Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.09.28

Dirk Obbink (ed.), Anubio, Carmen astrologicum elegiacum. Bibliotheca Teubneriana.   Munich and Leipzig:  K. G. Saur, 2006.  Pp. x, 79; pls. 4.  ISBN 10: 3-598-71228-6.  ISBN 13: 978-3-598-71228-9.  €58.00.  

Reviewed by Roger Beck, University of Toronto (
Word count: 1180 words

Anoubion (hereafter A.), probably of Egyptian Thebes, composed a poem on astrology, probably in the late first century A.D. What distinguishes him as an astrological poet is that unlike his near contemporaries, Dorotheus of Sidon and Manilius, he wrote in elegiacs. In this Teubner edition Dirk Obbink (hereafter O.) presents the surviving fragments and testimonies. A modern edition is needed because a large proportion of the fragments are from papyri, most of them published by O. himself in 1999 as nos. 4503-4507 in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series.1 O's introduction to and commentary on these papyri should be used in tandem with his Teubner edition by any one looking for more than just a definitive text of A.

Even with the new papyrus fragments the sum of A's extant verse is pitifully small. Twenty-two Teubner pages might sound like a fair sampling, but remember how much space lacunose papyrus fragments take to display, often with little or no recovered meaning to show for it. To the fragments one can, however, add a prose paraphrase running to 541 lines in this Teubner edition, which a late astrological excerptor explicitly took from A. "concerning the aspects of the stars [planets] to each other."2 This of course will tell us in considerable detail what A. said, but not how, i.e. the precise poetic form in which, he said it.

A further plus for the salvage of A's work, this time from the papyrus fragments, is the fact that the much later (4th cent.) astrologer, Firmicus Maternus (hereafter FM.), whose Mathesis is extant in its entirety, drew on A. directly or at one or more removes. In fact FM. followed A. so closely that A's precise or probable text in the papyrus fragments can be reconstructed to an extent inconceivable in the absence of such a parallel text. O. displays the relevant passages of FM., literally as a paratext, on the same pages as the corresponding fragments of A. One of my very few quibbles with O's otherwise exemplary edition is that typos occasionally appear in the text of FM., even where they were not present in the text accompanying the fragments in O's edition of P.Oxy. 4503-4507.3

What does the scholarly world gain from a definitive edition of A., and why will scholars want to consult it? The first reason might be that A. preserves something interesting or new in the history of astrology. Alas, no. Most of A. is routine stuff -- admittedly, with the virtue of not pretending to be otherwise -- of the sort: planet A in sign P in aspect X to planet B in sign Q indicates such-and-such an outcome (good, bad, or mixed) in such-and-such an activity. That the activity in A's fragments is quite likely to be erotic is an artifact of textual preservation rather than sexual obsession.

In the context of F7 (p. 40) the astrologer Rhetorius praises A. for his advice to consider injuries and physical defects (σίνος) first. The advice is practical rather than technical (there's no point in predicting a brilliant future as an athlete only to find out that your subject is disabled), but the commendation does at least show that A. was both current and respected centuries later -- something we can, of course, also infer from FM's close use of him. Pseudo-Clement (T1 and 2) puts an Anoubion in the circle of Simon Magus and nothing prevents this A. from being our A., though it all depends on what you mean by "being": I very much doubt if Pseudo-Clement had read the actual A. Rather, he was probably just a name to conjure with.

As the composer of what was presumably intended as a comprehensive manual of astrology, A. will have addressed topics other than that of various planets in various signs in various aspects to each other. Two other topics we know that he did in fact address were the decans and the thema mundi. The decans are subdivisions of the signs of the zodiac; there are three per sign, each of them ten degrees long. A. speaks of them in F1, where he calls them, unusually, ὡρονόμοι ("hour-regulators"). As O. observes in his commentary,4 the term probably hearkens back to the original function of the decans as spatio-temporal units in native Egyptian astronomy.5 Fragment 1 also covers the subdivision of the decans each into 3 λειτουργοὶ. FM. in the corresponding passage of the Mathesis uses an appropriate Latin equivalent (munifices), though for ὡρονόμοι he returns to the regular term decani.

The second non-standard topic that A. is known to have addressed is the thema mundi, the "horoscope of the universe." As the term implies, the thema mundi is the position of the celestial bodies (i.e. of the planets in the zodiac and of the zodiac in relation to the terrestrial horizon and meridian) at the moment of creation. The thema mundi is of course a complete fiction which depends on the supposition that a geocentric universe came into existence, essentially "as is," on a particular date. That A. discussed the thema mundi is not a new discovery from a new papyrus fragment. Rather, it is old knowledge based on FM's citation of "Anubis" as one of his sources for the thema mundi (T3 = FM 3.1.1). One must assume, as most do, that behind the god Anubis lurks the actual author Anoubion. That astrologers at least as early as A. treated of the thema mundi is confirmed by its presence in the work of Thrasyllus, the emperor Tiberius' astrologer. This work is extant only in summary form, so the particulars of Thrasyllus' thema mundi are not preserved. But we do know that he expressed the very interesting opinion that the horoscopes of individuals should be calibrated against the thema mundi (Cat. cod. astr. gr. Unfortunately, the summarizer does not tell us how this should be done.

In addition to historians of astrology, scholars of Hellenistic and didactic poetry will also want to use this fine Teubner edition. This class too will want to consult O's commentary on P.Oxy. 4503-4507 (see note 1, below), esp. pp. 65-6 on "Metre and Versification." A's choice of elegiacs rather than hexameters puts him among a minority of didactic poets. His choice was a wise one. A. has no pretensions to the sort of grandeur which might tempt someone opting for the hexameter tradition. He aspires to, and generally achieves, a workmanlike neatness and clarity without excessive ornamentation, and for those effects elegiacs was the better vehicle.

A comparison with FM's parallel text is instructive. Though writing in prose, FM. aspires to a certain poetic grandeur. But as a Manilius wannabe he does not make the grade. Stylistically, then, FM is the lesser of our two authors. However, in one respect he succeeds where A. fails. He enlivens his didactics with examples. Demosthenes (FM. 6.30.22) is more vivid than the generic orator (A. F5, b, 5-10), and the natal horoscope of Oedipus (FM. 6.30.1) more compelling than the configuration which doom some unnamed wretch to Oedipus' fate (A. F3, col. ii, 10-15).


1.   N. Gonis et al., The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Volume LXVI (London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1999), pp. 57-109.
2.   T8 (pp. 4-19) in O's edition.
3.   Page 23, FM. 2.4.1, isnt for sint; p. 33, Madedonem for Macedonem. I have not checked for such slips systematically. While I am nit-picking, the apparatus criticus is not entirely free of such errors. On p. 33, the final word in the sixth line of the apparatus should be (ignoring papyrological signs) πρηκτῆρα, as it is in the commentary to P.Oxy. 4505 (p. 101, note on line 9 of the fragment, quoting Iliad 9.443), not πρηκτῆτα.
4.   Page 75, note to P.Oxy. 4503, Front fr. 2, line 3.
5.   In all, there are thirty-six decans. Since the preceding line (2) breaks off with ... ἓξ καὶ[, the supplement that springs immediately to mind is τριάκοντα. Note that in A. the second syllable scans short: see F16, line 6. However, since line 3 of F 1, col. ii is a hexameter, one assumes that line 3 must be a pentameter and therefore that the supplement τριάκοντα is impossible. That assumption, however, cannot be made for A's papyrus fragments, including the present one (F1). Though there is no break in the papyrus, lines 7, 8, and 9 are all hexameters, and lost pentameters (7b and 8b) are properly postulated by O. The same is surely true of lines 2 and 3. If we postulate a missing pentameter here too (line 2b), line 2 becomes a hexameter and τριάκοντα can be inserted as the proper supplement following ἓξ καὶ[. Since the beginning as well as the end of the line is lost, one cannot say with certainty whether τριάκοντα spans the 4th and 5th feet or the 5th and 6th. The latter is more likely since the former would entail a word end at the end of the third foot, though that word end is internal to the tight phrase meaning "thirty-six": ἓξ καὶ τριάκοντα. Nothing in the flow of the sense prohibits our postulated lost line 2b.

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