a planet is the appropriate ruler of the nature of the soul by way of a few lines of their poetry is also less than compelling.
Similarly, I find some of his interpretations of basic doctrines to be wishy-washy and confusing. One moment detriment shows an unhealthy excess, then being in domicile shows an unhealthy excess. Is excess a matter of detriment or is it a matter of planetary humors being reinforced by sign? An important question because on the one hand contrariety is excessive and on the other hand it’s balancing and mediating. For Crane it’s not just a matter of cherry-picking the interpretation for whichever chart is at hand but he actually switches it up between planets in the same chart. Crane also has a tendency to interpret every planet in the natal chart as able to say something about the native’s character or inclinations and to view planetary modification as pertaining to the psychology of planets. For instance, gregariousness is implied to pertain to the state of Jupiter. Well, tell that to Walt Disney, a very gregarious guy with Jupiter out of sect conjunct Saturn in Capricorn, and Virgo rising (the sign of Jupiter’s detriment).
In conclusion, buy this quite affordable book if you want a well-written, easy-to-read, far-reaching, and sometimes entertaining tour of Hellenistic astrology. Just be wary of taking Crane’s approach as representative of a typical or effective use of Hellenistic astrology.
Primary directions are one of the most important Hellenistic timing techniques. However, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding them. Additionally, after the 15th century they became increasingly varied and complicated. Primary Directions: Astrology’s Old Master Technique by Martin Gansten provides a great treatment of Hellenistic primary directions. It also explores the later developments for those who want to experiment with them. Despite the fact that Gansten is a siderealist, his book on primary directions is the one I most highly recommend.
The Brennan book has a good deal of historical information but for those seeking an even more in depth look at the history, check out A History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy by Neugebaur ($80 digital edition).
For a briefer and more affordable, but still very thorough, look at the history of astrology, see A History of Horoscopic Astrology by James Holden.
Perso-Arabic Medieval Texts
The Persians were translating Hellenistic astrology into Pahlavi from an early period, as were the Indians. Both groups combined this new horoscopic form of astrology with some of their indigenous astrological techniques. When the Persians were conquered by the Arabs, their blend of Hellenistic and Persian astrology came to be translated into Arabic and subjected to intense scholarly study and development. The resulting Perso-Arabic astrology of about the 8th-12th centuries is an altered and extended Hellenistic astrology with significant Persian, and less significant Indian, contributions. It also formed the foundation upon which the European astrology of the High Middle Ages and Renaissance was based. When it comes to translating Perso-Arabic astrology, no one has done more than Ben Dykes, so you’ll find that his works appear again and again in this list.
Introductions by Abu Ma’shar and al-Qabisi
The introductory texts on astrology by Abu Ma’shar (9th century) and al-Qabisi (10th century) are among the fullest and richest treatments of astrological terminology and the meaning of astrological symbols in the history of astrology. Ben Dykes collected together these texts, together with copious footnotes and occasional references to other Hellenistic and Medieval works. The result is Introductions to Traditional Astrology. For many years it has been one of the texts I most highly recommend to my readers as the definitive reference for medieval astrology.
Perso-Arabic Natal Astrology
Ben Dykes has also translated 5 key texts on natal astrology from the early Perso-Arabic period. These include texts by Masha’allah (though Dykes now thinks the text is by an earlier astrologer, al-Andarzaghar), Abu Ali al-Khayatt, Umar al-Tabari, Abu Bakr, and Abu Ma’shar. These astrologers often have differing approaches to the same topics. In Book III of the three-volume set, Dykes even includes references tables which will help you compare the techniques of astrologers. For instance, one table is a topic index discussing where each topic is dealt with in each author. In my opinion, these are the most valuable works of medieval natal astrology yet translated into English. It covers very advanced delineation techniques and the annual predictive systems of many astrologers.
The Works of Sahl and Masha’allah
Masha’allah as a very influential early Perso-Arabic astrologer (8th century). Sahl came a bit later (early 9th century) and was also extremely important. This large volume collects writings by these two astrologers on a variety of topics from basic principles, to horary, electional, and mundane astrology. It is relatively light on natal astrology but there are some texts addressing it. We find in these works something of a transition from Hellenistic astrology to the later Perso-Arabic astrology of Abu Ma’shar and al-Qabisi. There are many ways in which the astrology practiced by Masha’allah and Sahl is still very Hellenistic, yet showing innovations like the elaboration of horary.
Medieval Electional Astrology
The electional astrology of Dorotheus continued to thrive in the Perso-Arabic period. Ben Dykes has collected together three full texts on electional astrology in Choices and Inception. It includes a text by Sahl, one by al-Imrani (the teacher of al-Qabisi), and al-Rijal (influential court astrologer of late 10th/early 11th century).
Medieval Mundane Astrology
The two volume set Astrology of the World collects together some of the best Perso-Arabic works on mundane astrology. Volume One includes texts that follow the approach of Ptolemy, examining lunations, eclipses, and comets for information regarding fluctuations in weather, commodities, and more. Volume Two is focused on the elaborate Persian predictive system of historical astrology which involves close examination of a hierarchy of ingress and lunation charts, as well as conjunctional cycles of the traditional outer planets. These volumes, especially Volume Two, are must-have texts for those interesting in mundane astrology.
Abu Ma’shar On the Great Conjunctions
One of the most important and influential works of mundane astrology is On the Great Conjunctions by Abu Ma’shar (9th century CE). This work was translated into English in 2000 by Burnett and Yamamoto. Copies run for over $500 at this time, so I recommend trying to obtain a copy to study by using interlibrary loan.
Ben Dykes has published a series of translations of works of Perso-Arabic horary astrology. I have these works but do little with them as I tend to focus on other areas of astrology. The Search of the Heart and its introduction provide a lot of valuable information regarding the use of consultation charts and twelfth-parts for “thought interpretation”. Astrologers would use consultation charts to try to anticipate client questions and concerns, as well as detect possible ulterior motives.
Courses in Traditional Astrology
Courses can be expensive and far too many students simply parrot their teachers and over-rely on their opinions. Still, as someone who has purchased and gone through the material for three separate astrological courses (one modern, one medieval, one Hellenistic), I recognize that serious study often requires more guidance than a book or website can provide.
The only course that I strongly recommend at this time is Chris Brennan’s Hellenistic Astrology Course.
Free Related Books Online
The Digital International Astrology Library (DIAL) has the largest collection of links to astrological texts, organized by topic.