Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of July 21st - July 27th, 2006

Shades of Gray

Columns Archive

  Astrology is a discipline which either fascinates or offends people. A loose etymological translation of the term would be 'word of the stars.' While some folks have no problem with the belief that these planetary 'vibrations' travel thousands and thousands of miles across vast regions of space to help shape our judgement, decisions and actions in what we are going to be doing next Tuesday, others feel as though this notion is ludicrous and happily point out that the gravitational influences of objects in the room have a greater impact on us than does Pluto, located in the cold, dark reaches of the other end of our solar system. Of course astrologers and their followers respond by saying that all this does is show that gravity is not the defining factor.

Holding off Fate

Holding off Fate

  But lying within this black and white universe are the shades of gray. Once we move from beyond the 'yes' or 'no', or 'does' or 'doesn't' of astrology's power, we enter the realms of pre-destination vs. free will. If indeed, the fault lies within ourselves and not within the stars, how much of what it is that we do is in fact influenced by the power of the planets, and how much is under our own control? Are we indeed mindless robots, controlled by the strings of fate, without the ability to alter our destinies a jot (as so many of the Greek tragedies claim), or do we in fact have an element of choice in how these themes will play out in our lives?

  Although academic sources tell us that the 'astral influences of the east' did not begin to infiltrate Europe and the west until the Alexandrian conquests of the 4th century BC (to pick one theory), the mythic record seems to tell us a different story.

  By the time of Homer, our earliest mythological writer of the 8th century BC, astrology is a fully developed and sophisticated discipline. In fact, the entire mythological tradition is simply the personification of the power, nature and personality of the planets in human action, although it is not limited to this. We know that use of the stars, both in its development of the calendar and celestial correlations, was wide spread for agricultural purposes. A contemporary of Homer's, Hesiod wrote the 'Works and Days', which includes seasonal timings as determined by the stars, and what the 'wise' farmer should do in terms of sowing and reaping their crops, and when.

Zeus (Naples museum)


  In contemplating fate vs. free will, even Homer sees both sides of the coin. In the Iliad, arguing from the mortal point of view, Priam states quite clearly he believes that all of the troubles which have fallen on Troy, with the war having entered its ninth year and many of his sons having already fallen, had been determined by the powers of heaven, by the gods. Indeed, the entire script is set up in this way, with the gods and goddesses making their pronouncements, and the earthly response to these judgements.

  But in the Odyssey, Homer's second epic poem, the flip side of the coin is seen as we hear from the gods and how they see it. No less than Zeus (Jupiter in the Roman pantheon) declares,

  "My word, how mortals take the gods to task!
All their afflictions come from us, we hear.
And what of their own failings?
Greed and folly double the suffering in the lot of man."

  So it would seem that this is an old argument with neither black nor white for answers, but shades of gray.


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