The Eightfold Year
and the
Stages of Life

©1995, John Opsopaus

(revision ©2000)

(A more readable version of this document, using tables, is available.)

Definition of the Eight Stages of Life

life- transi- nom. name & description stage tion age ---------------------------------------- I Young Child (paidion): suppleness of body, quick change 1 7 shedding milk teeth (1 X 7) II Child (pais): development of intelligence, learning, personality 2 14 puberty (2 X 7) III Youth (meirakion/meirax): maturation, impulse toward love 3 21 full growth of body hair, max. height (3 X 7) IV Young Adult (neaniskos/neanis): ambition, mastery & direction over actions, increase of strength 4 28 maximum physical strength (4 X 7) V Adult (aner/gune): full vigor, ready for marriage, striving for significance, improvement of insight & reason 5 49 perfect age (7 X 7), menopause, ripe in wisdom, maturity of reason VI Elder (presbutes/presbutis): perfecting reason, judgement, foresight, moderation, honor, dignity 6 56 beginning of old age: perfection of reason & judgement (8 X 7) VII Old One (geron/graia): forebearance, gentleness, passions tamed 7 70 natural and of life, the decad (10 X 7) VIII The End (eskhate): uttermost, highest, best, last; an extremely old one (eskhatogeros); exercise of wisdom, honor, with no obligations.

Sources & Notes

I've supplied, in parentheses, the Greek word for each lifestage (male/female when they differ), as given by Philo (De Op. Mun. 36). The first seven lifestages, transitions and nominal ages are given by Iamblichus (Theol. Arith.) quoting Hippocrates (Hebd. 5), Philo (35-36), who quotes Hippocrates and Solon, Isidore of Seville (De Num. 188c-d), Macrobius (Somn. Scip. VI), Martianus Capella (De Nupt. VII), Ptolemy (Tetrab. IV.10); Westcott (Numbers 73, 76) was also considered. The ages used here are the same as in Iamblichus/Hippocrates and Philo; the others agree with minor exceptions. The eighth lifestage is implied by Macrobius. I take it to be the stage between death and rebirth, which is sometimes seen before death in the numinous state of an Ancient Sage.

The transition ages between lifestages shown above are 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8 hebdomads (7s). From Platonic theory we might expect 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, which are all the multiples of 2 and 3 (the primal even/female and odd/male numbers) in the decad (1 is neither odd nor even, but the source of both, according to the Pythagoreans). Adopting this theory drops the V-VI transition age from 49 to 42 (which seems too low).

In any case, the transition ages should not be taken too seriously; obviously they are heavily influenced by Pythagorean theory. See Opsopaus (Lib. de Oct. Mut.) for the universal eightfold structure of cycles.

Further Correspondences

life- transi- qua- ele- celest. form sabbat season Greek stage tion lity ment sphere of soul season -------------------------------------------------------------------- 0 wet Spr Equ I Moon sacrum E Spr early Ear 1 air Mid Spr II Mercury gonads L Spr late Ear 2 hot Sum Sol III Venus belly E Sum Theros 3 fire Mid Sum IV Sun heart L Sum Opora 4 dry Aut Equ V Mars throat E Aut Phthinoporon 5 earth Mid Aut VI Jupiter brain L Aut Sporetos 6 cold Win Sol VII Saturn crown E Win Kheimon 7 water Mid Win VIII Stars supercrown L Win Phutalia


Qualities & elements: The four qualities (corresponding to the quarters, the solstices and equinoxes) and the four elements (cross-quarters) constitute the eight radii of the wheel of the year. As explained by Aristotle (De Cael. 268-96, De Gen. & Cor. 329-31), each pair of qualities constitutes the element between them (fire = hot + dry, water = cold + wet, etc.), and two adjacent elements share the included quality (e.g. both air and fire are hot). Each quality and each element "rules" a quarter (so that their "domains" overlap); that is, the four qualities exhaust the wheel of the year, as do the four elements. Thus (1) air rules I-II, (2) hot rules II-III, (3) fire rules III-IV, etc. See
Opsopaus (Anc. Grk. Es. Doctr. Elem.) for more on the elements and qualities.

The hot quality is maximized at the summer solstice, and the cold quality at the winter solstice. The wet and dry qualities are at the two points of equilibrium between hot and cold, and so correspond to the equinoxes (where light/dark = hot/cold are equalized). Cold promotes moisture, which fuels heat, which dries things out. Birth takes place when fluidity (0 = wet) is maximized, and the discriminating force of heat (2) maximizes structure (3 = dry); thereafter the chaotic (4 = cold) processes lead to its dissolution (0 = wet). The resulting correspondence between the elements and the four seasons is confirmed by Aristides (De Mus. III.19), Isidore Sev. (De Nat. Rer. 1472), Peyligk (Phil. Nat. Comp. 1499), Hippocrates (Nat. Man VII, Reg. I.33) and others.

Celestial sphere: Ptolemy (Tetrab. IV.10) associates the seven planetary spheres with the first seven lifestages. It seems natural, then, to associate the eighth, astral sphere with the eighth, immaterial lifestage. (This also agrees with Gnostic ideas of the ascent of the soul.)

Sabbats and seasons: Varro (De Agri. I.28-36) describes eight seasons of the agricultural year. Their boundaries are the quarters (solstices and equinoxes) and cross-quarters that are approximately midway between them. Varro's dates for the cross-quarters were determined by astronomical events (e.g. the rising and setting of Sirius and the Pleiades), which have shifted over the intervening millennia. Therefore I have normalized them to Feb. 1, May 1, Aug. 1, Nov. 1. Here are some modern markers with approximate dates (computed from a circular astronomy-sliderule):

transi- nom. astronomical event approx. tion date date -------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1 5/1 Vega on Eastern horizon at Sunset (cosmical rising) 4/29 (Varro uses the heliacal rising of the Pleiades 5/15) 3 8/1 Sirius on Eastern horizon at Sunrise (heliacal rising) 8/4 5 11/1 Vega on Eastern horizon at Sunrise (heliacal rising) 11/5 (Varro uses the cosmical rising of the Pleiades 11/15) 7 2/1 Altair on Western horizon at Sunset (heliacal setting) 2/6

Greek seasons: The Greeks originally had three seasons, then four, and later seven. Based on dates and agricultural activities, I have decided that the Greek Ear (Spring) corresponds to the first two Roman seasons and to the first two lifestages, though this is not certain. By looking at their etymology we can understand the meaning of the Greek seasons (LSJ s.vv. hora and the names of the seasons):

stage Greek season & meaning ------------------------------------------------------ I-II Ear = prime flowering (spring) III Theros = summer harvest (summer) IV Opora = youthful ripeness, fruit (late summer) V Phthinoporon = waning of Opora (autumn) VI Sporetos = seed time (corn sowing) VII Kheimon = winter cold & storms VIII Phutalia = planting time (latter part of winter)

Form of the soul: The bodily loci of the "forms of the soul" (ta eidê psukhês), which correspond approximately to the chakras. The "eighth chakra," the "supercrown," is the divine force, located above the head, from which depends the embodied soul (Timaeus 90a-b); the Stoics (Aetius, Dox. Gr. 4.21.1-4) also recognized an eighth, transcendant "commanding-faculty" (hêgemonikon) that united and sustained the other seven parts of the soul. For more detail and sources, see Opsopaus (Ta Eidê Psuchês). Ideally, the lifestages correspond to a shift of emphasis to the higher chakras (without neglecting the lower ones, of course).

Fourfold Division

lifestage season sun (dir., qual.) life (qual.) humour element god ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ I-II Spring rising (E, dry) young (wet) blood air Zeus III-IV Summer midday (S, hot) prime (hot) y. bile fire Hades V-VI Autumn setting (W, wet) harvest (dry) b. bile earth Hera VII-VIII Winter night (N, cold) dissol. (cold) phlegm water Persephone


There are a number of ways of assigning gods to the elements. That shown above is based on the esoteric doctrines of Empedocles, who discovered the four elements (see
Opsopaus, Anc. Grk. Es. Doctr. Elem., for an explanation).

Diogenes Laertius (VIII.10) says Pythagoras allotted 20 years to each stage. Comparing with the nominal ages from the first chart shows only a rough correspondence:

I-II 1-14 1-20 III-IV 15-28 21-40 V-VI 29-56 41-60 VII-VIII 57- 61-80 The four stages are ideally an ascent of emphasis through the four mental faculties enumerated by Plutarch (Opin. Phil. I.3), Theon of Smyrna (Math. Plat. 38) and others: lifestage faculty characteristics (qualities) ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I-II child sensus (sensation) fluid, discriminating (wet, hot) III-IV youth opinio (opinion) discriminating, rigid (hot, dry) V-VI adult scientia (knowledge, skill) rigid, unifying (dry, cold) VII-VIII elder mens (understanding) unifying, fluid (cold, wet) This is, in effect, an alchemical rotation through the elements air, fire, earth, water (also known as Plato's Cycle).


seas., sun (dir., qual.), life (qual.): Ptolemy (Tet. I.10); seas., sun (dir.), hum.: Durer/Celtis (Qua. Lib. Am. 1502); seas., elem.: Aristides (De Mus. III.19); seas., elem., dir.: Lull (Felix, corr. Yates), Ashmole (Th. Chem. Br. 1652); seas., elem., hum.: Isidore Sev. (De Nat. Rer. 1472), Peyligk (Phil. Nat. Comp. 1499); lifest., sun dir.: Peyligk, Durer/Celtis; lifest., seas.: Crinitus (De Hon. Disc.), Diog. Laert. (VIII.10); lifest., seas., hum., elem.: Hippocrates (Nat. Man VII, Reg. I.33); elem., god: Kingsley (Anc. Phil., Mys. Mag.). On all issues related to the elements and qualites, see Opsopaus (Anc. Grk. Es. Doctr. Elem.).
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