The So-Called 'Problem of House Division'

Robert Schmidt

The life-long work of Robert H. Schmidt and
Ellen Black of Project Hindsight.


The So-Called ‘Problem of House Division’ 


Definitions of Greek Terms and New Translations of Key Passages With Brief Notes & Commentary 


By Robert H. Schmidt 


Published as a PDF Companion to PROJECT HINDSIGHT’s 2016 Audio Conversation:


Whole Sign “Houses”, Equal Places, Quadrant Divisions: No Problem in the Original System of Greek Astrology Robert Schmidt with Dale Nelson and Bill Johnston 



© 2016 by Robert H. Schmidt All Rights Reserved 



Introduction    (This page contains the introduction and conclusion of this 64 page document. The full document is available with the aforementioned 12-hour course.)

Terminology & Distinctions

Texts on Effecting, Affecting, and Endowing with Form
Antiochus Summary
Valens, Book I, Chapter 1
Firmicus Maternus, Book II, chapter 20
Valens, Book IV, chapter 12
Valens, Book IX, chapter 3
General Note to Effecting, Affecting, and Endowing with Form


Selected Delineation Text for Planets in Places

Valens, Book II, chapter 6

Firmicus Maternus, Book III, chapter 1 (end)           

Firmicus Maternus, Book III, excerpts from chapters 2-5              

General Note                   

Firmicus Maternus, Book II, chapter 19

General Note to Firmicus’ Characterization of the Twelve Equal Places                 

Paul of Alexandria, chapter 24
 General Note to Valens, Firmicus Maternus, and Paul

A Personal Retrospective


Quadrant Division   

Valens, Book III, chapter 2                

About a Certain Small-Print Chapter in the Critical Edition of the Olympiodorus Commentary Adduced in Evidence of the Transfer of Topics to Quadrant Divisions of the Porphyry System:


Translation Issues
Manuscript Problem in Valens Book IX, Chapter 3               

Speculative translation of the first equal place in Firmicus Maternus, Book II, chapter 19


List of Greek Texts
 Always Thinking Unto the Problem




This written document is a companion piece to the long conversation I had
 with Dale Nelson and Bill Johnston in late May 2016 on the problem of “house” division. It started out with the modest purpose of simply providing some hand- outs to go along with the recording, but then I thought I would add a just little commentary. One thing led to another, and it expanded into the rather lengthy study that you now have before you. 


There are two main parts to the recorded conversation. The first is a textual analysis of several different sources found in Valens, Firmicus Maternus, and Paul of Alexandria leading to the conclusion that the system of whole-sign places and that of equal places reckoned from the ascending degree were conceived of together and intended to be used together for topical inquiries. A quadrant system, today called ‘Porphyry’, was reserved for those general inquiries that require
 a ‘predomination’ argument to qualify a planet for some special role in those inquiries; it was never the original intent to transfer topics to these quadrant divisions.This study goes into considerably more detail on textual issues than I did in that conversation, and formalizes the argument I made there. For clarity’s sake I have not included other evidence for my claim that would be inaccessible to those who do not read Greek. There are also a few other relevant Greek texts, of rather late date, that deal with quadrant divisions. I will argue on some other occasion that there is no real transference of topics to those divisions either. 


I want to stress that I am not examining the question of ‘house” division from a broad historical perspective. My sole intent has been to uncover the original conceptualization of topos ‘place’ in Greek astrology. I am not here concerned with the historical issue of whether or not the Greeks took over the notion of astrological place from some earlier source, or how it was developed in the medieval or modern period. 


On numerous occasions I have voiced the opinion that Greek astrology was originally a coherent and highly-integrated system. As such, there must have been a single guiding intelligence behind its development. It also follows that there was a founding era. I have amassed a vast amount of support for this assertion, which 


© 2016 by Robert H. Schmidt * All Rights Reserved. 


The So-Called ‘Problem of House Division’ 


I will begin publishing in the near future. I say this here only to emphasize that my argument about the original Greek conception of place does not so much presuppose this hypothesis as provide more evidence for it. This hypothesis was not an a priori assumption to begin with, but was the result of long involvement with the sources. 


The second part of the conversation contains a more extensive exploration of the meanings of several central Greek terms. It also includes other matters of a more speculative nature. By speculative I do not mean unbridled conjecture, but reasoning that would be consistent with commonly accepted Greek views held
 at the time. In particular, this part of the conversation supplements my textual argument with a quasi-mathematical argument. It is primarily when house division is approached as a mapping problem that it becomes a problem, since any mapping requires conventions for representation, and there may be different conventions 


for doing so. When house division is approached from this perspective, any mapping is intrinsically imperfect. I maintain that the Greek astrologers were not approaching the division of the places as a problem of mapping three-dimensional space into the ecliptic at all. Instead, they were referring divisions proper to the ecliptic to a reference frame. In coordinate geometry, for example, one does not map the reference frame onto a straight line, but refers the straight line to the coordinate system. 


Although all Greek writings present their own special challenges to the translator, Greek astrological texts are not especially difficult as far as grammar and syntax are concerned. Part of what does make them difficult, however, is the manner in which the authors of the surviving source texts have integrated whole blocks 


of earlier material—already considered traditional in their day—into their own compositions. This is sometimes done explicitly, but more often than not silently. 


In some cases this material is being quoted verbatim by the compiler, but in other cases he may do some paraphrasing or updating of archaic language or syntax.
 It is not always easy to determine exactly how the compiler is presenting earlier material, but it is usually possible to determine whether or not the material he is reporting is traditional or not because the astrological writings of the founding era all bear a characteristic signature. 


© 2016 by Robert H. Schmidt * All Rights Reserved. 


The So-Called ‘Problem of House Division’ 


It is important to realize that much of the content in Vettius Valens, Firmicus Maternus, and Paul of Alexandria derives from earlier sources. The traditional title of Valens’ work is the Anthology; it can easily be shown that much of the delineation material in Firmicus Maternus consists of direct (and rather faithful) Latin translations of much earlier Greek sources; and there is much indirect evidence (some of it stylistic) that at least several chapters of Paul’s work contain earlier writings more or less intact. 


This is fortunate for us because it means that we have direct access to many of the doctrines of the founding era in the texts that have survived up to our day. We do not have to rely simply on the opinions that these later authors may have had about doctrine that was already traditional in their day—if we know how to read those precious texts. 


What is this characteristic signature I referred to? Many of these writings are concise and elliptical to the extreme, but convey a great deal in a short span. Some of them are relatively long, especially those involving delineation, but they would have been much, much longer if they had presented their delineations in a modern “systematic” or “methodical” manner. 


The authors of this earlier material employed special compositional devices to convey their astrological doctrines as concisely as possible. It would be a serious mistake to suppose that they were writing in modern essay format. Instead, their writings, to the extent that they survive as excerpts in later authors, are full of calculated ambiguity and/or apparent contradiction, among other things. 


This style of writing is, so to speak, self-secret. It serves to give some the false sense that they have understood something, where in fact they will never be able to make much of what they think they have grasped. At the same time, it serves to discourage or even repel other readers who, even if they have some sense that there is more to the material than first meets the eye, are unwilling to put in the necessary time to understand it. But above all, a work written in this manner serves as a teacher for those who may not have access to an oral tradition. 


It is clear that later authors, in some cases compiling their own texts hundreds of years after the founding era, found the original source material very difficult 


© 2016 by Robert H. Schmidt * All Rights Reserved. 


The So-Called ‘Problem of House Division’ 


themselves due to that cryptic mode of composition. Valens, for example, may not have understood the importance of the system of equal places until relatively late in life. 


In these ultimate sources of the tradition, there is usually a surface level of the text, which may even contain doctrine that is valid as far as it goes, and that is all most readers will take away from it. But it is only by snagging on the difficulties I have mentioned and resolving them that the reader discovers the true depth and full articulation of the doctrine, at the same time having the unforgettable learning experience of connecting with the mind of the original author. 


This special mode of composition is one of the reasons why literal translation of Greek astrological texts is so important. The reader should not be denied access to that experience. Other modern translators (such as Holden and Riley), unaware that such texts are riddling by design, cope with these difficulties by smoothing them over with so much guesswork, often guessing wrong. I do not consider it my role as a translator to make these texts seem clearer or simpler than they actually are. 


I have identified many of the compositional devices referred to above. I will be pointing out some of them in what follows. 


The other reason that literal translation of Greek astrological texts is so important is the elaborate technical vocabulary that they contain. Modern astrological terminology, following the nominalistic trends that are so prevalent in these times, simply denotes certain astronomical phenomena, and lacks any connotations beyond that. Modern astrology does not really have an astrological language, properly speaking. By contrast, the Greek astrological terminology offers vivid conceptualizations of those astronomical phenomena in terms of concrete concepts drawn from human life, and these readily-understandable conceptualizations provide the clues to the astrological interpretation of the astronomical phenomena. Early Latin translations of Greek technical terms, such as those found in Firmicus Maternus and Manilius, attempt to preserve those conceptualizations as fully 


as possible. 


What modern translators of Greek or Latin astrological writings, such as Holden and to a lesser extent Riley, normally do is substitute modern astrological 


© 2016 by Robert H. Schmidt * All Rights Reserved. 


The So-Called ‘Problem of House Division’ 


terminology for the Greek wherever possible, often to the extinction of the original meaning. The problem is that, even though much modern astrological terminology ultimately derives from the tradition, the original and often quite subtle connota- tions of the original Greek or Latin terms from which the modern terminology derives have disappeared entirely. There is no better example of this than the translation of Greek topos or Latin locus—both of which mean simply mean ‘place’—as ‘house’. The connotations of the word ‘house’ actually take us away from the original sense. 


As for Greek terms that have no modern equivalents—and there are quite a few— these are for the most part rendered by vague or general words that ultimately derive from some equally vague theory of celestial influences on human life. This is what we find in the Greek lexicon, where no real attempt was made to derive the astrological sense from the concrete meanings of the Greek term, and so the original astrological conceptualization of some astronomical phenomena becomes obscured. For example, the astrological entry for chrematizō has ‘operate (of influences)’, despite the fact that this verb does not have that general meaning in any other context; in its most concrete sense, the word simply means ‘to conduct business’ or ‘to transact business’, and so I have translated it. 


We must always keep in mind that the suggested translations given in the Greek lexicon are only as good as the understanding of the lexicographer, in this case A. E. Housman, who by the way was no friend of astrology. He is famous for his sarcastic and deprecating remarks denouncing astrology as a ridiculous discipline and astrologers as idiots. Although he was certainly a distinguished classicist, in this case at least his lexical entries cannot be trusted. He had an assumption that Greek astrology is based on a theory of celestial influences, and that is what prompted his translation of chrematizō as ‘operate’. But of what value is this translation if Greek astrology is not based on such a theory, as it most assuredly is not? 


Much of this Greek technical terminology is itself “self-secret”. Some of it masquerades as simple astronomical terminology, where in fact there is always a deeper astrological significance. Even after one has puzzled out to the fullest the distinctions and details of some doctrine presented in cryptic form, there may be 


© 2016 by Robert H. Schmidt * All Rights Reserved. 


The So-Called ‘Problem of House Division’ 


some remaining uncertainties. It is at that point that one must return to the technical terminology and re-examine it in earnest, because the theory behind the doctrine is often embedded in those very terms. 


I will be giving an example of this in what follows, where the theoretical justification for the use of whole-sign places is partly embedded in the non- astronomical nuances of the Greek terms epanaphora ‘referential sign’, kentron ‘center’, and apoklima ‘decline’, and partly in the term dōdekatropos ‘path having twelve turns’. 


Here again, the safest course is to translate the highly vivid Greek astrological terminology as literally as possible in all cases, even if the result sounds strange at first to the modern ear. Without following this course, there is no hope whatsoever of recovering the original doctrine. 


In this study I will be pairing up some excerpts from Holden’s translation of Firmicus Maternusand Riley’s translation of Vettius Valenswith my own translations. It is not my intent to subject these men to ridicule. The translation of ancient astrological texts is difficult work, and I respect anyone who has attempted it at all. However, Holden’s translation is simply not very faithful to the original, and Riley (whose interest was not primarily the astrological content of Valens) characterized his work as “preliminary” and “not perfected”. 


My own early translations in the ‘90’s were also provisional, and they were done relatively quickly as part of an overarching plan. It seemed to me that nobody had any business publishing a definitive translation of any of these difficult texts without having gone through the entire corpus of surviving works. Project Hindsight was a project, meaning that we intended that there would be an initial phase in which provisional translations of the entire corpus would be published, and then a final phase in which definitive translations could be issued. 


Mathesis, Julius Firmicus Maternus. Edited and Translated from the Latin by James Hershel Holden, M.A. Published by American Federation of Astrologers 2011. 


Mark T. Riley’s translation of Vettius Valens Anthologiae can be found on the internet here: 


© 2016 by Robert H. Schmidt * All Rights Reserved. 


The So-Called ‘Problem of House Division’ 


My early efforts at translation contain many inadequacies. When translating rapidly, it is easy to get an inflection wrong or even overlook a word here and there. In the interest of getting the translation into the hands of our subscribers as soon as possible, I did not always consult the Greek grammar on some of the finer points of the syntax. Some errors were due to an insufficient understanding of the doctrines presented, which are far from being simplistic, and I was not yet familiar with the special compositional devices being employed to encrypt the text. I was constantly experimenting with translations of the technical terminology, so there are many inconsistencies from volume to volume. My translations of some of these terms were mere place-holders, because I was having a hard time matching the semantic field of the Greek word with something from a similar semantic field in English, something I try to do whenever possible. 


But always I was striving for a literal translation. The translations of Holden and Riley are not exactly what I would call literal, and I need to demonstrate that. In some cases I will be discussing their translations in some detail; in other cases I will simply indicate passages of their translations that I take to be outright wrong, misleading, or overly vague. I will do this by underlining the words or phrases in question, allowing the reader to compare their translations with mine directly. 


I hope that those reading this study will get some idea of the manifold difficulties involved in translating Greek astrological texts in such a manner as to reproduce the thought and intentions of the original writer. It can never be done mechanically or routinely. 


Robert H. Schmidt July 10, 2016 


Always Thinking Unto the Problem 


I can’t remember when Bob first told me about the method of Newton – look it up! But it was a long time ago. When I first met Bob, he was 19 and already doing his best to imitate Newton’s practice in his own studies. This was nearly 47 years ago now, and we have been married for 45 of those years. A man can get a lot of thinking done in that amount of time if his wife will allow it. Occasionally, I did get irritated that some practical thing (like making money) was being neglected, but otherwise I was totally in favor of his spending every waking moment studying and thinking. READ AND THINK. That’s what he did, for at least 17,000 workdays of 16+ hours, one after the other, for 47 years. I am the witness that he filled up THE ENTIRE TIMEand then some*WithT*H*O*U*G*H*T*. 


Bob always loved telling others about the wonderful things he uncovered in arcane books over the years, and he particularly welcomed my participation in his work. He never considered that he had finished figuring something out until he could light up my eyes with some new vision. Our entertainment was not TV, but the intense discussion of whatever BIG PROBLEM was occupying us at the time. We’ve always worked on BIG PROBLEMS, always given careful attention to thousands of teeny-tiny interrelated details, one after another, just as you see in this paper. This was His work; helping him was My work; this was, and is, our LIFE. 


Bob encountered the problem of house division about 22 years ago, which means that as an integral part of THE BIG PROBLEM – The Problem of Astrology 
 he has held it <
IN MIND> for around 129,000 hours. Just to give you some measure for comparison, that is more MAN-HOURS than all the characters in his entire paper including commas, periods and spaces (127,768). You are reading this now thanks to the few dedicated people who for years bought our products and donated money to keep our noses above water while we concentrated on fundamental research that made our new Conversation-with-Study possible. If you like it & want to see more: Don’t just applaud, throw $$$$$ & Tell all your friends to BUY this great new set! 

— Ellen Black aka Mrs. Robert H. Schmidt 


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desk with strological charts