Egyptian wisdom: Vettius Valens and others on Petosiris and pharaoh Nechepsos as astrologers (first-fifth centuries CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Egyptian wisdom: Vettius Valens and others on Petosiris and pharaoh Nechepsos as astrologers (first-fifth centuries CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 31, 2023,

Ancient authors: Thessalos (first or second century CE), On the Properties of Plants, prologue excerpts (link to full translation on this site); Lucilius (first century CE), Greek Anthology 11.164 (link); Pliny the Elder (first century CE), Natural History 2.88 and 7.162 (link); PParis 19bis (137 CE), from Thebes in Egypt (link); Claudius Ptolemy (mid-second century CE), Four Books / Tetrabiblos, or Effects 3.10 (link); Vettius Valens of Antioch (mid-second century), Anthologies, numerous passages (link); Firmius Maternus (fourth century CE), Astrology / Mathesis, several passages (link); Anonymous Byzantine lexicographers (tenth century CE), Suda lexicon, at “Petosiris” (link).

Comments: Greek and Roman authors of the Roman era frequently turned to what they considered Egyptian wisdom regarding the effects of the stars on human life, including healing. In Thessalos’ first or second century CE introductory letter to his work On the Properties of Plants (link to the full letter), for instance, he mentions his use of an authoritative writing on the intersection of astrology and healing by the Egyptian pharaoh Nechepsos. Yet only a revelation from the god Asklepios would bring full success for Thessalos. As the many passages below demonstrate, Vettius Valens of Antioch (mid-second century CE) and many other Greek authors gave significant authority to books ostensibly written by the Egyptian pharaoh Nechepsos (perhaps with a connection to pharaoh Necho II, reigning from ca. 610-595 BCE) or his frequent side-kick, Petosiris (perhaps linked to the historical figure Petesis or Petese, on which see Ryholt 2011).

While the pseudepigraphic texts cited by Valens (and others) were composed in Greek (as the iambic meter indicates), we now know from the Tebtynis library find that there were also astrological manuals circulating in Demotic Egyptian language before the second century CE (see Ryholt and Quack 2019). Although both Greeks and Egyptians in the Hellenistic and Roman periods might hold the view that ancient Egyptians invented astrology long before their time, it was actually only in the Ptolemaic and Roman eras that astrology became a more prominent aspect of Egyptian culture and within the temples (see Winkler 2021). Overall, the material gathered here gives a clear sense of the authority associated with exotic Egyptian wisdom in connection with astrology beginning at least by the first century CE but likely a bit before as well (since the pseudepigraphic works themselves may have been written in Greek in the second or first centuries BCE).

Works consulted: S. Heilen, “Some metrical fragments from Nechepsos and Petosiris,” in La poésie astrologique dans l’Antiquité: Textes réunis par Isabelle Boehm et Wolfgang Hübner (Paris: de Boccard, 2011), pp. 23-93 (link); J. F. Quack and K. Ryholt, “Petese Interpreting Astrology by Imhotep for King Nechepsos,” in The Carlsberg Papyri 11: Demotic Literary Texts from Tebtunis and Beyond, ed. Quack and Ryholt (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 2019), pp. 161-183; K. Ryholt, “New Light on the Legendary King Nechepsos of Egypt,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 97 (2011): 61–72 (link); E. Riess, Nechepsonis et Petosiridis fragmenta magica (Bonn: Typis Caroli Georgi, 1890) (link); A. Winkler, “Stellar Scientists: The Egyptian Temple Astrologers,” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern History 8 (2021): 91–145 (link).

Source of translations: Thessalos, Lucilius, PParis, and Suda translations by Harland; H. Rackham, Pliny: Natural History, volumes 1-2, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1938), public domain (Rackham passed away in 1944), adapted by Harland; F.E. Robbins, Ptolemy: Tetrabiblos, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1940), public domain (passed away in 1963), adapted by Harland; Vettius Valens translation by Mark T. Riley (link), used with permission from Riley and adapted by Harland; Firmicus Maternus translation by Harland in consultation with J.R. Bram, Ancient Astrology, Theory and Practice: Matheseos Libri VIII by Firmicus Maternus (Park Ridge, NJ: Noyes Press, 1974).


Thessalos, On the Properties of Plants (first-second century CE), epistolary prologue: On a remedy in a work by Nechepsos

(6-7, 24-27 = Riess F35-36) When it was the right time to return home [to Asia Minor from Alexandria in Egypt] — for I had already achieved medical advancement according to custom — I [Thessalos] went around the libraries seeking out the necessary medical materials. When I found a certain book of Nechepsos dealing with twenty-four medical treatments of the whole body and of every condition according to the signs of the Zodiac through both stones and plants, I was astounded by the incredible nature of its promised cures. Yet it was, as it seemed, an empty delusion of royal foolishness. For despite the fact that I had prepared the solar medicine that had astounded me and the remaining prescriptions in all the medical treatments of conditions, I failed to affect a cure. . . .  Then, reaching out his right hand, [the god] Asklepios began to say: ’Oh blessed Thessalos, attaining honour in the presence of the god. As time passes, when your successes become known, men will worship you as a god. Ask freely, then, about what you want and I will readily grant you everything.’ I scarcely heard anything, for I had been struck with amazement and overwhelmed by seeing the form of the god. Nevertheless, I was inquiring why I had failed when trying the prescriptions of Nechepsos. To this the god said: ‘King Nechepsos, a man of most sound mind and all honourable forms of excellence, did not obtain from an utterance of the gods what you are seeking to learn. Since he had a good natural ability, he observed the sympathy of stones and plants with the stars, but he did not know the correct times and places one must pick the plants’ [cf. Maternus below].


Lucillius, Greek Anthology (first century CE): On Petosiris as expert in astrology

(11.164 = Riess T3) Aulos the astrologer, after explaining his own birth, said that the appointed hour had come and that he still had four hours to live. Now as the fifth hour arrived and he had to continue living knowing nothing, he was ashamed of Petosiris and hanged himself. There up in the air he is dying, but he is dying understanding nothing.


Pliny the Elder, Natural History

[On measurements of the celestial realm]

(2.88 = Riess F2) The Egyptian calculation published by Petosiris and Nechepsos infers that one degree of the lunar circle measures (as has been said) just over 4⅛ miles at the least, one degree of the widest circle, Saturn’s, twice that size, and one of the sun’s circle, which we stated to be in the middle, the mean between the other two. This computation is a most shameful business, since the addition of the distance of the zodiac itself to the circle of Saturn produces a multiple that is even beyond reckoning. . . [omitted sections].

[On determining length of life]

(7.162 = Riess F17) The topic [of length of life] seems of itself to call for the view held by astronomical knowledge. Epigenes declared that it is impossible to live one hundred and twelve years. Berossos said that one hundred and sixteen years can be exceeded. Also the theory handed down by Petosiris and Nechepsos is still extant. It is called the “Theory of Quarters,” as it divides up the Zodiac into groups of three signs. This theory shows it is possible to reach one hundred and twenty one years of life in the region of Italy. These thinkers declared that nobody exceeds the ascendant measure of ninety degrees (what is called “risings”), and stated that this period itself may be cut short by the encounter of stars with unfavourable influences, or even by their rays and by those of the sun. Again it is uncertain what is the greatest longevity allowed by the school of Aesculapius, which says that fixed periods of life are received from the stars. However, they say that longer periods of life are rare, inasmuch as vast crowds of men are born at critical moments in the hours of the lunar days, for example the seventh and the fifteenth hour counting by night and day, who are liable to die under the law of the ascending scale of years, called “gradations.” Persons born in this way rarely exceeding their fifty-fourth year. . . [omitted sections].


PParis 19bis, recto, from a tomb in Thebes (137 CE): On astrological works by king Necheus and Petosiris

(= Riess T6) I have interpreted the following birth after examination of many books as handed down to us by ancient sages, that is the Chaldeans and Petosiris, but especially king Necheus [alternative transliteration of Necho, the model for Nechepsos] just as they themselves consulted with our lord Hermes and Asklepios, that is Imouthes son of Hephaistos. . . [missing second god’s Egyptian name] . . . [omitted following birth calculation for December 4, 137 CE].


Claudius Ptolemy, Four Books / Tetrabiblos, or Effects

[On length of life]

(3.10 = Riess F15) The consideration of the length of life takes the leading place among inquiries about events following birth, for, as the ancient [i.e. likely Nechepsos] says, it is ridiculous to attach particular predictions to one who, by the constitution of the years of his life, will never attain at all to the time of the predicted events. This doctrine is no simple matter, nor unrelated to others, but in complex fashion derived from the  domination of the places of greatest authority.


Vettius Valens of Syrian Antioch, Anthologies (170s CE): On consulting astrological books by king Nechepsos and Petosiris

[On dominance by a celestial body]

(2.3 = Heilen F+5a-b) Since I want to make the topic of good fortune most secure and precise, I am moving on to the lot of Fortune, the most influential and most potent place. Just as the king [likely Nechepsos] also has mystically revealed in the beginning of his thirteenth book:

“Next in order, it will be necessary – in the case of births during the day – to count accurately the distance from the sun to the moon, then to measure off in the opposite direction an equal distance from the ascendant (horoskopos) [i.e. the sign or degree of the sign rising in the east at the time of birth], and to inspect the resulting place. It will be necessary to determine which star is its ruler and which star or stars are at this point and all the square [i.e. 90 degrees] or trine [i.e. 120 degrees, or two signs in question are separated by three others with 30 degrees between each sign] configurations of stars of this place. From this study of the places, make a clear determination of the affairs of the persons born.”

In his book on Definitions (Horoi), Petosiris explains this place in the same way. Others treat this subject in other ways, ways which we will publish when necessary, along with other methods which clarify the topic of good fortune. . . [omitted sections].

[Impact of travel]

(2.29 = Heilen F+6) The difficult topic of travel has not been treated either by Petosiris or by the learned king [Nechepsos] in his treatises, except in this fashion:

“If an unfavourable influence has a phase in this position of dominance by a celestial body, it will cause travel and confusion for the birth.”

This is the truth, but they have nothing more than this to say about the Place of Foreign Lands. The most amazing Abraham has shown us other astrologers’ explanations of the Place in his books, as well as his own book, since he found and proved additional interpretations, especially concerning expatriate births . . . [omitted sections].

[Female or male children]

(2.39 = Riess F22) Petosiris says:

“Whenever Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury are not afflicted, they are indicative of fine offspring. When the opposite is true, they cause lamenting and the deaths of children. If the stars that are in aspect with the Givers of Children are in bi-corporeal signs, or if the Givers themselves are in bi-corporeal signs, the number is doubled. Feminine stars in aspect with the Child-giver grant female children; male stars grant male children.” . . . [omitted sections].

[Determining what kind of person it will be]

(2.41 = Riess F24) Petosiris seems to have defined the place perfectly, even though he spoke in mystic riddles:

“The beginning, the end, the controller, and the measurement standard of the whole is the house-ruling star of each birth: it makes clear what kind of person the person who is born will be, what kind of basis his livelihood will have, what his character will be, what sort of body he will have, and all the things that will accompany him in life. Without this star nothing, neither occupation nor rank, will come to anyone.”

[Calculating length of life]

(3.7 = Riess F18) There is another numerical method, which king Petosiris has mystically explained, suitable for determining the length of life and the propitious and impropitious times. As a result, whenever we find the controller or the house-ruler configured appropriately, we will use the method described above for the allotment. If we do not find them to be such, we will use the following method. It will be necessary to determine if the birth happened at new or full moon. If it happened at new moon, determine the number of degrees from the new moon to the position of the moon at the delivery itself, then count this distance from the ascendant in the order of the signs. The ruler of the term where the count stops will be the house-ruler of Life and of the vital sector. If the birth is at full moon, it will be necessary to determine the degrees from the moon’s position at the delivery to its position at the next new moon. Then count this distance from the ascendant, not in the order of the signs, but in the direction of day-time motion (towards mid-heaven). The ruler of the term where the count stops will be considered the house-ruler. It will be necessary to examine it and the sign where the count stopped to see which body is more closely related to it, the sun for masculine signs, or the moon for feminine signs. If the sign where the count stopped happens to be related to the sun when the sun has control, and if the ruler of the term is also in harmony with the sun and happens to be favourably configured with the sun, then it will allot the maximum number of years. If this sign is found to be related – that is, the male, as would be appropriate for the sun – and if the ruler of the term is opposite the sun, precedes the ascendant, or is in ecliptic places, then it will become the destroyer of the dominant celestial body, or it will allot the minimum number of years. (The masculine signs belong to the sun; the feminine to the moon.)

Consequently it will be necessary to examine how the ruler of the term is configured with respect to the controller and with respect to the ruler of the sign. If it is found to be in its own sign or in operative signs, the length of life will reach its maximum. If it is found to be favourably configured with respect to one, but unsuitably configured with respect to the other, it will allot the mean number of years. If the house-ruler of the sign where the count stopped is unsuitably configured with respect to the controller and the operative sign, being either turned away or in [the twelfth Place of the] bad lower spirit (daimōn), then the birth will lack a house-ruler. In such a case it will again be necessary to examine the control of the sun and moon. If the rulers of the term and of the sign are configured well and harmoniously with the sun and moon, then the vital sector will be considered as starting at the degree of the term.

Generally speaking, in this method it will be necessary to examine the house-ruler with reference to the influences of the angles, as was demonstrated for the calculation of the degree: it may be rising, setting, at an angle, not at an angle; it may switch positions with the ruler of its sign or be inharmonious with it. Use these facts to make your judgment. Likewise look at the rays of the destroyer stars and check if the vital sector starts at the beginning of the terms or at the end. It is necessary to consider all of this in order to calculate short-lived or long-lived births, or even the births of twins, because often if an unfavourable term rules the vital sector or if the house-ruler is unfavourably situated, the first-born becomes short-lived, but the next-born, if the term or the house-ruler changes, becomes long-lived and a foundation for his existence arises.

Consequently, a change of one or two degrees often has a very great effect. An example: Sun in Taurus 25° 18′, moon in Aquarius 7° 10′, Saturn in Aries 24°, Jupiter in Taurus 4° 25′, Mars in Cancer 22° 53′, Venus in Gemini 28° 16′, Mercury in Gemini 6°, ascendant in Capricorn 27°. Since this was a birth at full-moon, I took the distance from the moon’s position at birth to the next new moon, which was at Gemini 2° 25′. The distance is 115°.

(3.8 = Riess F23) We will now report what the king has revealed about the critical point: take the number of days from the rising of Seth to the date of birth. Divide the total number of days by 52 1/7. Now multiply the answer of this division by the remainder, and examine the result of this multiplication to see if it is less than the particular number of the critical point. As a sample, let the number of days be 220. I divide 52 1/7 four times into 220 for a result of 208 4/7 days, with a remainder of 11 3/7… I multiply 11 3/7 times 4, and the result is 45 5/7. … We call this the critical seven-day number. The king tells us to examine this number to see if the number of the critical point is less than the number of years. Take the example just cited: if the basis of the length of life of the person born is 47, but the critical point falls in year 45, the native will be destroyed then, since the value of the critical point was less than the years of the basis. The king has said that if the seven-day number is a factor of 9, the situation will be inharmonious. For example: this seven-day number [i.e. 45] contains the factor 5, the result of a division by 9. When this is multiplied by 9, it yields 45. Therefore the seven-day number is a factor of 9. But if the value of the critical point is not less than the number of years [of the basis], and if the previously- mentioned considerations are true, it will not be able to reduce the allotted time. Instead the person who is born will live the assigned period. If the situation is harmonious, the critical point will take precedence over the number found by the preceding method.

(3.11 = Riess F19) I have found this system for finding the length of life to have been elaborated in a very complicated manner by the ancients. After investigation, I have modified their doctrines in view of my experience, and I think my explanations will please most of my readers. In his thirteenth book, after his preface and his descriptions of the signs, the king [likely Nechepsos] introduces the lot of Fortune and its derivation from the sun, the moon, and the ascendant. He considers it to be the greatest, and he mentions it throughout his work, calling it the “Ruling Place.” He makes a great mystery of its “forward and reverse”:

“The sun, starting in the dawn and declining to his western arc, opens to us the vault of the cosmos, as can be seen. When night arrives, the moon will not always become the Lightbringer, but sometimes it appears in the West, setting, sometimes it stays in the heavens for quite a while, at other times it travels the entire night. As a result, the whole circle of the zodiac has rightly been entrusted to the sun’s care.”

There are a variety of opinions about this notion. To me it seems best, in the case of day births, to locate the lot by determining the distance from the sun to the moon, then counting that distance from the ascendant. For night births if the moon is above the earth – that is, until the time it sets – determine the distance from it to the sun, then count that distance from the ascendant. After the moon has set, determine the distance from the sun to it. As for the king’s final statement: “The whole circle of the zodiac has been entrusted to the sun’s care,” this seems correct. It will be necessary to examine the place where the lot is located, and to consider that place to be the ruler. Then determine in which sign the ruler of the sign of the lot happens to be located. Third, determine that sign’s house-ruler. From these three places and from their house-rulers the length of life of the person being born will be found by using the three factors. . . [omitted sections].

[Envy about free inquiry and divine connections in the time of Nechepsos]

(6.1 = Riess F1) I have written this because I have prided myself on the knowledge given to me from heaven by the Divinity, knowledge which is now dishonoured and rejected, even though it is primordial and governs everything in life, and even though without it there neither is nor will be anything. Now even its name seems to be hated, although men before our times prayed for it and blessed themselves by it. I am grieved by this, and I envy the old kings and rulers who devoted themselves to such matters. I am envious because I was not fortunate enough to live in those times which saw such a climate of free and ungrudging speech and inquiry. Their devotion to this knowledge was so enthusiastic and so steadfast that they left the earthly sphere and walked the heavens, associating with the heavenly souls and the divine, holy minds. Nechepsos is a witness of this when he says:

“I seemed to walk the midnight aether, / and a voice from heaven echoed around me, / at which the dark robe covered my flesh, / bringing the gloom of night…” and so on.

Who would not consider this knowledge to be superior to any other and to be blessed, since by means of it one can know the sun’s ordered paths which foretell the changing seasons when it enters the tropics in the advances and slowings of its motion; one can know the risings and settings, the days and nights, the seasons’ cold or heat, and the weather? . . . [omitted sections].

[Propitious or impropitious times]

(7.6P = Riess F21) We have set out here the systems which we have discovered with long, persevering investigation and which we have confirmed from our study of births. Now we append the topic of propitious and impropitious times, about which the king [i.e. Nechepsos] and Petosiris spoke in riddles. Even if this system seems to our readers to be complicated and entangled, these readers may still marvel at the quality of its predictive force and its natural effectiveness. The procedure of finding one dominant celestial body (chronocratōr) among the stars – the procedure characteristic of the other methods – and from this one to predict the future, and to say that the same star receiving the position of dominance in the cycle of time will forecast the same matters, seems to me to be ignorance and error. For one star, according to its own nature, will bring about good or bad in the year in question, or in two or three years. We find in one period of time, either months or days, differing results occurring, mixtures of bad and good. We gain confidence that these are the facts, because in a given birth we find at one time indications of rank, stewardships, accusations, exile; or at another time indications of a distinguished office, grievous pain, and weakness; or similarly indications of a governorship, the possession of a livelihood, and death. We find some men unfortunate in their health, but lucky in their livelihoods, some troubled in with respect to their wives and their occupations, but strong and cheerful. So we do not think that these things come from one dominant celestial body (chronocratōr), but from many. And the good that had been indicated is dissipated by the power of unfavourable influences, likewise the bad by the power of favourable influences.

For this reason, the Compiler says some things are unavoidable, other things are not. Unavoidable things occur when unfavourable influences happen to be activating something by themselves; avoidable things, when a favourable influence is involved while the unfavourable influences are operating and breaks up their power. When a configuration of a favourable influence is found in a birth and that favourable influence is found to be the dominant celestial body, the good results will be total. However, as before, if the position of dominance of unfavourable aspects [i.e. angular relations] is also operative, both good and bad will occur – according to the nature of the stars and signs. In addition of course, the good and bad will come to pass proportionate to the greatness and the basis of the birth. Just like the general forecasts for births when that person is an infant: if we find that favourable influences are operative and are beholding the sun or the moon and the ascendant from the right, we then promise length of life, rank, and the support of a livelihood. If unfavourable influences are operative, we consider the birth to be unviable. It is necessary to examine the distribution of dominant celestial bodies in the same way: in so far as favourable influences control, promise great success; if both are mixed, predict a similarly mixed fortune; if unfavourable influences alone enter into rule as dominant celestial bodies, predict dangers, ruin, and the onset of many crises.

So the king says:

“When the dominant celestial bodies are plotted ([Valens:] i.e. those of the birth) and when any are operative ([Valens:] he means any of the stars), if some other star comes into aspect or even has contact in the alternation of dominant celestial bodies, the position of dominance must be granted to both stars. For example, if the moon occupies the degree-position of dominance while some other star is also in the moon’s sign, when the moon itself makes contact with the other place, it will control the dominance of the sign, whether it is good or bad, or whether the associated stars are favourable or the opposite. Moreover, if the star of Jupiter happens to be in the aforementioned place, it will be indicative of rank, or of moderate rank plus the possession of a profitable livelihood. (Valens: He is referring to the lot of Fortune, the point indicative of possessions and benefits. The point concerning rank is a different one.) If an unfavourable influence is also in aspect or has contact with it, evil will come to pass in the dominance of the favourable influences, as well as good. The time of the star which has attached itself is taken together and calculated with the other’s times. Whatever sum is arrived at, forecast that the results will occur toward the end of the periods and rising times. Now every star which is at an angle gives its full period. ([Valens:] We have explained this in the preceding chapters.) The allotment of those which are not at the angles is subject to a deduction from their proper factors.” ([Valens:] I think I have explained this matter in my book The Length of Life.)

“In addition: suppose the moon controls the aforesaid place and the star of Saturn is also there; the moon’s place ([Valens:] which is also the location of the star of Saturn) is also in the ascendant. Now the complete period of Saturn is thirty full years, that of the moon is thirty days. Let the moon in its present sign be at an angle, let the star of Mars either precede or follow the given sign so that it will make contact with it, and let the star of Saturn have Mars, the moon itself, or the sun in aspect. Men with this horoscope will be born of lowly parents. Add the dominance of the sign in which the star of Saturn is located and the dominance of Mars; this period will come into vicissitudes or will even cause travel. In the same position of dominance, it will be the cause of injuries and wounds, particularly to the eyes. If the moon is waxing, but is not yet at the full moon, it indicates dimming of vision . . . and troubles happening to the eyes. Indeed it adds burns . . .  and even cuts in the same places because Mars is in contact with the Light-Bringer and hems it in with its burning heat.”

“Next in order, forecast the effects of the star in aspect or in conjunction with the moon’s sign, if one or more happen to be located in the lot of Fortune. Next forecast the stars following the angles, in whatever Place they are located and whichever angle they follow.”

We have cited this in his very words because of the following explanation. We have found it to be true by testing and long calculation. . . [omitted numerous paragraphs].

. . . The results come to pass after the completion of the rising times of the signs or the periods of the stars, just as the king [Nechepsos] himself says about a birth:

“The person born, while passing through the current dominant position of Venus, will be childless, lacking the necessities of life, and, since he lacks everything, will live like a beggar.”

Positions of dominance begin to be active when they come to have full control. At that time they prepare (in good forecasts) friendships, associations, profits, fellow-feeling, rank; in bad forecasts, they prepare afflictions and crises. . . [omitted several sentences].

As the king says:

“Let the moon be in any sign or at an angle, and let the star of Mars be just preceding or just following the moon in the contiguous sign; then the moon has ‘contact’ with it. And so, even if the star is not in the same sign as the moon, but is found in the adjoining sign, or in the sign in square or in opposition, then consider the contact to be solid. Sum up their periods or the rising times of the signs to forecast the position of dominance.” . . . [omitted several paragraphs].

. . . In order not to seem to be elaborating the same rules over and over, I will append what the king has said about these matters, in his own words:

“Every star, whether situated in its proper place or square to its place, if it is beneficial or harmful to the birth . . . at a similar place it is damaging to the position of dominance of the birth. If one is helpful, the other harmful, and both are at their proper places or square with those places, the star which brings gain will make the distribution when it comes to the place of the unfavourable influence; the other star will take away what it previously distributed, because when either is situated in square, the one becomes the bestower, the others ([Valens:] since it is in aspect with the giver) exhibits a lessening of the damage.”

Again the king says:

“It is necessary to consider how the star which rules the position of dominance is located relative to the character of the birth, and it is also necessary to consider the places of control, accomplishment, and harm. The place where the stars happen to be located must be considered not only at the beginning of the position of dominance, but also in the succeeding period, and the transits of the remaining stars must be taken into account, in other words the transits which aspect or sit with the ruler of the period, with Mercury and the moon factored into the interpretation. For it is possible at the beginning of the period, even though these stars are favourable, that the favourable influence can be at the Place of Accomplishment or can be making a transit of the Place at any given period, and that a unfavourable influence can also be in transit. If so, even though the position of dominance is good, a loss of revenue will occur. Vice-versa, even though the position of dominance, if reversed [i.e. unfavourable], if a favourable influence is in the Place of Accomplishment, and if the unfavourable influence is operative with respect to the birth, for as long as the unfavourable influence is the dominant celestial body, during that time the period will be full of accomplishment, with the dominance adverse to nothing. The unfavourable influence, however, will show itself by the difficulties and repulsions inherent in it. In either case observe the transits of each star into the sign which most concerns the birth.”

“Carefully examine the motion of the moon, because whenever it is rising, beheld by Mars or Saturn square to the right of left, one must beware of the transmission— which will be in no way beneficial. If this happens during the dominance of an unfavourable influence – for example, in the dominance of the star of Mars – the person born will come into close confinement or be involved with wounds. If the star of Mercury is associated in this position of dominance – that is, by being in conjunction with the star of Mars or by being in one of the signs belonging to the star of Mars – it indicates that the assault or imprisonment will occur because of documents. Saturn in aspect or in conjunction shows it occurs because of old matters, ancestral matters or the like, or because of an older person. If the star of Venus is dominant, and if the star of Mars happens to be in the houses of the star of Venus, the attack occurs because of a female person. If the star of Jupiter is dominant and if the star of Mars is in the houses of Jupiter, it occurs because of royalty or magnates.”

“The person born obtains great advancement if the star of Jupiter, while being dominant, is at mid-heaven [highest point in the horizon] or in the Place of Accomplishment with the star of Mars. When Jupiter and Mars are providing the active impulse, it will be necessary to see if the star of Saturn is coming into a transit or opposition, with the result that the dominance of occupations becomes contrary. If the star of Mercury is the ruler, and if the star of Jupiter receives the position of dominance from Mercury, the person born will advance in business and will do well at those times. If Mercury is favorably situated at the birth, the person born will engage in greater activities, proportionate to the distinction of the birth, because this is changed to that and that is changed to this by differences in the hours of birth.”

“If the places appropriate to the birth seem invalid, judging from the positions of the stars, and if the dominant celestial body bestows anything ([Valens:] as we previously said, this is the star which is at the Place of Accomplishment), despite being profitable, it causes the income to be transitory because of the inappropriate arrangement of stars at the birth. The things which are granted by the arrangement of stars proper to a birth remain valid if they are appropriately given at a position of dominance, that is, if most of the stars with favourable influence are associated with either one, are in the signs which pertain to the birth, and are in aspect with the star which rules the dominant position at the time of the birth.”

“The star of Saturn coming into the place brings reversals and the chilling of affairs; if it comes into a place of several stars in conjunction and if the star of Mars has the Place of Accomplishment while the star of Saturn has the Place of Employments, it brings mortal danger. In every case the star of Saturn in the Sign of Accomplishment must be considered harmful. It is also harmful when in opposition to this Place and to the places of the stars of Mars, Venus, and Mercury, depending on its relationship to any of them. The same is true of the star of Mercury when it is in the places of the moon and in its own signs, while aspected by Mars and Saturn. Likewise for the star of Venus. Every star when suitably located in its signs at the birth . . .  in the places of the sun and moon, and interwoven in the previously mentioned combined relationships. They reveal a similar type of result when the ruler of the chronocrator shares control with the remaining stars which are associated with it.”

“In every case the phases of the moon waxing from new to the quarter must be observed, particularly in the X Sign [i.e. mid-heaven] ([Valens:] as was mentioned) and when aspected by unfavourable influences. If the stars of Mars and Saturn behold the opposing place at the time of the birth, with the moon passing through the ruling places . . . The moon is helpful when it is in the place of favourable influences, if indeed it is discovered to be in the places which are opportune for the birth.”

O Marcus, I have researched and discovered these matters with much disciplined labour, and I have compiled and published these systems. Consequently, I adjure you by the sun, the moon, and the orbits of the five stars, by Nature, Providence, and the four elements, not to share this too quickly with any unlearned person nor with any chance acquaintance. Rather, consider my labour, my longing, and my long devotion and research into these matters. Estimating this work of years to be worth much money, I have left it to you, for money is easily spent and attracts envy and treachery, but my compositions will bring you a livelihood, fame, honor, pleasure, and profit, if you handle them in an orderly, secure manner (as I have described above), not in a controversial or trivial manner. And considering the exertion to be the same as if you yourself had compiled this—but indeed you did exert yourself when you received this skill and when you were selected, giving a worthy recompense. Share this knowledge with those who are capable of it. In so doing, you will glorify both me and my science, and you will benefit yourself and show yourself to be diligent and a lover of beauty. May your wishes be fulfilled if you keep your oath. I have finished. The End of Book VII of the Genethliology to Daphne of Vettius Valens.

[Relative deficiencies of each individual work Valens has cited]

(8.5) Let the readers of our collected works, works which explicate all procedures, not say: “This procedure is from the king, this other is from Petosiris, that one is from Kritodemos, etc.” Instead let them know that these men propounded their skill in an obtuse and recondite fashion, and thereby showed that their knowledge lacked a true foundation. We on the other hand supplied solutions, and not only revived this dying skill, but also banked glory for ourselves and initiated other worthy men, attracting them not with the lure of money, but by recognizing them to be scholars and enthusiasts. We too have been controlled by this type of Fate. . . [omitted sections].

[Nechepsos as a model astrologer willing to admit mistakes]

(9.1P, preface = Heilen F+11) Valens sends greetings to Marcus. The information set out by the divine king Nechepsos in the beginning of his thirteenth book has been exhaustively treated in our previous compilations and in the labours of others. Now I will compile the following material, falling short in no respect. It is obvious that the king made his explanations with mystic intelligence and that he has also been the guide – even for us – in our approach to this skill. His willingness to confess, and then to correct, his early errors is a sign of a nobility and wisdom on his part which gave him the intelligence to know when to change his mind. The fact that he despised his kingship and power and devoted himself to these matters [i.e. astrology] is a sign of his experience and persuasiveness, qualities which reveal this skill’s alluring and attractive face to his successors. No necessity for making a living and no trickery caused by greed affected him, since these traits have affected so many these days. As a result this man must be taken as a model. . . [sections omitted].

[Sympathy of sun and moon]

(9.2P = Heilen F+12) Petosiris did not speak irrelevantly about the sympathy of the sun and moon in his book Definitions:

“Whether you measure from the sun to the moon and take that distance from the ascendant, or from the moon to the sun and do likewise, you will find it [the lot] located at the same point. The lot controlling the matter in question is seen there, the lot with reference to which everything happens and occurs.”

The king also said in the beginning of his thirteenth book:

“Next in order, it will be necessary to count the distance from the sun to the moon, then to measure off an equal distance in the reverse direction (some count forward) from the ascendant, and to inspect the ruling place that has been determined: to determine which star is its ruler and which stars are in that place. From the interpretation of these places make a clear determination of the affairs of the person who is born.”

(His calling the place “ruling” means “powerful,” and the next phrase “the whole can be seen” means that it is controlling.) In addition, in the course of his exposition he often speaks strongly in affirmation of this lot: that if favourable influences are in conjunction or in aspect, they are indicative of good and givers of property; if unfavourable influences, they bring the loss of property and cause bodily wasting, crises, etc. . . . [sections omitted].

[Method for determining the celestial body with the most influence]

(9.4P = Heilen F+13) Through experience I have discovered another method focussed on the celestial body with the most influence (aphetic) which uses the zones of the stars. Zoroaster spoke of this method in riddles. Beginning with the moon we count upwards, giving the following to each star: nine to the moon nine to Mars; nine to Mercury nine to Jupiter; nine to Venus nine to Saturn; and, nine to the sun. Now we count in the order of signs until one hundred and eight years are completed, the maximum period of the moon. He proposed this universally as a model, as have the king and many others. . . [sections omitted].

[Multiple systems and methods]

(9.11P) Since many scholars take delight in all sorts of systems [for astrology], I will append yet another method which has been transmitted by some of my predecessors in a riddling manner. I do this so that scholars can – through our help – become familiar with the systems held in honour by others, can gather together the potentialities of these systems, and can award us eternal fame. It is odious and disagreeable to test others’ opinions, especially those which have not been received through written books or compelling dialogues, unlike the cases of Petosiris and the king mystically publishing books on many subjects. For the compiler knows the beginning and the potential; he then makes the end agree. He intentionally publishes many systems for the initiates and for the ignorant, systems whose power will be easily grasped by attentive students. Some of these have been written out privately, others secretly, and they are despised by their readers since these readers fail to recognize their power. It is as if a man stepped on a piece of ground which held a treasure: he does not see what is under his feet, but walks on blindly because of his ignorance. If, however, someone were to inform him of the treasure, he would excavate, would find it, and would feel an extraordinary delight. . . [remainder of work omitted].


Firmicus Maternus, Astrology / Mathesis (fourth century CE): On Nechepsos’ and Petosiris’ works on astrology

(3, prologue 1, 4 and 3.1.1-2 = Riess F25) We propose to translate into propositions the entire discussion of Astrology (Mathesis), which concerns the explanation of the influence of the stars, so that the system developed by the divine predecessors may be fully revealed to intelligent students. . . [omitted several sentences]. Those completely dignified and admirable divine men, Petosiris and Nechepsos, who accessed the very secrets of divinity, also handed down to us the birth chart of the universe by divine mastery of knowledge in order to demonstrate that man is formed in the likeness of the universe according to those same principles by which the universe itself is controlled . . . [omitted partial sentence]. In this birth chart of the universe, Petosiris and Nechepsos followed Aesculapius (Latin form for the Greek god Asklepios) and Hanubius, to whom the most powerful Mercury entrusted the secrets of this knowledge. They calculated it as follows: the Sun in the 15th degree of Leo, the Moon in the 15th degree of Cancer; Saturn in the 15th degree of Capricorn; Jupiter in the 15th degree of Sagittarius; Mars in the 15th degree of Scorpio; Venus in the 15th degree of Libra; Mercury in the 15th degree of Virgo; and, the ascendant in the 15th degree of Cancer. By this they wanted the destinies of men to be arranged in accordance with this birth calculation, the conditions of the stars, and the influence they exert, as related in the book of Aesculapius which is called Infinite generation (Myriogenesis). So nothing in the individual charts of men should appear different from the birth chart of the universe. . . [remainder of book 3 omitted].

(4, prologue 5 = Riess T7) We wrote down in these books everything which Mercury and Hanubius transmitted to Aesculapius, everything which Petosiris and Nechepsos explained, and everything which was written by Abram, Orpheus, Kritodemos and everyone else with knowledge in this skill. We have drawn out and collected these things, compared diverse opinions, and now present the divine knowledge to all the Romans. This has appeared very difficult to some people because of the limitations of the Latin language, but I have tried to explain it to the Romans in true and clear explanations.

(4.22.2 = Riess F28) In the book of principles, we have stated that each sign [of the zodiac] has a principal leader over each of the three ten-day periods (decani). These three leaders [of each sign] have great divine power and determine all good and bad occurrences. Nechepsos, the most just ruler of Egypt and a very effective astrologer, by means of the three leaders of each sign (decani) predicted all physical defects and illnesses. He knew which of the three leaders (decanus) produced which illness and which leaders were stronger than others. From their different nature and power he discovered the remedies for all diseases, because one nature is often overcome by another and one god is overcome by another. . . [omitted remainder of book].

. . . (8.4.14 = Riess F27) When you begin to look for the position (locum) [i.e. house] of physical defects and illnesses, you will be able to find the position most easily from the division of parts [i.e. degrees]. The divine Nechepsos tried very carefully to locate this position and with his divine intelligence he explained it clearly. At another time I will carefully show you, my dear Mavortius, the interpretation of his books. . . [omitted sections].

(8.5.1 = Riess F26) You will now learn, my dear Mavortius, the most complete training in this skill. It is unknown to many Greeks and all Romans and even to this day nobody’s intelligence has reached towards this. For even those divine men and the most sacred supporters of obligation (religio), Petosiris and Nechepsos (one of whom was in control of the government), when they explained everything pertain­ing to their skills were not able to discover what we are about to divulge [cf. Thessalos – link]. Therefore, to prevent a long discourse, I will briefly inform you about the secrets of the promised work. . .  [remainder of work omitted]


Suda lexicon (tenth century CE): On Petosiris works on astrology

(Riess T1) Petosiris of Egypt, a philosopher. Just as the Greeks and the Egyptians, he put in order selections concerning the gods from the sacred books Astrological Matters and On the Mysteries Among the Egyptians.

Πετόσιρις, Αἰγύπτιος, φιλόσοφος, καθὰ Ἕλληνες καὶ Αἰγύπτιοι τὰς περὶ θεῶν διετάξατο ἐπιλογὰς ἐκ τῶν ἱερῶν βιβλίων, Ἀστρολογούμενα, καὶ Περὶ τῶν παρ’ Αἰγυπτίοις μυστηρίων.

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