What’s your career? Ptolemy’s use of the helical rising planet

The importance of the traditional crafts

In traditional astrology there are different ways to describe a native’s career. Hellenistic authors such as Ptolemy, Paulus of Alexandria or Olympiodorus only used Mercury, Venus and Mars as significators of “that what one does”, also called the ruler of “action”.  The choice of only these three planets have to do with the ancient system of crafts. People who were in the social position to choose a profession were supposed to work in this field for their entire life. A weaver (Venus) would not become a smith (Mars) nor an accountant (Mercury).  

Craftsmen were united in particular districts where their clients would find them, for example the tanners’ quarter or the clockmakers district. Members of these communities lived in their districts and usually a son would follow into his father’s footsteps. The crafts were basically three: warriors (Mars), merchants (Mercury) and artisans (Venus).

Jupiter was not used as a significator because associated with priesthood, which was hereditary and far above the possibilities of normal people. Saturn, on the other hand, was used to describe the lowest social class, slaves, beggars, peasants, all people who were born into certain conditions without the possibility to get out of them. The luminaries, on the other hand, were excluded as significators for professions, because  they represented “life” (Sun) and “body” (Moon).  

Olympiodorus, a 6th Century astrologer from Alexandria, provides another explication for the exclusive choice of the triplet. He says that every (professional) activity requires action and that we should therefore only consider those planets that are able to move quickly, in other words, Mercury, Venus and Mars.

The approach how to define one’s career has changed over the centuries. Renaissance author Guido Bonatti has a 9-points list, the Persian astrologer Sahl uses lots and sygyzy but all refer (at least to some extend) to Ptolemy, who in his Tetrabiblos (book IV, chapter 4) explains his approach.

Ptolemy’s consideration of the phases

While Bonatti attributes great importance to a planet at the AC, Ptolemy does not even mention the horoscopos but looks instead at the Sun. The Sun is not a significator per sé; Ptolemy rather considers the helical rising of a planet out of the Sun’s beams. That planet that “emerges” from the Sun’s light, is “new born” and thus particularly strong. Ptolemy then checks if there is a planet at the mid-heaven (MC), which is also aspected by the Moon. If so, then this planet rules the native’s actions, together with the planet that is helical rising. In other words, Ptolemy wants us to use two significators. In the  case the same planet t is helical rising and at the MC, we only need to use this single planet as the rule of action.

The passage in Tetrabiblos IV, 4 read as follows[1]:

The lord of action is apprehended by two methods, from the sun and from the culminating sign. For it will be needful to look both for the planet that has made its morning appearance closest to the sun, and that which is at midheaven, particularly when it occupies the application of the moon; and if the same star occupies both the aforesaid positions, this alone must be employed, and similarly if none occupies one of these places, we must use only the one which occupies the other of the places. And if one planet has made the nearest morning appearance and another is associated with the midheaven, and with the moon, we must employ them both, giving preference to the one which by reason of its strength has the greater number of claims to domination according to the scheme which we have already set forth.[2]

Claudius Ptolemy

if there is no planet neither helical rising nor at the MC, we need to take the ruler of the MC, but Ptolemy makes it clear, that in this case the native will be for the most part inactive or unemployed.

The rulers of action

We can now we can make a to-do list according to Ptolemy to find the ruler of action:

  1. Check if there is a planet that is helical rising in the east. If there is more than one, we need to take the closest to the Sun.
  2. Check for planets close to the MC. Take the nearest. It is best if that planet is also aspected by the Moon.
  3. If a planet is both heliacal rising AND at the MC, use ONLY this planet.
  4. If one planet has made the nearest morning appearance and another is associated with the mid‑heaven, and with the moon, we must employ them BOTH,
  5. If there is no planet as described in 1) and 2) then take the ruler of the MC. In this case we should only expect an occasional work or occupation and otherwise unemployment.

When Ptolemy writes “a planet”, without further specification, one might think he is considering all seven planets, which would contradict the exclusive use of the triplet. The other point is, that only the superior planets Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are strong when heliacal rising. The inferior planets Mercury and Venus are stronger when they are rising in the evening. Later in his chapter, Ptolemy mentions Jupiter and Saturn explicitly only when they “testimony”, in other words, receive an aspect from the triplet; he never mentions them as rulers of action.

Olympiodorus’ check list

Olympiodorus[3], might give us some insight here. As Ptolemy, he uses Mercury, Venus and Mars as rulers of “what one does” but is more precise regarding the planetary phase. Furthermore, he not only checks the “culminating zoidion”; (in another scholia he says the 10th place, which might be different form the MC if he uses whole sign houses). If there was no planet, he checks the other angles (in other words the strongest accidental position for a planet) and finally the succedent houses, especially the 2nd (because of its trine to the 10th house). He also admits a planet in the 6th house (trines 10th house).

His to-do list looks like this:

  1. Check if either Mercury, Venus or Mars are in the 10th. Take the closest to the MC.
  2. Check the other angles if either Mercury, Venus or Mars are there. Take the strongest.
  3. Check if either Mercury, Venus or Mars are in the 2nd house, take the strongest
  4. Check if one of them has been bound under the application[4] of the Sun or the Moon
  5. Take Mars if he is heliacal rising
  6. Take Mercury (Venus) if the planet makes an aspect to a superior planet that is heliacal rising (max. 15° from the Sun). If more than one, take the strongest.
  7. Take Mercury (or Venus) if they are in their evening rising phase, either within 7 days prior of the birth or after.

From the above we gain the understanding that we need to look for an aspect between Jupiter or Saturn (if heliacal rising) and one of the triplets. Ptolemy also makes it clear that there can either be a single ruler of action, which is if a planet is heliacal rising AND close to the MC, or two rulers if one planet is rising and another at the MC.

 If Olympiodorus interpretation is correct, then only Mars, when he is heliacal rising and at the MC, can possibly be the (single) ruler of action. Regarding Venus and Mercury, Ptolemy nowhere mentions evening setting, on the other hand he does not specify how to interpret these two planets when they are “with the Sun”, he only does so with Mars, who is the only one of the triplets who is strong when heliacal rising.

Ptolemy’s single profession rulers

In the following tab. 1, I have listed Ptolemy’s information about professions in the case we find only one planet that rules action. This planet must be a) heliacal rising b) in the 10th house/MC; c) in aspect to the Moon. Ptolemy also specifies the rule of Saturn or Jupiter who eventually “testify”.

Ruler of action Indicated professionswithin aspect to the ruler of action
Mercuryscribes, businessmen, calculators, teachers, merchants, bankers, soothsayers, astrologers, sacrificers, those who perform their functions by means of documents, interpretation, and giving and taking.property managers, interpreters of dreams, frequenters of temples for the purpose of prophecies and inspiration.lawmakers, orators, sophists, who enjoy familiarity with great persons.
Venusactivities lie among the perfumes of flowers or of unguents, in wine, colours, dyes, spices, or adornments, weavers of chaplets, innkeepers, wine-merchants, druggists, sellers of clothingdealers in goods used for pleasure or adornment, sorcerers, poisoners, panders, and those who make their living from similar occupationsathletes, wearers of the wreath, persons deemed worthy of honors, and men who derive advancement from women
Marsthose who work with iron, such as shipbuildersthose who use fire in their crafts, such as cooks, moulders, cauterizers, smiths, workers in minesSeamen, drawers of water, tunnelers, painters, gamekeepers, cooks, embalmershe produces soldiers, servants, publicans, innkeepers, ferrymen, assistants at sacrifice
Tab. 1 Single ruler of action

The rule of the Moon

Ptolemy makes some special annotations for the Moon, who is leaving the conjunction with the Sun while she also rules the MC.  It is not the Moon who becomes the ruler of action, but the planet whom she first applies. Unfortunately, he only gives the example of Mercury.

Moon, ruler of the MC and coming out of conjunctionFirst connection With Mercury
Taurus, Capricorn and Cancersoothsayers, makers of sacrifices, adepts in lecanomancy
Aries, Leo, Librapersons inspired by the gods, interpreters of dreams, and exorcists
Virgo, Scorpionecromancers and those who can arouse daemons
Tab. 2 Moon coming out of the rays

Ptolemy’s two rulers of action

As a consequence, if we find Saturn or Jupiter helical rising (who per definition cannot be the rulers of action), we need to check the MC (or 10th house, adding with Olympiodorus) if Mercury, Venus or Mars are there and thus become the ruler of action, or else check which planet of the triplet first applies to the superior planet.

Here is Ptolemy’s list how to deal with two rulers of action:

Two rulers of action withwith
Mercury and VenusAction expressed by the arts of the Muses, musical instruments, melodies, or poems, and rhythm, particularly when they have exchanged places. For they produce workers in the theatre, actors, dealers in slaves, makers of musical instruments, members of the chorus, makers of strings, painters, dancers, weavers, and wax-moulders. and againhe produces those in the aforesaid callings, as well as dealers in feminine finery
Mercury and MarsSculptors, armourers, makers of sacred monuments, modellers, wrestlers, physicians, surgeons, accusers, adulterers, evil-doers, forgers.murderers, sneakthieves, burglars, pirates, cattle-thieves, villainsmen-at‑arms, duellists, energetic, clever persons, busybodies, who meddle in others’ affairs and thereby gain their living
dyers, perfumers, workers in tin, lead, gold, and silver, farmers, dancers in armour, druggists, physicians who employ drugs in their treatmentsfrequenters of temples, interpreters of omens, bearers of the sacred instruments, supervisors of women, interpreters of marriages and matches, making their living by such occupations, and at the same time devoted to pleasure, and reckless.
Tab. 3 Two rulers of action

Mixing information of planets and signs

Once established which planet(s) rule “what one does”, Ptolemy mixes the information of the planets with the property of their signs:

HumanSome assistance to all scientific pursuits or those useful to man
QuadrupedThe quadrupedal assist in those that concern mines, commerce, building, and carpentry
Cardinal (moveable)Interpretative, involve barter, or concern measuring, agriculture, and religion
Earth or water signs Activities in or with liquids, or those that are botanical, or concern shipbuilding, and furthermore burial, or pickling, or salting
Tab. 4 Signs and Signification

Olympiodorus finally stresses the importance of angularity, which Ptolemy does not mention directly, but certainly implies. If the ruler of action is angular, he describes the highest possible expression of one’s particular profession. If the planet is in a succedent house, it is something less important. He gives examples:  If Mercury rules the profession, he shows wise men, erudite, professors, in a succedent house, he describes schoolteachers, lawyers etc. In the case of Mars, a strong angular position shows war minsters, warriors or goldsmiths. In a weaker position he shows smiths, constructors, woodworkers. Venus in an angular position describes, cithara players, weavers of embroidered cloth, but in the worse one’s performers, mimes, and things of this kind.

Practical example: Roberto Benigni

Let’s now see how this technique works in practice. We have to consider though, that our society has changed a lot since Ptolemy or Olympiodorus and that we are not obliged anymore to one single lifelong profession. Farming is often a passion and priesthood can be chosen, which is why I am not sure if the exclusive use of the triplet is still reliable.  

We will use the example of the famous Italian actor, comedian, and entertainer Roberto Benigni, who is not only famous for Down by Law and its I scream for Ice-cream scene, Life is beautiful and many others, but also for his recitation by memory of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.


In  Begnini’s chart we find Saturn within 15° from the Sun, heliacal rising: on the day of Begnini’s birth (but not at the hour), Saturn was visible on the eastern horizon and is trined by the Moon. Saturn is in sect  and in the 10th house which he rules by exaltation. Saturn is next aspected by Mars, who is angular, exalted, received by Saturn and the ruler of  the MC. Mars is, therefore, according to Ptolemy,  one ruler of action.

The other is Mercury, the natural ruler of all kind of communication, who is close to the MC. Ptolemy says that Hermes in the Midheaven or Life provides better and genuine skills, such as sophistical, rhetorical, grammatical [and] teaching. Begnini is very skilled to recite for hours and all by memory as for example the Dante’s Divine Comedy in the typical Tuscan tercets.

Water signs give a good memory, in Scorpio, Mercury’s  communication can be irreverent, avoiding small talk and coming directly to the point, without much regard for behavioral rules or political etichette. In Italy, Begnini has often been both criticized  and loved for his sharp (political) statements, unafraid of whomsoever. Mercury is in the bounds of Jupiter, pointing to some activity related to the 5th house (pleasure, leisure, arts, creativity). Scorpio is associated with transformation. We usually think about death, but actually an actor changes “lifes” continuously.

Mars, the ruler of the MC  -the stage, his career- is in  Begnini’s 1st house, his own physical body.  His appearences are always very physical, he is famous for his little dance when he enters the scene. One of his early successes was the anthem of the loose body, basically a song about the expulsion property of the body, which is under the dominion of Saturn, the dispositor of Mars.

Mars is the malefic out of sect but overcome by dignified Saturn. The hindrances coming from the square of Mars,  will be managed and Saturn recieves the exalted planet in his domicile, Mars’ energy is tamed and his enthusiam and passion make Begnini famous.

Ptolemy wants Mercury  and Mars co-rulers with the testimony of Saturn signify the following professions: sculptors, armourers, makers of sacred monuments, modellers, wrestlers, physicians, surgeons, accusers, adulterers, evil-doers, forgers, murderers, sneak-thieves, burglars, pirates, cattle-thieves, villains. On the stage, Begnini was the little devil, a thieve, a villain, but none of the other professions suggested by Ptolemy. His roles are better described by the ruler of the 10th house and thus the planet that is helical rising, Saturn, who is also the strongest planet in the chart, since the other angular and exalted planet, Mars, is out of sect.

Saturn describes people that are a little clumsy, sometimes shovelling or hitting knees (Lilly). Begnini has a very particular composure, which is kind of his personal label.

Saturn is in a sign of Venus and sextiled by her:  his profession is related to arts, poetry and theatre. Ptolemy says  that if Venus has dominion together with Saturn  they will cause  persons to be employed in matters of  amusement and decoration and will also add jugglers, scorcerers and charlatans, and all such as practice similarity. Begnini interpreted each of them in his many roles. Saturn is the natural ruler of wood. Begnini was perfect for the role of the wood carver Gepetto, father of the famous wooden puppet Pinocchio.

Saturn is angular and exalted describing high quality or a high rank of profession. However Saturn also describes hard work, mastery, perseverance in order to achieve success. We can also see the film topics: in life is beautiful, Begnini is a jewish bookshop owner (Saturn describes jews) who uses his fertile imagination (exaltation) to shield (Saturn describes bounderies and shields) his son from the horrors of internment  (Saturn) in a Nazi concentration camp.

 Saturn is in the bounds of Jupiter, who adds good reputation and honor. Jupiter is in the 5th house of arts, creativity  and pleasures and is disposed by Venus, the natural ruler of arts.


Begnini’s career is certainly described by  Mercury, who is conjunct the MC. He is indeed a master of oratory and rethorics. He alchemically slips  (Scorpio) into his roles. But I also think that Saturn, the planet that rises helical, describes his career better than just the planet that applies to Saturn (Mars).

In this particular case, the duo Mercury/Saturn with the assistance of Mars describe his career perfectly.

[1] Tetrabiblos, IV, 4 Robbins translation

[2] https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Ptolemy/Tetrabiblos/4A*.html#ref14

[3] Late Classical Astrology, Paulus of Alexandria and Olympiodorus, translated by Dorian Greenbaum Arhat Publications, p. 123

[4] “Application” (sunaphe) is an applying aspect. Olympiodorus requires an applying aspect from the Moon to either one of the triplets or an applying aspect to the Sun from Mercury or Venus or from the Sun to Mars. He is NOT talking about an applying conjunction which would make the planets weak.

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