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Ancient History

Posted on November 9th, 2012 by Don Cerow

The following represents some of my studies in astrology during the early 70s under the auspices of the Classics Department at the University of Massachusetts. The following passages come from a work entitled Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans, by Dr. Franz Cumont, one of the leaders in the study of religions at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Astrology and Religion got its start as part of a series of lectures presented in 1912. The attitudes expressed here are a good representation of peers at the time, which was that these things needed to be studied in the ever ongoing search for academic excellence, but at the same time, both mythology and astrology were obviously fabrications of the imagination, and therefore by definition, they are always obviously false. From Cumont’s introduction, xi to xiii,
“After a long period of discredit and neglect, astrology is beginning to force itself once more on the attention of the learned world. In the course of the last few years scholars have devoted to it profound researches and elaborate publications. Greek manuscripts, which had remained a sealed book at a time when the quest for unpublished documents is all the rage, have now been laboriously examined, and the wealth of all this literate has exceeded all expectation. On the other hand, the deciphering of the cuneiform tablets has given access to the well-springs of a learned superstition, which up to modern times has exercised over Asia and Europe a wider dominion than any religion has ever achieved. I trust, therefore, that I am not guilty of undue presumption, in venturing to claim your interest for this erroneous belief, so long universally accepted, which exercised an endless influence on the creeds and the ideas of the most diverse peoples, and which for that very reasons necessarily demands the attention of historians. . .
       “But at the end of the nineteenth century the development  of history, from various sides, recalled the attention of investigators of ancient astrology. It is an exact science which was superimposed on primitive beliefs, and when classical philology, enlarging its horizon, brought fully within its range of observation the development of the sciences in antiquity, it could not set aside a branch of knowledge, illegitimate, I allow, but indissolubly linked not only with astronomy and meteorology, but also with medicine, botany, ethnography, and physics. If we go back to the earliest stages of every kind of learning, as far as the Alexandrine and even the Babylonian period, we shall find almost everywhere the disturbing influence of these astral “mathematics.” This sapling, which shot up among the rank weeds by the side of the tree of knowledge, sprang from the same stock and mingled its branches with it.  



       “But not only is astrology indispensable to the savant who desires to trace the toilsome progress of reason in the pursuit of truth along its doublings and turnings,- which is perhaps the highest mission of history; it also benefited by the interest which was roused in all manifestations of the irrational. This pseudo-science is in reality a creed. Beneath the icy crust of a cold and rigid dogma run the troubled waters of a jumble of worships, derived from an immense antiquity; and as soon as enquiry was directed to the religions of the past, it was attracted to this doctrinal superstition, perhaps the most astonishing that has ever existed. Research ascertained how, after having reigned supreme in Babylonia, it subdued the cults of Syria and of Egypt, and under the Empire,- to mention only the West,- transformed even the ancient paganism of Greece and Rome.


       “It is not only, however, because it is combined with scientific theories, nor because it enters into the teaching of pagan mysteries, that astrology forces itself on the meditations of the historian of religions, but for its own sake (and here we touch the heart of the problem), because he is obliged to enquire how and why this alliance, which at first sight seems monstrous, came to be formed between mathematics and superstition. It is no explanation to consider it merely a mental disease. Even then, to speak the truth, this hallucination, the most persistent which has ever haunted the human brain, would still deserve to be studied. If psychology to-day (sic) conscientiously applies itself to disorders of the memory and of the will, it cannot fail to interest itself in the aliments of the faculty of belief, and specialists in lunacy will do useful work in dealing with this species of morbid manifestation with the view of settling its etiology and tracing its course. How could this absurd doctrine arise, develop, spread, and force itself on superior intellects for century after century? There, in all its simplicity, is the historical problem which confronts us.”
So much for the objectivity of empirical evidence using the scientific method.
Of course, the easy answer is that it has been practised around the globe by various cultures across the centuries because it works. One line of this work was to reach out, grab me, and form the inspiration for the quest of my investigation for months throughout the 80s and 90s, and it was this:
“It furnishes the key to the interpretation of Homer as well as the Bible.”
Examining each chapter by chapter, I have found that to be true. Investigate the pages of the WEB, and you will better understand the wisdom of this statement.
When Sir William Herschel, the discoverer of the planet Uranus, asked Sir Isaac Newton why he believed in astrology the latter responsed:
“Sir, I have studied the matter. You have not.”

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