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In THE DEADLIEST LIE, Aunt Hannah tells Miriam about her mother’s visit to an astrologer: “When your mother felt life quicken inside her, she went to her astrologer, who told her that she’d have a daughter with great gifts, one whose contributions would be famous for centuries but who would also experience great losses. So, she knew your life would be exceptional.”

With the conquest of Asia by Alexander the Great, astrology moved west from Babylonia to the world of the Greeks. In fact, the first major astrological prediction in the Greek world was that Alexander would die in Babylon. Although the great leader attempted to evade this prophecy, it proved to come true.

Given their reliance on the supernatural, the Romans accepted astrology as a form of divination using the planets and the stars. Emperor Augustus used astrology to legitimize his imperial rights, and his successor, Tiberius, was the first to have a court astrologer. Then Tiberius went a step further. He had his court astrologer cast the horoscopes of his rivals and executed any who had the potential to supplant him. Nero, on the other hand, Tiberius’s successor, had all astrologers charged with magic and treason.

Nevertheless, astrology remained important in the Roman world until the fifth century CE. And so, in Miriam’s first century, astrologers were among the hawkers and hucksters, orators and priests, soothsayers and snake charmers, sorcerers and swindlers who promised a miracle for a price.

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