The Anachronism of Hellenistic Detriment: What the Astrology Podcast Left Out

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6 months ago, when the Sun was opposite the position it is now, I published an article on the historical development of the astrological concept of detriment. It was lengthy and attempted to comprehensively cover various issues related to detriment’s history and specious reconstructions. Appropriately enough, I now present its more focused and up-to-date counterpart.

An Appropriate New Moon

On the afternoon of July 20th, the day of a New Moon opposed to Saturn, I was contacted by Chris Brennan who wanted me to discuss, on his podcast, some evidence that I had supposedly overlooked which would call my account into question. I reminded him that I don’t do podcasts, a fact he knew well from past requests.

Eventually, he sent me a PDF of the supposed evidence. I found that it was all consistent with the account in my article. In fact, the one significant new discovery, a passage I wasn’t previously aware of from Anubio, lent very strong additional support to the account in the original article that Hephaistion produced the notion of planetary corruption associated with detriment by garbling a passage from Dorotheus.

Unfortunately, Chris misrepresented this evidence on his podcast as somehow negating the account of detriment’s origins in my article and as supportive of his reconstruction of a Hellenistic detriment.

The Original Account is on a Stronger Footing than Ever

I continue to stand by the main arguments of that article and the account of detriment’s origins presented there. The additional evidence and the continued promotion of evident misconceptions regarding detriment’s development strongly reinforce a number of the original arguments, both about detriment and about the detrimental effect of egos and reconstructions on our understanding of historical astrological practice.

As the original paper was lengthy and its arguments were recently misrepresented, while its evidence was omitted, there is an urgent need for a concise and updated summary of the key issues and pertinent facts.

Impatient? Short on time? You can jump right to the concise summary of those arguments by clicking here.

The Astrology Podcast Episode 264

Recently, on Episode 264 of the Astrology Podcast, my article on the development of detriment was mentioned. The mention was in the context of a discussion on detriment’s origins, meaning, and use between Chris Brennan and Ben Dykes. I usually look forward to the perspectives of both of these men and highly value their contributions to astrology. However, the important facts and evidence crucial to the understanding of the nature and timing of the development of detriment were omitted and the presentation of the debatable issues by Brennan was one-sided and misleading.

It is usually telling when someone notes that there are two positions, mentions that someone advocates the opposing position, and then presents not a single one of the key arguments of the opposing position. Call me old fashion, but in my opinion, it’s considered good etiquette to represent and grapple with counter-arguments, even if the other side doesn’t want to appear on your talk show. Simply declaring that one’s own one-sided presentation “leaves no doubts” while omitting all arguments made by the other side is a sure sign that someone has something to hide.

How I was Presented as a Fundamentalist

Before getting into the issue, I want to clear something up. Chris misstated my position in the podcast. He said, “he argues that the concept didn’t exist in the earlier Hellenistic tradition and therefore isn’t a valid concept in astrology” (Brennan, 8:08-8:16).

I am not the fundamentalist described by such a statement. Personally, I find valid some techniques from innovative astrologers like Alfred Witte and Martha Lang-Wescott in my own practice. Of course, I don’t think that the only astrologically valid concepts are those that existed in the early Hellenistic tradition, and I believe I made that clear enough in the introduction of the article.

The Issue

What is the pivotal issue, why is it debatable, and how does it bear on our understanding of detriment’s development? As Chris Brennan noted in his book and at minute 3:30-4:30 of the podcast. Detriment as a distinct concept is not defined in the Hellenistic tradition (which began in the 1st or 2nd century BCE) until Rhetorius in the 6th or 7th century CE.

The Two Main Positions

Chris notes this leads to two distinct possibilities (quotes are of Chris Brennan, see embedded video above):

A. “This was a new development that only happened later in the Hellenistic tradition and that’s why it shows up in Rhetorius suddenly.”

B. “Rhetorius was simply articulating something that was implicit or was used in earlier authors even if it wasn’t {usually} explicitly defined.”

I put that last ‘usually’ in curly brackets as I’m assuming Chris misspoke as it is not explicitly defined in the earlier authors (‘usually’ implies it sometimes was, which it wasn’t).

I’ve actually provided evidence that it’s debatable whether detriment was defined or anywhere near fully formed even in Rhetorius to the degree Brennan claims it was (see the evidence discussed here). But Rhetorius is close enough and these two positions are the significant fork in the road, so for the sake of argument, let’s assume these are the two main positions. Are there no arguments for the first position or were they just conveniently left out?

One-Sided Presentation

Brennan provided a PDF of passages from Hellenistic astrologers in which some adverse indication is given for a planet posited opposite its domicile. In Brennan’s synopsis of the episode and the PDF, he states “These references leave no doubt that the concept of detriment originated in the earlier Hellenistic astrological tradition, going back to at least the 1st and 2nd centuries CE.” (Brennan, 2020, link here to statement). That’s a strong statement about Chris’s beliefs regarding how compelling the evidence for position B is.

Don’t you wonder what the support is for position A? Are you curious about what someone holding position A might say about the supposed textual evidence and how they’d explain the observations about the effects of detriment in practice? Do Brennan’s excerpts really “leave no doubt”?

Unfortunately, the evidence supporting position A was omitted from the discussion. Was it purposely omitted? It was presented in my article on the development of detriment under the heading “Brennan’s Reconstruction” (click here to jump to it). Brennan assured me multiple times that he did read that article. Perhaps it was omitted because it strongly calls into question the claim that the PDF contains any textual support whatsoever for the position that detriment’s origins are in the 1st and 2nd centuries.

Note on the Summary and Forthcoming Updates

I present here a summary of the important matters overlooked in Brennan’s account of detriment’s origins. I present key pieces of information either completely omitted or not sufficiently emphasized in the podcast discussion. More detailed information can be found in the original article on the historical development of detriment. Additionally, that original article will be updated in a month (early September) to include the new findings discussed here regarding Anubio, ‘enantios’, and more.

On Brennan’s Specious Account of Detriment’s Origins

Equivocation Used as a Trojan Horse

Brennan’s arguments and “evidence” rely upon you making the logical fallacy of equivocation.  Brennan uses two very different definitions of detriment as if they are synonymous.

First, Brennan’s “detriment” (D1) is any problematic indication arising from the ruler’s opposition to its domicile (Brennan asserts as much in the last sentence of the first page of his PDF). Is this a sufficient definition of detriment given that whole-sign aspects were used in Hellenistic astrology, including aspects to places? After all, the opposition itself was often associated with conflict and enmity. As you’ll see, D1 is not sufficient in the least. In other words, it’s not detriment.

Then there is Brennan’s reconstructed Hellenistic “detriment” (D2), called Antithesis/Exile/Adversities, which is a planetary debility due to the placement of the planet in a sign with contrary qualities pertaining especially to the contrary nature of its ruler. Because we see evidence of D1, Brennan reasons that D2 is implicit in any statement by any Hellenistic astrologer where some problematic indication is given for the position (D1). However, D1 in no way implies D2. This faulty reasoning is apparent in what is presented as evidence (the PDF) with the following puffery.

These references leave no doubt that the concept of detriment originated in the earlier Hellenistic astrological tradition, going back to at least the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. (Brennan, The Astrology Podcast website, Episode 264, 2020)

Ruler’s Configuration of Opposition (RCO)

The issue here is that the conditions of D1 (some problematic indication) are not sufficient conditions for detriment. What Chris leaves out are full passages from Dorotheus and Valens that show them using a technique in which a place’s delineation is influenced by the nature of the configuration (aspect) between its ruler and the place (house or lot).

The problematic (or beneficial, depending on the nature of the aspect) indication with this technique comes about for the signification of the place or lot aspected and consistent with the nature of the aspect from the ruler.

For the opposition, this can include a sense of separation, distance, obstacle, struggle, enmity, and/or counterpart. Dorotheus, for example, also explicitly mentioned delineations for the configurations of the ruler by square, trine, and aversion (no aspect) to the place.

Clear Evidence of the Use of Ruler’s Configuration as a Technique for Delineating Places (Houses and Lots)

“If you wish to know what of love and other than that there is between him [the native] and his brothers, then look from the lord of the lot of brothers. If its lord aspects it from trine, it indicates love between them, and if it aspects from quartile, it indicates a medium amount of that love. If you find it in opposition to the lot, then it is an indicator of enmity and separation. If it [the lord] does not aspect it [the lot], it indicates the estrangement of one of them from the other.” (Dorotheus, Book I, Ch. 20, Pingree trans., 2005, p. 179)

The passage above was included in my original article where this issue was explored at length. For more information, jump to the relevant full section here in the article where I present similar examples from Vettius Valens, including one where the oppositional meaning of “counterpart” comes into play without any necessary sense of problem or adversity.

Clouding the Field with D1

Given explicit evidence for the use of the ruler’s configuration as a significant interpretive technique, since at least the time of Dorotheus, all supposed evidence of an implicit use of detriment must be considered in light of whether a given passage could conceivably pertain to this well-documented and widespread technique. All of Brennan’s evidence outside of Hephaistion (5th century) and Rhetorius (6th or 7th century), and actually some of the evidence from Hephaistion, Rhetorius, and afterward (Theophilus), is better characterized as pertaining to the RCO technique.

Brennan has produced a PDF chock full of instances of RCO (ruler’s configuration of opposition) which is a technique for delineating places, not a planetary debility or sign classification. Anyone with knowledge of the RCO technique can see that Brennan’s supposed evidence of detriment from early Hellenistic astrology (i.e. pre-5th century) is comprised of evidence of RCO with nothing that remotely supports his reconstructed detriment (D2). RCO is an early technique and survived on through the entire period of Hellenistic astrology, actually right into the Perso-Arabic period.

RCO ≠ Detriment

Ruler’s Configuration of Opposition (RCO) differs from any sort of detriment in many ways. These differences allow us to easily identify every single one of Brennan’s delineation examples prior to Hephaistion as RCO. Let’s look at some key differences.

  1. Delineation is of Place (House or Lot), Not Planet: The indication pertains to modifying the meaning of the place or lot, not the planet’s condition.
  2. Focus on Configuration, Not Sign: The indication follows from the nature of the aspect, not the nature of the sign the opposing planet is in or its ruler.
  3. A Marriage of Established Doctrines: The indication requires only the existing doctrines of rulership and aspect, without any additional concept involved. This is why it doesn’t require introduction as a principle where other principles are introduced, unlike sign-based rejoicing/debility which is explicitly introduced because it doesn’t obviously follow from established doctrines.
  4. Does Not Entail Contrariety Between Planet and Sign: There is not an indication of contrariety between the planet and the sign it is placed in or its ruler.
  5. Does Not Entail Planetary Debility Like Detriment: While the opposition may diminish what the ruler promises for the place it opposes (i.e. responsibility + potential conflict or enmity), there is no additional entailment that the natural significations of the planet or the significations of other things it rules are harmed or weakened due to the position.
  6. Flexibility Pertaining to the Interpretation of Opposition: Hellenistic astrologers varied with regard to just how dire they viewed the aspect of opposition. Some considered oppositions from benefics to be a good thing, for instance. An opposition could also carry associations of counterpart or significant other which were not adverse at all. Additionally, Hellenistic astrologers more often stressed the benefit of a ruler having some configuration (rather than being “turned away”) than they did any potential adversity from the type of aspect from the ruler.

For these reasons, and more, RCO is not detriment, by any name, and certainly doesn’t entail D2 nor represent an implicit use of D2.

Many of Dykes’s and Brennan’s Chart Examples Are RCO

I couldn’t help but smile as Dykes and Brennan gave examples from celebrities and their own practice. So many of them were better explained as pertaining to RCO than to any planetary debility of sign contrariety. When so many examples are not necessarily unfortunate, and instead tend to involve separation from home, partnerships, focus on others, etc., it’s clear we are dealing with RCO. The same when there is an unfortunate event that is signified by the house that is being opposed by its ruler (such as marital finances – 8th house). I kept thinking to myself, “haven’t you guys heard of deriving a delineation for a place from the ruler’s configuration?”

Lumping RCO in with detriment clouds what is going on. When we get to medieval material, we find that RCO still persists as a consideration. Without recognizing that RCO ever even existed, let alone persisted the advent of detriment as a concept, we lose the distinction between late medieval delineations of places, which sometimes involved RCO, and delineations of planets in signs, which sometimes involved detriment.

Brennan’s Detriment is Medieval

D2 (antithesis, exile, etc.) is essentially the medieval Perso-Arabic detriment of Sahl (8th century) and Abu Ma’shar (9th century). It is a planetary debility that focuses on the sign opposite the domicile as a place of harm or weakness for the planet. Arabic terms pertaining to unhealthiness, contrariety, inversion, and, eventually, estrangement figure into their description of the condition, just as they do with Brennan’s Antithesis, Exile, and Adversities. Like Brennan, they also define it as a significant principle of interpretation in introductory material.

These features do not all coalesce in a single place as an established integral part of the system of chart interpretation until well into the Perso-Arabic period. As I noted in my article on development, Rhetorius is the godfather of this concept, al-Andarzaghar appears to have been its birth father, and it only matured to become an accepted integral part of the system around the time of Abu Ma’shar, though still less important than fall. Therefore, D2 is essentially medieval detriment mischaracterized as Brennan’s own “reconstructed” Hellenistic detriment.

Attempting to Combine RCO and Detriment

In some ways, Brennan’s concept tries to combine both RCO and medieval detriment. This was not a combination in Hellenistic astrology because something like detriment only sees some intimations of the concept of detriment at the end of the tradition. Rhetorius first brought in some notion of contrariety, but he also used RCO in some passages. When using RCO, he still stressed the delineation of the place, not the planet.

Brennan is correct to bring in notions of distance for the position from Valens’s use of RCO. However, the concept of “exile” applied to a planet is a misuse of RCO, which actually pertains to delineating the place opposed by its ruler, not the ruler. This planetary focus and stress on the position as a debility due to contrariety are the reasons Brennan’s D2 is most accurately labeled medieval detriment.

Brennan still actively promotes a view of detriment as a Hellenistic construct where a planet in a sign is seen as akin to a marginalized or even enslaved individual in an oppressive society. There was such a concept in Hellenistic astrology, called fall, also known as slavery, but the view that there was a Hellenistic detriment pre-Rhetorius, let alone one with any such social construct at its heart, is an inaccurate one.

Development is Mischaracterized

How can one have an account of an astrological concept’s historical development without a close look at when, how, and why its features originate, coalesce into the distinct concept, and that concept gains currency as a significant principle of practice? In Brennan’s account, it’s just there from the beginning, and becomes apparent to us by later astrologer’s making explicit something initially implicit. In other words, the assumption of implicit early origins causes one to actually turn a blind eye to its development. Instead, we get a laundry list of occurrences of D1 (some stray problematic indications associated with the position that is 95% RCO) over about an 800 year period as if that is sufficient evidence of implicit use of D2.

Of course, we expect to see stray problematic indications associated with the position because consideration of the configuration of the lord of a house or lot (including RCO) was a technique apparent from the beginning and continuing right through the Middle Ages. Detriment, on the other hand, was a novel development that was slow to come about.

The New Evidence from Anubio Confirms Development of Planetary Corruption by “Telephone”

The concept of planetary corruption due to the position first appears in Hephaistion (5th century) paraphrasing Dorotheus. In my original article, I posited that it came about from Hephaistion altering in a paraphrase a somewhat ambiguous line in Dorotheus (i.e. a game of “telephone”). Brennan has shown this to be the case with his discovery of an earlier paraphrase by Anubio which rather than associating it with a planetary corruption, associates the position with a ruler in opposition diminishing what it promises, fully consistent with an RCO reading with none of the necessary implications of detriment.

Anubio’s Paraphrase of Dorotheus or a Mutual Source

In general, every star being diametrical ​(diametrōn) to his own domicile himself diminishes everything that he promises.” (Anubio, trans. Levente László, see Brennan & László 2020)

This translation on its own is consistent with a reading that sees it as pertaining to RCO. This is especially so when we consider the fact that it occurs within a section on different aspectual configurations that had just given indications for each planet opposed to each other planet. It should also be noted that the verb translated as “promises” is also commonly translated as “provides”, “supplies”, or “grants”. We see here that when it comes to a planet opposed to its own house, the planet’s own opposition to it can be seen as diminishing to what it is able to provide for the house.

The Original Greek

For those who would like to see the Greek original, you can download the CCAG 2 for free at this link. The passage is found near the top of page 212 (110 of the PDF), lines 16-17. I present it below (smooth breathing marks omitted, only acute accents supplied).

καθόλου δε παc αστηρ τον ίδιον οικον διαμετρων ‘α παρέχει αυτος πάντα  άφ’έαυτου  μειοι.

A transliteration in the Latin alphabet would read, “katholou de pas aster ton idion oikon diametron ha parechei autos panta aph’eatou meioi”.

Recalling My Conclusions About the How and When

In my original article, I noted the following:

Therefore, we can see two major “sources” for the later full development of “detriment”: 1. Hephaistio’s 5th century solar return advice, which may have itself been a fuzzy interpretation of Dorotheus became transformed in later compilations into an interpretive edict; 2. Rhetorius’s 6th or 7th century Ptolemaic style elaboration of rulership logic based on contrary qualities was later transformed into a planetary condition of debility.

Provided that Brennan is correct about Anubio, then the Anubio passage confirms that I was spot on about the “fuzzy interpretation of Doretheus” as the source for the planetary debility feature of detriment. However, whether Anubio was drawing on Dorotheus or even a common source is not entirely clear. It is also not clear if this was the source for the Hephaistion passage. One passage takes place in a section on delineating oppositions; the other on delineating the solar return. In any case, we do not see pre-Hephaistion evidence of detriment in the passage, and it does provide further insight into the early use of RCO.

Quick Note on Serapio

There is a late compilation that drew on Serapio but also on later astrologers like Hephaistio which has been attributed to Serapio a 1st-century astrologer. It is important to note that the evidence indicates that the line regarding planetary corruption in Hephaistion appears to have ended up in the Serapio text (word-for-word) rather than the other way around. In other words, there is scant evidence that Serapio used the concept of planetary corruption in the 1st century. You can find further information on this here.

Ptolemy’s Influence on Development is Excluded

The concept of planetary contrariety between a planet and the ruler of the opposite sign first appears in Rhetorius (6th or 7th century). He apparently came up with the concept by analogy with exaltation/fall. In this regard, he was elaborating upon ideas in Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos in two ways: 1. Ptolemy noted that the domiciles of the Lights and Saturn are opposite each other because of contrary qualities (heat and cold) and attempted to present a rationale for the layout of the exaltations and falls; 2. Ptolemy’s “dignity” scheme, or system of sign-based planetary rejoicing, was couched in terms of qualitative affinity in which planets were reinforced in signs with similar qualities and weakened in signs without similarities.

“on the contrary, when they are found in alien regions belonging to the opposite sect, a great part of their proper power is paralysed, because the temperament which arises from the dissimilarity of the signs produces a different and adulterated nature.” (Ptolemy, Book, Ch. 23, Robbins trans., 1940; brackets added)

Analogy with Fall is Not Mentioned as an Influential Factor in Development

Brennan ignores the massive influence of Ptolemy on the late Hellenistic astrologers completely. There is also no mention of detriment developing by analogy with fall. This is because in Brennan’s account detriment was already there from the beginning, just becoming more overt and explicit.

By focusing too narrowly on D1 (any problematic indication associated with the position), there is only a forest of irrelevant RCO and one can’t see the trees that mark the introduction of new features. For more on the evidence that Rhetorius was inspired by Ptolemy for his musings on sign and planet contrariety, see this section of my original article.

In the Anti: Enantí- Misrepresented as a Special Condition

One of the recent discoveries, which was not covered in my own original article pertains to words with the Greek root ‘enantí-‘ such as the compound preposition ‘enantí’, the adjective ‘enatíos’, the verb ‘enantióomai’, and the noun ‘enantíoma’. Words with this root seem to be presented by Brennan as if they are special terms for Hellenistic detriment. He has noted that ‘enantíoma’ literally means “opposition” but he also has stressed that “diameter” (‘diámetros’) is the more typical word for the configuration. Conversation between Dykes and Brennan in the podcast reinforce this notion that these terms are significant for understanding Hellenistic detriment.

Until I started seriously studying Ancient Greek over the last 6 months, I accepted that this was the whole story surrounding these words. I noted in my original article that Holden should not have translated ‘enantioma’ as “opposition” and “opposite” in the main Rhetorius text and then as ‘detriment’ in the Teucer sign material spuriously attributed to Rhetorius.

However, the issues go much deeper than that. These terms not only mean “in opposition” or “opposite” but they have a very similar semantic range as the English “opposite”. Additionally, they were used in a chart context from very early on for the configuration of the opposition – not just ruler oppositions, but any aspect of opposition. In other words, not only is “opposite” and “opposition” the best translation convention for these terms for semantic reasons but it is also been shown that the aspect had long been the intended meaning when a Hellenistic astrologer would use the terms in a chart context.

The Semantics of Enantí

These terms are actually not as exotic as they might first appear. Enantí (pronounced ‘en-on-TEE’) is the compound preposition at the root of these terms, composed of ‘en’ and ‘antí’. The English cognates of these terms are “in” and “anti”. Anti meaning ‘against’ in English. In Ancient Greek, the root does have a similar sense of “in the position against” or “in the position before/in front of”.

The concrete sense is a spatial one of something face-to-face with something else or directly across from it (facing). One abstract sense derived from this is being against something else (contender, opponent), much like we use “anti-” as a prefix in English for being against something. The other abstract sense is of something with the opposite or contrary meaning (‘up is the opposite of down’).  The English root “oppose” and related terms like “opposite”, “opponent”, and “opposition” cover much the same semantic territory both concretely and abstractly.

Rhetorius and the Rationale of Opposites

This is an important point. We must understand the associations that would come into the mind of a Greek language user when reading or using the term. The word would evoke a very similar range of meaning as the English “opposite”. Now consider how Rhetorius muses that the signs are “opposite” each other (enantioma) because their rulers are “opposites”, highlighting their contrasting qualities. This is a play on words in which he is using “opposite” in its concrete sense concerning the layout of the signs into pairs of opposites and rationalizing it based on “opposite” qualities of the planets.

The Chart Usage of Enantí

What is often left out of discussions regarding this term is its relatively common use for all types of aspectual oppositions, not just those involving rulers. Below are a few the many examples from Valens’s Anthology. These can be checked against the original Greek for free. The English Riley translation is available here, while the Greek critical edition assembled by Kroll is here.

“If it [the Sun] follows an angle, and if the stars of its sect are similarly situated, and if Mars is not in opposition [enantiouménou] or in square, then <the sun> will be considered to be indicative of good fortune.” (Valens, Anthology, Book II, Ch. 2, Riley trans., 2010, p. 26, c.f. Kroll, p. 57, #21, square brackets are mine)

“If Saturn is allotted the hour of the Lot <of Fortune> and is in the Ascendant, with Mars not in opposition [enantiouménou], the native will be fortunate in activities controlled by Saturn.” (Valens, Anthology, Book II, Ch. 4, Riley trans., 2010, p. 27, c.f. Kroll, p. 60, #7, square brackets are mine)

“If Mars is in conjunction or in opposition [enantiothe], the native will suffer disturbance and reversals.” (Valens, Anthology, Book II, Ch. 4, Riley trans., 2010, p. 27, c.f. Kroll, p. 60, #10, square brackets are mine)

“Malefics in opposition [enantiouménou] or in superior aspect to the Place of Status bring ruin to nativities.” (Valens, Anthology, Book II, Ch. 25K, Riley trans., 2010, p. 40, c.f. Kroll, p. 92, #32, square brackets are mine)

I could go on with a dozen more examples, but you get the point. Enanti- terms are readily used for the astrological aspect of opposition, whether involving a ruler or not.

Oppositional Language

While it is true that “diameter” was the more common Hellenistic term for the configuration of opposition, it is also clear that ‘enanti-‘ terms were a fairly common alternative. The fact that a term for “opposition” is taken to be the Hellenistic term for “detriment” should be telling. Consider also a PDF 95% full of passages referring to the delineation of a place from the ruler’s configuration of opposition (RCO). It becomes quite evident that the potential difficulty of a place being “opposed” is being falsely equated with the supposed difficulty of a planet in detriment.

Valens Did Not Imply a Definition of Detriment

One excerpt from Valens which was included by Brennan as clear evidence of detriment concerns a note on a different type of interpretation for oppositions to a planet’s own domicile, exaltation, or triplicity.

The configuration of opposition can be interpreted in two ways: one way when a star in the Ascendant is in opposition to another; the second when a star is in opposition to its own house, triangle, or exaltation. (Valens, Book II, Ch. 41, Riley trans., 2010, p. 57)

Brennan notes in his PDF that Valens likens “the concept of detriment” to fall. Actually, Valens is likening the interpretation of a domicile ruler opposing a place to any other type of sign ruler opposing a place (triplicity or exaltation). He does not name only house and exaltation, but all three types of rulership of a sign: domicile, triplicity, and exaltation. This is not a passage that suggests the creation of a new sign classification and planetary debility analogous to fall. It is a passage suggesting that the RCO technique was seen as applicable to all three types of sign rulers. The interpretation of RCO is different than the interpretation of an opposition involving two planets because it pertains to the delineation of the outcome of the place (house or lot) rather than the relationship between two planets.

Examining the Configurations of Multiple Types of Rulers

One thing that you should know about Valens is that he used all of the sign rulers. The three different types of rulers of an entire sign, and thus of a house or lot as well, are the domicile, exaltation, and triplicity rulers. Valens considered the configuration and standing of all of them to be significant to the delineation of the place.

“It will be necessary to look at the aspects of every houseruler and the arrangement of the configurations, to see if they are appropriate or the reverse.” (Valens, Book 2, Ch. 2, Riley trans., 2010, p. 26, emphasis added)

“Therefore as I have already said, if most of the configurations or their rulers are found in suitable places, the native will be famous and spectacular in his living. If some configurations and rulers> are favorably situated, others unfavorably, rank and fortune will be transitory.” (Valens, Book II,Ch. 26K, Riley trans., 2010, p. 40)

Relative Influence of Multiple Rulers

It was quite common in Hellenistic astrology to consider the standing of multiple rulers, rather than just the domicile ruler. This is not that different from what we see in Ptolemy (discussed further here), as he also considered each of these types of rulers to have one share of influence, with an additional share of influence given for any configuration to the thing ruled. Recall that he used this for finding his predominator which was the planet with the greatest influence over the thing ruled, and thus the planet that played the greatest role in characterizing it. For instance, an exaltation ruler that aspected the place was considered more influential over the place than a domicile ruler that did not.

Somewhat related to this is a passage regarding choosing a chart lord. A chart lord is another type of predominator. The technique varies from astrologer to astrology. Brennan presented a passage in which the chart lord is chosen among multiple rulers but a ruler opposing the place was not considered by the particular astrologer due to the possible signification of enmity.

As with every single example outside of Hephaistion and Rhetorius (and most of them from them) cited by Brennan, we see RCO being presented here as detriment.

Contrariety Shmariety

I have argued that the notion of planetary contrariety seen in Rhetorius was probably Rhetorius’s own invention. He clearly draws on a few different passages and concepts from Ptolemy and a clever play on the Greek word for “opposite” to present anew rationale for sign arrangement.

I’ve noted that it is a little silly to think that Venus, a nocturnal planet of love and sex, would be in a place of drastic contrariety in Scorpio, a nocturnal water sign pertaining to the genitals and ruled by a nocturnal sect mate that arouses passion (Mars). It is similarly silly to think that Jupiter, the planet of abundance, would encounter some difficult contrariety in a house of Mercury, the planet of commerce.

Implicit Contrariety?

Brennan has stated that detriment, with this notion of planetary contrariety, is implicit in early Hellenistic astrology. This is actually a pretty easy thing to check. Many Hellenistic astrologers delineated indications for the combinations of planets and for planets in signs.

The key combination to look at here is Mercury-Jupiter, as all other combinations of planets of opposing domiciles involve a malefic. The delineation of being ruled by a malefic, combined by a malefic, or of a malefic being ruled by something else, will all inherently have some indications involving difficulty owing to the symbolism of the malefic. What we want to know is if two non-malefic planets, like Mercury and Jupiter, would be seen as inherently corrupting or weakening to each other’s significations.

Let’s look at just a few instances here. There are actually more of these out there, including in Maternus, but Manetho, Dorotheus, and Valens provide clear examples from the early part of the tradition.

Manetho on Mercury and Jupiter in Each Other’s Houses

The early Hellenistic work of Manetho (circa 2nd century) delineates each planet in the house of each other planet. The delineations he gives for the combination are some of the best indications one can possibly hope for, and this is from an astrologer known for his particularly grim general indications.

Jupiter in Mercury’s House

“Jupiter in the places of Mercury makes (a man who is) very wealthy, renowned for his thoughtfulness, wielding royal wealth in his wands, and one who gathers from cities and peoples the money and tribute for kings, very distinguished in the performance of deed, and one who is called upon for help by his companions, thinking much in his mind and bringing goodly property from his life’s work to his houses.” (Manetho, Book II, #246-252, Lopilato trans., 1998, p. 211)

Mercury in Jupiter’s House

“On the other hand, Mercury in a house of brilliant Jupiter produces those having the means of instruction in their breasts, leaders of children or of their own lords or those who sit on a stool in a place where money is exchanged or those who are practised in laws and statutes, because of which they are always persuasive and acquire renown throughout the cities, orators of public speeches and those who are best in the assemblies both at straightening-out quarrels and at aiding those who are distressed, arguing by means of words and precedents from which they derive immense wealth and funds. Others are messengers of kings, and they have legal proceedings entrusted to them by the lords who administer law and justic, and they conduct these (proceedings) by their own intelligence.” (Manetho, Book II, #253-265, Lopilato trans., 1998, p. 211)

Dorotheus on Mercury and Jupiter in Each Other’s Houses

Dorotheus’s delineations of the same rulership combinations also fail to show any evidence of contrariety. The indications are very similar to those given by Manetho.

“If Mercury was in a house or bound of Jupiter, he will have awe, be a preacher or a manager for the matters of kings and the nobles, or an educator for the people in speaking and lawsuits and judgment, and he will always be in the labor of great cities and kings.” (Dorotheus, Book II, Ch. 36, #2, Dykes trans., 2017, p. 173)

“If Jupiter was in a house of Mercury, he will be of those who are established in justice in their communities, or a calculator for all things, being intelligent, sound in intellect, and he will be praised for that and turned to help in that.” (Dorotheus, Book II, Ch. 33, #5, Dykes trans., 2017, p. 171)

Valens on Combinations of Mercury and Jupiter

Similarly, Valens’s indications for combinations of Mercury and Jupiter also fail to show any evidence of corruption by contrariety.

Jupiter and Mercury are good, in harmony, and supervisory. They make men who are managers, overseers of affairs, in posts of trust and administration. They make men who are successful as secretaries and accountants and who are respected in education. These are approachable people with many friends, judged worthy of pay and stipends. If Jupiter and Mercury are found in operative signs, they make men discoverers of treasures, or moneylenders who profit from cash deposits.” (Valens, Book I, Ch. 21K, Riley trans., 2010, p. 18, emphasis added)

Wait, Jupiter and Mercury are good together and in harmony? Isn’t that the very opposite of them being contrary and corrupting each other? I rest my case.


We’ve looked at quite a bit of what the Astrology Podcast got wrong, omitted, and never addressed in Brennan’s treatment of the origins of detriment. Unfortunately, the account on the podcast omitted just about all of the details necessary to understand detriment’s origins and contextualize the misrepresented passages in the PDF.

There’s much more to the story though. If you are interested in this issue, please take the time to read through the full article on the history of detriment. The absence of detriment in Hellenistic astrology is just the beginning of the story. There are some other interesting developments through the game of telephone that occur in the later tradition as well before we get the well-established and oh-so-important concept of detriment that we see in the High Middle Ages and Renaissance. I cover some developments in the Perso-Arabic period in my other article. More research is certainly needed on the evolution of detriment in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

If you enjoy thoughtful, critical, and probing articles on the topic of ancient astrology (Hellenistic and early Medieval) then please show your support by making a donation to the site.



Brennan, C. (2017). Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune. Amor Fati Publications.

Dorotheus of Sidon. (2005). Carmen Astrologicum. (D. Pingree, Trans.). Abingdon, MD: Astrology Center of America.

Dorotheus of Sidon, & al-Tabari, U. (2017). Carmen Astrologicum: The ’Umar al-Tabari Translation. (B. N. Dykes, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.

Hephaistio of Thebes (1998). Apotesmatics Book II. (Robert H. Schmidt, Trans.). Cumberland, MD: The Golden Hind Press.

Hephaistion of Thebes (2013). Apotelesmatics Book III: On Inceptions. (E. Gramaglia, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.

Lopilato, R. (1998). The Apotelesmatika of Manetho, Diss. Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

Ptolemy, C. (1940). Ptolemy: Tetrabiblos. (F. E. Robbins, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library. Retrieved from

Rhetorius of Egypt, & Teucer of Babylon. (2009). Rhetorius the Egyptian. (J. H. Holden, Trans.). Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers.

Valens, V. (2010). Anthologies. (M. Riley, Trans.) (Online PDF.). World Wide Web: Mark Riley. Retrieved from

Featured image “Who Watches the Watchmen” by David Masters / CC BY




Student of astrology since the mid-nineties. Business owner, husband, and father of three. I enjoy hiking, reading, making music, and learning languages.

5 thoughts on “The Anachronism of Hellenistic Detriment: What the Astrology Podcast Left Out

  • December 13, 2020 at 7:04 am

    Hello, Ant.
    Are there are new articles coming before this year’s end? You had plans to publish the 9th lesson for beginners this year but still haven’t done so…

  • October 23, 2020 at 5:02 pm

    Glad to see my comment published.

    I wanted to add 3 more charts to our discussion the previous time. I mean the 3 nativities which Hephaistio gives in his Book II, ch. 18. He says they come from Antigonus and this is the manner in which Nechepso and Petosiris read horoscopes.

    The first is the well-known chart of the Roman emperor Hadrian. The Sun is in the Aquarius Ascendant. Antigonus never mentions that it is in detriment, even though he has plenty of room to do so. I mean, that this is the longest Hellenistic Astrology horoscope delineation that has survived. His delineation is largely focused on the spear-bearing.

    The second nativity has Venus in Aries, the 10th, along with Mercury, Mars and the Sun. Again, Antigonus does not say she is in detriment. Moreover, in reading the chart, he pays more attention to the spear-bearers and the fact that Jupiter in Aquarius and Saturn in Libra are trine (in masculine zoidia) and trine the Moon in Gemini. He also pays attention to heliacal phases and in whose bounds the planets fall. It is only at the very end that Antigonus mentions that when more planets are in their domiciles or other dignities, it contributes to the eminence of the chart. (ala Firmicus style, which you mention in your article)

    The third nativity has the Sun, Saturn, and Mercury in the Ascendant Aries, the Moon in Taurus, Jupiter and Venus in Pisces, Mars in Aquarius. Even though 3 planets are exalted, 1 one is in its domicile, and Saturn is in its fall, Antigonus does not even mention this! He again starts with the spear-bearing of the Sun and delineates planets in the domiciles of other planets. He says this native was killed in his 25th year.

    I want to make it explicit that in this case we are talking about how some of the founders of Hellenistic Astrology read a chart. They did not use detriment. And they did not use the rulers of the houses or reception either.

    Best Wishes to you as well,

  • October 13, 2020 at 5:41 pm

    Hi Ant,

    I read your 2 extremely comprehensive articles cover to to cover (better called “papers”, lol) the other day, and just finished the podcast by Brennan and Dykes. I completely agree with you: the evidence is simply not there that detriment existed in Hellenistic Astrology.

    Even if one were to take the ruler configuration by opposition as detriment, then why is there not a single author who gives a list of all the planets’ positions in detriment? I mean, they list the planets’ positions in exaltation and fall but not in detriment. If detriment existed, why not make it explicit?

    Also, one of the examples Brennan and Dykes quoted was the Moon in Sagittarius opposed by its lord Jupiter in Gemini. They used this as confirmation. Well, the problem is they are mixing the opposition of the lord to a planet vs a planet being in its detriment. Notice the ancient author could have said the Moon in Sagittarrius and its lord in square to it from Virgo, and hence also being in detriment. But he did not say that. The reason is the ancient author does not want the lord to be opposing the planet it rules, given that the lord is supposed to receive it.

    If detriment existed in Hellenistic Astrology, why does it not exist in Indian Astrology? Is there anyone who would dare deny the incredible accuracy of Jyotish? They refuse to accept the trans-Saturnian planets, they do not have detriment, they do not use the MC cusp, etc.

    Also, the fact that a planet in the 7th from its domicile represents being away from home is not necessarily an affliction. While studying this topic for my tutorial on Valens, I came across these two quotes from traditional Indian sources. They are given in the context of living abroad and emigration:

    “If the lord of the first house is in the 7th house and associated with a benefic, the native would live in a foreign country and die there.”

    “According to Satyacharya if the 7th lord is in the Asc, one may go abroad. If such a 7th lord is with benefics one may go on frequent travels as a sailor or the leader of a crew. ”

    Arnold Schwarzenegger has the first configuration. He emigrated to the US over 40 years ago and has remained there. Note, it does not say that the planet is afflicted, etc. I will also add that the 7th house rules long stays abroad (Paul of Alexandria).

    Speaking of being away from home, a topic I specialize in, Brennan’s explanation of Valens is not quite accurate. Valens (and the ancients) considered life abroad, not traveling abroad, as an affliction, as dangerous, etc. The indications Valens gives in no way imply that a planet is afflicted when it opposes the place/image it rules. This is not detriment.

    Moreover, in some of the other rules Valens quotes (Book II, ch. 29 and 30) he says: “If the ruler of Fortune is found in the Lot or Place of Foreign Lands or in opposition to it…..this too causes nativities to travel” The word “travel” Riley translates is “apodemia”, which is being away from home, not travel. The point is, this rule does not necessarily result in the ruler of the Lot of Fortune opposing the Lot and yet it shows life abroad. Listening to Brennan, one is left with the impression that most of the rules Valens gives involve the lord opposing the image it rules and hence being in detriment and showing stays away from home. This is not true. Valens gives quite a number of rules for living abroad that do not involve the lord opposing the place it rules. For example, the lord may be averse, or malefics may be present, etc.

    Chris Brennan also called the early Hellenistic sources, at least twice in the podcast, “introductory”. He said that in a way to try to justify why they left out detriment. So Valens is “introductory”? Or Dorotheus? Or Ptolemy? The three most influential authors, with Valens and Ptolemy being by far the most difficult.

    I myself don’t have a problem that detriment did not exist in Hellenistic Astrology. If one studies the texts closely, they will see that the doctrine of reception did not exist either. A planet in the domicile of another planet, as delineated by the Hellenistic sources, is not the same as the full-blown doctrine.

    Hellenistic astrologers also did not have the doctrine about the rulers of the houses. These are fundamental principles. While Rhetorius mentions the rulers of the houses, notice carefully how he reads the chart of the grammarian. Same for Dorotheus. Same for Valens. But I don’t want to digress as these important matters require a separate topic.

    I want to thank you for your work on this matter and add a very interesting fact I noticed these days. I have been rereading the delineation which 15th century astrologer Regiomontanus did for the chart of Maximilian I. It is the most complete written horoscope that has survived and been translated. It is translated from Latin to English by Rumen Kolev and published by him. Regiomontanus did it at while the native was a baby, at the request of his mother – the Roman empress. The data is 22 March 1459, 5.05.50 pm, Wiener Neustadt, Austria, LMT 1h.05m. You should get an Ascendant 26.12 Virgo (the exact one that Regiomontanus had), Moon at 18.16 Scorpio, Sun at 10.18 Aries. Maximilian I not only survived but became an emperor, as the 23 year old Regiomontan predicted. Maximilian has Jupiter in Virgo and Venus in Aries.

    And here is where it gets really interesting. Regiomontan read the chart using Arabic sources only. He used the 3 triplicity lords and divided the life into 3, he used only quadrant houses for topics, he used an Almuten of the positions, etc. He had access to Ibn Ridwan and quoted from him, etc.

    In reading the chart, Regiomontanus does NOT use detriment. He mentions 3 times (p. 21, p. 45, p. 61) that Jupiter is peregrine and in two of these times he says it is also retrograde.

    He says that Venus is retrograde, weak, in the 8th house and in her decan.

    What’s going on here, I thought? My first impression was that he was downplaying the importance of the condition of detriment. However, neither Jupiter, nor Venus rule the Ascendant or the 10th, or the Sun, or the Moon, etc. In fact, Jupiter rules the 7th, which is the wives and open enemies of the native. Why spare the delineation and not say they are weakened and/or under the control of the native?

    Unfortunately, when he delineated the Moon’s condition in Scorpio (p. 21) Regiomontanus also did NOT say that she is in her fall. He said she is in her triplicity. However, Rumen Kolev, helpfully adds in a footnote that the Moon is very weak, as she is in her fall and in the Via Combusta. Kolev also says that the bad condition of the Moon is confirmed by the very life of Maximilian – he loses his mother when he is only 8 years old and later in life his first wife dies in a riding accident only after 5 years of marriage. Kolev does not say that the Moon is in a declining place and overcome by the contrary to sect malefic – Mars from the 12th place from the Ascendant.

    Anyway, the issue is not whether fall existed but whether detriment did, in the earlier tradition.

    To be thorough though, it is one thing to delineate the horoscope of a merchant or a person of similar status, it is another to do so for royalty. For example, when the astrologers were delineating the chart of the future Roman emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus of the 10th century, while likewise he was still a baby, they did not mention that Jupiter in Capricorn is in its fall, nor that Mars in Cancer is in its fall in his chart. Again, neither of these planets rules the Libra Ascendant, Cancer MC, Virgo Sun or Virgo Moon, yet the astrologers failed to mention this planetary condition. At the same time, they dutifully quoted Ptolemy and Dorotheus for the positive delineations in Constantine’s chart.

    I cannot say quite the same for Regiomontanus. While I can readily notice that he did downplay certain difficult placements, and some of his predictions were indeed off, he did predict that the native would see the death of his older siblings and that the native’s wife would suffer certain debility and misfortune, and both happened.

    The bottom line is we need many more detailed delineations of actual historical charts. As you said and quoted Ben Dykes, detriment did not exist in the earlier Arabic tradition. As such, the onus in on Chris Brennan to locate detailed readings of actual charts from the Hellenistic tradition and conclusively show that detriment existed. Quoting short rules or aphorisms, sometimes without mentioning the context, is not enough. Not by far.

    I want to reiterate that the argument here is not whether detriment works in practice or not. We are concerned here with whether detriment existed in Hellenistic Astrology or not.

    Having said that, I look forward to part 2 of your article.

    • October 20, 2020 at 11:00 am

      Thank you for the detailed response. For some reason, most of the comments are getting kicked to spam by my spam filter, so thank you for emailing me to let me know about it.

      Yes, it’s absence is much more compelling than stray remarks in texts that resemble detriment. For every 1 remark that looks a little like detriment (but is actually ruler’s configuration of opposition almost every time), there are at least 10 places where the same astrologer would’ve brought up detriment if he used it or considered it important, and doesn’t. The absence of the doctrine in medieval Indian (and for the most part, modern Indian) astrology is also telling. And yes, most of the Arabic astrologers didn’t give it much credence even after it came together as a separate defined concept at the end of that period, so some later medieval and Renaissance astrologers in Europe also didn’t stress it in their delineations.

      Despite all this, it’s become an important and often stressed feature of “modern Hellenistic” astrology, which is concerning particularly given the degree to which astrologers today make false statements about its role in ancient Hellenistic astrological delineation and its origins. That’s why I felt it was important to trace the origins of that situation also, not just the origins of traditional detriment.

      As you’ve discovered, fall wasn’t seen as that significant by many traditional astrologers too – from the beginning to the end of the traditional period. The obsession with fall and detriment today largely stems from an obsession with sign signification as a whole. When whole areas of a person’s psyche and soul are considered best characterized by signs of a few important factors (as we seen in Sun, Moon, Ascendant sign astrology – largely the foundation of modern psychological astrological thinking) then moving into traditional territory these additional sign classifications are viewed as if they’re psychological complexes in themselves. “What’s it like living with the Moon in fall?” “Oh, it’s very difficult, I feel more deeply than a normal person but with a constant stinging pain of emptiness and feelings of betrayal.” You get the idea. Additionally, these sign placements are just the easiest types of “afflictions” to spot – as you discovered with your reading of what Kolev found important in that chart with Moon in Scorpio.

      I’ve been on a bit of hiatus, but I look forward to doing some more work on part 2.

      Best wishes,


  • August 5, 2020 at 1:55 pm

    Interesting and informative. Excellent analysis. There are more topics that are distorted by the authors. The translator must also be an experienced astrologer and remain open to new discoveries.


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