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The Classical Origin and Traditional Use of Aspects by Deborah Houlding

A Basic Guide to Astro Meteorology Kim Farnell

NB - note by D. Houlding: Dec 2020: recent research has led me to believe that some points made in this article are not reliable and need further research. This principally concerns the older references to the 'seeing' and 'hearing' signs, which pivot around 15° of the equinoctial and solstitial signs, acting as a forerunner to antiscia calculation. I now believe those definitions arose from a different conceptual basis and that Ptolemy presented nothing that deviated from what was characterised of those associations by Manilius. When possible I will update this article - until this notice is removed I recommend this article is not used for anything more than an indication of what most people currently assume to be the historical origin of this technique.

One of the earliest astrologers to leave us a detailed demonstration of antiscia in practice was the 4th century Roman astrologer Firmicus Maternus, who devoted several pages to an account of its effects in the second book of his Matheseos Libri VIII.[1] The technique and the philosophy are evidently much more ancient and there is good reason to believe it was introduced at a very early stage of zodiac development. Firmicus tells us that it is Greek in origin[2] and was taught by Hipparchus in the 2nd century BC.[3] Reference to the technique is found in the astrological texts of Manilius, Ptolemy, Dorotheus,[4] Antiochus, Palchus, Paulus Alexandrinus, and many others.

The theory underlying antiscia appears to have been influenced by Pythagorean philosophy, which claimed that every force in the universe has a balancing counter-force, and which also laid great stress upon the symbolic importance of numbers. The Pythagoreans regarded the number ten, the Decad, as the most important and perfect of all numbers and it was their belief that the universe consisted of ten heavenly spheres. Along with the seven visible planets, the Earth and the sphere of the fixed stars, the Pythagoreans maintained the presence of a 'counter Earth', a paradoxical opposite which balanced the motions of the Earth and remained invisibly located on the opposite side of the Sun. This was known as the 'antiscion' from anti-cthon meaning 'opposite-earth'.

The Greek term 'scia' means shadows.[5] At some unknown date the philosophy of 'opposite-shadows' or 'reflective-degrees' was incorporated into astrology in the belief that each degree of the zodiac has its own counter degree, mirroring its distance from the solstice axis on the opposite side of the chart. The solstice axis runs from 0° Cancer to 0° Capricorn; thus a planet at 20° Sagittarius will cast its antiscion to 10° Capricorn, both planets being an equal distance from the Sun's solstice point at 0° Capricorn.

Antiscia reflections

Antiscia reflections: imagine that the chart is folded in half along the solstice axis - planets that are connected by antiscia will fall upon each other. For example 15° Cancer will have its 'counter degree' at 15° Gemini; 3° Taurus will have it at 27° Leo. Besides the common experiences of these degrees described below, the relationship of two planets connected in this way is given extra potency by the fact that their midpoint falls upon a solstice degree.

Manilius describes this scheme in the Astronomica, where he states that signs opposing each other across the solstice axis are able to 'see' each other - his terminology derived from the fact that both will rise and set in the same part of the horizon. However, Manilius's description differs from that of Firmicus because he uses the centre of Cancer and Capricorn as his reference points, linking the sign of Gemini to Leo, Taurus to Virgo, Aries to Libra, Pisces to Scorpio, and Aquarius to Sagittarius.[6] The obvious explanation for this shift of reference is that the use of antiscia as an astrological technique has a very long history, originating from the time when 15° Aries marked the Vernal Equinox and the middle degrees of Cancer and Capricorn corresponded with the solstices.[7] Manilius's scheme is certainly the same as that of Firmicus because both create an association between periods of equal sunrise and sunset. Manilius calls them confronting signs and says that they enjoy a 'like-principle' because the day is levelled with the night in each.[8]

Manilius's scheme

The scheme as described by Manilius. This solstice axis was greatly outdated by his time, revealing that Manilius was drawing from much older sources.

Ptolemy also describes this scheme, where he says that 'signs which behold each other' are also signs of equal power since they are equally removed from the tropics. He explains that they 'behold' one another, partly because they rise and set in the same part of the horizon, and partly because:

when the Sun comes into either of them the days are equal to the days, the nights to the nights, and the lengths of their own hours are the same [9]

Naturally, since the solstices represent the points on the ecliptic where the Sun reaches maximum declination north (at 0° Cancer) and South (0° Capricorn), its declination is paralleled in the degrees that are equally distant on either side of them (see diagram below).

Sun's declination

Declination: A planet's distance north or south of the equator.

Celestial Latitude: A planet's distance north or south of the ecliptic.

Ecliptic (Sun's path) crosses the equator at 0 Aries and Libra, giving the Sun 0 declination at these points.

This does not of course mean that two planets connected through an antiscion relationship are going to share the same degree of declination, as only the Sun's cycle is constrained to the ecliptic and may have no latitude. However, some modern authors have assumed that Ptolemy was describing in this passage a relationship dependent upon two planets having the same degree of declination, and they therefore use the term 'antiscia' to relate to this. This is quite different from the traditional concept of antiscia. Many have been influenced by Nicholas de Vore's entry on 'antiscion' in his Encyclopedia of Astrology (1947), where he states (incorrectly) that reflection across the solstice axis is a modern application, as used in 'Uranian Astrology', but that its original definition by Ptolemy

... is applied to two planets which have the same declination on the same side of the equator. One in the same declination on the opposite side was termed a contra antiscion. [10]

De Vore has misinterpreted Ptolemy here, and references to other ancient authors sweep away any doubts that reflection across the solstice axis is the original and traditional basis of the technique. When we look closely at what Ptolemy wrote we can see that De Vore's assumption is not the point that Ptolemy was making at all; nor did Ptolemy actually use the term antiscion, though he clearly acknowledged that the relationship of the signs that 'see each other' was based upon a mutual distance from the solstice axis. Firmicus, in moving the reference point for antiscion reflection from 15° of the tropical signs, to 0°, was merely correcting the error which had accumulated with the movement of the vernal point - a problem which the establishment of the tropical zodiac eradicated.

Firmicus writes of antiscia:

In this way Gemini and Cancer send each other antiscia. For a degree, from whatever degree it receives an antiscion, sends an antiscion to that degree. Thus Taurus and Leo send an antiscion against each other, thus Virgo and Aries, Libra and Pisces, Scorpio and Aquarius, Sagittarius and Capricorn.[11]

Firmicus goes on to suggest that where planets are not in aspect with each other, we should consider whether they are connected through the relationship of the antiscia:

For when they send an antiscion in such a way that they are in aspect through the antiscion, in trine, square, sextile, or opposition, they portend just as if they were thus located in the normal arrangement.[12]

For proof of the effectiveness of antiscia Firmicus offers details of a chart which he says can only be fully understood by reference to their influence. Knowing that the identity of the man behind the chart is well known to his patron, he leaves him anonymous in the book - an all too tempting challenge for classical scholars who have used the facts given in his description to conclude that this was the chart of Ceionius Rufius Albinus, a renowned writer on logic, geometry, history and poetry, and city prefect of Rome from December 30, 335, until sent into exile on March 10, 337.[13] Firmicus records that his father, after two successive consulships, became a 'scandalous exile', as did this man for the crime of adultery, although he later returned to office. He argues that the details of his father's downfall, the exile, and the constant plots against him are only revealed if we turn our attention to the theory of antiscia.

Firmicus gives no degree positions but amongst many of the points he makes regarding the debilitating effects of the antiscia connections in the chart he states that the Moon is positioned in Cancer, the ascendant in Scorpio and Mars in Aquarius. By aspect alone there would be no recognised relationship between the Moon and Mars because their signs are inconjunct. However the antiscion of the Moon in Cancer falls in Gemini which aspects Mars by trine. The antiscion of Mars in Aquarius falls in Scorpio, in the ascendant and, in turn, in trine to the Moon. Firmicus saw this relationship between Mars and the Moon as indicative of trouble and strife:

And so the waxing Moon, attacked from all sides by the many influences of Mars, made this man, weakened in body, finally an exile.[14]

antiscia in Firmicus's illustration

Generally antiscia are said to offer a sympathetic relationship, but Firmicus shows that if they connect to a malefic or unfortunate planet they can be damaging.


A similar method of ascertaining familiarity is to consider planets equally placed from the equinoxes. These are said to be of a similar nature because - in the words of Ptolemy - they ascend in equal periods of time and are on equal parallels. Ptolemy also says that of these, the signs Aries to Virgo are called Commanding (because the Sun makes the day longer when in those signs) and the signs Libra to Pisces are called Obedient (because when the Sun travels through them daylight is shorter than night).[15] A planet in a commanding sign is thus considered capable of exerting a dominating effect upon the planet in the obedient position.

Manlius and other ancient authors called such signs audentia, 'signs which hear each other'. William Lilly refers to signs that are 'commanding and obeying' on page 92 of Christian Astrology, but doesn't offer a description of their meaning. The Greek astrologer Paulus Alexandrinus noted that signs which 'hear each other' dispose well for the flight of fugitives, for going abroad, and for accusations, suggesting that there is some divisive element attributed to their meaning.[16]

This technique may appear to have dropped from favour in later tradition, but in fact it gives us the contra-antiscia, which Lilly tells us to find by simply looking for the point in opposition to the antiscia. This is correct because the reflection of a degree across the equinoctial axis lies opposite to that which reflects across the tropical axis. The diagram below demonstrates this.


The vertical lines demonstrate the 'signs which hear each other' and I have inserted into the diagram the position of Moon and Mars from the example of Firmicus, with their antiscia (A) marked in blue and the contra-antiscia (CA) marked in red. Note how the contra-antiscia, whilst lying opposite to the antiscia, also fall directly into the relationship marked by the classical notion of the 'audentia' signs.

We can again see why Nicholas de Vore and subsequent modern astrologers have wrongly defined contra-antiscia as a relationship between two planets "in the same declination on the other side [ie., of the equator]" - it is because this definition will apply to the Sun and the position it will be in when it reaches its own contra-anstiscion position; but this only applies to the Sun. Contra-antiscia associate planets at an equal distance from the equinox, so for example 15 degrees Pisces will correspond to 15 degrees Aries. At such points the Sun has as much declination south of the equator at one point, as it has north of the equator at the other. This brings the similarity of ascension times that Ptolemy considers relevant. But this definition does not hold true for the planets, which of course can stand upon points of contra-antiscia whilst being at varying levels of declination or celestial latitude.

In traditional astrology, conjunction by celestial latitude (which occurs when two planets are in the same hemisphere and equally placed north or south of the ecliptic) is important; but it was not part of the antiscia technique and should not be confused with the modem 'parallels of declination' which are measured instead from the equator. To ancient astrologers the direction and latitude of a planet were very significant, used to reveal much about a planet's power and fortitude. The best planetary position is to be in the northern hemisphere, rising in latitude; the worst in the south, descending. This consideration is especially relevant to the Moon, who is most fortuitous when northern, rising, and at the same time increasing in light.

Antiscion gives us instead a notion of 'likeness'[17] based upon the similarity of the degree of the zodiac as it relates to rising times and the equality of days and nights. In contra-antiscia, it is based upon an inverse reflection because the days of one are mirrored by the night of the other. With antiscion a more immediately equivalent factor is involved; with contra-antiscion it is an opposing principle so the relationship is more difficult or antipathetic. These philosophical principles tally with William Lilly's assessment:

"as there are antiscia, which of the good planets we think are equal to a sextile or trine, so there are contra-antiscions, which we find to be of the nature of a square or opposition".[18]

Lilly left no evidence of using aspects to or from the antiscia. That is, he uses antiscia where they fall directly upon a planet or house cusp, but not where they fall upon the trine or square of a planet or cusp as Firmicus did. (Other than the opposition of course, which reveals the contra-antiscion).

From the references we find in Christian Astrology we can see that he required an exact correspondence or a very close orb [19] and took antiscia contacts to promising planets as a supportative, but contacts with impeding planets as destructive, with contra-antiscia contacts judged to be less helpful. For example, the Moon's conjunction with the antiscion of the Lord of the Ascendant is a promising factor in matters of life or death, [20] but the ascendant-ruler's conjunction with the antiscion of the Lord of the 8th argues for death [21] as does the Sun's conjunction with the antiscia of a malignant planet. [22]


Notes & References:

  1 ] Firmicus Maternus, Matheseos Libri VIII, ('Eight Books of the Mathesis or Theory of Astrology'), c.334 C.E., translated by Jean Rhys Bram, Noyes Press, 1975. This is available in an updated version with additional annotations and footnotes by David McCann, from Ascella Publications, London.
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  2 ] Matheseos, II. XXIX.II
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  3 ] II. Praefatio.II: "Our Fronto, who published rules for forecasting from the stars, followed the antiscia theory of Hipparchus".
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  4 ] It is described by Dorotheus in his 4th book, where he refers to planetary contacts 'through the turning of the years', (the sun's transit of the solstice points brings the change of the seasons). Dorotheus of Sidon, Carmen Astrologicum, trans. David Pingree.
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  5 ] Antiscia is plural; the singular is antiscion (Greek) or antiscium (Latin).
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  6 ] Manilius, Astronomica, Harvard Heinemann, (trans. G.P. Goold); Loeb Classical Library. Intro. p.XLVI; 2,466-519.
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  7 ] References to the vernal point in the 15th degree of Aries are preserved in the writings of Achilles and Eudoxus. The vernal point fell near the 15th degree of Aries around 800 BC, so it is from this period that we can assume the zodiac (12 equally spaced signs of 30°) began to emerge as a replacement for the visible constellations in astronomical measurement. Babylonian astronomical diaries dated to the middle of the 6th century BC show the zodiac was being used at that time for the recording of astronomical data, although the constellations were still referred to and there was a lengthy overlapping of the use of zodiacal signs and visible constellations before the equally defined zodiac was firmly established. For a review of the various vernal points see Studies in the History of Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Vol. I by O. Neugebauer; p.593 ff.
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  8 ] Manilius, 2.425-435.
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  9 ] Tetrabiblos, 1.15 (Loeb p.77)
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  10 ] Nicholas de Vore, Encyclopedia of Astrology, (Philosophical Library, New York, 1947); pp.8-9.
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  11 ] Matheseos, Bk II,XXIX.6
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  12 ] II.XXIX.8
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  13 ] Firmicus Maternus, The Error of the Pagan Religions; translated and annotated by C.A. Forbes, (Newman Press, New York, 1970) intro. P.5.

In 1894 Theodore Mommsen pointed out that the historical facts could only have fitted Albinus. This was verified by Otto Neugebauer who demonstrated that the astronomical data supported this candidate, born on 14 March 303 AD (JC) - around 9:00 pm according to his paper: The horoscope of Ceionius Rufius Albinus, AJPh, 74 (1953) 418-420.
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  14 ] Matheseos, Bk.II.XXIX.16.
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  15 ] Tetrabiblos, I.14
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  16 ] Paulus Alexandrinus, Introductory Matters, c.378 C.E; translated by Robert Schmidt, (Golden Hind Press, Berkeley Springs, USA, 1993); p.18-22.
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  17 ] This is a term that Palchus uses in reference to the antiscion degree of a significator in an early horary chart dated to 478 - Greek Horoscopes, (American Phil. Soc., 1957); p.143.
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  18 ] Christian Astrology, pp.91-92.
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  19 ] "Antiscions of the Planets could be made little use of in this Figure, because none of them fell exactly either upon the cusp of any material house, or with the exact degree of any Planet; only I observe the Contrantiscion of Saturn falls near to the degree of Jupiter; from whence I judged,…" (CA., p.186: Saturn's contra-antiscion is within 3° of Jupiter.)
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  20 ] Ibid., p.255.
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  21 ] Ibid., p.257.
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  22 ] Ibid., p.258. Other references can be found on p.164; pp.186-187; p.263 and p.288.
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© Deborah Houlding. Published on skyscript: 21 December 2005.