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Tetrabiblos is a text on the interpretation of the stars , which the Greek natural scientist Claudius Ptolemy created in the 2nd century AD. The assumption was often made that it was a forgery because one did not want to associate a scientist like Ptolemy with this " superstition ", but the opinion has prevailed that such a relationship was in the ancient worldWorld is quite possible. Ptolemy is therefore considered a reliable author. Ptolemy shows himself to be a supporter of astrology. In the first chapter of his work he explains that the position of the celestial bodies not only causes natural phenomena, such as the ebb and flow of the moon, but also allows the character traits of a person to be assessed and future events to be predicted. In the next chapter he expressly and in detail declares this to be beneficial.


Ptolemy gives no sources of his writing. Analysis of the content leads to the assumption that he excerpted several of the numerous astrological handbooks that were circulating in the Hellenistic spiritual world, including the handbooks of Hermes Trismegistus and Nechepso-Petosiris. Fundamental, however, are the writings of the important polymath Poseidonios , from whom the work titles On Prediction and On Direction have been preserved. but not the works themselves. The geological and ethnographic explanations in Book 2 are also traced back to Posaidonios


Ptolemy divides the diverse areas of astrology into a treatment of the astrological elements and teachings (Book 1), general astrology ( Mundane astrology ) with the presentation of racial and character peculiarities of entire peoples (Book 2) and the genetic dialogue , i.e. H. the individual natal chart (books 3 and 4).

Astrological Elements (Book 1)

Ptolemy founds astrology with the general influence of the heavenly bodies on nature. The sun brings about the change of the seasons, heat and cold, the moon influences the sea and the stars are related to wind and weather (chapter 2). The focus is on the 12 signs of the zodiac , the 7 visible large celestial bodies ( sun , moon , Mercury , Venus , Mars , Jupiter , Saturn ) and their relationships to one another ( aspects , trigons , houses of the planets, exaltation / degradation, etc.). Although the constellations outside of the zodiac play only a minor role in astrology, the main images of the northern sky are listed (Chapter 9). Ptolemy was able to take this from his work Almagest (Book 7, Chapter 5). Finally, the limits of the influence of the great celestial bodies within the zodiac signs are detailed in 3 traditions, the Egyptian, the Chaldean and another mysterious one that Ptolemy claims to have found in an old manuscript.

Oral Astrology (Book 2)

In chap. 2 and 3 of book 2, characteristics of peoples are attributed to geological and astrological influences. Cape. 2 defines the physical and mental abilities of the residents of entire zones by their latitude. As with Aristotle , Vitruvius ( De architectura libri decem , VI, 4) and Pliny the Elder ( Naturalis historia , II 78,189), the savagery of the inhabitants of the northern and southern zones is described. In chap. 3 - one of the most extensive of the treatise - a wider tableau is designed. The well-known oikumene is divided into 4 parts, the basis of which is the division of the zodiac into 4 trigons. So the northwest trine Aries - Leo - Sagittarius u. a. the countries Britannia , Belgium , Germania assigned and their inhabitants various things, such as "joy in arms", but also "lust that is not directed at women." Similarly, the entire known world is divided up and its inhabitants because of Influence of trigons and planets Attributes and actions: bold, freedom-loving, ugly and obnoxious, astute, engaging in highway robbery or sexual intercourse with their mothers, etc.

In chap. 11 a relationship is established between the signs of the zodiac and the weather. The natural scientist Ptolemy postulates here that the heat of summer is based on the influence of the zodiac sign Leo (July 24th-23rd) and the cold of winter on that of Capricorn (December 22nd-January 20th).

Genetic Dialogue (Book 3, Book 4)

Starting from the date of birth or the moment of conception , the astrological instruments set out in Book 1 are used to identify characteristics and fate of a person: body shape, illnesses, but also employment opportunities, friends / enemies, number of children, etc. Even the birth of a king becomes through suitable Planetary position displayed (Book 3, On Honor and Reputation ). The determination of the service life takes up a lot of space. In book 3 there are several chapters about this ( about the lifespan , about life extenders , about the number of years of life , an example is also calculated). In book 4, fateful shortenings of life are presented again ( On the nature of death ).

Tradition and survival

Tetrabiblos is one of the most important books in the history of astrology. Ptolemy systematized the astrological knowledge of his time and laid the foundations for future astrology. The use of the work by numerous subsequent authors, such as Firmicus Maternus , Hephaistion von Thebes, and Paulos Alexandrinos can be proven.

However, with Christianity becoming more and more prevalent , astrology was pushed back. In particular the church father Augustine of Hippo turned against the deceptive prophecies of the astrologers ( Confessiones , VII.6). Therefore, of the 35 or so manuscripts of the work (or parts of the work) that have been preserved in the great libraries of Europe, the earliest date from the 13th century. Previously, Greek / Arabic influences and astrological writings had penetrated the Latin West via Spain and later led to a renewed flowering of astrology in the 15th to 17th century.

The first edition was created in 1535 by Joachim Camerarius , the Greek text together with a Latin translation of a large part. Its second edition in 1553 contains the translation into Latin by the important classical philologist and Lutheran theologian Philipp Melanchthon . M. Erich Winkel published his translation of this edition into German in 1923. It contains a letter from Melanchthon to the German scholar and statesman Erasmus Ebner , in which he defends astrology.

The science of astrology is valuable and true, it is a crown of the human race and all of its venerable wisdom is the testimony of God

it says in the translation by M. Erich Winkel. The critical edition created by Franz Boll did not appear until 1940 - and thus posthumously - as part of the complete edition of Ptolemy's works by Wolfgang Huebner in BG Teubner Verlag .

Text editions and translations

  • Philipp Melanchthon: Phil.Mel.interpretatio operis Quadripartiti Claudii Ptolemaei de praedictionibus astronomicis in Corpus Reformatorum , Vol.XVIII, Philippi Melanchthonis Opera quae supersunt omnia , Halle 1852.
  • Frank Egleston Robbins (ed. And translator): Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Massachusetts) / London 1940.
  • M. Erich Winkel: Tetrabiblos. Book I and II, Berlin-Pankow 1923
  • M. Erich Winkel: Tetrabiblos. Book III and IV, Berlin-Pankow 1923
  • M. Erich Winkel: Tetrabiblos. New edition, Tübingen 2012, ISBN 978-3-925100-17-8 .


  • Franz Boll: Studies on Claudius Ptolemy. Leipzig 1894.
  • Wilhelm Gundel , Hans Georg Gundel : Astrologumena, the astrological literature in antiquity and its history. Wiesbaden 1966.
  • Wilhelm Knappich : History of Astrology. Frankfurt 1967.

Single receipts

  1. ^ Franz Boll: Studies on Claudius Ptolemy. Pp. 111-188.
  2. ^ Wilhelm Knappich: History of Astrology. 1967, p. 96.
  3. ^ Wilhelm Gundel, Hans Georg Gundel: Astrologumena. P. 206 f.
  4. Christa-Vera Grewe: Investigation of the scientific fragments of the Stoic philosopher Poseidonios and their significance for natural philosophy. Pp. 72, 75.
  5. ^ Franz Boll: Studies on Claudius Ptolemy. Pp. 194-235.
  6. ^ Wilhelm Knappich: History of Astrology. 1967, p. 96.
  7. ^ Wilhelm Knappich: History of Astrology. 1967, p. 209.
  8. ^ Franz Boll: Studies on Claudius Ptolemy. P. 190
  9. ^ Franz Boll: Studies on Claudius Ptolemy. Pp. 194-211
  10. ^ Wilhelm Gundel, Hans Georg Gundel: Astrologumena. P. 209 f.
  11. ^ Wilhelm Knappich: History of Astrology. 1967, p. 96.
  12. ^ Wilhelm Gundel, Hans Georg Gundel: Astrologumena. P. 210.
  13. ^ Wilhelm Knappich: History of Astrology. 1967, p. 109, p. 114.
  14. ^ FE Robbins: PTOLEMY, TETRABIBLOS. Introduction, XVII ff.
  15. ^ Wilhelm Knappich: History of Astrology. 1967, p. 156 and 185.
  16. ^ Heinrich Ernst Bindseil : Philippi Melanchthoni's Opera quae supersunt omnia. Pp. 6-11.
  17. Helga Gärtner: "Finsternisse" and the Heidelberg Classical Philology: Franz Boll in (Ed.) Helga Köhler, Herwig Görgemanns , Manuel Baumbach : Stürmend auf sinsterempfad ... , Heidelberg 2000, p. 86