Melampus, On Moles

An Ancient Greek Manual of Divination by Bodily Marks, translated by Tim Spalding, ©1999-2003

Introduction to the Translation

This translation was put up as a supplement to my web page Ancient Astrology and Divination on the Web. To my knowledge it is the first translation in English, and the first into a modern language since that remarkable polymath Girolamo Cardano produced a French version. Quite frankly, I haven't looked closely at this text since 1999, when I wrote this preliminary translation while working on a translation and commentary to Melampus' much longer work on divination by ticks and twitches. I am putting it up now because I don't see myself "finishing" either in the near future, and having an imperfect version out there is better than nothing.

Together with my translation I include an 18th c. Latin translation for Greekless readers, and the Greek text. The text is coded for a popular scholarly Greek font. I may scan the text someday. Scholars will find the text on the TLG (Thesaurus Lingae Graecae) CD-ROM.

Feel free to email me at

Greek Divination by Moles and Birthmarks

The Greek word elaia means "olive." The word came to be applied to moles, presumably because they are dark and rounded. Sometimes it was generalized to "blemish," as is done with the Latin equivalent, Naevus. I posit that it could also meant "birthmark" or apply to other permanent or long-lasting skin marks. This is because the text of the Peri Elaion refers to some "moles" being "ruddy" in color. I've never seen a ruddy mole, but "port wine stains" are the most common form of birthmarks. To my knowledge, Greek don't get the Irishman's red-tan freckles. Greeks with unusual dermatological conditions are invited to send jpegs.

Mole-divination was apparently not a major preoccupation of professional Greek diviners. There are very few references to the practice (fewer, for example, than to twitch-divination). There are some casual mentions in the physiognomists. It may well have been considered a "low" form of divination, as astrology and oneiromancy were considered "high" and therefore worth literary and philosophical noodling. There were occasional "significant" birthmarks. Seleucus, the first Macedonian king of Syria and his descendants were alleged to have received from Apollo an anchor birthmark on their thigh.

Introductory Thoughts on the Text

The most recent edition of Melampos' Peri Elaion Tou Somatos was published in 1780 by J. G. F. Franz in his Scriptores Physiognomoniae Veteres (Ancient Authors of Physiognomy). Franz's edition, in turn, drew on earlier editions. There is certainly need for a comprehensive reexamination of the original Greek manuscripts, and a search for Arabic and other translations.

In the manuscripts, Peri Elaion Tou Somatos follows Melampos' far longer Peri Palmon Mantikes (On Divination by Twitches). My translation of that is "in the works" (don't hold your breath).

It is difficult to say whether "On Birthmarks" was originally only 450 words, but it is possible that it was longer. On Twitches comes in a number of abbreviated versions. It also wanes less verbose as it progresses.

There's a early-modern Greek edition of this work in manuscript. I believe it to be a straight translation into a puzzling vernacular--I am no authority on post-Classical Greek--but it might have some other source-relationship to the foregoing. If you're interested I'll dig it out.


J. G. F. Franz, Scriptores Physiognomoniae Veteres (Altenbug, 1780)

Meletius, monk. De natura stucturaque hominis opus (Venice, 1552).

Peruscus, Camillus, Ailianou poikiles historias... (Venice?, 1545)


Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576), La metoposcopie... (Paris, 1658). This is a book of diagrams explicating the significance of facial wrinkles, with a simple text of Melampos and a French translation.

# English Translation

Latin translation
(Franz 1780)
Greek Text
The Interpretation of Birthmarks by Melampos the Scribe to King Ptolemy
Melampodis Scriptorissacri Divinatio Ex Naevis Corporis ad Regem Ptolemaeum.


If the mark is on the forehead of a man he will be master of many men. And if on the forehead of a woman, the woman will reign, or be the greatest.
Si sit (naevus) in fronte viri, is multorum bonorum erit dominus: At si in mulieris fronte, illa regnabit, aut erit maxima.

En stn (laa) ew t mtvpon to ndrw, polln gayn stai kriow. E d ew t mtvpon tw gunaikw, gun basilesei, megsth stai.

If outside the eyebrow of a man, he will take a good and beautiful wife; if of a woman and her skin is ruddy, she will take a rich and handsome husband. But if it is upon the eyebrow of a man, one must not marry him, because he will be the husband of five wives. The same also for a woman.
Si extra supercilia viri, uxorem bonam et formosam adipiscetur: Set si (extra supercilium) mulieris, et eius color sit flavus, reperiet maritum divitem et formosum. Si autem in viri superciliis, non debet matriomonium contrhere, quia quinque uxrum maritus fieret. Idem etiam in muliere (continget).

En jv tn frvn to ndrw, lambnei gunaka gayn, ka emorfon: e d gunaikw, ka stin xroa atw pur=, lambnei ndra plosion, ka emorfon. E d p tn frvn to ndrw, o de suzugnai atn, ti pnte gunaikn nr gensetai. T at ka p tw gunaikw.

If it is on the nose of a man, and his skin is ruddy, he will be insatiate in lovemaking, also when she has a birthmark also upon the privates. If it is on the nose or the eye of a woman, the same will happen as with a man, this too when he has a birthmark on her privates. If upon the side of the nose of a man, he will go abroad from land to land. If upon a woman she will have smelly feet, this too when she has a birthmark on her privates.
Si fit in naso viri, et eius color flavuus fit, insatiabilis erit in coitu, quin etiam naevum habet in occulto. Si sit in naso, aut in oculo mulieris, idem ei continget ac viro, quin etiam ipsa in occulto naevum habet. Si ad latus nasi maris, peregrinabitur de regione in regionem. In femina vero, pedibus debilis fiet, quin etiam in abdito naevum habet.

En ew tn =na to ndrw, ka xroi ato stai pur=a, krestow stai tw sunousaw, ti ka ew t kruptn xei laan. En ew tn =na ew tn fyalmn tw gunaikw, movw pobsetai t ndr, ti ka at ew t kruptn laan xei. En ew t plgion tw =inw to ndrw, jenitesei p xraw ew xran. Ep d gunaikw, kakopodna gensetai, ti ka ew kruptn laan xei.

If upon the cheek of a man, he will be rich. Upon a women, if upon the lower portion of the jaw, she will be emotional, this too when she has one on her paunch.
Si in gena viri, dives evadet: In femina vero, si in parte inferiori maxillae, perturbata erit, immo etiam in hypograstrio habet (naevum.)

En ew t mgoulon to ndrw, plosiow gensetai. Ep d gunaikw, n ew t ktv mrow to siagnow, mpayw stai, ti ka ew t pogstrion xei.

If upon the tongue of a man, he will take a rich and beautiful wife.
Si in lingua viri, nanciscetur uxorem opulentam et pulcram.

En ew tn glssan to ndrw, lcetai gunaka plousan, ka kaln.

If the mark is upon the lips of a man, he will be an overeater. The same applies to a woman.
Si in labiis viri naeus sit, maximus erit helvo. Perinde et in mulieribus.

En ew xelh to ndrw laa , polfagaw stai. Omovw ka p gunaikn.

If a man has a mark on his chin (or wattles), he will be rich in gold and silver. The same also for a woman, when she has one on her spleen.
Si in mento vir habet naevum, dives erit auri atque argenti. Idem etiam in mullere, quin etiam (naevum) versus lienem habet.

En ew tn pgvna xei nr laan, plosiow stai xrus ka rgur. T at ka p gunaikw, ti ka ew tn splna xei.

If a man has one on his ear, he will be rich and respected. The same also for a woman, when she has a mark on her thigh.
Si in auribus vir (naevum) habet, opulentus erit et bonae famae. Idem et in muliere,[?] quin etiam naevum in femine habet.

En ew t ta xei nr, plosiow ka eloghmnow stai. T at ka p gunaikw, ti ka ew tn mhrn laan xei.

If a man has one on his throat, he will be very rich. The same also for a woman.
Si in collo (naevum) vir habet, erit admodum dives. Similiter et femina.

En ew tn trxhlon xei nr, plosiow stai sfdra. Omovw ka p gunaikw.

If a man has it on the back of his throat, he will be beheaded.
Si pone cervicem vir (naevum) habet, decollabitur.

En ew tn axna xei psv nr pokefalzetai.

If upon the muscles of the loins, he will be a begar and raise unlucky children. For a woman the same.
Si in lumbis, mendicus erit et infortunatus baiulus fuae progeniei. Mulier similiter.

En ew tw caw, ptvxw sai ka tuxw bastzvn gnouw. Ep gunaikw movw.

If upon the shoulder, he will be bound and oppressed.
Si in humeris, captivus erit et afflictus.

En ew tow mouw, dsmiow stai, ka ylibmenow.

If upon the arm-pit, he will take a rich and beautiful woman. And a woman likewise.
Si in axilla reperiet divitem atque formosam coniugem. Ita et mulier.

En ew tn mlhn, lcetai gunaka polousan ka kaln. Ka gun moiw.

If upon the hands, he will have many children. And the woman likewise.
Si in manibus, multorum liberorum parens erit. Sic etiam mulier.

En ew tw xeraw, polteknow stai. Ka gun movw.

If upon the chest, he will be poor. And the woman likewise.
Si in pectore, pauper erit. Etiam et mulier.

En ew t styow, pnhw stai. Ka gun movw.

If over the heart, he will be very miserable. But this will occurr to a woman, when the mark is on her breast.
Si supra cor, nequissimus erit: Mulieri autem idem contingit, quum in mammilla naevum habet.

En pnv tw kardaw, polupnhrow stai. T d gunaik toto sumbanei, tan ew tn mastn tn laan xei.

If upon the belly, both will be gluttons.
Si in ventre, ambo erunt voraces.

En ew tn koilan, fgoi mfteroi sontai.

If on the spleen, emotional and sickly.
Si in liene, infirmi et valitudinarii.

En ew tn splna, mpayew ka pnosoi.

If on the paunch, they will be emotional.
Si in hypograstrio, morbidi erunt.

En ew t pogstrion, mpayew sontai.

If on the privates, they will be insatiate for lovemaking.
Si in occulto, intemperantes erunt in revenere.

En ew t kruptn, plhstoi sontai p tw sunousaw.

If on the penis, while the man will be a bearer of male children, the woman will be the opposite.
Si in genitali, vir quidem erit marium procreator: Mulier autem contra.

En ew t fusikn, mn nr r=engunow stai: d gun toanton.

If on the thigh, they will be rich.
Si in femore, divites erunt.

En ew tn mern, plosioi sontai.

If on the knees, he will take a rich wife. And if a woman, if on the left knee, she will be good, but and if on the right, she will be fruitful.
Si in genubus, (vir) acquiret uxorem divitem: Mulier autem, si in dextro genu, proba erit; set si sinistro, multae prolis genitrix erit.

En ew t gnata, lcetai gunaka plousan. H d gun, e d ew t dejin gnu, gay stai: e d ew t ristern, polteknow stai.

If upon the ankle a man will get an unbeautiful wife who dresses well (??); but the woman, gets a husband of wealth (??).
Si in calcaneo, vir (uxorem) tunica spoliatam faciet, ut et mulier maritum auctoritate.

En ew tn strgalon nr (tn gunaka) prsvpon poie p tw xitvnaw: d gun, tn ndra ap tw jousaw.

If they have a mark on the feet, they will be fruitful.
Sed si in pedibus naevum habeant, multorum liberorum parentes erunt.

E d ew tow pdaw xousin laan, polteknoi sontai.

So is the interpretation for men and women; if the mark is on the left side, they will be rich and good of all things; if on the right side, emotional and poor.
Observa itaque in viris et mulieribus. Si naevus sit in partibus dextris, divites et probi omnino fient: Si vero in sinistris, morbosi et inopes erunt.

Shmevsai on t p ndrn ka gunaikn: n laa ew t deji mrh, plosioi ka gayo pntvn gensontai: e d ew t eȉnuma, mpayew ka ptvxo sontai.