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JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching platform, and preserves this content for future generations. As astrology came to be considered a worthless delusion, they were forgotten or were stigmatized as spurious writings when encountered among the works of well-known authors like Ptolemy and Lucian.

Today the importance of the magical and astro- logical writings of the ancient world, if only because of their bulk, has been again recognized.

Greek papyri filled with magic texts are being brought to light and published; many dissertations on ancient superstition have appeared. The revived interest in classi- cal astrology is seen, not only in such a work as BoucheVLeclercq's L'astrohgie grecque, 1 but also in the Cakdogus Codicum Graecorum Astrologorum, 2 a series of volumes now appearing in which a group of European scholars are co-operating under the leadership of Pro- fessor Franz Cumont in providing a guide to the many astrological manuscripts in European libraries.

Besides this, in recent years several astrological treatises have been edited and published sepa- rately. In fact, the movement has advanced so far that already German scholars are busy in detecting in those astrological writings which are extant their indebtedness to, and dependence on, earlier works which we no longer possess. Kroll in the Catalogue, and F.

Julius Firmicus Maternus

Boll, "Studien tiber Claudius Ptolemaeus," Jahrb. XXI , The point is that in trying to predict the future the astrologers really depict their own civilization. Their scope is as broad as are human life and human interests. Slave and artisan are dealt with as well as emperor and philosopher, and the astrologer can boast with Juvenal quidquid agunt homines, votum timor ira voluptas gaudia discursus, nostri farrago libelli est. Indeed the astrological poet Manilius does boast, proudly contrasting his art to the fictions and sentimentalities of other poets : It embraces every sort of fact, every effort, every achievement, and every art, that through all the phases of human life may concern human fate; and it has disposed these in as many varied ways as there are positions of the stars; has attributed to each object definite functions and appropriate names; and through the stars by a fixed system has ordained a complete census of the human race.

But what is the historical reliability of astrological works? We must not think of them as compositions by ignorant quacks and impostors for a credulous and inferior minority of the public, full of extravagant promises and terrifying threats. Practically every- one believed in astrology; learned men wrote treatises on the art, which took itself with great seriousness and prided itself upon its scientific methods. Moreover, in an astrological handbook there was almost no occasion for the personal or party prejudice of so many professed historians, or for the satiric bias of a Juvenal.

Even Christian and pagan wrote much alike on this theme. A Roman Astrologer as a Historical Source own age. There is, however, one difficulty.

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Does the author really picture his own society, or are his topics, which we suppose to repre- sent the structure of contemporary civilization, merely traditional categories long fixed by the rules of his art? This question must be determined in each particular case largely from internal evidence. Firmi- cus lists various constellations, and states under each its effects upon men born under it.


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This introduces a quantitative element, since the same phenomenon may be mentioned under several constella- tions; and one naturally assumes that those matters to which Firmicus devotes most space and emphasis are the most prominent features of his age. Therefore an analysis of his apotelesmata i. The Mathesis contains eight books, but the first two are intro- ductory and not devoted to apotelesmata, while the last four have not yet appeared in a critical edition.

But Guido Bonatti, a thirteenth century astrologer Liber astronomicus, Augsburg, , fols. Kroll et F. Fasciculus prior libros IV priores et quinti prooemium continens. Lipsiae, , pp. Mense octob. The Basel editions of and by M. Pruckner reproduce the Aldine text. The references throughout this article are to the page and line of Kroll-Skutsch; the second fascicle has recently been published. These divergences, mainly ones of omis- sion, do not invalidate the results gained from the third and fourth books, but do raise the question whether the later books, especially the fifth and sixth, were written by Firmicus.

37 Firmicus Maternus The Error of the Pagan Religions Ancient Christian Writers

In them the wording becomes vaguer, little knowledge is shown of conditions at the time that Firmicus wrote, the predictions are more sensational and rhetorical. Only the latter portion of the eighth book carries the conviction of reality that books three and four do. These two books are both independent units and supply a general picture of human life. Firmicus flourished during the reigns of Constantine the Great and his sons. He writes on astrology at the request of a similarly cultured friend, Lollianus or Mavortius, who had held various important governmental posts.

Firmicus is also the author of a work On the Error of Profane Religions, 3 addressed to Constantius and Constans, and urging them to eradicate pagan cults. The writing of two such books by one man has long given critics pause, and is a splendid warning against taking anything for granted in our study of the past.

The assertion of Boll that "there is no question but that he was a pagan when he wrote his book on astrology" 4 seems to me overconfident; but whatever the personal convictions of the author of the Mathesis may have been, it is certain that Christianity has made little impression upon his apoteksmata. On the other hand, in his Christian work he not only never attacks astrology, but he criticizes certain pagan cults as sharply for their incorrect physical notions as he does others for their travestying of Christian mysteries, while his allusions to the planets, among 1 1 regard these additions in the Aldine as spurious.

A Roman Astrologer as a Historical Source which is a representation of the Sun making a reproachful address to certain pagans, 1 indicate that he still regarded the stars as of immense importance in the administration of the universe. Moreover, as before, he sets the emperors above the rest of mankind and closely associates them with the celestial bodies and "the supreme God. He uses words and phrases that are evidently from the Greek; he frequently mentions authorities, espe- cially the Greeks and "the divine men of Egypt and Babylon"; and regards himself as rendering available for the Latin-speaking world an art which their writers so he says have hitherto neglected.

Consequently recent investigators of classical astrology have been trying to discover the nature of these earlier writings and to make out how far their contents are preserved for us in the Mathesis. Thus far sources have been discovered or suggested only for limited 1 Ziegler, p. Consequently the date of writing the Mathesis should be determined without any assumptions as to Firmicus' religion; and I am inclined to dispute Mommsen's contention Hermes, XXIX, 72 that "it is beyond doubt" that the Mathesis was written between and a.

To accept this conclusion it is necessary to explain away the mention of Lollianus as ordinario consuli designato Kroll-Skutsch, 3, 27 , an office which he held in I think that it is preferable to explain away the apparent mentions of Constantine the Great, upon which Mommsen laid so much stress. The names, Constantine and Constantius, are frequently confused in the sources, and the expression " Constantinus scilicet maximus divi Constantini filius" 37, 25 might as well be read "Constantius, son of Constantine" as "Constantine, son of Constantius.

Moreover, Firmicus explicitly states that the writing of his book has been long delayed 1,3 and 3, 19 , and it is evident that he and his friend were scarcely young when the promise to compose the Mathesis was first made. Lollianus was then con- sularis of Campania and, according to inscriptions, had already held a number of offices. Firmicus would frequently give up his task in despair, but then Lollianus would urge him on again.

Having become "Count of all the Orient," he continued his importunities, until at last when he was proconsul and ordinary-consul-elect the book was finished and presented to him. Meanwhile Firmicus had retired from public life. Yet we are asked to believe, not merely that he writes a vehement invective against profane religions a decade later, but also that, twenty years after, his friend is still a vigorous administrator and praetorian praefect Ammianus Marcellinus xvi. Boll asserts that he breathes "the sensational atmosphere of the schools of rhetoric" and of the Pseudo- Quintilian declamations, and that "all the far-fetched calamities which in his pages continually menace mankind reveal the fearful weight with which this superstition afflicted human minds.

If Firmicus predicts death by being thrown to wild beasts, we must remember that even Constantine's panegyrist recounts how he had thrown Frankish chiefs into the arena at Trier and "wearied the raging beasts by the multitude" of victims. Death by beasts is mentioned nineteen times in Book viii, only once in Books iii and iv. Furthermore, he is, if anything, more rhetorical in describing con- temporary facts, such as his personal experiences or the pagan practices which he attacks in the De errore, than in predicting future possibilities.

Consequently his rhetoric is no proof of unreality. Rather, if he were entirely unrhetorical, would he leave us with a false impression of his age. Finally, our method of statistical analysis will have the tendency to separate such chaff from the wheat of his- torical truth. Ideas will be counted rather than words, and only those passages included where Firmicus evidently has some distinct idea in his own mind and makes an express prediction.

The space limits of the present article permit only a summary of the chief results of my analysis rather than a complete exposition of it; and allow specific references in the footnotes only for those passages which are quoted, instead of for all that are enumerated, as I had planned. But I hope that the reader will get a fairly clear idea of the method employed as well as of the historical information gained thereby.

Meanwhile Greek scientists such as Eudox os B. Stoicsympatheia took in astrology as par t of its credo. Star-lore gained a wide audience through the poem on the constel lations, thePhaenomena, by Aratus B.

Firmicus Maternus

It was based on materials of E udoxos, commented upon by Hipparchos, translated into Latin by Cicero and by Ger manicus, the emperor Tiberius' nephew. Interest in mathematical astrology reached Rome in the first century B. In Cic ero's circle of friends Varro and Nigidius Figulus wrote works on the subject, n ow lost. The first emperor, Augustus, skillfully took advantage of a comet he called the SidusJulium Star ofJulius to promote the catasterism transformation into a star ofJulius Caesa r, "the Divine Julius.

Housman, Cambridge, The friend and confidant of Tiberius, Thrasyllus, phi losopher and astrologer, wrote a lengthy work on astrology of which an epitome i s known in fragments. He was perhaps the father-in-law of that Balbillus who ful filled the same post for Nero. The Roman emperors were almost without exception deeply concerned with astrological predictions but, at the same time, for obviou s political reasons, encouraged legislation against its practitioners Frederick H.

At no tim e had the Empire banned astrological studies, only their practical application i n the casting of individual horoscopes, and then only at Rome. Under Augustus' e dict of A. After the reorganization of Diocletian A. Ii,30 that it is not only i llegal but impossible to make a prediction in regard to the life of the Emperor since he belongs to a power higher than the stars.

Within a generation after Fir micus there was a general ban on all kinds of divination within the Empire.

Such legislation, however, was enforced only during periods of acute unrest and poli tical turmoil. The reason for this may be that there was a sharpening of penalties against all non -Christian practices under Constantine and again under Valentinian A number of mathematici were executed at that time whereas later, under the Theodo sian Code A. Both t he persecutions and the book-burning account for the dearth of astrological mate rial in the West for the next five hundred years. Actually there is less evidenc e for persecution of astrology than for that of heresy and rural paganism.

The first new interest in science and astrology appears at the time of Charlemagne. The Venerable Bede ca. A note in the library catalog of Regensburg from the tenth cen tury refers to a Mathesis, which may be that of Firmicus. He is definitely menti oned in the libraries of St. Maure des Fosses and Bamberg around The Medie val monks read, copied, and stored the Mathesis despite the official disapproval of the Church. Firmicus is also noted in a work called de Philosophia Mundi by Honorius of Autun, a widely translated popularizer of the twelfth cent ury.

Later writers embroidered the story and ,claime d that the Mathesis was found under the pillow of the archbishop at his death so that he was denied Christian burial.

Julius Firmicus Maternus: De errore profanarum religionum. Introduction, translation and commentary

Of these manuscripts three are in excel lent condition and appear to derive from a single French archetype. There were numerous copies c urrent in the Middle Ages attesting the popularity of Firmicus' work. The first printed edition appeared in Venice, brought out by Symon Bivilaqua in , Introduction 7 followed by the Aldine in In K. Sittl edited a critical edition of th e first halfof the Mathesis.