Holden's translation of Paul of Alexander dates from 1986, many years ago, but publication was limited to photocopies and distribution limited to his friends. There was a second limited edition in 1994, and then this one, of 2010, which the AFA has now published (2012). I used to stock a translation by Dorian Greenbaum that Arhat (Rob Hand) published (Late Classical Astrology: Paulus Alexandrinus and Olympiodorus) but that is now out of print. Holden's translation, combined with AFA's publishing, is superior.
Holden declares this text to be incomplete. The signs of the zodiac are given extensive treatment, but there is not very much on the planets. The usual survey of topics - such as one finds in Ptolemy - is limited to Children and Action. Holden asks, why there is no chapter on planets? And why, if there is a chapter on children, there is none on marriage? (pg. ix) Holden speculates that much of Paul's book may have been lost over the centuries.
There are many tables: Terms of the planets are given in such a fashion as to make it clear the maximum years of life, as given by the various planets, is the addition of their term degrees (two separate tables). There are decans, monomoiria (single degrees), commanding and obeying, etc.
This book is famous for its scholia, or commentaries, which are marginal notes found with various copies of the book. These have been collected and comprise nearly 35 pages. These are given out of context, but it is generally clear what they are referring to. This is followed by Heliodorus's Commentaries, which list a great many lots, perhaps as many as can be found in Al Biruni.
There are many useful details in this book.
Which brings me to Holden's personal notes. He begins with where the zodiac started in ancient days. He says the Greeks in Alexandria started the zodiac at 15 Cancer, not 0 Aries. Holden says the Greeks used a "fixed zodiac" which he calls "Alexandrian." Exactly how this relates to the tropical or the sidereal I am not quite certain. A guess would be that Tropical positions, which are easily had, were from time to time projected into the sky, and when, as the decades and centuries passed, the stars had drifted out of those locations, a new fixing would be had. Such would be the origins of the Sidereal zodiac. (If it wasn't for Vedic astrology I would suspect the Sidereal zodiac to be a wholly modern invention.) This comes up in the discussion of Commanding and Obeying signs, which are derived from antiscia. Pg. 147, Holden notes that signs that "obey" each other do so because they cast equal shadows. Which, if I can believe that, are Tropical positions on the face of it, because the Tropical summer and winter solstices are defined as the longest and shortest days of the year, which has to do with shadows. Count the days before and after the solstices: Ten days before and ten days after, shadows are the same length, thus, antiscia. I've examined this in some detail in Valens, who goes on and on about solar and lunar gnomens. The gnomen is the shadow-casting part of a sundial.
Holden has a most useful detail in calculating planetary positions, as given in Valens. One is to start the count, not from the date of the death of the Emperor, but from the start of the next year, which at the time was August 29 or 30.
Holden then examines why things were so quirky in Alexandria. Supposedly everyone who was anyone was in Alexandria, but so far as anyone can tell, everyone did things their own way, they customarily contradicted each other, and no one knew any of their contemporaries. This is very puzzling, but I have a solution.
Which is that "Paul of Alexandria," "Jane of Alexandria," "Dorotheus of Sidon," "Vettius Valens of Antioch," etc., are all misleading. In point of fact, the academics who live in a town always end up in one big club - a college or university - just as they do now. In point of fact, when these people write books, they write for themselves. Not for an audience. Not for the public. Largely they carry on arcane feuds and for the most part are so unremarkable as to be completely forgotten. Remember any of your college professors? I don't.
What we actually have, instead, is a situation which appears similar to the Marseilles Tarot. Which goes like this: Once upon a time in the 18th century there was an enterprising printer in Marseilles who printed lots and lots of tarot cards, which, over time, became associated with the city of Marseilles itself. Such that when other printers, in other towns, printed their own tarot cards (all more or less identical), they called them "Marseilles" cards in order to pass them off as the genuine article. The "Marseilles tarot" became a generic term, in other words. Which it still is to this day.
Such is what I suspect happened with "Alexandria." If all the people who have "Alexandria" or "Egyptian" associated with their name actually lived in that town, how did the locals tell them apart?
But what if, instead, some enterprising fellow in Damascus, or Crete, or in far-off Sicily wanted to pass himself off as learned? If Alexandria was the center of learning, and if, perhaps, he had actually been there, he might stick "Alexandria" on his name, the way we might put "Ph.D." after ours. It gave him respect. It was a title. It set him apart.
If this is true, then few if any of these men had anything to do with Alexandria. It means their books will be from their own locales. Not from Alexandria. Each with its own, unique, local quirks. And why not? The ancient world was a large place, with many notable cities. Astrology is of interest everywhere, not just in a port city in Egypt. It is logical to think that books were written throughout the ancient world, and that the better ones have come down to us, regardless of who wrote them, or where. Which means we can have great fun trying to figure out where these men really lived and worked. From the klimes that Valens gives, I've put him in the Greek colonies in the Crimea. The Greeks extensively colonized the Crimea, a fact which today seems to be known only to the Ukrainians.
Holden has fascinating notes on how the ancients calculated the day of the week, the Sun's position, as well as ascendant and midheaven - which in the case of the angles was often none too accurate, as I discovered in duplicating the calculations given in Valens. Holden seems to be of the opinion that ancient sundials were more or less similar to the garden ornaments we know today. This is wrong. Obelisks could easily be made to function as community sundials, and with simple lines on the ground and monthly tables, would be accurate to under a minute. Any tower, or even tall wooden shaft, can be made to function in this way. I am puzzled why no one has figured this out before me.
In his notes on calculation, Holden at several points chides Paul for using arithmetic instead of trigonometry. This is unfair. Paul did not have the modern number system available to him. "Arabic" numbers were developed in India around 300 AD, spread to the Islamic world sometime around 800 AD, and to Europe in 1202, a date that ought to be engraved in everyone's head, as the Arabic system of numbers revolutionized the entire world, most especially astrology, which can - and should - be divided into not-Arabic, and Arabic periods. Paul had Ionian or Attic or Roman numbers, which were all versions of hash marks and unsuitable for anything harder than adding and subtracting. For fancier operations, the abacus was used. It wasn't only a Chinese invention. (Chinese numbers, up to Mao, were even worse.)
We are slowly puzzling out the riddles of Hellenistic astrology, thanks to the tireless efforts of men like James Holden.
AFA, 206 pages.