Tonight’s Lunar Eclipse, Seen from Babylon

15 June 2011

Astronomical Diary, mentioning the battle of Gaugamela. The Babylonian astronomers correctly predicted the rise of Alexander and the demise of Darius III.

The ancient Babylonians were great astronomers. It is too easy to laugh about their astrological achievements: we know about the earth’s orbit around the sun and we understand why the seasons change with the constellations, but back then, it was quite a discovery that the rise of Aquarius always announced the rise of the water level in the Euphrates and Tigris.

In an age prior to the invention of statistics, it was also hard to recognize that within an interval of a hundred days, there’s always a ruler whose reign comes to an end (there are so many states and so many rulers, while their tenure of office is limited), so the astronomers’ discovery that within a hundred days after a lunar eclipse, there’s always a ruler who dies, retires, or is overthrown, is not to be derided.

As it happens, we understand the four systems with which the astronomers predicted the end of the rule of the leaders of independent states, because we can read the ancient handbook, Shumma Sin ina tamartishu. The eclipsed lunar disk was divided into four quadrants (top, down, left, right), which stood for Syria, Assyria and the north, Elam, and Babylonia – or, to use the ancient names, Amurru, Assyria and Subartu, Elam, and Akkad. The first quadrant touched by the umbra of the eclipse, indicates the direction where the threatened ruler lived.

The direction of the shadow offered a similar clue, although top, down, left, and right now stood for Babylonia, Elam, Assyria and Gutium (the east), and Syria.

There were supplementary systems, which offered some room for personal interpretation to the astrologer. First, the months of the year represented one of the four regions mentioned. For example, Simanu, Tašrîtu , and Šabatu corresponded with Syria. Then, the day of the eclipse, which can only be on the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th of a lunar month, correspond to Babylonia, Elam, Syria, and Assyria/Subartu.

Some minor points: the moment of the eclipse (early evening, midnight, after midnight) represented the consequences of the end of the reign: plague, diminishing markets, or recovery. If Saturn was visible, the power of the celestial omen doubled; Jupiter, on the other hand, protected the king.

So, what does this mean for tonight’s lunar eclipse? I do not believe in astrology, but I was surprised to discover that the four systems indicate more or less the same, plausible outcome. The moon is first eclipsed at precisely the edge of the left and top quadrant: so that means that leaders in Elam and Syria are in peril. The umbra leaves the lunar disk in the eastern part, threatening Syria again.So, the main system indicates trouble in the west, allowing for problems in the east. Iraq itself is safe.

Using the supplementary systems, we get the same result. Tonight’s date, after sunset, is 14 Simanu: the day promises the end of the reign of a ruler in Elam, while the month represents, again, Syria. Jupiter is not visible, Saturn is; and as far as the time is concerned, we can say that in Iraq, the eclipse is more or less around midnight, so the markets will diminish.

If astrology were a science, this would mean that within a hundred days, a leader who lives in Syria or the west is in grave danger. Alternatively, and with a smaller likelihood, the leader of Elam is in trouble – modern Khuzestan or the east. Now I am not a prophet, but if Assad or Ahmedinejad will be forced to resign, I think there will indeed be a big panic on the stock markets.


Postscript, September 1, 2011

OK, it turns out that the eclipse referred to Khadaffi.

Firmicus Maternus

2 December 2010

An astrological chart redrawn from Firmicus II.29.10

A work in progress, but enough of it to report here: Firmicus Maternus’ Mathesis — his textbook on astrology. As noted on my orientation page, the same edition is already online, as flat photostatic copies, divided between two places, so rekeying all that Latin may be looked at as totally superfluous or useful, depending on one’s point of view. In progress, because of the 8 Books only five are available right now, of which only two are fully proofread.

No English, but the Latin is very easy, especially if you’re conversant with astrology; and why else would anyone read this stuff?

A couple of hours after posting, on second thought: Actually, since the delineations cover everything that could come to mind to a 4c Roman as possibly happening to a human being, attentive reading — such as required in proofreading — brings out a full picture of life in those times: certain diseases rather than others, a lot about frittering away or losing one’s inheritance, a lot about violent death, an undercurrent of fearing the rulers (not made any better by the pointed instruction to avoid so much as looking at the horoscope of the emperor, with the specious intellectual rationale given that He Isn’t Subject To The Law Of The Heavens, Since He’s Above Them And Is A Very God).

The chart I show here by the way is a rare thing in the work, Firmicus doesn’t give many, maybe only this one: but he needed to spell it all out in order to show how someone with such a good chart on the surface can in fact have a much worse destiny, because hey you gotta look at the antiscia too. It is in fact an example of “fudging” by piling on complexities, so that indications of just about anything can be found in a chart if you only look hard enough: something that astrologers still do today.