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Martianus Capella: Wikis


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Martianus Minneus Felix Capella was a pagan writer of Late Antiquity, one of the earliest developers of the system of the seven liberal arts that structured Early medieval education. According to Cassiodorus, Capella was a native of Madaura—which had been the native city of Apuleius—in the Roman province of Africa, and appears to have practiced as a jurist at Carthage.

The lunar crater Capella is named after him.



His career flourished some time during the fifth century: Martianus composed his one famous book, fundamental in the history of education, the history of rhetoric and the history of science,[1] between the sack of Rome by Alaric I (410), which he mentions, but apparently before the conquest of North Africa by the Vandals in 429. As early as the middle of the sixth century, Securus Memor Felix, a professor of rhetoric, received the text in Rome, for his personal subscription at the end of book I or book II in many manuscripts records that he was working "from most corrupt exemplars".

De Nuptiis

From De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii

This single encyclopedic work, De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii ("On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury"), sometimes called De septem disciplinis ("On the seven disciplines") or the Satyricon[2] , is an elaborate didactic allegory written in a mixture of prose and elaborately allusive verse, a mixture of forms in the manner of the Menippean satires of Varro. The style is wordy and involved, loaded with metaphor and bizarre expressions. The book was of great importance in defining the standard formula of academic learning from the Christianized Roman Empire of the fifth century until the Renaissance of the 12th century. This formula included a medieval love for allegory (in particular personifications) as a means of presenting knowledge, and a structuring of that learning around the seven Liberal Arts.

The book, embracing in résumé form the narrowed classical culture of his time, was dedicated to his son. Its frame story in the first two books relates the courtship and wedding of Mercury (intelligent or profitable pursuit), who has been refused by Wisdom, Divination and the Soul, with the maiden Philologia (learning, but literally "word-love") who is made immortal, under the protection of the gods, the Muses, the Cardinal Virtues and the Graces. The title refers to the allegorical union of the intellectually profitable pursuit (Mercury) of learning by way of the art of letters (Philology).

Among the wedding gifts are seven maids who will be Philology's servants: they are the seven Liberal Arts: Grammar (an old woman with a knife for excising children's grammatical errors), Dialectic, Rhetoric (a tall woman with a dress decorated with figures of speech and armed in a fashion to harm adversaries), Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy and (musical) Harmony. Frances Yates commented that these images correspond closely to the rules for the creation of images for artificial memory.[3] As each art is introduced, she gives an exposition of the principles of the science she represents, thereby providing a summary of the seven liberal arts. Two other arts, Architecture and Medicine, were present at the feast, but since they care for earthly things, they were to keep silent in the company of the celestial deities.

Each book is an abstract or a compilation from earlier authors. The treatment of the subjects belongs to a tradition which goes back to Varro's Disciplinae, even to Varro's passing allusion to architecture and medicine, which in Martianus Capella's day were mechanics' arts, material for clever slaves, but not for senators. The classical Roman curriculum, which was to pass— largely through Martianus Capella's book— into the early medieval period, modified but scarcely revolutionized by Christianity. The verse portions, on the whole correct and classically constructed, are in imitation of Varro.

The eighth book describes a geo-heliocentric astronomical model, in which the Earth is at rest in the center of the universe and circled by the stars and most planets, while Mercury and Venus circle the Sun.[4] This view of Capella's was singled out for praise by Copernicus in Book I of his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium.


From De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii

Martianus Capella can best be understood in terms of the reputation of his book[5]. The work was read, taught, and commented upon throughout the Early Middle Ages, and continued to shape European education during the early medieval period and the Carolingian renaissance.

As early as the end of the fifth century, another African, Fulgentius, composed a work modeled on it. About 534, its dense and convoluted text had already become hopelessly corrupted by scribal errors, according to a note, found in numerous manuscripts, by a certain rhetorician Securus Felix, who was intending to produce an edition.[6] Another sixth century writer, Gregory of Tours, tells that it became virtually a school manual.[7] It was commented upon copiously: by John Scotus Erigena, Hadoard, Alexander Neckham, and Remigius of Auxerre. In the eleventh century the German monk Notker Labeo translated the first two books into Old High German. Martianus continued to play a major role as transmitter of ancient learning until the rise of a new system of learning founded on scholastic Aristotelianism. As late as the thirteenth century Martianus was still credited as having been the efficient cause of the study of astronomy.[8]

Modern interpreters have less interest in Martianus's ideas, "except for the light his work throws on what men in other times and places knew or thought it was important to know about the artes liberales.[9] C. S. Lewis, in his The Allegory of Love, states that "the universe, which has produced the bee-orchid and the giraffe, has produced nothing stranger than Martianus Capella."

The work was edited by Franciscus Vitalis Bodianus and first printed in Vicenza, 1499; its comparatively late date in print, and the modest number of later editions[10] are a marker of its slide in popularity, save as an elementary educational primer in the liberal arts.[11] A modern introduction, focusing on the mathematical arts, is William Harris Stahl, Richard Johnson and E. L. Burge, Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts, Vol. 1: The Quadrivium of Martianus Capella: Latin Traditions in the Mathematical Sciences 50 B.C.-A.D. 1250 Records of Civilization: Sources and Studies, 84, (New York: Columbia University Press), 1971.


  1. ^ William H. Stahl, "To a Better Understanding of Martianus Capella" Speculum 40.1 (January 1965, pp. 102-115.
  2. ^ On the title see William Stahl, Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts, vol. 1, pp. 21-22.
  3. ^ The Art of Memory, Frances Yates, London 1966
  4. ^ Bruce S. Eastwood, Ordering the Heavens: Roman Astronomy and Cosmology in the Carolingian Renaissance, (Leiden: Brill, 2007), pp. 238-9.
  5. ^ "The most eludicating approach to Martianus is through his fortuna. (Stahl 1965:105).
  6. ^ Stahl 1965:104.
  7. ^ "Our Martianus has instructed us in the seven disciplines" (History of the Franks X, 449, 14)
  8. ^ Stephen C. McCluskey, Astronomies and Cultures in Early Medieval Europe, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1999), p. 159.
  9. ^ M. P. Cunningham, review of Stahl, Johnson and Burge, Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts, Vol. 1: The Quadrivium of Martianus Capella: Latin Traditions in the Mathematical Sciences 50 B.C.-A.D. 1250 in Classical Philology (72.1 (January 1977, pp. 79-80) p. 80.
  10. ^ One, edited and emended by a sixteen-year-old Hugo Grotius, is a tour de force, "one of the more prodigious feats of Latin scholarship", as it was noted by Stahl 1965:104.
  11. ^ Stahl 1965:102.

See also


  • "Martianus Capella" in Encyclopaedia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1911). An early version of this article was based on it.
  • "Martianus Capella" in Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
  • P. Wessner in Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenshaften 1930.
  • M. Cappuyns, in Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastique, Paris, 1949.
  • Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts. New York: Columbia University Press 1971.
    • Vol. 1: The quadrivium of Martianus Capella. Latin traditions in the mathematical sciences, 50 B.C.-A.D. 1250, by William Harris Stahl, 1971.
    • Vol. 2: The marriage of Philology and Mercury, translated by William Harris Stahl and R. Johnson, with E. L. Burge, 1977.
  • Barbara Ferré (ed.), Martianus Capella. Les noces de Philologie et de Mercure. Tome VI. Livre VI. La géométrie. Collection des Universités de France. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2007. Pp. cxxii, 211.
  • De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii (book 9 only)

External links

Wikisource-logo.svg "Martianus Capella" in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia..

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