More on Antiochus of Athens

I’m not really all that interested in ancient astrological texts.  What I am very interested in, tho, is that we should have access to ancient literature, whatever it may be.  And it’s really quite hard to access to stuff when you don’t know it exists!

The technical works of antiquity are just as much part of the heritage we receive as the literary works of history or biography or philosophy or theology.  Indeed in some ways they are more significant.  It was the technical works that the Moslems had translated into Arabic by their Christian servants such as Hunain ibn Ishaq in Baghdad in the 10th century.  It was these same works that naturally made their way to Spain, and so into Latin during the middle ages.  A textbook on how to do medicine, how to build walls, how to do military tactics, how to divine the future — this is hard knowledge of a kind that even a barbarous age can respect.

I’ve been reading a 1977 article by David Pingree entitled Antiochus and Rhetorius.  It highlights some of the peculiar features of the transmission of technical works.  Such works are peculiarly liable to acquire additions, subtractions, and revisions.

There is a simple reason for this.  You go to Tacitus to read about the history of the first century.  But you go to Antiochus of Athens because you want to draw up a horoscope.  And if you find Antiochus’ work is a bit unsatisfactory in some respect, you’re quite liable to write notes in the margin of your copy, or to produce a shortened version of the useful bits, or whatever.  You don’t care so much about Antiochus.  It’s what he has to say that matters.  You’re only interested in whether the book helps you do that horoscope or not.

Pingree starts by referring us to Franz Cumont, a man who did more for the weirder stuff than almost any other.  Apparently in 1934 he wrote a paper on Antiochus d’Athenes et Porphyre, AIPhO 2 (1934): 135-56.  (Wonder what “AIPhO” is!)  Cumont reckoned that Antiochus lived between 100 BC and 50 AD, and might be the same as Antiochus of Ascalon, although Pingree points out that Cicero and the others who talk about the latter never suggest he was an astrologer.

Pingree then goes on to discuss the various epitomes of Antiochus’ works, and to state his purpose in the following interesting way:

Antiochus apparently wrote two major works on astrology: an Isagogika known to us from Epitome I (see the discussion on pp. 205-6) and from the (unacknowledged) plagiarisms in Porphyrius’ Isagoge, and a Thesaurus which was one of the sources of Epitome II, from which are derived Epitome IIa and the first part of Epitome III. From Epitome III are derived Epitomes IIb, IIIa, IIIb, and IIIc; and Epitome IV drew upon the same source that was used in the latter half of Epitome III. Of all these epitomes only Epitome IIb bears the name of Rhetorius, but scholars have generally associated his name with all of the works mentioned above except for Epitome I.

This seems very involved!

The object of this paper is to eliminate the confusion that has been created regarding Antiochus and Rhetorius, and to establish a program for editing Rhetorius that may seem unusual to a classicist, but that is necessary in the editing of Greek astrological texts.

The manuscripts cannot be relied on to preserve the original compositions of ancient authors; Ptolemy’s Apotelesmatika is virtually the only such text that seems to have survived relatively unscathed by the “improvements” of scribes, though the variant readings of Hephaestio of Thebes and of “Proclus” indicate that even its text is not completely pure. It is of the utmost importance for understanding the history of the transmission of the texts and the history of Byzantine scholarship in astrology that the various epitomes of each work be carefully distinguished and separately edited.

This is interesting, not least because it has not happened.  Traditions that involve this sort of complexity tend to deter editors.

He then goes on to review the evidence for Antiochus himself.  Most of Porphyry’s Introduction (to the Tetrabiblos/Apotelesmatika of Ptolemy) is borrowed from Antiochus.  But Porphyry only mentions him  by name once, in chapter 38, where he mentions two methods of determining the position of the moon at conception; that of Petosiris, and that of Antiochus.  Hephaistio of Thebes (Apotelesmatika II, 1, 2-6) does the same and also calls Antiochus an Athenian:

In the case of the Moon, others have different things to say. Antiochus the Athenian says that the following method lays claim to some truth. (tr. Robert Schmidt, 1998, vol. 2, p.2)

At two places in chapter 10 of book 2,  Hephaistio says Antiochus and Apollinaris agree in essence with Ptolemy:

Ptolemy sets out these matters in a perfect and wondrous manner, but let there be an illustration of what he has said. The Moon is marking the hour in Taurus at the 25th degree, and none of the benefics either trines or squares or regards the Moon in any other way; Aphrodite, who has the rulership of Taurus, chances to be in the domiciles or bounds of Kronos or Ares. The native having this will of necessity go unnourished; and both Antiochus and Apollinarius are in agreement with these [matters]. (p.22)


Next Ptolemy says, “But if the rays of the malefics bear on the places preceding the lights while those of the benefics bear on the succeeding places, the child that has been exposed will be taken up again and will live. And if then it should be configured, etc.” We must do an exegesis of this, since both Antiochus and Apollinarios say nearly the same things. (p.25)

Pingree suggests that these indicate that Antiochus is probably after Ptolemy, then, although I don’t quite see the logic.  He also mentions the Anonymous of 379 which refers to Antiochus, together with Vettius Valens, Antigonus and Heraiscus as writing on the power of the fixed stars.  In addition Firmicus Maternus, writing in the mid-4th century in his Mathesis II 29:2, quotes Ptolemy and Antiochus. 

From this he concludes that Antiochus wrote in the second half of the second century.  The logic, evidently, is that Ptolemy has to be before, while Porphyry, ca. 300, must be after.  This does not seem very firmly established to me.

He then adds that Antiochus, in the Isagogika, references Hermes, Timaeus and Nechepso-Petosiris as authorities.  The citations from Hermes look like the sort of thing that Dorotheus of Sidon was coming out with in the mid first century BC, while Nechepso-Petosiris he has already dated as early first century.  No contradiction there, as Pingree remarks — but surely these all suggest an earlier date than 150-200 AD?

Interestingly Antiochus is used as an authority in Arabic astrological texts from the 9th century on, together with Dorotheus and Vettius Valens; a combination of authors already found in a 6th century source used in epitome III, which itself was used for epitome IV.  Pingree infers that the 6th century source was translated into Arabic.

He then proceeds to analyse all these sources, coming finally to the conclusion:

An edition of Antiochus need include only Epitomes I, II, and IIa, together with the fragments in Arabic.

The remainder he ascribes to Rhetorius.

“Epitome I” contains the remains of the Isagogika.  It is found in ms. Parisinus graecus 2425 (15th century), folios 232v-237v, where it forms chapter <62> of book 6.  It has been printed as CCAG vol.8 part 3, p. 111-18.  Pingree gives a table of contents, and remarks on the many passages which are also found in Porphyry.  The text is incomplete in this, the unique surviving manuscript.  The heading in the manuscript is “book 1 of the summary of the Isagogika of Antiochus”.   There are 28 chapters, the last of which is incomplete.  There may have been further chapters, and clearly there should be more than one book.

“Epitome II” contains the remains of the Thesaurus. It is found in ms. Florence Laurentian 28, 34 (11th century), on folios 84-93v.  Some chapters cover topics from the Isagogika, but others are word for word identical with Porphyry, and one cites Paulus of Alexandria who composed the second edition of his own Isagogika in 378 AD!  So this epitome is probably a work of the 5-6th century.  It is printed in CCAG vol. 1, p.140-64.  There are 53 chapters.  A translation by Robert Schmidt (1993) is available from Project Hindsight.

“Epitome IIa” is a rewriting of various chapters of epitome II, undertaken ca. 1375 by the school of John Abramius.  Pingree lists five manuscripts, one of which was destroyed in the 1904 fire of the Royal Library in Turin.  A further six manuscripts he lists as deteriores.  So “epitome IIa” is merely an additional textual source for epitome II.

Returning to Robert Schmidt’s translation of Antiochus of Athens, I have had difficulty relating his statements to CCAG.  He writes:

The present translation bas been made from two sets of excerpts edited in the Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum. The first set was excerpted from Rhetorius’ large compendium (no longer extant in its entirety), and Rhetorius had himself made these excerpts from a Thesaurus (or Treasury) of Antiochus. This set of excerpts was edited in Vol. I. p. 149 ff. by F. Boll. Many of the entries in this collection were apparently taken over almost verbatim by Porphyry in his Introduction to the Tetrabiblos.

The second set of excerpts (from Vol. III, p. 107 ff. also edited by F. Boll) is identified as being from the same Thesaurus of Antiochus. However. the sequence of excerpts seems to be broken with apparent excerpts from another works or works inserted. Most of these insertions are attributed to Heliodorus by the modem editor. A few of the sections are of doubtful authorship. We have translated those that the editor has attributed to Antioobus with some certainty.

But there is no work of Antiochus listed on p.107 of vol. 3 of the CCAG.  The material he translates is in 9 chapters.  And the material he lists for vol. 1 as beginning on “p. 109” in fact begins on p.108.  When I have more time, I must try to reconcile these.

UPDATE: The comments on this post are well worth reading.  In particular Jose tells us that the “second set of excerpts” translated by Schmidt are in fact found in vol. 7 of the CCAG (not vol. 3) on pp. 107-128.  Indeed they are, under the heading, Excerpta ex Antiochi thesauro et ex Heliodoro.

The first set of excepts translated by Schmidt seem to  be those on vol. 1 p.140-164: Rhetorii quaestiones astrologicae et Antiochi thesauris excerptae. So Schmidt is indeed translating “epitome II”.


6 thoughts on “More on Antiochus of Athens

  1. Just to go off at a bit of a tangent, your process of technical documents being modified still goes on today.

    About 15 years ago I was working in a lab where we wanted to put herbs into a skin cream. We were having some problems and referred to Galen. This wasn’t motivated by any particular respect for his antiquity – he was just the author we first thought of who would have some relevant information.

    The pages from an old volume were photocopied. We did some lab work and stuck the photo copy in a lab book with some hand written notes as to how you could use the same method using modern equipment.

    The works of Galen are unlikely to dissappear, but if they were being reconstructed from our lab book they would be very incomplete indeed.

  2. Jose,

    Thank you so much for the Cumont! Wow! Hey, that’s obviously from some kind of searchable site that I don’t know about. How did you find it?

    Thanks also for the clarifications on Schmidt — that is REALLY useful!



  3. Dear HistoryScientist,

    That is a most interesting anecdote, and I would love to hear more detail. Why would Galen come up? Why would he be thought to be likely to have relevant information?

    Also, as far as I know, few of his works have been translated. So do you mean that photocopies of the Greek were used?

    I’d really like to hear more details — this is a *splendid* anecdote, and deserves a blog post of itself.

  4. good to see people interested in the development of historical scholarship, especially Cultural Astronomy. A very controversial subject in academia. By the way “AlPhO” stands for ‘Annuaire de l’Institut de philologie et d’histoire orientale’, which is where Cumont’s Antiochus work was published (1934)

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