The Kmnulebis Codnis C'igni of Vakhtang VI (1721)
and its Place in the Astrological Tradition
Timothy P. Grove, Biola University
International Conference in Honor of the 90th Anniversary
of Elene Metreveli
National Centre of Manuscripts
Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia
14 December 2007
Kmnulebis codnis c'igni was a treatise on astronomy published by Vakht’ang VI in 1721. It was one of only 17 titles printed on the press brought from Rumania by Mihail Isvanovici (known in Georgia as Mikheil St’epaneshvili). This was facilitated by Anthim Iverieli [Anthim the Iberian], a Georgian who served as Metropolitan of Wallachia (1708-1715). These books were the first books printed in Tbilisi, and were all published between 1709 and 1722. The Turkish invasion of 1723 put an end to this publishing operation. All but two of these books were religious in nature (including liturgical works and portions of the Bible). The only secular books published were the first edition of Shota Rustaveli’s Vepkhis t’q’aosani (1712), and Kmnulebis codnis c’igni (1721). This must have been seen as a valuable and important book, to be found in such select company!
Kmnulebis codnis c’igni (“Book of knowledge of creation”) was translated from the Persian by the king himself, with the aid of Persian scholars, including one Mirza Abduriz Tavrizeli. It is translated from a work by ‘Ali Qushji of Samarkhand (15th century), but includes comments and a preface written by Vakht’ang VI. Between 200 and 300 copies of this book were printed.
The books printed in Tbilisi between 1709 and 1722 were products of a period of national revitalization in the kingdom of Kartli—yet what purpose did this book serve in such a context, and why was it considered important? Kmnulebis codnis c’igni presents a geocentric model of the universe, the same as that described by Claudius Ptolemy in the 2nd century A.D. Does this imply that Vakht’ang VI was unaware of the Copernican revolution? Not at all—it was because calculations based on a geocentric model were (and still are) used to cast horoscopes. Kmnulebis codnis c’igni thus presents in compact form a geocentric but phenomenologically accurate description of the motions of the heavenly bodies, with a view to its practical use in casting horoscopes.
Throughout the history of the church, astrology has been controversial. The biblical account of the Magi who came to adore Christ (Matthew 2) provides a strong apologetic for astrology, since there is little doubt that these “wise men” were Persian (or perhaps Indian) astrologers, or that they located the infant Christ by means of astrology—this becomes clear if the text is read in light of what we know about ancient astrological practices. Yet a survey of Patristic literature reveals that some Christian writers saw astrology as compatible to some degree with Christian beliefs and practices, while others condemned it as a form of occultism, idolatry, or fatalism.
The teachings of Origen (c185-c254 A.D.) are especially interesting. Strongly influenced by Stoic philosophy, Origen believed that the entire cosmic cycle (from the Creation to the final Conflagration) was encompassed in the “Great Year” or “Platonic Year”—the precessional cycle of 25,920 years. The end would be signaled by the return of the heavens to their original position, after which the entire cycle would be repeated.
How did Vakht’ang VI deal with this tension? Since he begins his book by quoting from the Scriptures (Psalm 116), it is clear that the king saw the possibility of reconciling astrology with his Christian faith. A similar course was followed by many in Western Europe, where many Catholic universities had chairs of Astrology, which usually involved lecturing on Ptolemy’s Almagest. The autobiography of Diego de Torres Villarroel (1743), a professor at the University of Salamanca, demonstrates that astrology was still held in high regard during the 18th century. Astrological treatises typically began with a Christian justification of Astrology, and usually proposed some theory of astrological causation or synchronicity as well, in keeping with the principle of ut supra ita infra (“as above, so below”). The king’s preface thus falls solidly within this tradition.
One of the diagrams in Kmnulebis codnis c’igni portrays a division of the celestial circle into eight houses (rather than the usual twelve). The origins of this octotopos system are quite obscure, but it is attested in Manilius (1st century A.D.), in the Michigan Papyrus 1 (perhaps 2nd century), in Firmicus Maternus (4th century), and in the Brhat-samhita of the Indian astrologer Varahamihira (6th century). It was later utilized by Tycho Brahe and Hieronymus Cardanus, among others. A collation of this text with the Persian original will answer the question of whether Vakht’ang VI derived this concept from the work of ‘Ali Qushji, or whether this was an interpolation from some other source. If so, this reveals a highly interesting connection to an obscure strand of the western astrological tradition.
Was there a uniquely Georgian school of Astrology? To me, this is a most interesting question, and this research ultimately seeks to answer it. While it is evident that Arabic and Persian influences predominated, it may be possible to detect other strands as well, including Byzantine and later Western influences. There is also the possibility of pre-Islamic Persian influence, due to the adoption of Zoroastrianism in some parts of the Caucasus during the Sassanian period. If this could be confirmed, it would be of great historical and cultural interest, since comparatively little information has survived concerning the astrological practices of the Magi.
I am in the midst of a preliminary analysis of this text, which I hope will answer some of these questions. I am also hoping to make a comparison of Kmnulebis codnis c’igni to another near-contemporary text, Saet'lo xiromant'ia (circa 1720). It is my belief that, studied side-by-side, these two books will provide a clear and detailed picture of the Georgian astrological tradition as it was manifested in the early 18th century. I expect that the study of these works will reveal the existence of a uniquely Georgian astrological practice, having its roots in the Caucasus but incorporating influences from a number of other traditions.
Works of ‘Ali Qushji [‘Ala’ ‘l-Din ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Qushji]
• Hall ashkal al-Qamar [“Solution of phenomena of the Moon”]
• commentary on Ulugh Beg’s Zij
• Risala fi’l-Hay’a [and Arabic version = Risala al-Fathiyya; geometry]
• Risala fi’l-Hisab [and Arabic version = Risala Muhammadiyya; arithmetic]
• Sharh al-Tajrid (commentary on Tusi’s Tajrid al-Kalam; philosophy)
• Sharh al-‘Adudiyya [“Commentary on Contradition”; philosophy or logic]
• ‘Unqud [“cluster”—probably a miscellany]
It appears from this that Kmnulebis Codnis C’igni is a translation of Hall ashkal al-Qamar. It is thus a work specifically dedicated to the explanation of lunar motion. This is borne out by the fact that, of the 30 diagrams which the work contains, at least 14 of them appear to illustrate lunar phenomena (most of the others illustrate basic principles of plain and spherical geometry).
Vakht’ang VI has thus Christianized the work’s title.
“Georgian chronicles tell us that in the 2nd century BC Georgia used a lunar calendar, and we know that this lunar calendar continued to be used until the end of the 3rd century A.D” (I. Simonia, 1999).
“In the 3rd century BC the Georgian king Parnavaz united the western and eastern Georgian states into a single state. At that time the religion of Zoroastrianism was widespread. The principal Georgian god was the Moon, which was seen as the symbol for a male warrior. The Moon's sacred animal was the bull, and thus bulls were frequently given as sacrifice. The shape of the bull's horns reminded the ancient Georgians of the Moon” (I. Simonia, 1999).
Sassanian (Magian) Astrology
• developed the Zij-i Shah (564 A.D.), an extremely accurate set of astronomical tables. Based on coincidence of the conjunction of Jupiter with the Sun on 17 March 564, with the spring equinox on the following day. The equinox (defined as the beginning of Aries in the tropical zodiac) took place precisely 10’01” east of the star Zeta Piscium, so that the tropical and sidereal zodiacs coincided exactly. This observation enabled the Magi to precisely compute the ayanamsa (adjustment for precession, expressed in degrees of difference between the tropical and sidereal zodiacs). The Sassanian ayanamsa is still used today, and amounted to precisely 20º02’39.5” on January 1, 2000. The original Zij-i Shah (written in Pahlavi) is lost, but can be largely reconstructed from details found in later Arabic sources.
• used a fixed (sidereal) zodiac, divided into 28 lunar mansions (manazil, nakshatras); this was also a feature of Indian astrology.
• focused on the study of mundane astrology (analysis of political events and the unfolding of history in terms of astrological cycles), emphasizing the Great Conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn: these fall into cycles, with a Great Conjunction occurring approximately every 20 years (the last occurred on May 31, 2000), a Mutation (change of triplicity) approximately every 240 years, a Grand Mutation (return to original triplicity) approximately every 960 years, and a complete Rotation of the Trigon approximately every 2400 years. This focus is probably related to the Zoroastrian division of history into 1000-year cycles, which corresponded more or less to the Grand Mutations.
• developed the concept of firdaria (division and subdivision of the life-time into periods corresponding to the planets).
• emphasized the lunar nodes (points where the Moon’s orbit crosses the ecliptic; Draconis Caput =ascending node; Draconis Cauda, = descending node); as in Indian astrology, these were comparable to visible planets in their importance. The pair of them was known as Gochihr (the dragon).
• used Hypothetical Planets, including Mihr, Mushparik, Mûspar (or Gadûg), a “dark sun” and a “dark moon.” These were moving geometrical points whose position was calculated in various ways.
• used Orbs of Aspect (zones of influence for each planet, varying in size). This idea was unknown to Greco-Roman astrology.
• greatly emphasized LIGHT in their analysis of planetary inter-relationships. This was manifested in such rules as Abscission of Light, Collection of Light, Translation of Light, Prohibition, Frustration, and Refranation; and in the doctrine of Planetary Sect (some planets being stronger by day, others by night). This emphasis is closely tied to Zoroastrian dualism.
Zoroastrianism and Persian influence prevailed in much of the Caucasus until the conversion of the Georgians to Christianity in the early 4th century. One may therefore expect to find some Magian influence on Georgian astrology.
Pre-Christian names of the planets (drawn from Old Georgian Chronicles):
“These names were used in Georgia until the end of the 3rd century A.D.” (I. Simonia, 1999). They are thus associated with the Sassanian period.
Different schools of Astrology (The Western Astrological Tradition)
BABYLON (omina) vs. EGYPT (zodiacal)
/ \ +
(magian) / \ +
/ \ / / \
/ \ Byzantine / INDIAN
/ (Islamic) \ / /
Jewish PERSIAN \ \ / /
\ \ / /
\ / /
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
1. Who was Mirza ‘Abduriza Tavrizeli? Is there any record of his activities in Tbilisi or elsewhere? Assuming that he was from Tabriz, with whom did he study?
2. Can we reconstruct a chain of transmission from Mirza ‘Abduriza Tavrizeli back to ‘Ali Qushji (or to other Persian astronomers)?
3. Which of ‘Ali Qushji’s works was the basis for Kmnulebis Codnis C’igni? Where is the original copy used by Vakht’ang VI and Mirza ‘Abduriza Tavrizeli? If it is extant, does it contain any of their comments or annotations?
3. Are there any extant manuscript works of Vakht’ang VI which deal with astronomy/astrology?
4. Do the diagrams published in Kmnulebis Codnis C’igni differ from the diagrams (if any) to be found in manuscripts of ‘Ali Qushji’s work?
5. Does Kmnulebis Codnis C’igni follow ‘Ali Qushji’s text exactly—or is it characterized by omissions or expansions?
6. What was the nature of the “troubles” which Vakht’ang experienced “because of these books”? Is he referring to his publishing enterprise in general, or is he referring specifically to his astronomical pursuits?