Astrology correspondence

Archived here for my reference.

First email to me from astrologer:

You invited comments or questions about the astrological material posted on your site.

I’m a traditional astrologer and am undertaking a review of Latin with special interest in astrology. I was looking for some examples of chart interpretations written in Latin to acquire more exposure to the Latin technical language of astrology. I happened across your site.

I wonder if you don’t mind telling me why you think your chart example of the female family member visiting the king is a birth chart rather than a horary (asking a question) chart. It is certainly interpreted like a horary chart, which is quite distinct from the way a natal chart is interpreted.

Just wondering what prompted you to take this tack.

Second email to me from astrologer:

I became curious about your chart; to me, it seemed that you noted it was drawn up well after the fact, which suggests to someone who uses this kind of astrology that any inaccuracies may be due to the astrologer forgetting the exact date of the question, but remembering (years after the fact) the answer to the question and the approximate positions of the planets.

The background information tells us how to find the answer to the question. As the astrologer has drawn the chart the answer will be shown by aspects and reception between the planet which signifies the old woman, who is evidently a family member of the person who asked the question, and the planet which signifies the King.

The fourth house signifies family members, and the tenth house signifies royalty. There is a strong aspect between the two planets found in these houses:
the Old Woman–Venus, significator of the feminine, in Capricorn, significant of old age, found in the fourth, significant of family members; and Jupiter, significator of rulers, found in the house of authority, in his exaltation (strength), apply to an opposition. This is vivid imagery, and for an astrologer it is much easier to remember this sort of response to a question than it is to remember the precise date of the question!

This type of error suggests that the astrologer did not have access to whatever notes or records he was keeping at the time the question was asked.

I wish to propose an alternate date for this chart which may resolve most of the problems it poses. If we add two years to the date, we have a chart with Jupiter in his exaltation (Cancer), retrograde, in the tenth house, while Venus is in Capricorn in the fourth. The houses all have the same signs on the cusps as on the chart you list.

This is using the New Calendar date December 1, 1124, 3:00 am.

The only minor discrepancies on this chart from the one you have posted show Mars in the third, not the ninth; Saturn in the eleventh in Virgo, not Leo; and the degrees of each planet do not match precisely, although the houses, signs, and aspects described do. The adjustment in degrees is possibly due to the different mathematical methods used in modern chart calculation. But Saturn and Mars, the showing the greatest discrepancies, are not named as major players on this chart. So the astrologer was more likely to misremember their precise locations.

My reply to first email:

It’s a good question, one of many good questions that need to be asked about this curious piece of history. At first I was pretty sure it must be a horary chart (as you put it), but the problem with that theory was that the text in which it was embedded was known to date from the last quarter of the 12th century, and I could not get a sensible date out of any reasonable permutation of the given planetary positions that would fit that period.

The obvious next possibility was that the chart and interpretation might come from an Arabic source, since I know that much of the material in the rest of the text was drawn from Abu Ma’shar and Al-Khwarizmi. However even then the only even slightly convincing fit for the dates I could get was 770 AD, really too early for either; and in any case it wasn’t very satisfactory.

Then I realised that if Jupiter position was out by precisely one sign, I had a decent fit from Saturn, Mars and the Sun for 14 December 1123, and the Sun, Moon, Mercury and Venus rather less convincingly for 14 December 1122. (At the time I plumped for 1122 anyway since that was the generally accepted latest possible date for Eleanor’s birth. I’ve since seen research by Andrew Lewis arguing that she was born in 1124 – the evidence being a statement that she was 13 at Eastertide in 1137 when her father died. Of course this fits a birth date of December 1123 just as well, if not better, than any date in 1124.)

If the early 12th-century date was correct, I had to choose between either an otherwise unknown astrologer of that period happening to cast a horary chart, which Roger just happened to come across half a century later to include in his text along with all his other material from a completely different time (the 9th-century Arabs); or else that, along with the other material in the book, it was compiled in the late twelfth century (we know Roger was active from the 1170s to the 1190s). Obviously in the latter case, a natal chart is the most likely (though of course not the only) possibility.

I agree that it’s interpreted like a horary chart. I would point out that despite Roger’s laborious compilation of other people’s teaching, his own work has a certain lack of thoroughness about it. In the chart in question, Venus is placed in the 4th house even though it is at 15 Capricorn and the imum coeli at 18 Capricorn. His notes in MS Arundel 377 indicate that he was still confused about the tropical vs the sidereal zodiac. Also, if he had had any intention of actually applying the Arabic lore I think he would have tried to edit out (or at least comment on) the inconsistencies within and between the Arabic writers. The fact that he didn’t do so tells us a lot.

Bear in mind that there were probably only three people in England capable of casting horoscopes at this period – Roger himself, Daniel of Morley and William the constable of Chester. The training and cross-checking which we expect of professionals in any field today simply did not exist in the twelfth century, certainly not in astrology; these guys were self-taught, using texts in a language they did not understand well, and producing charts that were rarely or never shown to each other. It doesn’t make for a particularly glorious picture but I think it is a realistic one.

And my reply to the second email:

I see what you mean; but in this case “years after” means at least 50 and possibly 60 years later, and we then have someone who started his professional career before 1124, and remained silent and un-heard of until 1176, yet was appointed a *peripatetic* judge along with a number of much younger men in 1185, and was around Hereford to impress Simon de Freine with his knowledge of the length of the day at different times of the year in 1192! OK, such a person could certainly expect to suffer a certain fuzziness of memory with regard to their early professional assignments, but I’m not yet convinced…

I’m also not convinced by your suggestion that we can simply ignore the precision with which the degree of each planet is given. If that were the case, it is more than a little surprising that the planets fit either of my proposed dates as well as they do. My impression of Roger is that he was really quite conscientious about grinding out results to a certain degree of precision – hence the table of hour lengths at Hereford at different times of the year, the most substantial chunk of original work in the text – but not so good about the accuracy (if you follow the difference), hence the fact that the table of hour lengths appears to have had about a dozen mistakes even in its original version.

Still, if (when!) I ever get around to writing this up properly I’ll include your proposal as an alternative possibility.

Astrologer’s response to my first:

Thank you for doing me the kindness of considering my suggestions.

The dates you are giving suggest that the chart was passed to Hereford by another astrologer, or by the querent himself/herself (it was apparently his/her _mother_ who brought the matter to the king). This would have been done routinely if the matter brought before the king was of long-standing interest to the querent. The original astrologer may have gone on to his reward by the time Hereford was practicing astrology. Yet the original chart would have been preferred, even if the second astrologer were too young to practice when the question was first asked! Because the matter was predicted come before the King a second time (Jupiter retrograde), this older chart might have been of interest for a longer time than the average chart.

I use several older charts in my study; they simply don’t coincide with modern caculations. Ever. I don’t think it’s Hereford’s fault. Since Kepler, we calculate the planetary positions differently.

And please do look at the alternate time for that chart. The resemblance is very convincing; if you have done much astrology, you will realize how little chance there is of such a coincidence ocurring. I will try to figure out a way to send it to you.

And a brief additional note on Venus being placed in the 4th house:

I would do the same thing, using Ptolemy’s law of including any planet within 5 degrees of a cusp in the next house. This is standard practice on a horary chart using traditional techniques. In fact, the five degrees before the cusp are thought to be a very strong placement, particularly on the angle of a chart.

My considered response, having thought about it a bit more:

Thanks again for your response. Your hypothesis is now getting a bit complex, I fear; on the one hand you have another unknown astrologer, or the querent, passing the chart to Roger, but on the other hand apparently all they actually passed to Roger was the detail of the interpretation of the chart, leaving him to work out where the planets must have been in 1124 for himself; while making up these details he nonetheless worked out the places of the planets to the nearest degree.

You also have to bear in mind that *all* of Roger’s astrological lore and vocabulary – including the vocabulary of this horoscope – comes from the translations of Robert of Ketton and Hermann of Carinthia, which were not made until the 1140’s. That to me is fairly good internal evidence that the horoscope was drawn up later.

So your theory requires us to postulate two otherwise unrecorded entities, an otherwise unknown early 12th century astrologer (Adelard of Bath’s recorded horary charts are from almost twenty years later), and a lost chart of planetary positions drawn up in 1124. Mine requires only Roger interpreting a natal chart in the way that you would prefer to interpret a horary one, a sloppy approach true, but in character with his sloppiness in other ways.

That’s more a feeling of style than content, I admit. But the content I think doesn’t support your idea either. You suggest any planet within 5 degrees of a cusp can be considered to be in the next house. My interpretation is that Roger feels the entire sign in which the cusp falls to constitute the house; this is supported by his placement of Mars in the ninth house (at 10 Gemini, whereas the cusp if calculated would have been around 18 Gemini).

Leaving that aside, the planets identified in the interpretation are:

1) the ruler of the ascendant (Venus)
2) the Sun
3) the Moon
4) The lord of the seventh house (Mars)
5) Mercury
6) Jupiter, in its exaltation, and retrograde, and opposed to Venus

You suggest that Saturn and Mars are not named as major payers; Saturn, granted, is not but Mars is. And the Moon, also a player in the interpretation, is in Virgo on 1 Dec 1124, nowhere near Gemini. It seems to me a very long stretch to say that someone would have cast a horoscope on 1 Dec 1124 and then misremembered all these details, while remembering others accurately.

I completely take your point about old charts never coinciding with modern calculations. Of course Kepler produced a much better method of calculation, and I’m sure you have spent much more time interpreting old charts than I have. Tell me though, surely the Sun is the least likely to be calculated wrong, given that it is in more or less the same place every year and that even a geocentric system will produce pretty accurate results? My own efforts to calculate planetary positions using the Toledo tables convinced me that it would be pretty easy to drop a sign, or a year, in the calculations.

Anyway, thanks very much for opening up this dialogue. I’m really glad that there is someone else out there who finds this subject of interest! Have you looked at the Adelard of Bath horoscopes reported by J.D. North, or at the Great Conjunction of 1186? I think they add up to a convincing picture.

And the astrologer’s response, ending the discussion for now:

You have to look at Dec 1, 1124 _New Calendar_ (Gregorian Calendar). That puts Moon in Gemini in the ninth. Sorry, I keep all my pre-1700 charts iin New Calendar for consistency. Using Old Style Calendar, I believe it would be December 18, 1124.

I apologise if this caused any inconvenience for you, but you were looking at a different chart.

I believe I have a reference in The Astrological Judgement and Practice of Physick by Richard Saunders of how he was passed a case which predated his practice of medicine which had belonged to another astrologer, employing an older chart. The same mistakes of memory I find myself commiting may apply to the older astrologer; he may have known the opposition, but not the precise date. I will see if I can find this for you.

But if you can demonstrate that no one else was practicing astrology in England at this time, I would very much like to see your sources. I’ve always heard that it is difficult to prove a negative. Smile.

Interesting discussion. Thank you foe letting me take part.

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