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Macrobius on the planets’ infuence (1)

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02 Religious and ideological symbols and iconographic motifs

05 Scientific knowledge and scholarly lore

06 Visual arts and architecture

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

5th century CE
Roman Empire
Roman philosophers and scholars

Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.19:
When he (= Cicero) calls Jupiter “that brilliant orb, so propitious and helpful to the human race,” and Mars “the ruddy one, dreaded on earth,” the words “brilliant” and “ruddy” are appropriate, for Jupiter glistens and Mars has ruddy glow; the other words are taken from the treatises of those who believe that good and evil come to mortals from the planets, the evil coming generally from Mars and the good from Jupiter. If anyone should care to inquire how maliciousness came to be associated with the divine so that a planet is called baneful, as is thought to be true of Mars and Saturn, or why Jupiter and Venus are considered clearly beneficial by those who cast horoscopes - this despite the fact that there is only one nature in things divine. … The sun and moon, it is true, are the principal guardians of our lives. Of the two faculties identified with terrestrial bodies, sense-perception and growth, the first comes to us from the sun, the second from the moon. Thus we are dependent upon these two planets for the life we enjoy. In our associations and in the outcome of our activities we rely as much upon these two as upon the other five planets; but the numerical relations … readily coordinate two of the planets with the sun and moon and do not permit any coordination for two others.

Venus and Jupiter are favourably aspected to the sun and moon because of these numbers, Jupiter coordinating with the sun in all rations, with the moon in most of them. Hence, though each is considered a beneficent planet, Jupiter is more closely related to the sun and Venus to the moon, and both are favourable to human life, being in numerical harmony with the two heavenly bodies upon which we depend for life. On the other hand, Saturn and Mars have no such relationship with them, though it is true that Saturn does aspect the sun and Mars to the moon in a very slight degree. They are therefore thought to be unfavourable to human life, having no close numerical connection with the authors of life. The reason they are also believed sometimes to bring wealth and fame to men belongs properly to another treatise; it is enough that we have shown why one is considered baneful and another beneficial. Indeed, Plotinus declares in a treatise Are the Stars Effective? that the power and influence of stars have no direct bearing upon the individual, but that his allotted fate is revealed to him by stations and direct and retrograde motions of the seven planets, just as birds in flight or at rest unwittingly indicate future events by their direction of cries. And so we have good reason to call this planet beneficial and that one baneful since we obtain premonitions of good and evil through them.

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Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.19


Stahl 1952, 166-168Stahl, William Harris. Macrobius Commentary on the Dream of Scipio. New York: Columbia University Press 1952.

Amar Annus

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