Astronomica (Manilius)

 

The earliest work on astrology that is extensive, comprehensible, and mostly intact, the Astronomica describes celestial phenomena, and, in particular, the zodiac and astrology. The poem—which seems to have been inspired by Lucretius's Epicurean poem De rerum natura—espouses a Stoic, deterministic understanding of a universe overseen by a god and governed by reason. The fifth book of the Astronomica features a lacuna, which has led to debate about the original size of the poem; some scholars have argued that whole books have been lost over the years, whereas others believe only a small section of the work is missing.
Because no contemporary Roman sources mention his name, the exact identity of the Astronomica's author is a tantalizing question, but his name was probably Marcus Manilius. This uncertainty has led to Marcus Manilius being confused over the years with Manilius Antiochus (fl. c. 100 BC, mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia); Flavius Manlius Theodorus (fl. c. AD 376–409, a consul in AD 399) and Boëthius (the sixth-century Roman senator and author of De consolatione philosophiae, whose full name was Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius). Although the poem suggests that the writer was a citizen and resident of Rome, some have contended that Manilius was a non-Roman; according to Katharina Volk, a Latinist who specializes in Manilius, this belief is generally based on either "the poet's supposedly inferior Latinity" or "the wish to see Manilius as the member of a Greek intellectual milieu at Rome". The 19th-century classicist Fridericus Jacobs and the 19th- and 20th-century historian Paul Monceaux have argued that he was an African, based largely on his writing style, which they say resembles that of other African authors. Volk counters this view, arguing that Manilius writes "from ... a conventional Roman perspective" and "takes recourse to Roman history to illustrate the astrological facts he discusses".
In the first book he ponders the origin of the universe, considering theories by Xenophanes, Hesiod, Leucippus, Heraclitus, Thales, and Empedocles before arguing that the universe was created from the four elements and is governed by a divine spirit. According to Manilius, the universe is composed of two spheres: one´the Earth´is solid and the other´the "sphere of stars", often called the firmament´ is hollow. The constellations are fixed in the firmament; the Earth is stationary and the firmament revolves around it, explaining the movements of the stars. The planets, the moon, and the Sun also revolve around the Earth in the vast space between its surface and the edge of the firmament. Because the Earth is in the center of the universe, it is equidistant from the firmament and is thus not compelled to "fall" in any specific direction. According to Manilius, the universe is ruled by a god (conspirat deus) and is governed by reason (ratione gubernat). Manilius next discusses the constellations and stars and the celestial circles. In this section, the poet spends considerable time contemplating the Milky Way band, which, after exploring several hypotheses as to its existence, he concludes is likely the celestial abode for dead heroes. The first book ends with an exploration of comets, which Manilius sees as harbingers of calamity or great disaster.
Volk, when considering the problem of completeness, proposed several hypotheses: the work is mostly complete but internally inconsistent about which topics it will and will not consider; the lacuna in book five may have originally contained the missing information; the lacuna may be relatively small and the work is unfinished; or entire books may have originally existed but were lost over time through the "hazardous process of textual transmission".