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Astrology persisted as the most successful intellectual movement of all epochs. it infected every culture, no matter what the prevailing religion; it infiltrated all levels of education. It penetrated into dying Egyptian civilization and into the vital, mature life of the Greeks, the Hindus, and the Chinese, into the flowering Arabic culture and the budding culture of the Occident during the Middle Ages.
Believers in Christ and Mohammed, in the Platonic Eros and the wisdom of Confucius, paid tribute to it. It affected equally those whose goal was Buddhistic contemplation and Roman organization. It captured the minds of superstitious fellahin and sophisticated mandarins, mystics in monks’ cowls and Stoics in togas, Caesars of the second century and popes of the sixteenth, the visionary who wrote the Apocalypse and the mathematical genius Ptolemy.
lts conquest of the Greeks was swiftest and most complete of all. That this should have been so runs exactly contrary to one’s notions.· The Greeks of all people would seem to have been immune to such beliefs. They were a daylight people who saw all things concretely, who cast abstract ideas into tangible form.
So humanized were their gods that a savage fetish would arouse mystical ideas more easily than such gods. Their cult of heroes erased the boundaries between god and man, and ended by building temples for the living. Nothing could have been further from the minds of the Greeks, it would seem, than viewing the night sky as ruler of man’s soul and destiny.
Of course, the Greeks shared the universal human dread of the wrath of Heaven, which comets and eclipses patently proclaimed. But Pericles showed his soldiers that they had nothing to fear from an eclipse by giving them a scientific explanation; he held a cloak in front of a lamp to demonstrate what happened during an eclipse. General Nieias was despised by the public for abandoning a siege because of an ill omen. Aristophanes called the Moon and Sun “gods of the barbarians.” And yet these very same Greeks developed astrology into a rigid system of dogma. The stages by which this earthiest of cultures paradoxically arrived at a form of celestial mysticism can be traced step by step. It began with Plato.
His universal spirit was open to all suggestions from other realms of the mind. Plato had one Chaldean as a friend, and one as a disciple. Perhaps influenced by them, he took up the idea that hitherto had only been hinted at in the Orphic mysteries: that the stars possessed a divine nature. The stars, Plato went on to teach, consisted of the four elements plus a soul. This wholly un-Greek conception opened wide the gates to Babylonian astrology. Aristotle, ordinarily so critical, spoke with enthusiasm about the stars as animate beings. The Stoic philosophers, in their turn, attributed to them emotion, understanding, and will.