Porphyry’s introduction to Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos

I’m thinking of commissioning a translation of Porphyry’s Introduction to the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy.  It’s 44 pages of the CCAG volume 5, and I estimate it’s worth $1,000 to me.  The work will require knowledge of the technical vocabulary of ancient astrological texts, so I’ve asked a scholar with knowledge in this area whether he knows anyone who’d be interested and competent.  It will be interesting to see if there is.

The point of the translation is to reduce by one the number of untranslated works of Porphyry.  I have some doubts whether the content will be of much interest, but the sum is relatively small, and the enquiry is worth making.

UPDATE: A commenter tells me that it was translated last year by Andrea Laurel Gehrz, An Introduction to the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemy, Moira Press, 2010, here.  So I will cancel this commission.

UPDATE: And a second commenter tells me that it was translated again (!) last year by James Holden and published by the American Federation of Astrologers, together with a lexicon of technical terms by Serapio (who?) here:

This book contains a translation of the Introduction to the Tetrabiblos written by famous third century philosopher Porphyry. It is a sort of Astrological Dictionary, defining most of the technical terms used by the Greek astrologers of the Classical Period. The volume also contains a translation of the short treatise on astrological technical terms by Serapio of Alexandria.

About the translator: James Herschel Holden, M.A. is the Research Director of the American Federation of Astrologers and has been especially interested in Classical and Medieval astrological works.

Usefully the comment also gives this list of translations of ancient astrologers, which reviews both volumes:

Holden is technically more correct than Gehrz. The Greek original in fact flows (or so I presume) more or less as Holden has rendered it.  … Holden’s translation is not idiomatic to modern English speakers. With Holden’s translation we struggle to understand what Porphyry has (presumably) stated clearly. We are additionally hobbled by Holden’s refusal to fully translate. We are left with “kollesis” as well as the presumably atypical use of the word, “application“. Much of what Holden has translated is very nearly gibberish. We come now to the Gehrz translation, which rings with clarity.

The site is a non-scholarly one.  But it is useful to know that a translation exists of Firmicus Maternus’ Matheseos.  It is interesting to learn of Dorotheus of Sidon, a 1st century AD verse astrologer, whose work exists in Persian translation!  Rhetorius is then listed:

Rhetorius the Egyptian seems to have lived around 505 AD; he compiled a valuable compendium of the works of Antiochus & Porphry, with excerpts from Vettius Valens & some other earlier writers. His book seems to have been entitled, From the Treasury of Antiochus, an Explanation & Narration of the Whole Art of Astrology. A number of chapters are nearly identical to chapters in Porphyry’s Introduction. This probably indicates that both Rhetorius & Porphyry independently borrowed those chapters from Antiochus of Athens.

For Serapio, we get this:

The identity of Seraphio, his dates, are unknown. It is speculated he lived in the first century BC or AD, which is rather vague, and that his book (more like a monograph) was compiled around 1000 AD, perhaps, again, by Demophilus.

Which is a little baffling.  Then there are a couple of translations of Manilius (1st c. AD) including the Loeb, and then of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, one of which is also a Loeb.


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