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.

One thought on “The Anachronism of Hellenistic Detriment: What the Astrology Podcast Left Out

  • 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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