Episode 89: The Astrology of Vettius Valens

Vettius Valens of Antioch (120-some time after 173 CE) was a practising astrologer. His book, the Anthologies, survives in its original Greek, although it shows manifest signs of tampering up to the fifth century – this tampering, however, was by other astrologers who continued adding material to the text, keeping it up-to-date. The book is a crucial source for ancient astrology as it was practised in the second century, as well as preserving many substantial citations from earlier, lost authorities on the prognosticatory art.

In this episode we discuss Valens’ fatalism, his book, his esoteric writing-practice, and his approach to astrology as a way of life. We also foreshadow his long afterlife in the East Roman and Islamicate esoteric-scientific traditions.

Works Cited in this Episode:

(We quote Mark Riley’s translation of the Anthologiæ (see below). CCAG refers to Franz Cumont and et al, editors. Catalogus codicum astrologorum Graecorum, 12 vols. in 20 parts. Lamertin, Brussels, 1898–1953.)

  • Ptolemy: On astrology’s usefulness in helping us to bear the harsh events of life by forewarning us: Tetr. I 3.5. Its usefulness in warning us of coming calamities such as plagues, enabling us to seek remedies for them: Tetr. I 3.10.
  • Tacitus, Ann. 6.22.
  • Vettius Valens, Anthologiæ (we cite Pingree’s edition rather than the older Kroll (see below)): On astrology as an ascetic, rather philosophical way of life: 231.34-232.10; 340.22-27; 231.16-24. ‘Slaves of a harsh master’: 340.27-33. ‘Soldiers of Fate’ passage cited on the usefulness of astrological prediction in the face of absolute Fate: 209.10-210.6. On the need for esotericism in astrology, which should be kept ‘from the unworthy and the uninitiated’: 344.27; oath of secrecy demanded from his students, with astral curse for those who break the oath: 251.18-23 (VII.1); cf. 163-4, 281. Valens’ casting of the horoscope of Constantinople: CCAG 5.1, 118. His prediction of the coming of the Prophet Muhammad to Persia: CCAG 5.3, 110.

Recommended Reading:

The first critical edition was Kroll, 1906, since replaced by Pingree, 1986. Bara, 1989 is an edition with commentary on Book I of the Anthologiæ, containing an important introductory study and copious notes.

  • Joëlle-Frédérique Bara. Vettius Valens d’Antioque Anthologies, Livre I. Number 111 in Études Préliminaires aux Religions Orientales dans l’Empire Romain. Brill, Leiden, 1989.
  • Tamysn Barton. Ancient Astrology. Routledge, London, 2002.
  • Chris Brennan. Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune. Amor Fati, Denver, CO, 2017.
  • Joanna Komorowska. Vettius Valens of Antioch: An Intellectual Monography. Ksiegarnia Akademicka, 2004.
  • W. Kroll, editor. Vettii Valentis Anthologiarum libri. Weidmann, Berlin, 1906.
  • O. Neugebauer. ‘The Chronology of Vettius Valens’ Anthologiæ’. Harvard Theological Review, 47:65–7, 1954.
  • O. Neugebauer and H. B. van Hoesen. Greek Horoscopes. American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA, 1959.
  • David Pingree. ‘The Byzantine Tradition of Vettius Valens’ Anthologies’. Harvard Ukrainian Studies, 7:532–41, 1983.
  • Mark Riley. ‘A Survey of Vettius Valens’. Accessed at https://www.csus.edu/indiv/r/rileymt/PDF_folder/VettiusValens.PDF.
  • Idem. A full translation of the Anthologies of Vettius Valens by Mark Riley can be found online here. [Despite being unfinished, it remains the best English version of Vettius’ text, and Riley knows his astrology].
  • Idem. ‘Theoretical and Practical Astrology: Ptolemy and his Colleagues’. Transactions of the American Philological Association, 117:235–256, 1987.
  • Fuat Sezgin. Geschichte des Arabischen Schrifttums: Band VII, Astrologie. Brill, Leiden, 1979.

Themes

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