Category: History

Ghosts and the Society for Psychical Research

Sometime in the mid 1770s the German scholar Georg Christoph Lichtenberg predicted with a certain degree of optimism:

Our world will yet become so intricate that it will be as ridiculous to believe in a god as it is nowadays to believe in ghosts.[1]

Although Lichtenberg investigated electrical phenomena and is credited with discovering “Lichtenberg Figures,” he is probably most widely known for his aphorism, pithy observations on the natural and social world around him that fill a number of notebooks, Sudelbücher as he called them in German. While his prediction about a belief in god might one day be accurate, his claim about how ridiculous it was in the 1770s to believe in ghosts seems to have been unfounded (or perhaps only locally true).

Just a century later, in 1882, the newly founded Society of Psychical Research stated as one of its primary goals the investigation of haunted houses and ghosts. Listed as one of the “Objects of the Society” was:

A careful investigation of any reports, resting on strong testimony, regarding apparitions at the moment of death, or otherwise, or regarding disturbances in houses reputed to be haunted.

To realize this goal the Society of Psychical Research set up the “Committee on Haunted Houses.” In the first volume of the Proceedings of the Society of Psychical Research the Committee published a detailed report on two reportedly haunted houses. But first the authors of the report laid out their criteria for assessing alleged hauntings, which included efforts to distinguish between apparitions and “ordinary hallucination[s]” and finding corroborating testimony or external evidence. In the case of corroborating testimony, the committee recognized the possibility that “several persons [could] misinterpret the same phenomena in the same manner, exemplifying what is called ‘collective delusion’.” And, of course, the committee had to trust the witness, which relied less on corroborating evidence and more on the social standing of the individual.

First report of the Committee on Haunted Houses, Society of Psychical Research.

Apparently, in the 1880s England haunted houses were relatively common. The committee remarked that their efforts to collect reports of haunted houses “has been fruitful beyond our expectations; we have obtained a large mass of testimony.” Many of the subsequent volumes of the Proceedings included long and detailed reports on haunted houses. In the first report, the committee analyzed two cases of haunted houses in order to present their methods of investigation and, it seems, to demonstrate their general skepticism about ghosts.

In the first case, a Mr. X. Z. encountered an apparition around 1:00 AM:

At first Mr. X. Z. was dazzled by the light, but when his eyes became used to it he saw, standing at the end of the passage, about 35 feet from him, an old man in a figured dressing-gown. The face of this old man, which Mr. X. Z. saw quite clearly, was most hideous; so evil was it that both expression and features were firmly imprinted on his memory. As Mr. X. Z. was still looking, figure and light both vanished, and left him in pitch darkness.

Mr. X. Z. learned the following day that a previous occupant, an old man, had strangled his wife and then cut his own throat “on the very spot where Mr. X. Z. had seen the figure.” Mr. X. Z. wasn’t the only person to experience something disconcerting. Another man who a year later had come to stay at the house, abruptly left after one night. He had been kept awake by “cryings and groanings, blasphemous oaths, and cries of despair” at his bedroom door, “the spot where the murderer had committed suicide.” Finally, a few years later, Mr. X. Z. was in London visiting the owner of house. While there he saw a portrait and claimed it was the same face he had seen on the apparition. The painting was a portrait of the old man who had murdered his wife and then committed suicide.

The committee would not easily be led into believing this was an actual ghost. Instead, they adopted a more skeptical position, offering only a summary of the evidence.

The second case was, again, a haunting linked to an unfortunate death in a House, in this case a young woman.[2] In this case the committee amassed considerable testimony—six different witnesses of “high character” had in a “plain and straightforward manner” claimed to have seen a “shadowy figure”—but the committee withheld judgement. It is unclear whether a disbelief in ghosts motivated the committee’s skepticism or a recognition that their audience would be unlikely to be persuaded prompted them to adopt an agnostic position. At least one member of the committee, Frank Podmore, had a nuanced relationship with the various claims to paranormal phenomena. He established himself as the Society’s resident skeptic. Over the years he would write a number of reports on haunted houses.

Frank Podmore, resident skeptic in the Society of Psychical Research.

Whatever the final position the Society of Psychical Research adopted with respect to ghosts and haunted houses, Lichtenberg was clearly mistaken when he dismissed as ridiculous society’s belief in ghosts. Ghosts and apparitions were alive and well at least a century later.


  1. The original German: “Unsere Welt wird noch so fein werden, daß es so lächerlich sein wird einen Gott zu glauben als heutzutage Gespenster.” This aphorism is in “Sudelbuch D,” conveniently available at the Spiegel Online collection of Lichtenberg’s works.  ↩

  2. The details of the woman’s death were intentionally not reported: “…the circumstances attending her death, which lend a tragic interest to the commonplace details of the following narrative, we are not a liberty to enter.” The committee regularly exercises discretion in what identifying and specific details they publish, usually, it seems, in an effort to protect the value of the property or the reputation of the people involved.  ↩

Chambers Full of Snakes

Thumbing through a couple early modern collections of secrets always turns up strange and fascinating techniques and recipes. Some seem obviously useful, such as how to make a candle burn under water or make one burn forever. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, recipes to treat wounds and restore health are common. We find numerous recipes about curing various types of tooth aches (which also suggests a rather refined taxonomy of dental pains), or recipes for removing corns and warts., or how to cure a tooth ache. Some recipes seem to treat familiar issues, such as the recipe for an ointment that you comb into your roots to make the hair on your head grow thick and lush, or the recipe for a paste that when applied to your limbs removes hair. Or the paste that prevents pimples.

But other recipes seem of limited or very particular use. For example, at least a handful of books of secrets include a technique for making a chamber appear to be filled with snakes. Far from a temporary fad, we can find these recipes in books from at least the mid-sixteenth century until the mid-seventeenth century.

Most of the techniques are broadly similar, varying only in the details. These two recipes offer typical instructions:

  • From Thomas Hyll’s A Briefe and Pleasant Treatise (1586):

How to make thy Chamber appeare full of Snakes and Adders. TO doo this, kyll a Snake, putting the same into a Panne with Waxe and let it so long boyle: vntyll the same be throughe drye, and of that Waxe make a Candle, lighting the same in the Chamber, and then after shall appeare, as though there were a thousand creeping in thy Chamber.

Title page from Richard Amyas’s An Antidote against Melancholy (1659)
Richard Amyas’ An Antidote against Melancholy and 53 other secrets.
  • From Richard Amyas’s An Antidote Against Melancholy (1659):

A device to make a Chamber to appear full of Adders and Snakes. Kill a dozen Adders and Snakes, and take the oyl of them, and mix it with wax, and make a Candle, light it in a Chamber where rushes are, and the rushes will appear to be Adders and Snakes about the Room.

In what context would this secret be useful or even desirable? Were people in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England inveterate and enthusiastic pranksters? Was this some form of defense, terrifying would be burglars and thereby protecting your belongings? How are we to read and understand these recipes, which seem so different from the more utilitarian and practical recipes?

Στοιχειωματικοὶ were casters of something

As progress continues on Ptolemy’s  Ὁ Καρπός I find myself confronting more and more questions that E. Boer’s critical edition does not and cannot answer.[1] Some of these questions are small and probably of interest only to a sliver of scholars. Other seem a bit broader, such as: How did the talented humanist, scholar, and bibliophile Johannes Sambucus make sense of aphorism 21 since one of his copies encouraged him to consider when the moon is in Cancer or Pisces and yet his other copy told him to consider when the moon is in Scorpio or Pisces (as we read in Boer’s edition)?[2] How did he decide which copy to trust, assuming he read and understood either?

Sambucus’s two versions of Aphorism 21
ÖNB Manuscript Greek English
Cod. Phil. gr. 37 τῆς «σελήνης» οὔσης ἐν τῷ «καρκινῳ» ἢ τοῖς «ἰχθύσι» καὶ τοῦ κυρίου τοῦ ὡροσκόπου συνάπτοντος ἀστέρι ὑπὸ γῆν ὄντι, … When the moon is in Cancer or Pisces and the lord of the ascendent is in conjunction with a star under the earth,…
Cod. Phil. gr. 49 Τῆσ «σελήνης» οὔσησ ἐν τῷ «Σκορπίῳ» ἢ τοῖσ «Ἰχθύσι» καὶ τοῦ κυρίου τοῦ ὡροσκόπου συνάπτοντοσ ἀστέρι ὑπὸ γῆν ὄντι, … When the moon is in Scorpio or Pisces and the lord of the ascendent is in conjunction with a star under the earth,…

Or, for another example, how should we proceed when Boer claims that all Greek copies lack aphorism 98 and so includes that aphorism from the Latin tradition (“hic aphorismus in omnibus codicibus Graecis nunc deest, supplevi ex Lat.”) and yet many Greek manuscripts do have an aphorism 98 (though not the one Boer supplies). Are we to assume that readers of these Greek copies somehow knew that they were missing aphorism 98 (despite having one in the 98th position)? I have yet to find any evidence that early readers thought their copy was missing aphorism 98 (and none that don’t have 100 aphorisms).[3]

At the same time I am confronting other questions about how to translate certain expressions and terms. Some of these translation issues I’ve recognized as I work through the aphorisms the first time (e.g., καταντήματοϲ). Other translation issues I’ve realized as I go back and polish my translation. Recently, when looking back over some early aphorisms, I encountered just such an issue with a particular term: στοιχειωματικοὶ.

At first glance, οἱ στοιχειωματικοὶ is not a problematic term. Liddell and Scott are clear: “persons who cast nativities from the signs of the Zodiac.” They even cite aphorism 9 of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός as an example. Good. Done. But then I came across an older article by C. Blum that seemed relevant: “The Meaning of στοιχεῖον and Its Derivatives in the Byzantine Age. A Study in Byzantine Magic.” Starting from an analysis of texts about Apollonius of Tyana (who was famous for making talismans) and moving from there to a number of related texts, Blum argues forcefully that “στοιχειοῦν was a technical term for the practices Apollonius, and that, accordingly, στοιχειωματικός was the professional name for such a man” (316). In other words, a στοιχειωματικός made talismans. Blum too refers to aphorism 9 of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός in the end, saying that with his definition of στοιχειωματικός

we are able to understand a disputed passage, viz. Pseudo-Ptolemæus Centiloquium, edition of 1553, p. 214: Τὰ ἐν τῇ γενέσει καὶ φθορᾷ εἴδη πάσχει ὑπὸ τῶν οὐρανίων εἰδῶν. διὰ τοῦτο χρῶνται τούτοις οἱ στοιχειωματικοὶ , τὰς ἐπεμβάσεις τῶν ἀστέρων σκοποῦντες ἐπ᾽αὐτά (324)

I find Blum’s argument powerful if not entirely persuasive. Στοιχειωματικοί is used only once in the Ὁ Καπρός, so there’s no easy way to compare its possible meanings across examples. I’ve not yet done enough work to see if it is always linked to magic and talismans, as Blum argues is the case. And simply because στοιχειωματικοὶ could describe a maker of talismans doesn’t demonstrate that it always and only identified such a person (to be clear, Blum argues for such a unique connection). Different versions of the Latin Centiloquium as well as many English translations accept that aphorism 9 is about people who “frame of images” (typically glossed as makers of talismans). The one Greek copy I have found with a Latin gloss does not clarify things much (BnF gr. 2180).

Accepting Blum’s authority (and the widespread conviction that aphorism 9 is about talismans), I have tentatively adjusted my translation to be:

Curent working translation of Aphorism 9
Aphorism Greek English
9 Τὰ ἐν τῇ γενέσει καὶ φθορᾷ εἴδη πάσχει ὑπὸ τῶν οὐρανίων εἰδῶν. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο χρῶνται οἱ στοιχειοματικοὶ τούτοισ, τὰϲ ἐπεμβάσεισ τῶν ἀστέρων ^σκοποῦντεσ ἐπ᾽αὐτήν ἐπ’αὐτά. In their generation and corruption [terrestrial] forms are affected by the celestial forms. And for this reason casters of nativities makers of talismans consult them by examining the ingresses of the stars into them.

I still need to do more work to convince myself that Blum’s translation applies here, so I reserve the right to revise and change my mind in the future. Stay tuned (if you’re a total nerd).


  1. This is not a criticism of Boer’s edition, which is excellent, but rather a concern about critical editions in general. Boer made a number of editorial choices that rendered the text homogenous and unproblematic. In the process, the text loses features and difficulties that earlier readers had to confront. The critical apparatus with its daunting and cumbersome (and therefore exclusionary) system of symbols and multiple footnote streams does little to restore those features if for no other reason than few people make the effort to use the critical apparatus to reconstruct variations in the manuscript. It’s too much of a pain. My concerns about critical editions are not new (and this footnote is not the place to rehearse and discuss them, but don’t be surprised if in the near future I spend considerable time and space thinking aloud about them), but I don’t think scholarship has yet taken those concerns seriously and tried to address them, whether in traditional print form or through dynamic digital publications.  ↩

  2. Sambucus’s contemporary Augerius von Busbeck also had a copy of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός that included the same wording. Busbeck purchased a fifteenth-century copy in sixteenth-century in Constantinople and brought back to Vienna.  ↩

  3. There’s a related issue in aphorism 100 in Boer’s edition. A number of the Greek copies divide Boer’s aphorism 100 into multiple aphorisms with no evidence that they thought these aphorisms should be combined into a single one.  ↩

More Ὁ Καρπός Fun

Here is the next group of ten aphorisms, 21–30, from the copy of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός in BNF gr. 2180. Idiosyncrasies continue to be the norm. As is common in this text, along with the orthographic tendency to reflect pronunciation, these aphorisms often lack words and include numerous errors (usually in grammatical case). Interestingly, the later reader who added the Latin gloss tended to add the correct case. Along with the Latin translations he adds, it seems like he was copying the Latin from another text rather than translating directly from the Greek.[1]

Folio 91v from BNF gr. 2180, aphorisms 18–34.

Here is an initial translation.

Translation of Aphorisms 21–30 from BNF 2180
Aphorism BNF gr. 2180 Translation
κα’ Τῆϲ [σελήνης] οὔσηϲ ἐν τῷ [Σκορπίῳ] ἢ ἐν [Ἰχθύσι] καὶ τοῦ κυρίου τοῦ ὡροσκόπου συνάπτοντοϲ ἀστέρει ὑπὸ γῆν ὄντι, ἀγαθὸν καθαρσίοισ χρᾶσθαι· εἰ δὲ συνάπτει ἀστέρι ὑπὲρ γῆν ὄντι, ἐμέσει τὸ καθάρσιον ὁ πιών. When the moon is in Scorpio or in Pisces and the lord of the ascendent is in conjunction with a star that is under the earth, the purge will work well; but if it is in conjunction with a star that is above the earth, he having drunk the purgative will vomit it up.
κβ’ Μὴ χρῶ μήτε μὴν κόψεισ ἱμάτιον τῆσ [σελήνης] οὔσηϲ ἐν τῷ λέοντι. εἰ δὲ κεκακομένη ἐστὶν, μεῖζον τὸ κακὸν, καὶ χείριστον τὸ ἐνεργουμενον. Do not use or above all cut clothes when the moon is in Leo. And if it becomes unpropitious, the ill effect is greater, and the work will be worse.
κγ’ Ὁ σχηματισμὸϲ τῆσ [σελήνης] πρὸσ τοὺϲ ἀστέραϲ εὐκίνητον τὸν γενώμενον ποίει, καὶ εἴ μὲν δυνατοὶ ὑπάρχουσιν οἱ ἀστέρεσ, δηλοῦσιν ἐπιτευτικὴν τὴν κίνησιν. εἰ δ᾽ ἀσθενεῖσ, ἄπρακτον. The configuration of the moon to the stars makes the Native easily moved [fickle? changeable?], and if the stars are powerful, they indicate a favorable change. But if weak, unfavorable.
κδ’ Ἡ ἔκλειψις τῶν φώτων ἐν τοῖϲ κέντροισ τοῖϲ γενεθληακοῖς γινωμένοιϲ ἢ τοῖϲ τῶν ἐναλαγῶν τῶν ἐτῶν ^βλαβερά λάμβανε δὲ τὸν τόπον ἐκ τῆϲ μεταξὺ διαστάσεωϲ τοῦ ὡροσκόπου καὶ τοῦ τόπου τῆϲ ἐκλείψεωϲ. καὶ ὥσπερ λαμβάνεισ τοὺϲ χρόνουϲ ἀπὸ τῆσ ὥραϲ τῆσ ἐκλείψεωσ, οὕτωϲ καὶ τοὺς μῆναϲ ἀπὸ τοῦ τόπου τῆϲ σεληνιακῆσ ἐκλείψεως. The eclipse of the luminaries occurring in cardinal points of the nativity or in those of the revolutions of the years is harmful. But take the place from the interval between the ascendent and the place of the eclipse. And just as you take the time from the hour of the eclipse, thus also the month from the place of the lunar eclipse.
κε’ Ποίει τὸν περίπατον τοῦ ἐπικρατήτοροϲ, ὅτε ἐστὶν ἐν τῷ μεσουρανήμα, διὰ τῶν ἀναφορῶν τῆϲ ὀρθῆϲ σφαίραϲ, ὅτε δέ ἐστιν ἐν τῷ ὡροσκόπῳ, διὰ τῶν ἀναφορῶν τοῦ κλίματοϲ. Make the progression of the ruling planet, when it is at the zenith, by the rising of the right sphere, when it is at the ascendent, by the rising of the clime.
κϛ’ Κρύπτηται πάλιν τὸ πρᾶγμα, ὅταν ὁ δηλὸν αὐτὸσ ἀστὴρ συνοδεύει τῷ ἡλίῳ ἢ ὑπὸ γῆν ἢ ἐν ἀνοικείῳ τόπῳ. φανερὸν δέ ἅρα τὸ πρᾶγμα, ὅταν δὲ ἐκ ταπεινώματοϲ ἀναφέρηται ἐπὶ τὸ ὕψωμα καὶ ὑπάρχει ἐν οἰκείῳ τόπῳ. The matter is again concealed, whenever the star signifying it is itself in conjunction with the sun either under the earth or not in its own domicile. But the matter is manifest, whenever it is brought back from its dejection to its exaltation and is in its own house.
κζ’ Ἡ Ἀφροδίτῃ περιποιεῖται τὸ γεννωμένῳ ἡδονὴν, οὗ κυριεύει τὸ ζῴδιον, ἐν ᾧ ὑπάρχει· τὸ δὲ αὐτὸ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν λοιπῶν ἀστέρων νόει. Venus preserves for the Native pleasure [in that part of the body] that the sign in which it [Venus] is rules. And understand the same thing for the remaining stars.
κη’ Ὅτε οὐ δυνηθεῖς ποῖησαι συνοδεύειν τὴν [σελήνην] δυσίν ἄστροις, ποίησον ταύτην συνοδέβειν τινὶ ἀπλανὴ κρᾶσιν ἔχοντι τουτῶν. When you are not able make the moon conjoin with the two stars, make it conjoin with a fixed one having their disposition.
κθ’ Οἱ ἀπλανεῖϲ ἀστέρεσ παρέχουσιν εὐτυχίαϲ ἀλόγων καὶ παραδόξων, ἀλλ’ ὡϲ ἐπὶ τὸ πλεῖστον ἐπισφραγίζουσιν ταύταϲ δυϲτυχίαϲ εἰ μὴ καὶ οἱ πλανηται τη εὐτυχια συνοδευσιν. The fixed stars bestow unexpected and surprising successes, but for the most part they confirm these ill fortunes unless the planets conform to the success.
λ’ Ἰδὲ ἐν ταῖϲ ἀναγορεύσεσιν τῶν βασιλέων· εἰ συμφωνεῖ ὡ ὁρωσκόποϲ τῆσ γενήσεωϲ τοῦ παιδὸϲ τοῦ βασιλέως, γενήσηται ὁ τοιοῦτος διάδοχοϲ τῆϲ βασιλείαϲ. As for the proclamations of kings[2], if the ascendent of the king’s son’s birth is suitable, such a son will become the successor of the kingdom. [3]

Looking at aphorism 30, we can see how this copy is unique and lacking some helpful words, at least when compared to the edition.

Aphorism 30 from BNF gr. 2180 and the Critical Edition
BNF gr. 2180 Edition Translation
Ἰδὲ ἐν ταῖϲ ἀναγορεύσεσιν τῶν βασιλέων· εἰ συμφωνεῖ ὡ ὁρωσκόποϲ τῆσ γενήσεωϲ τοῦ παιδὸϲ τοῦ βασιλέως, γενήσηται ὁ τοιοῦτος διάδοχοϲ τῆϲ βασιλείαϲ. Ἰδὲ ἐν ταῖς ἀναγορεύσεσι τῶν βασιλέων· εἰ συμφωνεῖ ὁ ὡροσκόπος τῆς ἀναγορεύσεως τῷ ὡροσκόπῳ τῆς γεννήσεως τοῦ παιδὸς τοῦ βασιλέως, γενήσεται ὁ τοιοῦτος διάδοχος τῆς βασιλείας. As for the proclamations of the kings, if the ascendent of the time of the proclamation harmonizes with the ascendent of time of the birth of the emperor’s son, then such a son will become successor of the kingdom.

The version in the edition helps make sense of the aphorism. As it turns out, aphorism 30 varies quite a lot from copy to copy. A quick look at three other copies, two 15th-century copies and a 16th-century copy, all differ from each other in notable ways:

Variants of Aphorism 30 in Four Different Manuscripts
BNF gr. 2180 Harley MS 5597 BNF gr. 2027 BNF Coislin 338
Ἰδὲ ἐν ταῖϲ ἀναγορεύσεσιν τῶν βασιλέων· εἰ συμφωνεῖ ὡ ὁρωσκόποϲ τῆσ γενήσεωϲ τοῦ παιδὸϲ τοῦ βασιλέως, γενήσηται ὁ τοιοῦτος διάδοχοϲ τῆϲ βασιλείαϲ. Ἰδὲ ἐν ταῖϲ ἀναγορεύσεσι τῶν βασιλέων εἰ συμφωνεῖ ὁ ὁρωσκόπος τῆς ἀναγορεύσεως τῷ ὡροσκόπῳ τῆσ βασιλείας ἐκεὶνης. ἐιδὲ ἐν ταῖσ ἀπαρχαῖσ τοῦ γένουσ ἀναγορεύουσι τῶν βασιλέων καὶ εἰ συμφωνεῖ ὁ ὡροσκόπος τῆσ ἀναγορευσεως τῶ ὡροσκόπῳ τῆσ γεννήσεως τοῦ παιδόσ τοῦ βασιλέως, γενήσηται διάδοχοσ οὗτος τῆς βασιλείας. ἰδὲ ἐν ταῖσ ἀπαρχαῖσ ἀναγορεύσεσι τοῦ γένους τῶν βασιλέων, καὶ εἰ συμφωνεῖ ὁ ὡροσκόπος τῆσ ἀναγορευσεως τῶ ὡροσκόπῳ τῆσ γεννήσεως τοῦ παιδόσ τοῦ βασιλέως, γενήσηται ὁ τοιοῦτος διάδοχος τοῦ βασιλέως.

Such variations and the inferences needed to make sense of the aphorism raise questions about the authority and use of the edition. What goal does the edition hope to achieve? Many early readers encountered a text that was at times very different from the version in the critical edition. And watching our reader gloss BNF gr. 2180, at times those differences caused him to understand that aphorism in markedly different (if not incompatible) ways. What do we lose by relying on the edition? To be sure, we can only in lucky instances know which edition an early reader encountered (this is certainly true in the manuscript tradition and probably more common than we acknowledge during the early printed period). Such worries are not new. And I don’t have solutions to the problems those worries present. But I think it’s worth remembering that editions are problematic. I also think it’s worth remembering that we should not defer to editions merely because they are handy (and easy to read in modern type) or because by invoking the name of some erudite scholar and the imprimatur of an expensive press project some authority.


  1. At the moment this is no more than a hunch. Time and energy permitting, I’ll compare his Latin with typical printed copies to see if they correspond to each other. It is, of course, possible that he was copying from a manuscript copy, in which case finding it seems rather improbable.  ↩

  2. Here “ἀναγόρευσις/ἀναγορεύω” (i.e., “proclamation”) should probably be understood as the time when the king (or emperor) was officially named or crowned.  ↩

  3. This translates the aphorism as it is, which varies markedly from the version in the edition.  ↩

Aphorisms 11–20 from Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός

Here are aphorisms 11–20 from the copy of Ptolemy’s “Ὁ Καρπός” in BnF gr. 2180. As to be expected, there are a number of idiosyncrasies here, some going well beyond the orthographic changes (which are unsurprising really). In some cases, this copy of the text includes additional clauses that raise interesting questions. For example, the “τοῦ παρόντοϲ ἔργου” at the end of aphorism 11. How are we to understand the distinction between the common “τοῦ προκειμένου πράγματοϲ” and the added “τοῦ παρόντοϲ ἔργου” in this copy? Did the copiest understand a semantic difference between “πράγματοϲ” and “ἔργου”? And why did the later reader who glossed so much of the text ignore aphorism 15?

The first seventeen aphorisms from a 15th-century copy of Ptolemy’s Ὁ Καρπός.
Translation of Aphorisms 11–20 from BnF 2180
Aphorism BnF 2180 Translation
ια’ Μὴ πρώτερον ἐπιλέξεισ ἡμέραν καὶ ὥραν, πρὶν ἤ διαγνώναι τὴν ποιώτητα τοῦ προκειμένου πράγματοϲ, τοῦ παρόντοϲ ἔργου. Do not first select the day and hour before you discern the quality of the proposed matter, of the present action.
ιβ’ Ἡ φηλία καὶ τὸ μῖσοϲ κολύουσιν τὸ ὐπροβαίνειν ἀληθὴ τὸ ἀποτελέσμα, ἐλαττοῦσιν γὰρ τὰ μέγιστα καὶ μεγαλύνουσιν τὰ σμικρώτατα. Love and hate impede arriving at true astrological judgements, for they diminish strong things and magnify very weak things.
ιγ’ Ὅτε δηλώσει ἡ οὐρανία θέσει τι, χρῶ συνεργοῖϲ καὶ τοῖϲ φθαρτικοῖϲ ἄστροιϲ ἤτοι τοῖσ δευτερίοισ. When the celestial disposition signifies something, use the cooperating and the destructive stars, that is the secondary ones.
ιδ’ Ὢ ὁπόσα σφάληται ὁ ἐπιστήμων, ὅτε ὁ ἕβδομοϲ τόποϲ καὶ ὁ κύριοϲ αὐτοῦ ὦσιν κεκακομένοι. Oh, how many things baffle/frustrate the man wise in astrology, when the seventh house and its lord have been rendered unpropitious.
ιε’ Ὁ ὡροσκόποϲ τῶν ἐχθρῶν τοῦ βασιλέως ἢ τῆς βασιλείας εἰσὶν τὰ ἀποκεκληκότα ζῴδια ἀπὸ τοῦ ὡροσκόπου αὐταῖς, οἱ δὲ ὡροσκόποι τῶν κυρίων εἰσὶν τὰ κέντρα, καὶ οἱ ὡροσκόποῦντεσ τῶν δὲ ἐν αὐτοῖϲ ἀπὸστρεφωμένων εἰσὶν αἱ ἐπαναφοραί. τὸ αὐτὸ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν δογμάτων. The ascendent of the enemies of the king or the kingdom are the cadent signs from their ascendent, and the ascendent of their rulers are the cardinals, and the ascendents of those who dwell in them (what I read as ἀποστρεφομενων should probably be ἀναστρεφομενων) are the succedents. And the same thing in beliefs.
ιϛ’ Ὅτε κυριεύσουσιν οἱ ἀγαθοποιοὶ τὸν η’ τόπον, ἐπάγουσιν τὴν βλάβην ἀπὸ ἀνδρῶν ἀγα[θῶν], εἰ δὲ ἀγαθύνονται, ἀπαλάττουσι ταύτηϲ. When the benefics rule the eighth house they cause damage to good men, but if they are made good, they depart from this.
ιζ’ Ὅτε ἀποτελεῖσ περὶ τινοϲ ζωῆς γέροντοϲ, μὴ πρότερον ἀποτελέσεις, πρὶν ἂν καταμετρήσεις, πόσα ἐνδέχεται τοῦτον ἔτει ζῆσαι. When you forecast about a particular life of an old man, do not first forecast before you have measured how long it is possible that this one still lives.
ιη’ Ὅτε οἱ δύο φωστῆρεσ ἐν ἑνὶ λεπτῷ ὥσιν, ὡροσκοπεῖ δὲ καὶ ἀγαθοποιόϲ, ἐν πᾶσιν ἔσται εὐτυχὲισ τοῖϲ ἀνὰ χεῖρα ὁ γινόμενοϲ· ὡϲ αύτωϲ καὶ εἰ διαμετροῦσιν ἀλλήλοιϲ ἀπὸ τοῦ ὡροσκόπου καὶ τοῦ δύνοντοϲ. εἰ δὲ κακοποιόϲ ἐστιν ἐν τῷ ὡροσκόπῳ, νόει τὸ ἐναντίον. When the two luminaries [i.e., the sun and moon] are in a single minute, and also the benefic is the ascendent, the Native will be fortunate in all things that come his way. Just as also if they oppose each other from the ascendent and from the descendent. But if a malefic is on the ascendent, suspect the opposite.
ιθ’ Ἀμβλύνηται ἡ τοῦ καθαρσίου ἐνέργεια τῆσ [σελήνης] συνοδευούσησ τῷ Διί. The action/effect of purification loses is dulled when the moon is in conjunction with Jupiter.
κ’ Μὴ ἅψῃ μόριον σιδήρω ἡ σελήνη ἐπεχούσα τὼ ζῴδιον, ὃ κυριεύει τοῦ μορίου ἐκείνου. Do not touch a part of the body with iron when the moon is in the sign that rules that part of the body.

As always, I reserve the right to change these translations when I learn that I made a mistake. For example, I might revise aphorism 9 because there is, apparently, some debate about the meaning of the term “οἱ στοιχειοματικοὶ” (see “Ὁ Καρπός, Aphorisms 6–10”). Relying on classical sources, Liddell and Scott translate “στοιχειοματικοὶ” as “casters of nativities.” According to C. Blum, later sources indicate a shift in meaning to one that implies a more magical practice. Something closer to “making amulets” or “making talismans.” I haven’t finished the article, so I don’t know yet if the arguments it persuasive.

In honor of aphorism 20, warning against bleeding when the moon is in the sign that rules that part of the body, here’s a zodiacal man from later in that same codex with the standard mapping of signs onto the body, starting with Aries at the top of the head and ending with Pisces at the feet.

A zodiacal man maps the twelve signs onto parts of the body, starting at the head and working to the feet. From BnF 2180, f. 108r