I’ll bet that title got your attention, didn’t it?
We are quick to look when the coming conflagration and prognostication of the end of the world is upon us. We can’t help it; although, gentle reader, I want you to know, I am sanguine, because I simply do not believe the world will end while I’m still alive. I know how arrogant that sounds, but I have thousands of years of history behind me to back up my supposition that when I die, Earth and all life on it will continue.
However, most astrologers in antiquity were not sanguine about the likelihood of Armageddon, and occasionally rested their reputations upon the fear, so easily manipulated in others, that civilization would one day (not in their lifetimes, of course) come to an end.
One such astrologer who predicted this doom was Berossus, the first official teacher of astrology, according to Seneca. In 281 BC, the Babylonian-born Berossus, Court Astrologer to the Persian king, Antiochus I, moved to the island of Kos, and opened his school of astrology with the goal of convincing Alexander’s conquering, colonizing Greeks to incorporate ancient Mesopotamian myths into the Hellenistic mindset.
The result of this hybridization of Babylonian belief and Greek education was the dissemination of Berossus’ theory that the world would end, not only through flood, but also through conflagration. The deluge myth was a popular end-of-world catastrophe story in this era, as one would expect for any civilization accustomed to the vagaries of seasonal flooding. Even the Hebrews knew of the end-of-world deluge myth, since it crossed the sands via Semitic traders who traversed the Tigris-Euphrates valley. However, the concept of conflagration was unique to Mesopotamian end-of-days myth, for only through fire and water could the world be purified.
Seneca, who had access to Berossus’ original papyrus manuscript of the Babyloniaca, which now exists only in fragments, stated that Berossus assigned a definite date to both the conflagration and deluge. When all the planets line up in Cancer, we can expect the conflagration. When all the planets align in Capricorn, we should expect the deluge. “They are zodiacal signs of great power, seeing that they are the determining influences in the two great changes of the year.” (Seneca, qtd. in Campion, The Great Year, p. 67).
The importance to history of Berossus’ theory is twofold. First, it accounts for the past and the future, and ties Mespotamian myths of destructive events of flooding and fire into planetary movements, so it assumes a cyclical, repeating cycle of destruction, one that can be planned for, one that applies to everyone, not just to the Mesopotamians.
Second, it lays the groundwork for dissemination of ancient myths that had defied organization prior to Berossus’ school. These myths, while prevalent all throughout the Ancient world, told and retold orally, did not coexist coherently until they found their way to Hellenistic Greece, where they were collected and written down in Greek. Prior to this, Mesopotamian myths were in danger of being lost to history. Finally, as we shall see, Berossus’ work influenced Seneca, and Seneca influenced everyone who came after.
Read the book that inspired this post!
- Squaring the circle (beyondthestarsastrology.wordpress.com)
- Ragnarok by AS Byatt: review (telegraph.co.uk)
- Astrological Architecture: Does Form Follow Function? (beyondthestarsastrology.wordpress.com)