The Eightfold Year and the Stages of Life

(c) 1995, John Opsopaus

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.

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):

 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 eide psukhes), 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" (hegemonikon) that united and sustained the other seven parts of the soul. For more detail and sources, see Opsopaus (Ta Eide Psuches). 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      Hera
III-IV     Summer  midday  (S, hot)  prime   (hot)  cholor   fire     Zeus
V-VI       Autumn  setting (W, wet)  harvest (dry)  bile     earth    Demeter
VII-VIII   Winter  night   (N, cold) dissol. (cold) melanch. water    Poseidon


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: Sandys (ed. Metamorph. 1632).