Project Hindsight was begun in 1993 to translate and interpret the surviving texts of the Western astrological tradition. As such, it is the continuation of the work of The Golden Hind Press, a publishing company founded by Ellen Black, Clifford Martin, and Robert Schmidt in 1985. The Golden Hind Press was originally devoted to the translation of relatively unfamiliar works in the history of mathematics, science, and logic. The name Project Hindsight is an adaptation of the name of the mathematical journal, Hindsight, earlier published by The Golden Hind Press. Project Hindsight is a trademark of The Golden Hind Press.
The geometrical diagram at the upper right of our logo is a legacy from the mathematical era of The Golden Hind Press. It is actually a diagram from an ancient Greek geometrical treatise. Over the years, its meaning was the subject of considerable speculation on the part of our readers. To some it looked like an iceberg; to others, a prism or a crystal; still others thought it resembled a star, or a star pouring itself out. Little did we know at the time how prophetic that last view would turn out to be.
The translations of Project Hindsight and other educational aids are published by The Golden Hind Press.
PROJECT HINDSIGHT IN RETROSPECT
Project Hindsight was founded in 1993 for the purpose of translating the surviving texts of the Western astrological tradition into English and making them available to the astrological community. At its inception, Project Hindsight was something of a gamble. It was by no means certain that we would find anything of capital importance even for astrologers by undertaking to translate and study the original source texts of Western astrology.
Nevertheless, we had high expectations. We knew that in every other case where Greek writings of the classical or Hellenistic periods had been initially dismissed as either trivial (the dialogues of Xenophon) or as evidence of the decline of classical thought (the philosophy and logic of the Stoics), more careful study had subsequently reversed that premature verdict.
We also knew that, historically, episodes of intense translation activity were associated with periods of renaissance in a given field, particularly when such activity had been supported by the belief that some “pearl of great price” might be found in the ancient texts of a “golden age.” It seemed to us that it was still possible to entertain such a notion in astrology.
We took as our model the great program of the late Renaissance that sought to restore the lost art of ancient algebra and ended up founding modern mathematics. We even felt a certain close kinship with the mathematical archaeologists of that time, since in their day algebra did not have the countenance of the universities. Algebra was regarded by some as one of the occult disciplines and was occasionally even tarred with the brush of “black art” — a curious role reversal.
Finally, we knew from our own experience, as well as the example of the mathematical restorers, that immersion in past thought was an excellent way of gaining some distance and clarity about modern thinking in a given discipline, in the same way that the study of a foreign language is acknowledged to enhance the understanding of one’s native language.
For all these reasons, we thought that our project was worth undertaking.
When Project Hindsight first came on the scene, modern astrologers did not have easy access to their own tradition. Only a few ancient astrological writings had been translated into any modern language. These translations had been made by classicists or historians of ancient astronomy who had very little interest in the details of astrological practice. They had also been done in relative isolation from one another over a period of 50 years or so, and there was no coordinated and sustained effort to get to the roots of ancient astrology.
It was helpful to us that most of the Greek texts had already been critically edited, so at least we did not have to work from handwritten manuscripts. These texts stretched before us like a vast and mysterious continent, at once enticing and intimidating. Particularly intriguing was the mysterious and voluminous Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum, or CCAG for short, consisting of short or fragmentary astrological treatises gleaned from European libraries that had remained virtually unread and unstudied for hundreds of years.
We also made a deliberate decision not to immerse ourselves in the previous scholarship on the history of astrology, so much of which at first glance was sarcastic in tone and dismissive of astrology as superstitious nonsense. As much as possible, we wanted to have a fresh encounter with this material and make our own judgment as to its merits. We knew that it would require more than a mere suspension of disbelief about the “pseudo-scientific” character of astrology in general to responsibly bring our investigation to completion. It would require a positive willingness to entertain the possibility that something of value might be found in these seemingly unpromising texts if we devoted to them even a portion of the attention that has been lavished on more “respectable” authors of the classical and Hellenistic periods, and if we studied them with respect as the lifework of intelligent men. We felt that the study of previous scholarship was not conducive to the cultivation of this attitude.
Now, the translation of astrological writings — or any ancient writings, for that matter — is far from being a routine or mechanical task. It is a perfect example of a “bootstrapping” operation, for you cannot translate something adequately without understanding it, and you cannot understand it until you translate it. This is why the task cannot be performed with a computer program. Although the translator needs to have a mastery of the language, this is far from a sufficient prerequisite. Ideally, translation should be done by someone who also has a genuine interest in the actual content of the text and respects the intelligence of its author. Otherwise, he will not be committed to following every clue, will not remain sensitive to every subtlety, will not be relentless in ferreting out what the authors either took for granted or tried to hide. Unfortunately, the earlier translations of astrological writings do not reflect these standards.
In the case of Hellenistic astrology, we were faced with a tantalizingly suggestive and multivalent technical terminology. Not only that, but we had to contend with texts that were often corrupt or fragmentary and later epitomes from the Byzantine period that may have left much of the substance of the original writings behind. None of the original texts is written in a “chatty” or informal style; their literary styles range from mannered didactic poems, drawing on an archaic vocabulary, to the architectonic complexities common in the expository writing of the time. Some of the sections containing extensive “cookbook” delineation text seem to employ unfamiliar compositional devices, serving to minimize the need for repetition. And then there was the ever-present possibility that some of the authors were deliberately concealing more than they revealed, for fear that the core of the teachings would fall into the wrong hands.
The initial phase of our project was designed to anticipate problems such as these. Furthermore, since no single work appeared to contain the complete Hellenistic doctrine intact, we believed that it would be irresponsible to publish final translations until the entire corpus had been thoroughly investigated. Our solution to the bootstrapping dilemma was to plan for a preliminary phase of translation that would facilitate the ends of our research. So we spent much time ranging over many original texts in their entirety; at the same time, we concentrated on the translation of certain relatively self-contained sections that we found particularly interesting or important. In keeping with what we knew would necessarily be the tentative nature of our research results for some years to come, we decided at the outset to publish these “units” of translation in a impermanent soft-cover format that would allow of ongoing and frequent revision. We intended that the various units of translation would be gathered together in an appropriate manner and issued in more permanent and definitive form only when we found that our research had reached a natural conclusion.
In its initial stages, the astrological translation project was also funded in a novel manner. The special interest group that had the greatest interest in seeing these translations done was the community of modern practicing astrologers, many of whom answered the call to sponsor the first units of translation by subscription. The project was largely supported that way for several years. The whole enterprise generated a great deal of excitement amongst the subscribers. They not only financed Project Hindsight with the purchases of books and tapes, but many got caught up in the challenging new metaphysical ideas that emerged from the study of these texts. A number of people suddenly found themselves motivated to do serious studying and thinking, and a few even ventured to study Greek.
Interacting with our loyal subscribers was a rewarding and fruitful experience in many ways.
During this research phase, provisional translations were published of selected astrological treatises from both the Hellenistic and the Medieval period. Altogether, we published 15 units of translation for the “Greek Track.” This represented less than half (about two-fifths) of the surviving source texts from the Hellenistic period. We also published a comparable number of translations for the “Latin Track,” which represented only a small fraction of surviving Medieval works.
However, it quickly became apparent that the central and defining core of Medieval astrology was, in fact, derived from Hellenistic sources, so it made sense to concentrate the bulk of our efforts on that period first, before revising the Medieval writings or continuing to translate them. Furthermore, because the Medieval Latin works were directly derived from Latin translations of Arabian sources, it also made sense to postpone further study of them until we could gain some firsthand acquaintance with them in Arabic.
After shifting our attention to the Hellenistic sources, we soon began to get a glimpse of the contours of the original Hellenistic system and some of the theoretical principles that guided it. So, it seemed pointless to continue to issue provisional translations (although many more were actually done, to follow out the initial leads that we had) when we would soon be able to make more definitive ones. Fortunately, at this point, we were successful in obtaining a substantial grant and some large private donations that allowed us to pursue our research without having to continue issuing more provisional translations.
During the early years, Project Hindsight also sponsored three memorable conferences, the PHASE Conclaves, where we presented our initial findings to the astrological community. The principals also lectured on this material at many other major astrological conferences. Project Hindsight was the recipient of the Regulus Award for Research and Innovation at the 1995 UAC and the Jayne Award given by Matrix Software. Additionally, Project Hindsight sponsored two additional PHASE Conclaves in 2006 and 2007.
As a result of our initial efforts, there is a growing awareness in the astrological community of the existence of something called “Hellenistic Astrology.”
Now, after years of research, we are prepared to say that our original gamble has paid off beyond our expectations. There is material of great value here for the modern astrologer, for serious students of philosophy, and for historians of thought.
We have discovered that there was in fact a coherent system of astrological practice during the Hellenistic period that did not reveal itself to the few classicists and historians of science who have looked into these texts. We have restored this system to its original form. What is more, this practical system was motivated by a set of theoretical assumptions that has important and independent implications for logic, epistemology, and metaphysics—hard as that may be to accept for those to whom the subject of astrology is automatically an occasion for ridicule. The story of the far-reaching impact of this original system in other fields and its own vicissitudes as it was transmitted down through the centuries has yet to be faithfully narrated. And who can foresee its future?
Astrology is obviously a major incongruity in modem consciousness and its persistence into modern times is a puzzle. The typical modern thinker's automatic, vigorous, and contemptuous rejection of this ancient discipline says more about modern thought than it does about astrology's own intrinsic merits. Astrology was taken seriously by many fine minds in the past, and has been a major force in all ancient cultures, leaving its imprint on their arts, artifacts, religions, and sciences well past the threshold of modern times. Historical considerations alone would entitle it to more than an unceremonious consignment to the trash heap of ancient superstitions. However, the most important reason to look seriously at astrology may be that it presents modern thought with a rare and golden opportunity to contemplate its own shadow and to consider its own contours anew.