Marcus Manilius

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Marcus Manilius (fl. 1st century AD) was a Roman poet, astrologer, and author of a poem in five books called Astronomica.



The author of Astronomica is neither quoted nor mentioned by any ancient writer. Even his name is uncertain, but it was probably Marcus Manilius; in the earlier books the author is anonymous, the later give Manilius, Manlius, Mallius. The poem itself implies that the writer lived under Augustus or Tiberius, and that he was a citizen of and resident in Rome. According to the early 18th century classicist Richard Bentley, he was an Asiatic Greek; according to the 19th-century classicist Fridericus Jacob an African. His work is one of great learning; he had studied his subject in the best writers, and generally represents the most advanced views of the ancients on astronomy (or rather astrology).

Manilius frequently imitates Lucretius, whom he resembles in earnestness and originality and in the power of enlivening the dry bones of his subject. Although his diction presents some peculiarities, the style is metrically correct.

The astrological systems of houses, linking human affairs with the circuit of the zodiac, have evolved over the centuries, but they make their first appearance in Astronomicon. The earliest datable surviving horoscope that uses houses in its interpretation is slightly earlier, c. 20 BC. Claudius Ptolemy (c. AD 130 - 170) almost completely ignored houses (Templa as Manlius calls them) in his astrological text, Tetrabiblos.

Textual history[edit]

Julius Firmicus Maternus, who wrote in the time of Constantine, exhibits so many points of resemblance with the work of Manilius that he must either have used him or have followed some work that Manilius also followed. As Firmicus says that hardly any Roman except 'Caesar' (by whom he almost certainly means Germanicus Caesar rather than Julius Caesar), Cicero and Fronto had treated the subject, it is probable that he did not know the work of Manilius. The latest event referred to in the poem is the great defeat of Varus by Arminius in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (AD 9). The fifth book was not written until the reign of Tiberius; the work appears to be incomplete, and was probably never published, for it was never quoted by any subsequent writer.

Two manuscripts of Astronomicon made in the 10th and 11th centuries lay hidden in monasteries, one at Gembloux in Brabant (now in Brussels) and another that has come to rest in the library at Leipzig. The unknown text was rediscovered by the humanist Poggio Bracciolini somewhere not very far from Constance, during a break in the sessions of the Council of Constance that he was attending, in 1416 or 1417. The editio princeps of Astronomicon was prepared by the astronomer Regiomontanus, using very corrupted manuscripts, and published in Nuremberg about 1473. The text was critically edited by Joseph Justus Scaliger, whose edition appeared at Paris in 1579 and a second edition, collated with much better manuscripts, at Leiden in 1600. A greatly improved edition was published by Richard Bentley [1] in 1739. The edition of A.E. Housman, published in five volumes from 1903 to 1930, is considered the authoritative edition, although some may find G.P. Goold's edition for the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard, 1977) less intimidating. The first full length monograph in English on Manilius appeared in 2009.[2]


Speak that I might see you! [3]


  1. ^ Bentley had received many papers from Edward Sherburne the author of The Sphere of Marcus Manilius made an English Poem, with annotations and an astronomical appendix, published in London, 1675, as a folio, dedicated to Charles II. The elaborate appendix contains among other things a 'Catalogue of Astronomers, Ancient and Modern,' which is valuable for its notices of contemporary writers. The work is noticed with commendation in the 'Philosophical Transactions,' No. 110 (abridgment, ii. 185). An English translation into rhyming couplets by Thomas Creech was published in 1697.
  2. ^ Volk K., Manilius and his Intellectual Background, Oxford University Press, 2009; ISBN 978-0-19-926522-0; ISBN 0-19-926522-4
  3. ^ quoted in Georg Hamann Aesthetica in Nuce N II, 198[5] Manilius Astron Lib IV


  • J. R. Bram (ed), Ancient Astrology: Theory and Practice. Matheseos Libri VIII by Firmicus Maternus (Park Ridge, 1975).
  • Manilio Il poema degli astri (Astronomica), testo critico a cura di E. Flores, traduzione di Ricardo Scarcia, commento a cura di S. Feraboli e R. Scarcia, 2 vols. (Milano, 1996–2001).
  • Wolfgang Hübner (ed.), Manilius, Astronomica, Buch V (2 Bde) (Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 2010) (Sammlung wissenschaftlicher Commentare).


  • Hermann, M. Metaforyka astralna w poezji rzymskiej (Kraków, 2007).
  • Habinek, T. "Probing the Entrails of the Universe: Astrology as bodily knowledge in Manilius' Astronomica," in Jason König and Tim Whitmarsh (еds), Ordering Knowledge in the Roman Empire (Cambridge, 2007), 229-240.
  • Caseau, B. "Firmicus Maternus: Un astrologue converti au christianisme ou la rhétorique du rejet sans appel," in D. Tollet (ed), La religion que j'ai quittée (Paris, 2007), 39-63.
  • Volk, K. Manilius and his Intellectual Background (Oxford, 2009).
  • Steven J. Green, Katharina Volk (ed.), Forgotten Stars: Rediscovering Manilius' Astronomica (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011).

External links[edit]

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.