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Contribution(s) to Metaphysics

Claudius PtolemaeusTetrabiblos - Literally, "four books." (Greek tetra means "four," biblos is "book"). Ptolemy's work on Astrology. While it may seem strange that someone who wrote such excellent scientific books should write on Astrology, Ptolemy saw it differently. He claimed that the Almagest allowed one to find the positions of the heavenly bodies, while he saw his Astrology book as a companion work describing the effects of the heavenly bodies on people's lives.

His treatise on Astrology, Tetrabiblos, was the most popular astrological work of antiquity and also enjoyed great influence in the Islamic world and the medieval Latin West. Tetrabiblos is an extensive piece of writing on the ancient principles of Horoscopic Astrology. The great popularity of the Tetrabiblos might be attributed to its nature as an exposition of the art of Astrology and as a compendium of astrological lore, rather than as a manual. It speaks in general terms, avoiding illustrations and details of practice. (Ptolemy was concerned to defend Astrology by defining its limits and compiling astronomical data that he believed was reliable).

Much of the content of Tetrabiblos may well have been collected from earlier sources; Ptolemy's achievement was to order his material in a systematic way, showing how the subject could, in his view, be rationalized. His astrological outlook was quite practical: he thought that Astrology was conjectural, because of the many variable factors to be taken into account. Therefore, he saw Astrology as something to be used in life, but not to be relied on entirely.

Tetrabiblos was long thought to be a complete survey of Greek Astrology. Recent research suggests this not to be the case, but Ptolemy’s work remains the foundation of western Astrology. In particular, his persuasive use of the Tropical Zodiac, rather than the Sidereal, changed western Astrology forever.

  • Book 1 - Defines various technical terms and supplies other information needed by the astrologer. e.g. Chapters 9, 10 and 11 detail the influence of fixed stars in various constellations.
  • Book 2 - Is the astrology of nations and their rulers.
  • Book 3 - Devoted to Natal Astrology, explains Ptolemy’s method of rectifying the Ascendant. Chapter 10 gives a method for determining life expectancy.
  • Book 4 - Deals with fortunes of wealth & rank, as well as employment, marriage, children, death, etc.

Also included are extracts from Ptolemy's Almagest (a compendium of Greek astronomy), as well as "Ptolemy’s Centiloquy," a list of aphorisms. Many of the 100 deal with Horary Astrology. They have been studied by astrologers for centuries.

Translations of Tetrabiblos: Gardner, (1911), lists four English translations of Tetrabiblos:

  • The first was by John Walley, 1701.
  • The second was Walley’s translation, edited by Sibley and Brown, 1786, which is said to be worthless.
  • The third, by James Wilson (author of the famous Dictionary of Astrology), was published in 1820.
  • The fourth (this one, by far the best), was by J.M. Ashmand, 1822.
  • Also, a fifth translation was made in 1940 by F.E. Robbins.
Of these several translators, only Ashmand could claim to be both a Greek and Latin scholar as well as an experienced astrologer. Every serious astrologer, from the 3rd century to the present, has studied the Tetrabiblos. With the current revival of traditional Astrology, it remains essential reading. (The Metaphysical Society is pleased to offer Ashmand’s translation of Tetrabiblos in four e-Books to students of Astrology). "Click Here" 
 
 

Notable Works Ascribed to Ptolemy:Ptolemy

  • Almagest: A treatise in thirteen books. Although the work is now almost always known as the Almagest that was not its original name. Its original Greek title translates as The Mathematical Compilation or Syntaxis Mathematica, but this title was soon replaced by another Greek title which means The Greatest Compilation. This was translated into Arabic as "al-majisti" and from this the title Almagest was given to the work when it was translated from Arabic to Latin. The Almagest is the earliest of Ptolemy's works and gives, in detail, the mathematical theory of the motions of The Sun, The Moon, and The Planets. Ptolemy made his most original contribution by presenting details for the motions of each of the planets. From its conception in the second century up to the late Renaissance, this work determined astronomy as a science. During this time the Almagest was not only a work on astronomy; the subject of astronomy itself was defined by what is described in the Almagest. As an instructive work, the Almagest is a masterpiece of clarity and method, superior to any ancient scientific textbook and with few peers from any period. But it is much more than that. Far from being a mere "systemization" of earlier Greek astronomy, as it is sometimes described, it is in many respects an original work. Ptolemy's "Almagest" shares with Euclid's "Elements" the glory of being the scientific text longest in use. From its conception in the second century up to the late Renaissance, this work determined astronomy as a science. During this time the "Almagest" was not only a work on astronomy; the subject was defined as what is described in the "Almagest". Ptolemy describes himself very clearly what he is attempting to do in writing the work;
    "We shall try to note down everything which we think we have discovered up to the present time; we shall do this as concisely as possible and in a manner which can be followed by those who have already made some progress in the field. For the sake of completeness in our treatment we shall set out everything useful for the theory of the heavens in the proper order, but to avoid undue length we shall merely recount what has been adequately established by the ancients. However, those topics which have not been dealt with by our predecessors at all, or not as usefully as they might have been, will be discussed at length to the best of our ability." 
    The Almagest was not superseded until a century after Copernicus presented his heliocentric theory in the De revolutionibus of 1543.
  • Geographia: In eight books, Ptolemy attempts to map the known world giving coordinates of the major places in terms of latitude and longitude. It includes a catalogue of places with latitude and longitude, several maps, including a map of the world. 
  • Tetrabiblos: Literally, "four books." Ptolemy also wrote a work on Astrology. While it may seem strange that someone who wrote such excellent scientific books should write on Astrology, Ptolemy saw it differently. He claimed that the Almagest allows one to find the positions of the heavenly bodies, while he saw his Astrology book as a companion work describing the effects of the heavenly bodies on people's lives. 
  • De Analemmate (Analemma): Methods of finding the angles need to construct a sundial which involves the projection of points on the celestial sphere. 
  • Planisphaerium: Dealing with stereographic projection of the celestial sphere onto a plane. 
  • Optics: In five books. In Optics, Ptolemy studies colour, reflection, refraction, and mirrors of various shapes. Noted for the establishment of theory by experiment, frequently by constructing special apparatus. Whether the subject matter is largely derived or original, "The Optics" is an impressive example of the development of a mathematical science with due regard to physical data. 
  • On the Apparitions of the Fixed Stars and a Collection of Prognostics 
  • On the Planetary Hypothesis 
  • Table of Reigns: a chronological table of reigns 
  • On Music: in three books 
  • The Centiloquium: a collection of astrological aphorisms 
  • Ready (astronomical) Tables 
  • Scheme and Manipulation of the Ready Tables 
  • The Theory of Knowledge and The Soul a short treatise 
  • Maps - including a map of The World (Description: The World, by Claudius Ptolemy, Cartographer and Engrave by Johannes Schnitzer, 1482).

As a final comment we quote the epigram which is accepted by many scholars to have been written by Ptolemy himself, and it appears in Book 1 of Almagest;
"Well do I know that I am mortal, a creature of one day. But if my mind follows the winding paths of the stars
Then my feet no longer rest on earth, but standing by Zeus himself I take my fill of ambrosia, the divine dish."

 

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