Abstract

The Hellenistic reception of Babylonian horoscopic astrology gave rise to the question of what the planets really do and whether astrology is a science. This question in turn became one of defining the Greco-Latin science of astronomy, a project that took Aristotle's views as a starting-point. Thus, I concentrate on one aspect of the various definitions of astronomy proposed in Hellenistic times, their demarcation of astronomy and physical theory. I explicate the account offered by Geminus and its subordination of astronomy to arguments made in physical theory about what really is the case. I then show how Ptolemy treats the same topic but maintains that this science is sufficient on its own to determine the realia it studies. In this way, I identify two moments in an obvious process of intellectual change that had profound consequences for the history of astronomy and cosmology over the next 1500 years. My hope is that this will advance our understanding of the reception of horoscopic astrology in Hellenistic times and also serve to locate Ptolemy more fully in his intellectual context.

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Author notes

This paper derives in part from my collaboration with Robert B. Todd on related projects. An earlier version of the paper was presented at the conference, “Natural Philosophy and Mathematics in Antiquity,” held at the University of Leiden on 16–18 June 2004. I am very grateful to the participants for their questions at that time, as well as to Bernard R. Goldstein, Geoffrey Lloyd, Robert B. Todd, and the anonymous reader for this journal for their generous, constructive criticism of subsequent versions.