Dorotheus of Sidon

Dorotheus of Sidon (Δωρόθεος Σιδώνιος) was an influential astrologer who lived in the late 1st century CE and wrote a five book instructional poem on astrology in Greek. His work had an enormous impact on the later Hellenistic and Medieval astrological traditions. His original work no longer survives in its entirety, although we do have an English translation of an Arabic translation of a Persian translation of the original Greek poem, as well as scattered fragments from his work that were preserved by later astrologers in Greek and Latin.

Overview of Dorotheus’ Work

His work is divided into five books, and thus it is sometimes called the Pentateuch (literally, “five books”). The first four deal with natal astrology, and the fifth with katarchic astrology. Generally speaking, the first two books deal with topical methods for studying different areas of the native’s life, often involving the use of specific trigon lords and lots. The third book focuses on the length of life technique, while the fourth book deals with the time-lord technique known as Profections, as well as other matters such as transits and illness. His fifth book is the earliest and the longest work on katarchic astrology from the Hellenistic tradition.

Dating

Dorotheus uses several natal charts as examples in his work, with dates ranging from 7 BCE to 44 CE. Most of the natives associated with these charts would have been older by the time Dorotheus used them as examples, which allows us to date the composition of Dorotheus’ work to sometime in the late 1st century CE. Pingree gave him an approximate date of c. 75 CE, which is probably correct (Pingree, From Astral Omens, p. 46).

Each of the charts in Dorotheus’ work have been calculated to fit the following years:

  • 7 BCE
  • 12 CE
  • 13 CE
  • 14 CE
  • 22 CE
  • 29 CE
  • 36 CE
  • 43 CE
  • 44 CE*

*This chart was originally dated by Pingree to 281 CE and thought to be a later Persian interpolation in the text, however Holden plausibly re-dated the chart to 44 CE, which is within Dorotheus’ apparent timeline (Holden, A History of Horoscopic Astrology, p. 34).

Biographical Information

Firmicus Maternus mentions Dorotheus at one point in connection with the doctrine of antiscia (Firmicus 2, 29: 2). It is here that Dorotheus is said to be from Sidon, whereas in the Arabic translation of his work he is called “Dorotheus the Egyptian” (Dorotheus 1, 1: 1).

Perhaps like Valens he was originally from Sidon, but then traveled to Egypt in search of astrological doctrines. This would match his autobiographical statements about having traveled to many different cities in Egypt and Mesopotamia in search of the best astrological doctrines (Dorotheus 1, 1: 4-5). [Click here to see the location of Sidon in Google Maps]

Dorotheus’ Sources

Even though Dorotheus was writing in the late 1st century CE, he was already acting as more of a compiler of earlier doctrines, or at least that is how he portrays himself in his brief prefatory remarks. He says that he travelled widely in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and collected information from some of the foremost astrological authorities in those two areas (Dorotheus 1, 1: 4-5;  5, 1: 1-4).

He seems to have had some relationship to one of the astrological texts ascribed to Hermes, although what the nature of that relationship was exactly is unclear due to some confusion in the extant text. At the beginning of the work it says that Dorotheus is writing to his son Hermes, and it’s not clear if this is simply the name of his son, or if this is some sort of literary device. Pingree thought that the reference to Hermes denoted that the addressee was a student or disciple of Dorotheus, as is often the case when such references are used in the philosophical works of the Hermetic tradition (Pingree, Dorothei Sidonii, p. vii). However, in the 4th century Paul of Alexandria opened his Introduction by addressing his son Kronamon, so it is possible that Dorotheus also could have dedicated his poem to a son named Hermes.

There is also an issue where sometimes Dorotheus is referred to in the text as the “King of Egypt” (5, 1: 1), while other times the astrological authority Hermes Trismegistus is the one who is referred to as the “King of Egypt” (2, 20). I suspect that it was originally Hermes Trismegistus who was portrayed as the King of Egypt in Dorotheus’ text, and that it was a textual error which led to Dorotheus being attributed that title in the Arabic manuscripts.

In book 2, chapter 20 of Dorotheus, a section on delineating the planets in each of the 12 places seems to have been introduced with a quote or a statement from Hermes Trismegistus, and it seems likely that Dorotheus drew some of the material that follows on the places from a text on the subject attributed to Hermes. References in Rhetorius and Porphyry to doctrines about the 12 places attributed to Hermes Trismegistus assure us that this was a subject that was explicitly dealt with in texts attributed to that author (this subject will be dealt with in more detail in an article on Hermes).

Hephaistio of Thebes seems to indicate that one of Dorotheus’ sources was Nechepso, or that Dorotheus was conveying Nechepso’s doctrines through his verses (Hephaistio 2, 21: 26).

Philosophy

The philosophical approach that Dorotheus took to astrology is largely unknown, as there are no explicit passages in which he outlines his views on the subject in the surviving fragments of his work. Additionally, because the Arabic translation of the text is contaminated and several times removed from its original language, it is not always clear if one is safe in reading between the lines in order to reconstruct his philosophical views based on various offhanded statements in the text.

His technical approach is similar to Vettius Valens, and one would assume that Dorotheus also followed the modified form of Stoicism that is characteristic of Valens and other authors who lived in the first few centuries of the Roman Empire. However, Dorotheus is unique in that he wrote a full book on electional astrology, which is supposed to involve using astrological principles in order to select an auspicious time to begin a new venture or undertaking.

This seems to imply that he did not believe that everything was predetermined for all eternity, as did the more Stoically inclined astrologers such as Valens or Manilius, but rather that once something was initiated at a specific point in time the fate of that venture was determined from that moment forward. This is similar to the doctrine of conditional fate developed by the Middle Platonists and carried on by the Neoplatonists in which the ability to make a choice is “up to us,” but once the choice has been made the future is determined (cf. Sharples, The Stoic Background to the Middle Platonist Discussion of Fate; Dillon, The Middle Platonists, pp. 294-8; Alcinous, The Handbook of Platonism, ch. 26).

On the other hand, Valens also discusses some rules for katarchic astrology (Anthology 5, 2: 10ff.), while in the same breath saying that it is not possible to avert the decrees of fate. He seems to say that the purpose of katarchic astrology is simply to know ahead of time what will happen so as to become free of it inwardly, in typical Stoic fashion. Most of the rules that Dorotheus gives in his book on katarchic astrology simply describe what the outcome of a certain action will be when it is initiated under a specific set of astrological conditions, and it is possible that this information was meant to provide nothing more than an awareness of what will happen in the future, and thus the ability to prepare oneself for it ahead of time, in order to better live in accordance with fate.

Influence on the Hellenistic Tradition

According to Pingree, Dorotheus’ work influenced Manetho (2nd century), Anubio (2nd century) and Maximus (4th century), all three of which also wrote works on astrology in verse (Pingree, Dorothei Sidonii, p. x).   None of the three mention Dorotheus directly.

Dorotheus is not mentioned by Valens, and there is no evidence of a direct connection between the two authors, although there are a number of interesting parallels in their technical approaches to astrology. For example, Dorotheus and Valens both place heavy emphasis on the trigon lords of the sect light technique, although Valens seems to restrict the usage of the trigon lords to the sect light itself, while Dorotheus applies the trigon lords to several other parts of the chart. Also, Dorotheus and Valens are the only two authors who explicate a more advanced approach to Annual Profections, which involves profecting from all of the planets, rather than just the ascendant or the sect light. These parallels and others seem to show some sort of technical continuity in that part of what is essentially the pre-Ptolematic tradition.

Firmicus Maternus (4th century) mentions Dorotheus in connection with the doctrine of antiscia (Firmicus 2, 29: 2). It is not clear if Firmicus had access to Dorotheus directly, although he was definitely influenced by him indirectly since Firmicus drew on Anubio, who himself seems to have drawn on Dorotheus.

In the early 5th century Hephaistio of Thebes composed his Apotelesmatika largely by excerpting material from Dorotheus and Ptolemy. Hephaistio quotes and paraphrases Dorotheus extensively, and most of our extant Greek fragments of Dorotheus come from this source. Some of the fragments are still in verse.  In some instances this allows us to check the reliability of the Arabic translation of certain passages. Sometimes this confirms the reading of the Arabic translation, while other times it reveals deviations and interpolations in the Arabic.

Rhetorius mentions Dorotheus explicitly several times in his Compendium, in connection with the twelfth-parts (ch. 19), the placement of the Lot of Fortune in relation to the predeceasing of the parents (ch. 48), the Lot of Livelihood (ch. 57), and the Lot of Injury (ch. 60). There are also a few unattributed excerpts from versified texts that may come from Dorotheus, as well as numerous delineations that seem to parallel some passages in the Arabic translation of his work.

Transmission to the Persian and Arabian Traditions

According to the 10th century Arab bibliographer Ibn al-Nadim, the Sassanian Persian Empire began sending out envoys to India, China and Rome to collect scientific texts in the 3rd century. These scientific texts were then translated into Pahlavī (Middle Persian) under the kings Adashīr I and his son Shāpūr I, who reigned in succession from 222–267 CE. According to al-Nadim’s source, one of the texts that was translated into Persian during this time was the work of Dorotheus. (Dodge, The Fihrist of al-Nadim, p. 575;  Pingree, Dorothei Sidonii, pp. xii-xiii)

A natal chart dating to the year 381 seems to have been inserted into Dorotheus’ 3rd book at some point in time (Dorotheus 3, 1: 27-65), perhaps indicating that the transmission of the text to Persia had already taken place by the late 4th or early 5th century, or at least that changes were being made to the text by this time. According to al-Nadim, the text was later edited or expanded during the reign of the Persian king Khusro Anūshirwān, who ruled from 531–578 CE (Dodge, The Fihrist of al-Nadim, p. 575;  Pingree, From Astral Omens to Astrology, p. 50).

The English translation of the Arabic text that we have today comes from this Persian transmission, with the text being translated from Persian into Arabic sometime around the year 800 by the astrologer ‘Umar ibn al-Farrukhān al-Tabarī (Pingree, Classical and Byzantine Astrology in Sassanian Persia, p. 229). A separate Arabic translation from the Persian version of the text was carried out by the astrologer Māshā’allāh sometime around the year 785, although this version no longer survives in its entirety (Pingree, From Astral Omens to Astrology, p. 46). These Arabic translations of the Persian text of Dorotheus went on to form the backbone of early Medieval astrology, where they played a strong role in informing the systems of Māshā’allāh, Sahl ibn Bishr, Abū ’Ali al-Khayyāt and ‘Umar al-Tabarī.

Problems with the Arabic Translation

The extant Arabic version of Dorotheus’ work has a number of textual issues. While it does preserve the vast majority of the work, and as Pingree says it is still “overwhelmingly Greek in character” (From Astral Omens to Astrology, p. 47), it also contains a number of errors, omissions, alterations and interpolations from later authors. I will provide a sample of some of these issues below:

Errors

One example of an error in the received text occurs in book 1, chapter 6, sentence 4, where the text reads

“Say how Saturn harms one who is born by day and Mars one who is born at night…” (trans. Pingree, Dorothei Sidonii, pp. 164-5)

This is an inversion of the usual Hellenistic rule that Saturn is more malefic in night charts while Mars is more malefic in day charts due to the concept of sect. The fact that it is a mistake is demonstrated repeatedly during the rest of the text when Saturn is consistently treated as being more positive or constructive during the day and Mars as more positive or constructive during the night, in accordance with the usual Hellenistic doctrine. For example, in book 1, chapter 26, sentence 29:

“If you find Saturn or Mars in a sign of property, especially if it is in the sign of property which is second from the ascendant, then it indicates a fall from property and status unless [these] two are in their portions [sects] (the portion of Mars is the night, the portion of Saturn the day).” (trans. Pingree, Dorothei Sidonii, p. 192)

Omissions

One example of an omission is that Firmicus Maternus says that Dorotheus discussed the doctrine of antiscia in the 4th book of his poem, but this discussion is missing from the Arabic translation (Firmicus 2, ch. 29: 2).

Similarly, Hephaistio (book 1, ch. 1) preserves a series of versified passages from Dorotheus in which he outlines the Egyptian bounds or terms (hōria), but these passages are entirely missing from the Arabic translation.

Alterations

At some point between the Hellenistic and Medieval traditions the use of the trigon lords or triplicity rulers changed. In the Hellenistic tradition the view was that the trigon lords divide the life into two parts, but in the Medieval tradition they were usually used to divide the life into thirds. Dorotheus seems to have been consistent in following the usual Hellenistic practice of using the trigon lords to divide the life into two parts, except in one passage in the Arabic translation in book 2, chapter 3, sentence 21:

“If the first of the lords of Venus’s triplicity is in a good place and the second in a bad place, then this condition in the matter of women is good in the beginning of his age, and in the last it is bad, because the first of the lords of Venus’s triplicity indicates the first years, the second indicates the middle years and the third indicates the end of life.” (trans. Pingree, Dorothei Sidonii, p. 200)

In this passage the Arabic text suddenly has Dorotheus dividing the life into three parts rather than two, which is contrary to the approach he seems to advocate in the rest of his work. However, when one compares the Arabic translation of this passage to the paraphrase of the same passage that Hephaistio preserves from Dorotheus we notice a difference:

“Again, we make a synopsis, by putting together the discussions of Nechepso and others in the verses of Dorotheus … And whenever the first trigon-lord is well situated, but the second ill, it signifies the that first years of wedlock are good, but the last poor; and it signifies the opposite when things hold in the opposite way.”  (Hephaistio, Apotelesmatika, book 2, ch. 21, sentences 26-29, trans. Robert Schmidt, p. 69 )

In Hephaistio’s paraphrase Dorotheus only divides the life into two parts according to the trigon lords, not three. Since the passage that Hephaistio preserves is in accord with Dorotheus’ general practice throughout the rest of his work, and indeed it is the general approach of other Hellenistic astrologers who use the trigon lords such as Valens, it would seem that this is an instance where the Arabic translation represents an altered version of the material. In the Arabic translation an additional statement has been attached to the paragraph which changes the technique entirely.

Interpolations

Pingree identified several interpolations in his original publication of the Arabic translation of Dorotheus in 1976 (Carmen Astrologicum, p. xiii), while other interpolations related to interrogational astrology were only identified later (Pingree, From Astral Omens, p. 47). Some of the interpolations include:

  • A natal chart dating to the year 381 that has been added to book 3, chapter 1: 27-65. Pingree had originally identified a second nativity that he dated to 281 CE as being an interpolation as well (Carmen Astrologicum, p. xiii), however this chart has been re-dated by Holden to the year 44 CE, which seems to indicate that it is not an interpolation (Holden, A History of Horoscopic Astrology, p. 34).
  • A passage from the work of Vettius Valens, who lived almost a century after Dorotheus, has been inserted into book 4 along with an explicit reference to his name (4, 1: 15). This passage outlines Valens’ unique method for calculating the solar return chart, or the “recalculated nativity” (antigenesis), as Valens calls it (Valens, Anthology, 5, 3: 3-6).
  • A second reference to Valens occurs in book 5 of Dorotheus within the context of electional astrology (5, 5: 15), except in this instance the passage attributed to Valens by the interpolator does not actually seem to derive from his work, or at least it does not seem to match any passages from the extant version of Valens’ Anthology. However, the passage itself and the electional doctrine outlined in it does closely match a similar doctrine attributed to Petosiris by Julian of Laodicaea (CCAG 1, p. 138: 1-15).  It is not clear why this passage from Petosiris was attributed to Valens.
  • A reference to the Indian subdivisions of the signs of the zodiac known as navamshas has been inserted into book 5, chapter 5, sentence 26.
  • Book 5 of Dorotheus is on katarchic astrology, which involves electing an auspicious moment to begin a new venture or undertaking, or interpreting the auspiciousness of some inception that has already taken place. However, in the Arabic translation, 6 of the 43 chapters of this book have had sentences inserted or altered in order to say that the same electional rules can also be applied to answering questions within the context of interrogational or horary astrology. Even the title of the Arabic translation has been changed to say that it is “on interrogations” even though it manifestly is not, and the title is contradicted in the second sentence of the first chapter where it accurately says that the book is about “the matter of commencements.” These interpolations have caused much confusion amongst astrologers and academics alike in the past few decades, regarding both the history and origins or horary astrology as well as the terminology that is used to refer to different branches of the astrological tradition. This topic is dealt with at length in Brennan, The Katarche of Horary (see bibliography).

Pingree believed that most of the interpolations had been introduced into the text by the Persians, since many of the same changes are already present in both Masha’allah and ‘Umar’s translations from Pahlavi into Arabic (Pingree, From Astral Omens, pp. 46-47; Pingree,  Dorothei Sidonii, p. xiii).

All of these issues with the Arabic translation mean that those who wish to use Dorotheus as a source must do so carefully, and with the awareness that they were working with a contaminated English translation of an Arabic translation of a Persian translation of a Greek text that was originally written in the form of a poem.

Critical Edition and Translations

The primary critical edition and translation of Dorotheus’ work was published by David Pingree in 1976:

  • Dorothei Sidonii Carmen Astrologicum, ed. David Pingree, Teubner, Leipzig, 1976.

The publication contains an introduction by Pingree which discusses the manuscript history in Latin, a critical edition of the Arabic translation of Dorotheus, a full English translation of the Arabic by Pingree, and a large appendix with all of the existing Greek and Latin fragments (untranslated).

Pingree’s English translation of the Arabic translation of Dorotheus has been republished separately twice now:

  • Dorotheus of Sidon, Carmen Astrologicum, trans. David Pingree, Ascella Publications, London, 1993 (with a brief introduction by Nicolas Campion).
  • Dorotheus of Sidon, Carmen Astrologicum, Astrology Classics, Bel Air, MD, 2005 (with an English translation of Pingree’s Latin introduction by Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum). [Available on Amazon]

Deborah Houlding owns the rights to the Ascella version, and in December 2013 she announced that she would release all five books of Pingree’s English translation of Dorotheus online for free through her website over the course of the next year, starting with book 1:

As of 2013, no one has published a comprehensive translation of all of the existing Greek and Latin fragments of Dorotheus that were collected in Pingree’s critical edition. However, most of the fragments are contained in Hephaistio’s Apotelesmatika, which has recently become available in translation in its entirety. Robert Schmidt published an English translation of books 1 and 2 of Hephaistio in the mid-1990s:

  • Hephaistio of Thebes, Apotelesmatics, Book I, trans. Robert Schmidt, ed. Robert Hand, The Golden Hind Press, Berkeley Springs, WV, 1994.
  • Hephaistio of Thebes, Apotelesmatics, Book II, trans. Robert H. Schmidt, The Golden Hind Press, Cumberland, MD, 1998.

Book 3 of Hephaistio was translated by Eduardo Gramaglia and edited by Benjamin Dykes in 2013, and it contains extensive excerpts on katarchic astrology from book 5 of Dorotheus:

  • Hephaistion of Thebes, Apotelesmatics: Book III: On Inceptions, trans. Eduardo J. Gramaglia, ed. Benjamin N. Dykes, Cazimi Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2013. [Available on Amazon]

Additionally, Schmidt translated a prose paraphrase of Dorortheus’ chapter on the transits of the planets from Greek in:

  • Dorotheus, Orpheus, Anubio, and Pseudo-Valens, Teachings on Transits, trans. Robert Schmidt, ed. Robert Hand, The Golden Hind Press, Berkeley Springs, WV, 1995, pp. 1-6.

The Greek passage translated is derived from CCAG 2, pp. 195-198, which also appears on pages 379-383 in Pingree’s edition of Dorotheus. This Greek paraphrase corresponds with book 4, chapter 1, sentences 185-233 of the Arabic translation of Dorotheus.

Bibliography

Alcinous, The Handbook of Platonism, trans. John Dillion, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993.

Anubio, Carmen Astrologicum Elegiacum, ed. Dirk Obbink, Bibliotheca Teubneriana, K. G. Saur Verlag, Munich and Leipzig, 2006.

Brennan, Chris, “The Katarche of Horary,” in the National Council for Geocosmic Research Journal, Summer 2007, pp. 23-33, available online in a revised version at http://www.chrisbrennanastrologer.com/Brennan-Katarche-of-Horary.pdf

Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum (CCAG),vol. 1, Codices Florentinos, ed. F. Boll, F. Cumont, W. Kroll, A. Olivieri, Lamertin, Brussels, 1898.

Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum (CCAG),vol. 2, Codices Venetos, ed. F. Boll, F. Cumont, W. Kroll, A. Olivieri, Lamertin, Brussels, 1900.

Dillon, John, The Middle Platonists, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1977 (rev. ed. 1996).

Dodge, Bayard, trans., The Fihrist of al-Nadim, A Tenth Century Survey of Muslim Culture, 2 vols., Columbia University Press, New York , 1970.

Dorotheus of Sidon, “Pentateuch,” edited in Dorothei Sidonii Carmen Astrologicum, ed. David Pingree, Teubner, Leipzig, 1976.

Firmicus Maternus, “Mathesis,” edited in Iulii Firmici Materni Mathesos libri VIII, 2 vols., ed. W. Kroll, F. Skutsch, K. Ziegler, Teubner, Leipzig, 1897-1913 (reprinted 1968).

Hephaistio of Thebes, “Apotelesmatika,” edited in Hephaestionis Thebani apotelesmaticorum libri tres, 2 vols., ed. David Pingree, Teubner, Leipzig, 1973-4.

Hephaistio of Thebes, Apotelesmatics, Book I, trans. Robert Schmidt, ed. Robert Hand, The Golden Hind Press, Berkeley Springs, WV, 1994.

Hephaistio of Thebes, Apotelesmatics, Book II, trans. Robert H. Schmidt, The Golden Hind Press, Cumberland, MD, 1998.

Hephaistion of Thebes, Apotelesmatics: Book III: On Inceptions, trans. Eduardo J. Gramaglia, ed. Benjamin N. Dykes, Cazimi Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2013.

Holden, James H., A History of Horoscopic Astrology, American Federation of Astrologers, Tempe, AZ, 1996.

Manetho, Apotelesmatika, ed. and tr. Robert Lopilato, dissertation, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, 1998.

Maximus, Peri Katarche, ed. Arthur Ludwich, Leipzig, 1877.

Paul of Alexandria, “Introduction,” edited in Pauli Alexandrini Elementa Apotelesmatica, ed. Emilie Boer, Teubner, Leipzig, 1958.

Pingree, David, Dorothei Sidonii Carmen Astrologicum, Teubner, Leipzig, 1976.

Pingree, David “Classical and Byzantine Astrology in Sassanian Persia,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 43, 1989, pp. 227-239.

Pingree, David, From Astral Omens to Astrology: From Babylon to Binaker, Istituto Italiano per L’Africa e L’Oriente, Rome, 1997.

Rhetorius, “Compendium,” translated in Rhetorius the Egyptian, Astrological Compendium, trans. James H. Holden, American Federation of Astrologers, Tempe, AZ, 2009

Sharples, Robert, “The Stoic Background to the Middle Platonist Discussion of Fate,” in Platonic Stoicism – Stoic Platonism, ed. M. Bonazzi, C. Helmig, Leuven University Press, Leuven, 2007, pp. 169-188.

Vettius Valens, “Anthology,” edited in Vettii Valentis Anthologiarum Libri Novem, ed. David Pingree, Teubner, Leipzig, 1986.

Article Information

  • Author: Chris Brennan
  • Originally published: July 4, 2011 |   Last updated: March 26, 2014
  • Notes: The article is essentially finished, although the formatting needs some work, and maybe some additional notes.
  • Cite this article: Chris Brennan, “Dorotheus of Sidon,” The Hellenistic Astrology Website, March 26, 2014, http://www.hellenisticastrology.com/astrologers/dorotheus-of-sidon/