Early Astronomy in the University of Michigan Collections

Astronomy and Astrology: A Close Relationship

The papyrus, dating to the first century CE, contains fragments from an anonymous treatise giving a series of predictions, based probably on the conjunctions of the Moon. It is another astrological text, involved with predictions about human life.

Ptolemy explains in the Tetrabiblos that stars can have an influence on our life—as proven by the influence of the Sun on Earth in connection with seasonal changes (Tetr. 1.1-2). However, while mathematical astronomy is more rigorous and capable of predicting the movement of the stars and planets in the sky, astrology is less certain. The lower quality of astrological predictions is due to the fact that they concern events occurring in the terrestrial realm, which is naturally less perfect than the sky: the latter, being divinely regulated and perfect, allows mathematics to predict it with precision. Despite this fundamental difference, Ptolemy states that astrology is still worth pursuing.

While horoscopes are the most popular type of astrology (also called “genethlialogy”), astrology could also take the form of a series of “possible predictions” when the heavenly bodies were in a certain position relative to each other. For example, the Carmen Astrologicum in five books by Dorotheus (first century CE), which is preserved in scanty fragments in Greek and Latin but in a complete, enlarged Arabic version, lists many events that are connected to different positions of the heavenly bodies. The present papyrus, which lists predictions concerning business, marital affairs, or lawsuits according to the position of the Moon, seems to belong to the same genre. A similar text, giving various types of predictions according to the Moon phases, can be found in a text attributed to Antiochus, a famous astrologer of the late second century CE (CCAG VII, 107-111).


Select Bibliography

  • Neugebauer, Otto, and Henry B. van Hoesen. 1964. “Astrological papyri and ostraca. Bibliographical notes.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 108: 57-72, at 60 [no. 117].
  • Robbins, Frank E. in Winter, John Garrett. 1936. Papyri in the University of Michigan Collection III: Miscellaneous Papyri University of Michigan Studies: Humanistic Series. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press: 59-62 [PMich. III 148].

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