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Marcus or Caius), or MA'NLIUS, or MA'LLIUS, for all of these and many other variations are found in MSS., the weight of evidence being in favour of M. Manilius, is known to us as the author of an astrological poem in five books, entitled Astronomica. The greatest uncertainty prevails on every point connected with his personal history. By some critics he is supposed to be the Manilius described by Pliny (Plin. Nat. 10.2), as "Senator ille maximis nobilis doctrinis doctore nullo," who first collected accurate information with regard to the phoenix, and maintained that the period of its life corresponded with the revolution of the Great Year (magni conversionem anni), in which the heavenly bodies completed a perfect cycle; by others to be the Manilius Antiochus styled "astrologiae conditorem," who came to Rome as a slave, along with Publius Syrus the mimographer, and Staberius Eros the grammarian (Plin. Nat. 35.58); by others, to be the "Manlius Mathematicus" who, in the time of Augustus, adjusted the obelisk in the Campus Martius, so as to act as a sun-dial (Plin. Nat. 36.15.6); by others, to be no other than Fl. Mallius Theodorus, on whose consulship Claudian composed a panegyric, in which he extols his knowledge of the stars. Little proof has been adduced in support of these conjectures, beyond the mere correspondence of name, and the circumstance that each of the individuals selected is believed to have been more or less addicted to the study of the heavens, while many grave considerations forbid us to adopt any one of them. It does not appear that Manlius the senator composed any work at all upon astronomical topics. It is impossible that Manlius Antiochus, to whose claims the expression "founder of astrology" might seem to give some force, can be the person, for we know from Suetonius, that his companion Staberius Eros taught a school during the Sullan troubles, while Manlius, of whom we are in search, cannot, as we shall point out immediately, have flourished earlier than nearly a century after that date. Manlius "the mathematician" exists only in the more corrupt copies of the naturalist, the proper name being rejected as an interpolation by all the best editors. Claudian, although he dilates upon the moral perfections and literary distinction of Mallius, and bestows unmeasured praise on his essay concerning the origin and arrangement of the world, gives no hint that the stoical principles which it advocated were developed in verse, but, on the contrary, declares that the honey of its refined eloquence (sermonis mella politi) was to be preferred to the enchanting songs of Orpheus; while Salmasius (ad Ampelium, p. 91) avers that this very treatise in prose by Theodorus, was still to be found in certain libraries, and P. J. Maussaeus proposed to give it to the world. Finally, the arguments advanced by Gevartius and Spanheim, to prove from the language of the Astronomica, that these books must have been composed as late as the reign of Theodosius the Great, have been fully confuted by Salmasius, Huetius, Scaliger, Vossius, and Creech. The fact is, that no ancient writer with whom we are acquainted, either takes any notice of a poet Manilius, or quotes a single line from the poem. He is not mentioned by Ovid in his catalogue of contemporary bards (ex Pont. 4.16), nor by Quintilian, who might with propriety have classed him along with Lucretius and Macer; nor by Gellius, nor by Macrobius, both of whom frequently discuss kindred subjects; nor by any of the compilers of mythological systems, who might have derived much information from his pages; nor by one out of the host of grammarians, to whom he would have afforded copious illustrations. We find no trace of him until he was discovered by Poggio, about the beginning of the fifteenth century, unless, indeed, he be the " M. Manilius de Astrologia," of whose work Gerbertus of Rheims, afterwards pope Sylvester II. (A. D. 1000), commissions a friend (Ep. 130) to procure a copy. It is true that the resemblance between the production of Manilius and the Mathesis of Julius Firmicus Maternus [FIRMICUS], who flourished under Constantine, is in many places so marked, that we can scarcely doubt that they borrowed from a common original, perhaps the Apotelesmata of Dorotheus of Sidon, or that one of them was indebted to the other. But even if we adopt the latter alternative it is obvious that we must determine the age of both, before we can decide the question of plagiarism. Such being the real state of the case, we are thrown entirely upon internal evidence, and this appears, at first sight, to be to a certain extent conclusive. The piece opens with an invocation of Caesar, the son and successor of a deified father, the heir of his temporal, as well as of his immortal honours; farther on (1.798), the Julian line is said to have filled the heavenly mansion, Augustus is represented as sharing the dominion of the sky with the Thunderer himself, and the fourth book closes with similar expressions. Meteors and comets we are told portend wars and sudden commotions, and treacherous rebellions, such as took place lately (modo) among foreign nations, when savage tribes destroyed Varus and dyed the plains with the blood of three legions (1.897); celestial warnings were not wanting before the solemn league concluded between bloody leaders covered the fields of Philippi with embattled hosts; when, subsequently, the thunderbolts of Jove strove with the sistrum of Isis; and when the son of Pompey filled the sea with the pirates swept away by his sire. Now, although the whole of these passages would seem to proceed from a writer of the Augustan age, it may be argued, that wherever Augustus is addressed in terms of flattery the words employed would apply to many of the later emperors as well as to him who first bore that title; that the modo used in connection with the disastrous defeat in Germany, and which, if translated lately, would be decisive, may with equal or greater fitness be here rendered sometimes; that there is a coldness in all the allusions to the civil wars, which would have been avoided by one seeking to extol the achievements and victories of a reigning prince, and that in particular the words " ducibus jurata cruentis Arma," which apply much more naturally to the triumvirs than to Brutus and Cassius, could not fail to prove highly offensive. On the other hand, when we observe that there is no reference to any historical event later than to the defeat of A. D. 9, that the lines which end the first book distinctly express the feelings of one who was living during a period of tranquillity, which had immediately followed the scenes of disorder and bloodshed depicted in the preceding paragraphs, and above all, when we mark the tone of adulation breathed in the verses (4.763):
Virgine sub casta felix terraque marique
Est Rhodos, hospitium rectri principis orbem
Tumque domus vere solis, cui tota sacrata est,
Cum caperet lumen magni sub Caesare mundi
we shall be led to the conclusion that they were penned during the sway of Tiberius. Assuming that Manilius belongs to the epoch now indicated, we infer from 4.41,
Speratum Hannibalem nostris cecidisse catenis,
that he was a Roman citizen, and from 4.775,
Qua genitus cum fratre Remus hanc condidit urbem,
that he was an inhabitant of the metropolis. The notion of Bentley that he was an Asiatic, and that of Huet that he was a Carthaginian, rest upon no stable basis. Farther we cannot proceed, and the great difficulty still remains untouched, how it should have come to pass that a piece possessing a character so singular and striking, discussing a science long studied with the most eager devotion, should have remained entirely unknown or neglected. One solution only can be proposed. We can at once perceive that the work is unfinished, and the portion which we possess wears occasionally a rough aspect, as if it had never received a final polish. Hence it may never have been published, although a few copies may have passed into private circulation; some of these having been preserved by one of those strange chances of which we find not a few examples in literary history, may have served as the archetypes from which the different families of MSS. now extant originally sprung.


The first book serves as an introduction to those which follow; discoursing of the rise and progress of astronomy, of the origin of the material universe, of the position, form, and magnitude of the earth, of the names and figures of the signs of the zodiac and of the northern and southern constella tions, of the circles of the sphere, of the milky way, of the planets, of comets and meteors, and the indications which these afford of impending evil, pestilence, famine, and civil strife. In the second book Manilius passes under review the subjects chosen by Homer, Hesiod, Theocritus, and other renowned bards, asserts the superior majesty of his own theme, and claims the merit of having quitted the beaten track and of having been the first to enter upon a new path. He then expounds the stoical doctrine of an Almighty Soul pervading, animating, controlling, and regulating every portion of the universe, so that all the different parts are connected by one common bond, stirred by one common impulse, and act together in unison and harmony. Hence things below depend upon things above, and if we can determine and read aright the relations and movements of the celestial bodies, we shall be able to calculate from them the corresponding change which will take place in other members of the system. The dignity and reasonableness of the science being thus vindicated, we are plunged at once into a maze of technicalities, embracing the classification of the signs, according to various fanciful resemblances or differences, their configurations, aspects, and influences, with all the jargon of trines, quadrates, sextiles, celestial houses, dodecatemoria, cardines, and athla. The treatise terminates abruptly, for the agency of the fixed stars alone is considered, the power which they exert in combination with the planets being altogether passed over (see 2.961, 3.583). Not even the first section is complete; the risings of several constellations with reference to the signs of the zodiac, which ought to have been included in the fifth book, are omitted, and a sixth would have been necessary to enumerate the settings of those constellations whose risings formed the subject of the fifth.


On the merits of Manilius as a poet we can say little. Occasionally, especially in the introductions and digressions, we discern both power of language and elevation of thought, but for the most part the attempts to embellish the dull details of his art are violent and ungraceful, affording a most remarkable contrast to the majesty with which Lucretius rises on high without an effort. The style is extremely faulty, it is altogether deficient in simplicity and precision, always harsh, frequently obscure, abounding in repetitions and in forced and ungainly metaphors, while the phraseology presents a number of unusual and startling combinations, although these are not of such a character as to justify the charge of barbarism. But while we withhold praise from his taste we must do justice to his learning. He seems to have consulted the best authorities, and to have adopted their most sagacious views. Blunders have, indeed, been detected here and there, in the statements regarding the relative position of the constellations, but some of the opinions which he advocates on sidereal astronomy are anticipations of the brightest discoveries of modern times. Thus, not only is the popular belief that the fixed stars were all arranged on the surface of a concave vault, at equal distances from the centre of the earth, unhesitatingly rejected, but it is affirmed that they are of the same nature with the sun, and that each belongs to a separate system. The appearance exhibited by the milky way is in like manner correctly explained as arising from the blended rays of a multitude of minute stars.


The Editio Princeps of Manilius was printed in 4to. at Nuremberg, probably about 1472 or 1473, by Joannes Regiomontanus, from the MSS. originally brought to light by Poggio. Laurentius Bonincontrius published an edition at Bologna, fol. 1474, from a MS. preserved in the convent of Monte Casino, and annexed a commentary of little value. Steph. Dulcinius (fol. Mediolan. 1489) and Ant. Molinius (12mo. Lugd. 1551, 1556), profess to have introduced numerous emendations from MSS., but the last of the three editions by Joseph Scaliger (8vo. Paris, 1579, 1590, 4to. Lug. Bat. 1600), published at Leyden in 1600, is infinitely superior to all which preceded it, the text being founded chiefly on the Codex Gemblacensis, the oldest of existing MSS., and the notes by which it is accompanied being full of curious and recondite learning upon matters relating to ancient astronomy and astrology. Much, however, still remained to be done, and Bentley did not consider the task unworthy of his powers. By comparing the Codex Gemblacensis with the Codex Lipsiensis which stands next in point of antiquity and value, with the Codices of Voss, of Pithou, with some others of more recent date, and with the earliest editions, he produced the text (Lond. 4to. 1739) which is now the standard, and which is unquestionably the most pure, although, as we might have anticipated, occasionally disfigured by rash emendations. The more recent editions of Stoeber, 8vo. Argentorat. 1767; of Burton, 8vo. Lond. 1783; and of Pingre (with a French translation), 8vo. Paris, 1786, are of no particular value.


We have a metrical version of the first book of Manilius, by Edward Sherburne, fol. Lond. 1675, and of the whole poem by Thomas Creech, the translator of Lucretius, 8vo. Lond. 1697.

More information

G. J. Voss, de Poetis Lat. cap. 2; comp. De Arte Gramm. 2.26; Scaliger, Prolegomena in Manilium; Fr. Jacob, De M Manilio Poeta, 4to. Lubec. 1832.


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