Astrology, Hierarchy, and Iatromathematica

There is possibly no better representation of the pervasive power of traditional hierarchy in astrology than the excessively simplistic method used by ancient astrologers to order the rulers of the various sections of the body.

After it was decided that Aries would be the “first” sign, all else unfolded as though fated (when in fact, there was nothing fated about deciding that the sign coincident with the Vernal equinox would represent the birth of the new year. If anything, you can attribute that designation to agricultural and economic reality in an agrarian society, but I digress).

It could be argued that without Roman Marcus Manilius’ Astronomica we wouldn’t have come to believe, as early as the first century A.D., that Aries “should” rule the head, Taurus the throat, Gemini the lungs, arms and shoulders, etc. I sometimes wonder if things were just simpler for people of Rome in 1 A.D. or something, but Manilius was a Stoic, and Stoics had a tendency to think reductively, so maybe that’s where astrological principles really come from: ancient philosophers.

Interestingly, there was a conference held in 2008 at Columbia University in New York called Forgotten Stars: Rediscovering Manilius’ Astronomica that attempted to reclaim Manilius’ work, but not coincidentally was also an attempt to resurrect astrology as a subject worthy of scholarly attention. Here is one of the abstracts from that conference, which I include because I was cheered by the writer’s attitude (you know how depressed I get when people reject astrology out-of-hand; such a backward attitude, I always think):

The Logic of Astrology

I plan to extend the argument of my recent paper, “Probing the Entrails of the Universe:  Astrology as Bodily Knowledge in Manilius’ Astronomica” (in König and Whitmarsh, Ordering Knowledge in the Roman Empire [Cambridge 2007] 229-41) by examining in greater detail the physical premises that sustain belief in astrology. My tentative argument is that astrology should be grouped with other ancient practices and beliefs that resist the tyranny of Aristotelian science, with its disavowal of the experiential basis of knowledge.  I do not mean to defend astrology, but want to specify its strategic usefulness to Roman thinkers more generally, and Manilius specifically.  Especially in the light of contemporary developments in neuroscience, continuity psychology, and evolutionary biology, astrology looks no stranger—indeed may even be more logical—than other ancient modes of thought retroactively privileged by the modern academy.

Click on the picture to see more Medieval-period images in high resolution. Well, high for the internet.
Click here to see more Medieval-period images in high resolution. Well, high for the internet.

I am so glad he’s probing entrails. See? That takes us right back to extispicy, and it was high time we remembered that skill. It is to be expected that he cannot feel comfortable “defending” astrology, but at least he feels comfortable bringing it up in the first place. It’s unlikely that mentioning astrology in a university setting would have been possible as little as 10 years ago.

An explanation of Iatromathematica comes from

In ancient Greece, medical astrology was called Iatromathematica, or “Doctorly Calculations,” since it involved calculating the positions of the planets to arrive at an assessment of the patient’s condition. 

Medical Astrology grew out of Hermetic philosophy, with its guiding principle: As above, so below. As within, so without.  In other words, the microcosm of the human body reflects the macrocosm of Nature and the cosmos.  The aim of Medical Astrology, like all the world’s great traditional medical systems, is to harmonize the health of the individual with the Universal Life Forces of Nature and the cosmos.

Medical Astrology could be considered as a subspecialty of Greek Medicine.  Some, like Hippocrates, were staunch advocates of Medical Astrology, whereas others, like Galen, were of a more dubious and skeptical bent.

Medical Astrology encompasses all uses of astrology in health and healing.  Either the natal chart, or horoscope, is used, or a decumbiture chart, drawn up for the place and moment the patient first fell ill, is used.

Medieval images of medical astrology proliferate, fortunately for us. Iatromathematica was necessary to illustrate, after all.
Medieval images of medical astrology proliferate, fortunately for us. It was necessary to illustrate the physical details of Iatromathematica, after all.

Uses and Benefits of Medical Astrology

Medical Astrology has a number of distinctive uses and benefits:

Socrates said, “Man, know thyself.”  The natal horoscope depicts one’s individual constitutional nature and temperament, which is the key to all diagnosis and treatment in Greek Medicine, with incredible depth and sophistication.

Medical Astrology also elucidates the psychosomatic relationship between mind and body with unparalleled sophistication and depth.  The deeper psychological and karmic reasons behind the individual’s illness or condition are also revealed.

Each person, according to their own individual psychosomatic makeup, will respond differently to different therapies and treatments.

This plate comes from the astrolabe and equatorium displayed in the ‘Cosmos’ case. Lines for predicting the development of fevers indicate that the instrument was used for the astrological aspects of medicine. It is also significant that the astrolabe side of the complete instrument has two retes, the smaller one consisting only of an ecliptic circle, engraved with a zodiac scale, and a circular scale numbered 1-28, representing the mansions of the moon.

I like the following list, culled from Medieval and Renaissance astrology by Peter Morrell:

The Planets govern parts corresponding with the Signs they rule and in which they have their exaltation.

Physiological rulership, in relation to the Signs, is as follows:

Aries: The brain faculties and the distribution of mental and physical energy.
Taurus: Recuperative forces.
Gemini: The breathing and those things connected.
Cancer: Nutrition.
Leo: Distribution of vital forces and especially through the blood.
Virgo: Processes of assimilation and absorption.
Libra: The liquid processes of the body.
Scorpio: Procreation and reproduction.
Sagittarius: The senses, malady as studied through the nerves.
Capricorn: Processes of preservation and reserve of energy.
Aquarius: The circulation and eliminative processes.
Pisces: Perspiration and the lymphatic processes generally.

I like the fact that Pisces gets to rule sweat, but Libra rules the “liquid processes” of the body. I’m not sure how these are different, but I would imagine Medieval astrology would have explained it to me, if only I spoke Latin.

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