Robert Schmidt 22 December 1950 - 6 December 2018
Ancient technical texts are very hard to work with. In Robert Schmidt’s case not only did he translate Greek and Latin manuscripts into English as the primary purpose of Project Hindsight but also had a feel for the customs of the ancient world – as he wrote on the PH site, none of the ancient sources is written in a “chatty style”. He knew at least five languages and acquired his specialised understanding of astrology after an encounter with the ‘Mars Effect’ psychologist and statistician Michel Gauquelin in 1989.
I’ve written a couple of posts on my website about Project Hindsight which was “founded [by Schmidt and Ellen Black in 1993] to make the primary source texts of the Western astrological tradition available in modern English translations”. The collection of translations deserves to be more widely known. Most are out-of-print but can be obtained as PDFs.
Robert H. Schmidt was the principal translator at Project Hindsight. And his death at just age 67 is a great loss. He dedicated his life to translating ancient astrology sources, and especially Hellenistic. He self-published his translations which inevitably means that they did not find their way into academic research libraries. This is unfortunate, and it means that they remain obscure.
His funeral home has a web-page with an obituary (adamsfamilyfuneralhome.com) written by Bill Johnston who supplied me with additional information.
Born on 22 December 1950, Robert H. Schmidt was given the National Science Foundation award at age 16 and later obtained a scholarship to study mathematical physics at M.I.T. He chose instead to go to St John’s College in Annapolis as part of their ‘Great Books’ programme to read philosophy. There, he studied under Jacob Klein, one of Heidegger’s students. He learned the importance of reading primary texts in the original language and “discovered his love of the Greek verb”. Instead of pursuing a university-based academic career, he chose to become an independent scholar, and eventually to translate ancient astrological texts.
He settled in Cumberland, in Maryland. To support himself he initially worked as a printer, and he took other blue-collar jobs. By middle age he was well-enough known to support himself through his publications and recordings of lectures and seminars.
A draft of one of his papers, The Problem of Astrology (2000), may be found online. It repays reading by those seeking to understand what he did intellectually. At one point he says something which perhaps explains how a university-trained philosopher came to be interested in astrology. He asks us to consider what we mean by ‘astrology’:
“Why the title ‘Metaphysics of Metaphysics?’ [as a description of astrology]. Now I chose that title very
deliberately because, in my mind, metaphysics has two completely different meanings. My background being in the study of ancient and modern philosophy, when I heard the word metaphysics, I always understood it to mean the study of Being, as it was for the Greeks. It was a great surprise to me when I first went into a bookstore and looked for the ‘metaphysical section’, expecting to find some new books on Aristotle, and found instead books on crystals, out-of-body experiences, meditation, occultism, and astrology. This was long before I was involved in the astrological world, by the way.
…There is a statement by a Neo-Platonist philosopher named Iamblichus in a strange book called On the
Mysteries. In this book another neo-Platonist, Porphyry, is directing a number of questions about the Egyptian religion to an Egyptian priest.
In the course of the answering of these questions the priest says that the men who translated the Egyptian sacred writings into Greek – and these sacred writings included their magical, alchemical, and astrological
writings, all generally attributed to one of their sages named Hermes – the men who translated these sacred
writings into Greek were men who were trained in Greek philosophy, presumably the philosophies of the Athenian Greeks Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics.
Now, this is a very astonishing statement and it made a great impression on me. Such are the chances of life.”
More of his work and writings can be found on the Project Hindsight website.
Thank you, Mr Schmidt, for all your efforts. You sought truth in the heavens. May you find mercy and the real source of all heavenly truth on the Last Day. Requiescat in pace.
For the full tribute to Robert Schmidt, please see the Mar/Apr 2019 Astrological Journal, page 40, where you will also find a personal appreciation from Nick Campion.