Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.04.27

Wolfgang Hübner, Raum, Zeit und soziales Rollenspiel der vier Kardinalpunkte in der antiken Katarchenhoroskopie.   Leipzig, München:  K.G. Saur, 2003.  Pp. x, 335.  ISBN 3-598-77806-6.  €88.00.  

Reviewed by Lester Ness (
Word count: 762 words

The history of astrology is not yet as respectable an area of study as, say, the history of mysticism. If it does become respectable, it will be due to the careful, detailed, scholarship of people such as Wolfgang Hübner, as with Gershom Scholem and the history of mysticism.

Catarchic astrology is using the planets to choose the best time for some activity. Although not much practiced in modern Western countries (Ronald Reagan was an exception), it was very important in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. The "centers" are the points where the zodiac is touched by the planes of the horizon and of the meridian. Every place, every moment, has different "centers," (cardines or kentra). They help relate the planets and the signs of the zodiac, the same everywhere, to individual people, places and events. When the quadrants between the "centers" are divided into three, we have the twelve astrological houses, each associated with a specific aspect of life.

Raum is a rather technical monograph, one of a series of monographs dealing with technical aspects of astrology, such as the signs of the zodiac or its individual degrees. The author has no argument to propose or defend. Instead, he describes, in great detail, one aspect of standard Hellenistic astrology. He bases his description on selected Hellenistic authors, from Protagoras of Nicaea in the third century BCE to Theophilus of Edessa, working at the court of the Ummayad caliphs in the seventh and eighth centuries CE.

The work is highly organized, with chapters, labeled sections and subsections, much like an outline. Chapter I, "Einleitung," introduces the centers, their meanings, the gods associated with them, their value in social history, and a discussion of Hübner's sources, particularly their dates.

Chapter II, "Die einzelnen Systeme," is the longest and most detailed. It describes in detail the connections between the centers and other objects. Take, e.g., the parts of a bed: "They say the head of a bed is a cardine, and that wether [sic] it is high or low depends on wether [sic] that sign is high or low."1 Other sections tell how the centers are used to predict the length of a person's life, how they can help choose the best time for a sacrifice, and many other things. In each case, Hübner lists what his sources say, with many quotations, both original Greek and German translation. He makes no attempt to synthesize what the sources say.

Chapter III, "Zusammenfassung: Konstanten der Systeme," summarizes the detailed discussion of the previous chapters, and gives the general use of the four semicircles, the centers and quadrants, the changing directions, the axes, the houses and interference from other astronomical data.

Chapter IV, "Verzeichnissse," is actually a set of bibliographies, very full and useful. "A" is a bibliography of primary sources, and also gives the abbreviations used in the footnotes and the dates of the sources. "B," "Ausgewälte Literatur" is a bibliography of modern sources.

Notes are footnotes, very convenient. The bibliographies are both very thorough and up-to-date. There is no topical index, but a detailed table of contents in the form of an outline is an adequate substitute.

Over-all, Raum, Zeit und soziales Rollenspiel is certainly the most detailed discussion of the use of the "centers" in modern times. Its only rival (far less detailed) would be the relevant chapter in Bouché-Leclercq's L'astrologie grecque, which concentrates on the twelve houses. It is, in effect, a reference work for historians, and not only of astrology. Most ancient historians and classical scholars know that astrology was an important aspect of Hellenistic and Roman society. At the same time, most do not have the specialized training needed to understand the primary sources easily. Hübner, here and in his other related works, has provided a source of reliable information. It is a kind of encyclopedia of Hellenistic astrology. Ancient historians may use it as a guide to what the primary sources say about, e.g., runaway slaves. Likewise, prospective historians of astrology will have a good starting point for further study. Raum, Zeit, und soziales Rollenspiel will undoubtedly remain useful for decades to come.

I recommend Raum, Zeit und soziales Rollenspiel der vier Kardinalpunkte in der antiken Katarchenhoroskopie whole-heartedly. My only complaint is not a substantive one. By writing in German, the audience Hübner will reach is much smaller than if he wrote in English. Professionals, of course, will be able to read the German, but there is a large potential audience of, e.g., astronomers in China, who are more likely to know English than German. May all his works be translated eventually!


1.   p. 60, quoting Pingree's translation of The Yavanajataka of Sphudjidhvaja, 2 Vols., ed., tr., and comm. by David Pingree (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1978).

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