Sums in verse or a mathematical aesthetic?

Duncan F. Kennedy

in Forgotten Stars

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199586462
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191724961 | DOI:
Sums in verse or a mathematical aesthetic?

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This chapter sets out to offer a more sympathetic characterization of the role of mathematics in the Astronomica than A. E. Housman’s famous but dismissive quip about Manilius’ ‘eminent aptitude for doing sums in verse’. After examining how astrology is treated in different narrative configurations of scientific knowledge and rationality, it draws attention to the repeated association in the poem of rationality (ratio) with mathematical calculation, and the capacity of mathematics to produce predictive knowledge of the movement of the constellations and to take one imaginatively to places on the terrestrial globe inaccessible physically. The poem clearly enunciates a classic form of mathematical realism or Platonism and relates it closely to its own aesthetics. The chapter concludes by exploring the possible ideological impact of this in late Augustan Rome.

Keywords: astrology; Augustus; Housman; mathematical realism; Manilius; Platonism; predictive knowledge; rationality

Chapter.  9543 words. 

Subjects: Classical Literature

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