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Worth noting in this chart, is the significance attached to the Part of Fortune and the constellations that rise with the planets.

In writing "the nature of the question not having been disclosed to me", Palchus demonstrates that the astrologer's understanding of the question was not essential to casting the chart, but was expected to arise as a result of it.

These early inquiry charts were known by the Greeks as Katarche, which literally means 'beginning'. The earliest we know of is dated to 474 AD. It is also taken from the collection of Palchus and also concerns a voyage by ship.



Attention all Shipping!
Attention all Shipping!
The Saftey of a Ship at Sea - by Palchus, 479 AD


This is one of our oldest surviving horaries - an enquiry concerning the safety of a ship from Alexandria, judged by Palchus on Saturday 14 July 479 AD. Little is known of Palchus, except the fragments that we have of his work. It is presumed that he was in Smyrna, Turkey when he judged the chart at approximately 8:30 am local time. The text follows the 1899 Richard Garnett translation with additional astronomical details taken from Greek Horoscopes by Neugebauer and Van-Hoesen.




Palchus - katarche


Finding that the lords of the day and hour, Saturn and Mars, were both in the ascendant, [1] and observing that the Moon was applying to an aspect of Saturn, I said the ship had encountered a violent storm, but had escaped because Venus and the Moon were beheld [aspected] by Jupiter...

The nature of the question not having been disclosed to me, I said it concerned a ship out of sight because the Part of Fortune was in Sagittarius, with which Argo rises, and its ruler [Jupiter] was in a very watery sign [Aquarius]. [2]

Having observed that the ascendant was in a bicorporeal sign [Virgo] [3], that the ruler of the ascendant [Mercury] was retrograde, and the ruler of the midheaven, Venus, was in a bicorporeal sign [Gemini] and Part of Fortune was in a bicorporeal sign [Sagittarius] and the dispositor of the Moon [Mars] was in a bicorporeal sign [Virgo], I said that the ship's company would change from one vessel to another. [4] And because Virgo is a winged sign I said they were bringing some birds with them. And because the Moon was in the house [5] of Mars and terms of Mercury, [6] I said they would probably bring some books or papers, and some brazen vessels on account of the Moon being in Scorpio. Having noted that Asclepius [7] was rising with the Moon, I said they were bringing medical implements.

Being asked the time of their arrival, I said the Moon would be in Aquarius or Pisces: in Aquarius because of its position on the 7th day [8] and because the Part of Fortune was moving towards Jupiter [9] ; in Pisces because of the Part of Fortune's movement towards its own house ruler. [10]

They arrived on the 8th day, [11] and being questioned about their delay, replied that it was due to a violent tempest, and that, the sea being cloven [parted] their prow struck against a rock and was broken. They were mightily tossed to and fro. But having made an harbour, they transferred their cargo to another vessel in which they came. Their cargo consisted of birds and blank writing paper on account of Mercury being aphaeretic, [12] cooking vessels on account of Scorpio, and a full medicine chest by reason of Asclepius.


Notes & References:

  1 ] In Hellenistic astrology the term'ascendant' was generally applied to the whole of the first house or sign rising.
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  2 ] The constellatin Argo 'the ship' was obviously relevant to charts concerning travel by sea. Early astrologers held Aquarius to be a sign associated with floods and water - as its symbolism suggests.
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  3 ] Virgo is bi-corporeal, 'double-bodied' because it is anciently depicted by the the body of a maiden with the wings of a bird. Sagittarius is similarly bi-corporeal because it is half-man, half-horse. All of the mutable - or as they are traditionally termed 'common' - signs are bi-corporeal, reflecting on their dualistic nature.
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  4 ] The common signs relate to the months when the seasons change and are thus said to indicate a nature which changes 'from one to the other'. The lord of the ascendant retrograde is a classic sign that the ship may return or call into a nearby harbour within a short time of setting off.
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  5 ] Hellensitic astrologers used the term 'house' to mean sign - as in Leo being the 'house' of the Sun.
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  6 ] Although not near the terms of Mercury according to Ptolemy's system, Ptolemy gives details of an older Egyptian system which assigns the terms of Mercury to 12° - 20° Scorpio. Palchus may have been using this or another variant.
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  7 ] Asclepius was frequently used by the Greeks as an alternative name for the constellation Ophiuchus 'the Serpent Bearer'. In myth Asclepius was a great healer who was able to incarnate as a snake. Because of this, snakes were often used as a symbol of healing and regeneration.
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  8 ] It was not unusual for Hellenistic astrologers to give importance to the Moon's position on the 3rd or 7th day after the chart was cast.
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  9 ] As the Moon increases its distance from the Sun, the Part of Fortune moves in the direction of Jupiter. Hence, in about a week, both the Moon and the Part of Fortune will be close to the position of Jupiter in the chart.
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  10 ] Pisces being the sign of dignity for Jupiter, dispositor of the Part of Fortune.
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  11 ] The Moon was then in Aquarius.
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  12 ] Aphaeretic - signifying life rather than death (so symbolising new, blank writing paper as opposed to old, written papers).
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© Reproduced from Traditional Astrologer magazine, Issue 1, June 1993

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