Those astrological disciplines that can be bundled together under the title “traditional astrology” (hellinistic astrology, mediaeval astrology, renaissance astrology, etc. ) have one common philosophical background that not only bridges them historically but also unites them. These are the artes liberales or the seven liberal arts.
The liberal arts were divided into two different groups. The first group or trivium are the basic three arts of grammar, logic/dialectics and rhetoric. They are ‘trivial’ because essential. Notice they are language based, the word is central. The second group or quadrivium are the mathematical arts, astronomy/astrology, arithmetic, music and geometry. We must be careful to remember that our idea of what each of these, now sciences, are about are not concurrent with how they were understood in late antiquity or in the middle ages. For example grammar, nowadays is considered a very dull science that has remote interest for linguists. But grammatica was more than the science of sound and letter, it also included the whole corpus of knowledge either spoken or written. Literature. And with it history. And maybe surprising to some, ethics. An understanding of how language works was necessary for the next of the three ‘trivial’ arts, logic or dialectics. With logic the whole apparatus (organon) of how our thinking works and how we think and how we apply our thinking was examined. The basis of science or if you like the product of logic and dialectic is science. And the last of the three, rhetoric, was devoted to the communication of knowledge. With it came jurisprudence and the art of writing as well as later the art of the sermon.
Of the quadrivium, astronomia/astrologia, particulary interests us. But before we go into more detail what do all four have in common? Number. And with number, rhythm and proportion. Each of the four has its own approach to number. But there isn’t a well defined border from one to the next (as you will probably have noticed with the short description of the trivium). In my article on Ptolemy, (Ptolemy Wherefore art Thou Ptolemy) you will remember the following quote:
Hence we were drawn … especially to the theory concerning divine and heavenly things. For that reason it too can be eternal and unchanging in its own domain, which is neither unclear nor disorderly. Furthermore it can work in the domains of the other two divisions of theoretical philosophy (theology and physics) no less than they do. For this is the best science to help theology along its way, since it is the only one which can make a good guess at that activity which is unmoved and separated; it is familiar with the attributes of those beings which are on the one hand perceptible, moving and being moved, but on the other hand eternal and unchanging, having to do with motions and the arrangements of motions.
( from “Ptolemy’s Almagest, translated by G.J. Toomer, Princeton University Press)
We realise that the word, ‘theology’ as it is used here is different from its present usage. Theology in late antiquity concerned itself with the matterless unmoving substance of the divine (theology only later became focused on the problem of the fall and redemption of man ). Anyone who has looked into the Almagest and later astronomical literature will notice how essential an understanding of geometrical method is and will also come to understand how later Kepler could search for a correspondence between the platonic bodies and also speak of the music of the spheres.
As the arts of the quadrivium have number as their core so do they have a common means of presentation – notation. The musician has musical notation just as the mathematician or geometrician uses notation to clarify and to follow a proof. There are also maps, astronomical or geometrical. And you dear astrologer, use a chart with its notation to orient yourself. Moreover you will notice that those who are practised in each of these arts seem to glide over the notation. Watch a musician glide over the notation on the music-stand before her or a mathematician writing a proof on a blackboard. You will notice that when you “read” a chart that the reading is not in the notation but is grounded in your own practice and experience (regardless whether you are a hellene, middle-aged or reborn 🙂 ). And if you look at your collection of astrological literature you are also a grammatician! In fact if you look closely you will find all of the seven liberal arts are present in your practice.
The winter solstice is at hand and so I wish you dear reader all the best for the coming year. There will not be a Quizze for each of the 12 days of Christmas but I promise that there will be a Quizze-Questionne for the 1st of January!