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Origen and the Life of the StarsA History of an Idea$

Alan Scott

Print publication date: 1994

Print ISBN-13: 9780198263616

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198263616.001.0001

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(p.173) Appendix B A Note on Origen’s Use of the Term ‘Antizone’

(p.173) Appendix B A Note on Origen’s Use of the Term ‘Antizone’

Origen and the Life of the Stars
Oxford University Press

In his letter to Avitus1 Jerome reports the following as one of Origen’s three conjectures in the De Principiis about the possible destiny of the soul. The fixed sphere and everything in it will be dissolved, and that by which the antizone itself is contained and surrounded will be called the ‘good earth’ (Matthew 13: 8). The other sphere which surrounds this same earth in its circuit and which is called ‘heaven’ will be the home of the saints.

The fixed sphere is the eighth sphere, the ninth is apparently both Hipparchus’ starless sphere and also the ‘celestial earth’,2 and the tenth is the higher and greater of the two heavens. What is puzzling here is the ‘antizone’ beneath them. As Crouzel notes, the word άντιζώνη is nowhere else attested in Greek literature. It is apparently an ‘anti’ zone because it moves in a direction opposite that of the ninth sphere. Crouzel says that the antizone is either the fixed sphere, moving from East to West, or the fixed sphere and the planets, which have this same overall direction despite their additional West-East movement.3

A passage in Origen’s Commentariorum Series in Evangelium Matthaei throws some light on this question. Here Origen says that the ‘middle zone’ is the area between the earth and the planetary region.4 This probably indicates that the planets are part of the antizone. There are evidently three zones beneath the celestial earth and so in the world of becoming:5 the topmost is an antizone which encompasses the planets and the fixed sphere; the second is a middle zone which includes the area between the earth and the planetary region (i.e. the air and the ether). I know of no reference to the third zone, which must be beneath (p.174) the ‘middle zone’, nor what such a zone would be called. Presumably it would include the earth and underworld.

In Greek science ‘zones’ (ζω̑ναι) refer both to regions on earth and to their counterparts on the celestial sphere.6 Heavenly zones refer to the intervals between the planets,7 and are commonly used to denote one of the seven planetary spheres.8 In Origen’s passage in the Commentariorum Series, the Greek word ζω̑ναι (which must lie behind the Latin zona) refers to one of only three regions. The question then is the background of this otherwise unattested word άνιζώνη (which Origen probably did not coin) and its unusual usage.

The ultimate background may well be astrological, for Origen had a good knowledge of astrological vocabulary. Hippolytus attributes a division of the universe into three parts to ‘the astrologers’. First is the region of the signs of the zodiac, called an immovable world, presumably not only because it is the ‘fixed’ sphere but also because it is above Fate. Second is the planetary region, which extends as far as the moon, and below this is our world.9 Here the seven planets are treated as one entity, which is not unusual in astrology or magic.10 The division of the universe is different from that in Origen, but one could see how the planetary region might be called an άνιζώνη, since it moves in a direction opposite that of the fixed sphere. The same word then perhaps was applied by Origen to the antizone’s relationship to the ninth sphere when he too divided the cosmos into three parts.

Such a division may have been adopted by Origen because it could be used in exegesis of 2 Corinthians 12: 2. At a few other points Origen talks about the three parts of the universe under highest heaven, but he describes its sections differently,11 and he evidently was uncertain how to describe these heavens. This indecision no doubt was due in part to the relative novelty12 of such a teaching, since a threefold division of the cosmos conflicted with the more familiar division of the cosmos into seven planetary regions and the fixed sphere.


(1) Ep. 124. 5 (3. 102. 26–03. 6 Hilberg). Rufinus omitted this passage, probablybecause he found it irrelevant or puzzling (or both).

(2) See ch. 8 n. 28 and 45.

(3) Principes, 2. 157 n. 43.

(4) 11. 102.21f. Kl.

(5) Following the Stoics it is common to say that the world consists of heavenand earth (since they did not admit anything beyond them), Posidonius frag. 334(Theiler),Philo Aet. 4.

(6) Geminus Elem. 16. 12 (78Aujac); Strabo 2. 5. 3 (1.2.81. 15–17 Aujac); PhiloHer. 147.

(7) Achilles Isag. 29 (62. 20–3 Maass).

(8) So Porphyry De Phil, ex Orac. 141; Vettius Valens 1. 10 (25. 19 f. Pingree);Zosimus of Panopolis On the Letter Omega 1 (16. 2). 9 (28, 10 Jackson); J. Lydus De Mens. 3. 12 (54. 10–12 Wünsch); etc.

(9) Hippolytus Ref. 5. 13. 1 (174. 1–175. 8 Marcovich).

(10) PGM 13. 213–26; Vettius Valens 6. 7 (245. 25 f. Pingree).

(11) In In Gen. Horn. 2. 5 he divides the cosmos into subterranean, earthly, andheavenly (6. 36. 2–5 B.); see further the sources in ch. 8 n. 66.

(12) Though this is not unheard of in pagan circles, see Lewy Chaldaean 137. 376,and at a later date Theodore of Asine test. 30 (Deuse).