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Capella, Martia'nus Mineus Felix

is generally believed to have flourished towards the close of the fifth century of our era, although different critics have fixed upon different epochs, and some, in opposition to all internal evidence, would place him as high as the reigns of Maximinus and the Gordians. In MSS. he is frequently styled Afer Carthaginiensis ; and since, when speaking of himself, he employs the expression “Beata alumnum urbs Elissae quem videt”, it seems certain that the city of Dido was the place of his education, if not of his birth also. The assertions, that he rose to the dignity of proconsul, and composed his book at Rome when far advanced in life, rest entirely upon a few ambiguous and probably corrupt words, which admit of a very different interpretation. (Lib. 9.999.) Indeed, we know nothing whatever of his personal history, but an ancient biography is said to exist in that portion of Barth's Adversaria which has never yet been published. (Fabric. Bibl. Lat. 3.100.17.)


The great work of Capella is composed in a medley of prose and various kinds of verse, after the fashion of the Satyra Menippea of Varro and the Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter; while, along with these, it probably suggested the form into which Boethus has thrown his Consolatio Philosophiae. It is a voluminous compilation, forming a sort of encyclopaedia of the polite learning of the middle ages, and is divided into nine books. The first two, which may be regarded as a mystical introduction to the rest, consist of an elaborate and complicated allegory, entitled the Nuptials of Philology and Mercury, while in the remaining seven are expounded the principles of the seven liberal arts, which once were believed to embrace the whole circle of philosophy and science. Thus, the third book treats of Grammar; the fourth of Dialectics, divided into Metaphysics and Logic; the fifth of Rhetoric; the sixth of Geometry, consisting chiefly of an abstract of Geography, to which are appended a few simple propositions on lines, surfaces, and solids; the seventh of Arithmetic, devoted in a great measure to the properties of numbers; the eighth of Astronomy; and the last of Music, including Poetry. We find here an immense mass of learning, but the materials are ill-selected, ill-arranged, and ill-digested; though from amidst much that is dull and frivolous, we can occasionally extract curious and valuable information, derived without doubt from treatises which have long since perished.

Thus, for example, in one remarkable passage (8.857) we detect a hint of the true constitution of the solar system. It is here so distinctly maintained that the planets Mercury and Venus revolve round the sun, and not round the earth, and theirs position with regard to these bodies and to each other is so correctly described, that the historians of science have considered it not improbable that Copernicus, who quotes Martianus, may have derived the first germ of his theory from this source. The style is in the worst possible taste, and looks like a caricature of Apuleius and Tertullian. It is overloaded with far-fetched metaphors, and has all the sustained grandiloquence, the pompous pretension, and the striving after false sublimity, so characteristic of the African school, while the diction abounds in strange words, and is in the highest degree harsh, obscure, and barbarous. Some allowance must be made, however, for the circumstances under which the book has been transmitted to us. It was highly esteemed during the middle ages, and extensively employed as a manual for the purposes of education. Hence it was copied and re-copied by the monks, and being of course in many places quite unintelligible to them, corruptions crept in, and the text soon became involved in inextricable confusion.


The oldest MSS. are those in the Bodleian library, in the British Museum, in the public library of the University of Cambridge, and in the library of Corpus Christi College in the same university. A MS. exposition of Capella, written by Jo. Scotus, who died in 875, is mentioned by L'Abbé (Bibl. Nov. MSS. p. 45); another, the work of Alexander Neckam, who belongs to the thirteenth century, is described by Leland (Commentar. de Script. Brit. p. 214) ; and Perizonius possessed a commentary drawn up by Remigius Antissiodorensis about the year 888.


In modern tines, Ugoletus had the merit of first bringing Capella to light; and the editio princeps was printed at Vicenza by Henricus de S. Urso, in fol. 1499, under the care of Franciscus Bodianus, who in a prefatory letter boasts of having corrected 2000 errors. This was followed by the editions of Mutina, 1500, fol.; of Vienna, with the notes of Dubravius, 1516, fol.; of Basle, 1532, fol.; of Lyons, 1539, 8vo.; of Basle, with the scholia, &c., of Vulcanius, 1577, fol. in a vol. containing also the Origines of Isidorus.

But all these were thrown into the shade by that of Leyden, 8vo. 1599, with the remarks of Hugo Grotius, who wrote his commentary when a boy of fourteen, with the assistance probably of Joseph Scaliger, by whom he was advised to undertake the task. This edition was with justice considered the best, until the appearance of that by U. F. Kopp, 4to. Francf. 1836, which is immeasurably superior, in a critical point of view, to all preceding ones, and contains also a copious collection of the best notes. The last book was included by Meibomius in his "Auctores Vet. Musical," Amst. 4to. 1652; the first two were published separately by Walthard, Bern, 1763, 8vo., and by J. A. Goetz at Nuremberg, 8vo. 1794, with critical and explanatory remarks. The poetical passages are inserted in the Collectio Pisaurensis, vol. vi. p. 69.


The popularity of Capella in the middle ages is attested by Gregorius Turonensis, Joannes Sarisburiensis, Nicolaus Clemangius, and others.

Further Information

A number of clever emendations will be found in the notes of Heinsius upon Ovid; and Munker, in his commentary on Hyginus, has given several important readings from a Leyden MS. There is an interesting analysis of the work by F. Jacobs in Ersch and Gruber's Encyclopädie.


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