THE CHALDEAN MAGI
According to Ancient Sources
Diodorus of Sicily. Bibliotheca historica, Book II, 28:29-31
But to us it seems not inappropriate to speak briefly of the Chaldeans of Babylon and of their antiquity, that we may omit nothing which is worthy of record. Now the Chaldeans, belonging as they do to the most ancient inhabitants of Babylonia, have about the same position among the divisions of the state as that occupied by the priests of Egypt; for being assigned to the service of the gods they spend their entire life in study, their greatest renown being in the field of astrology. But they occupy themselves largely with soothsaying as well, making predictions about future events, and in some cases by purifications, in others by sacrifices, and in others by some other charms they attempt to effect the averting of evil things and the fulfillment of the good. They are also skilled in the soothsaying by the flight of birds, and they give out interpretations of both dreams and portents. They also show marked ability in making divinations from the observations of the entrails of animals, deeming that in thi s branch they are eminently successful.
The training which they receive in all these matters is not the same as that of the Greeks who follow such practices. For among the Chaldeans the scientific study of these subjects is passed down in the family, and son takes it over from father, being relieved of all other services in the state. Since, therefore, they have their parents for teachers, they not only are taught everything ungrudgingly but also at the same time they give heed to the precepts of their teachers with a more unwavering trust. Furthermore, since they are bred in these teachings from childhood up, they attain a great skill in them, both because of the ease with which youth is taught and because of the great amount of time which is devoted to this study.
Among the Greeks, on the contrary, the student who takes up a large number o subjects without preparation turns to the higher studies only quite late, and then, after labouring upon them to some extent, gives them up, being distracted by the necessity of earning a livelihood; and but a few here and there really strip for the higher studies and continue in the pursuit of them as a profit-making business, and these are always trying to make innovations in connection with the most important doctrines instead of following the in the path of their predecessors. The result of this is that the barbarians, by sticking to the same things always, keep a firm hold on every detail, while the Greeks, on the other hand, aiming at the profit to be made out of the business, keep founding new schools and wrangling with each other over the most important matters of speculation, bring it about that their pupils hold conflicting views, and that their minds, vacillating throughout their lives and unable to believe anything a t all with firm conviction, simply wander in confusion. It is at any rate true that, if a man were to examine carefully the most famous schools of the philosophers, he would find them differing from one another to the uttermost degree and maintaining opposite opinions regarding the most fundamental tenets.
30. Now, as the Chaldeans say, the word is by its nature eternal, and neither had a first beginning nor will at a later term suffer destruction; furthermore, both the disposition and the orderly arrangement of the universe have come about by virtue of a divine providence, and today whatever takes place in the heavens is in every instance brought to pass, not a haphazard nor by virtue of any spontaneous action, but by some fixed and firmly determined divine decision. And since they have observed the stars over a long period of time and have noted both the movements and the influences of each of them with greater precision than any other men, they foretell to mankind many things that will take place in the future. But above all in importance, they say, is the study of the influence of the five stars known as planets, which they call "Interpreters" when speaking of them as a group, but if referring to them singly, the one named Cronus by the Greeks, which is the most conspicuous and presages more events an d such as are greater in importance than the others, they call the star Helios [Sun], whereas the other four they designate as the star of Ares [Mars], Aphrodite [Venus], Hermes [Mercury], and Zeus [Jupiter], as do our astrologers. The reason whey they call them "Interpreters" is that whereas all other stars are fixed and follow a single circuit in a regular course, these alone, by virtue of following each its own course, point out future events, thus interpreting to mankind the design of the gods. For sometimes by their risings, sometimes by their settings, and again by their colour, the Chaldeans say, they give signs of coming events to such a are willing to observe them closely; for at one time they show forth mighty storms of winds, at another excessive rains or heat, at times the appearance of comets, also eclipses of both sun and moon, and earthquakes, and in a word all the condition which owe their origin to the atmosphere and work both benefits and harm, not only to whole peoples or regions, but also to kings and to persons of private station.
Under the course in which these planets move are situated, according to them, thirty stars, which they designate as "counseling gods"; of these one half oversee the region s above the earth and the other half those beneath the earth, having under their purview the affairs of mankind and likewise those of the heavens; and every ten days one of the stars above is sent as a messenger, so to speak, to the stars below, and again in like manner of the stars below the earth to those above, and this movement of their is fixed and determined by means of an orbit which is unchanging for ever. Twelve of these gods, they say, hold chief authority, and to each of these the Chaldeans assign a month and one of the signs of the zodiac, as they are called. And through the midst of these signs, they say, both the sun and moon and the five planets make their course, the sun completing his cycle in a year and the moon traversing her circuit in a month.
31. Each of the planets, according to them, has its own particular course, and its velocities and periods of time are subject to change and variation. These stars it is which exert the greatest influence for both good and evil upon the nativity of men; and it is chiefly from the nature of these planets and the study of them that they known what is in store for mankind. And they have made predictions, they say, not only to numerous other kings, but also to Alexander, who defeated Darius, and to Antigonus and Seleucus Nicator who afterwards became kings, and in all their prophecies they are thought to have hit the truth. But of these things we shall write in detail on a more appropriate occasion. Moreover, they also foretell to men in private station what will befall them, and with such accuracy that those who have made trial of them marvel at the feat and believe that it transcends the power of man.
Beyond the circle of the zodiac they designate twenty-for other stars, of which one half, they say, are situated in the northern parts and one half in the southern, and of these those which are visible they assign to the world of the living, while those which are invisible they regard as being adjacent to the dead, and so they call them "Judges of the Universe." And under all the stars hitherto mentioned the moon, according to them, takes her way, being nearest the earth because of her weight and completing her course in a very brief period of time, not by reason of her great velocity, but because her orbit is so short. They also agree with the Greeks in saying that her light is reflected and that her eclipses are due to the shadow of the earth. Regarding the eclipse of the sun, however, they offer the weakest kind of explanation, and do not presume to predict it or to define the times of its occurrence with any precision. Again, in connection with the earth they make assertions entirely peculiar to t hemselves, saying that it is shaped like a boat and hollow, and they offer many plausible arguments about both the earth and al other bodies in the firmament, a full discussion of which we feel would be alien o our history. this point, however, a man may fittingly maintain, that the Chaldeans have of all men the greatest grasp of astrology, and that they have bestowed the greatest diligence upon the study of it. But as to the number of years which, according to their statements, the order of the Chaldeans has spent on the study of the bodies of the universe, a man can scarcely believe them; for they reckon that, down Alexanderís crossing over into Asia, it has been four hundred and seventy-three thousand years, since they began in early times to make their observations of the stars.
Diodorus of Sicily. Bibliotheca historica, Book I, 96-98
But now that we have examined these matters we must enumerate what Greeks, who have won fame for their wisdom and learning, visited Egypt in ancient times in order to become acquainted with its customs and learning. For the priests of Egypt recount from the records of their sacred books that they were visited in early times by Orpheus, Musaeus, Melampus, and Daedalus, also by the poet Homer and Lycurgus of Sparta, later by Solon of Athens and the philosopher Plato, and that there came also Pythagoras of Samos and the mathematician Eudoxus, as well as Democritus of Abdera and Oenopides of Chios. As evidence for the visits of all these men they point in some cases to their statues and in others to places or buildings which bear their names, and they offer proofs from the branch of learning which each one of these men pursued, arguing that all the things for which they were admired among the Greeks were borrowed from Egypt.
Orpheus, for instance, brought from Egypt most of his mystic ceremonies, the orgiastic rites that accompanied his wanderings, and his fabulous account of his experiences in Hades. For the rite of Osiris is the same as that of Dionysus, and that of Isis very similar to that of Demeter, the names alone having been interchanged; and the punishments in Hades of the unrighteous, the Fields of the Righteous, and the fantastic conceptions, current among the many, which are figments of the imagination – all these were introduced by Orpheus in imitation of Egyptian funeral customs.
And as proof of the presence of Homer they adduce various pieces of evidence , and especially the healing drink which brings forgetfulness of all past evils, which was given by Helen to Telemachus in the home of Menelaus [in Book Four of the Odyssey] ... for, they allege, even to this day the women of this city [Thebes in Egypt] use this powerful remedy.
Lycurgus also and Plato and Solon, they say, incorporated many Egyptian customs into their own legislation. And Pythagoras learned from Egyptians his teachings about the gods, his geometrical propositions and theory of numbers, as well as the transmigration of souls into every living thing.