Thesis ID: CBB923482793

John Lydus and Mesopotamian Celestial Omens in Late Antiquity (2019)


Misiewicz, Zoë (Author)
Jones, Alexander (Advisor)

New York University
Jones, Alexander
Publication date: 2019
Language: English

Publication Date: 2019
Physical Details: 347 pp.

The aim of this dissertation is to clarify the relationship between John Lydus’ work On Celestial Signs and the Mesopotamian omen tradition to which it is clearly indebted. By asking how this Mesopotamian content came to appear in a late Roman text, what changes it underwent on the way, and who was involved in the process, we gain a better understanding not only of one particular text and its author, but also of celestial omen texts more broadly and their place in the intellectual traditions of several different cultures and societies.In addition to introducing the project, the first chapter presents evidence for numerous astral concepts that can be found in both Mesopotamian and Greco-Roman texts, establishing a context in which one might expect to find shared astral omen ideas as well. This matters because omen material of the sort under consideration here tends to be less specific than the numerical constants and calculations of mathematical astral texts; a careful analysis of both content and context is required in order to make the case that similarities are the result of transmission rather than coincidence.The focus of this investigation is one piece of On Celestial Signs, sections 17-20 in Wachsmuth’s standard edition, which consists of omens organized according to the position of the moon in the zodiac. The second chapter presents a text and translation of this material, while the third analyzes the content and structure of this text, especially as it relates to the Mesopotamian omen tradition. The fourth chapter examines Lydus’ statements on the purpose and sources of his work, placing these in the context of his time. The fifth chapter discusses the appearance of Mesopotamian celestial omens in various regions to the west, some of which may have served as intermediaries in the spread of this Mesopotamian knowledge to the Greco-Roman world. Finally, the sixth chapter considers the interaction of Greco-Roman and Mesopotamian astral scholarship in the Hellenistic period. The project as a whole highlights the complexities of knowledge transfer, demonstrating both that Lydus’ work owes a significant debt to Mesopotamia and that it was nevertheless a product of his own time.

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Authors & Contributors
Rochberg, Francesca
Brown, David
Beaulieu, Paul-Alain
Beck, Roger
Ben-Dov, Jonathan
Ciraolo, Leda Jean
Acta Historica Leopoldina
East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine
Science in Context
University of Toronto
Vanderbilt University
Yale University
Cambridge University Press
Alfred A. Knopf
Divination; prognostication
Science and religion
Occult sciences
Hippocrates of Cos
Theon of Alexandria
Time Periods
Middle and Near East
Rome (Italy)
Babylon (extinct city)

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