Saturday, 22 November 2014

An original ancient horoscope (from the Oxyrhynchus collection)!



It doesn't seem like much but the image you see above depicts a  miraculously preserved ancient horoscope! It is a horoscope in its textual form that was habitual in that period and it derives from the Hellenistic Egypt, which is the cradle of modern, "horoscopic" Astrology! There, the ancient Greeks (in collaboration with Egyptian, Jewish etc. priests and scholars) created two thousand years ago an incredibly sophisticated Astrology, which is the precursor to the one we are practicing today.

This horoscope was found in the ruins of the Hellenistic city of Oxyrhynchus (160 km south of modern Cairo), which is located on the banks of a Nile's tributary. In this region the holly egyptian fish which in Greek is called "oxyrhynchus" (sturgeon) was abounding, hence the name of the city (which was the third largest in Hellenistic Egypt). It is a horoscope written on papyrus, which remained relatively intact for 18 whole centuries because it was buried in the Egyptian desert sand - in some ideal that is for its maintenance conditions. In fact this papyrus was found - along with thousands of others and dozens of horoscopes - in the ancient rubbish dump of the city of Oxyrhynchus!

As you can see, the above papyrus looks like eaten by bugs and it has major voids in it. The experts however managed (by the method of "crossword") to restore a large portion of the text. Let's see below its full "transcription":

(figure 2)

This is the horoscope of a person that was born (as you can see in the second paragraph of figure 2) in the third year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Severus Alexander (this was the way they were identifying a particular year back then, on the base of the emperor ruling at the time). The individual was born in the sixteenth day of the Egyptian month "Choiak", in the fifth hour of the night (five "nocturnal" hours after sunset that is). This puzzling date actually corresponds to the date December 14, 223 CE at 9 pm. You can see the modern version (created by "Solar Fire Gold") of this ancient horoscope below :


If you watch closely, you will notice that some of the planets in figure 2 are in a different sign than the one given in the above modern horoscope (i.e. the Moon according to figure 2 is in Pisces but in the above modern horoscope is in Aquarius. Venus is in Sagittarius in figure 2 but in Scorpio in the modern horoscope  - and Mars is ultimately not in Scorpio but in Sagittarius). Actually behind this controversy lies a short story. Or rather, three stories!

I am inviting you to check carefully the photo of the papyrus horoscope at the top of this article! You might notice there three different handwritings (meaning that three different people wrote something on this papyrus)! At the very top of the papyrus there is the first handwriting (with the large capital Greek letters). It is providing us the original info for this horocope (written as I mentioned in a textual form, according to the habit of that era). But at the bottom left of the papyrus there is a different handwriting. A rather feisty character, writing with "lowercase" letters and at an upward angle. Actually, this person is correcting the spelling of certain words in the original text (he is correcting i.e. the greek word for the sign of Capricorn - which is originally written as "Εγοκερω" - into its right form "Αιγοκερω". Such a rare misspelling for the sign of Capricorn indicates that the astrologer who wrote the original text in this papyrus was either very poorly educated or a Greek speaking foreigner - usually an Egyptian or Hebrew).

Finally, there is a third handwriting at the bottom right of the papyrus. This is the handwriting of a second astrologer who seems to be more competent than the first one - not only in terms of spelling but in calculating the planetary positions too. You see him revising the planetary positions indicated by the first (not very competent) astrologer, marking with a tick - better distinguished in figure 2 - each planetary position he is checking over. He has identified two erroneous planetary positions, which he is marking with a symbol that looks like a greek lambda (λ): the Moon which is not in the sign of Pisces but in Aquarius and Mars which is not in Scorpio but in Sagittarius! The impeccable modern astrological program "Solarfire Gold" fully concords with him! It puzzles us though the fact that although this secod astrologer seems to be far more competent he fails to produce the proper position  of Venus (it is in Scorpio, not in Sagittarius). Maybe the ephemeris or the almanac the second astrologer used to calculate the position of Venus was somehow flawed in Venus' case...

We can say that the man for whom this horoscope was cast was not very happy with the first astrologer. Thus he eventually requested a second opinion from an apparently more competent astrologer. And today we are in the position to know that his second choice was the right one!

Thomas Gazis
Copyright: Thomas D. Gazis

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