Martianus Minneus Felix Capella

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Composed in Vandalic Carthage, probably in the last quarter of the 5th cent. ad, a prosimetrical Latin encyclopaedia of the seven Liberal Arts (grammar, dialectic, rhetoric—the medieval ‘trivium’—and the ‘quadrivium’, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, music. He subsequently composed a short metrical treatise. Both works were addressed to his son. The encyclopaedia, usually known as the De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, but called the Philologia by its author, comprises a two-book introductory myth describing the ascent to heaven, apotheosis, and marriage of Philology to Mercury, as well as a seven-book introduction to the Liberal Arts, in which each subject is presented by an elaborately described female personification. The encyclopaedic books are pedestrian compilations, mostly from Latin sources, such as Aquila Romanus, Geminus, Pliny the Elder, Quintilian, and Julius Solinus; whether Varro's lost Disciplinarum libri were also used is still debated. The myth is fantastic, imaginative, and curiously learned: while strongly influenced by Neoplatonic sources and doctrines on the ascent of the soul, it owes to the parodistic tradition of Menippean satire such features as councils of the gods, heavenly voyages, and wrangling philosophers. Martianus was pagan (he makes veiled allusions to Christianity as well as to Chaldaean theurgy, and elegizes over the silence of the oracles) and sufficiently wellread in Greek to translate Aristides Quintilianus' treatise on music. His baroque and intentionally abstruse periodic Latin proved extremely liable to corruption in the extensive and contaminated later manuscript tradition. The Philologia was very influential during the Carolingian period and the 12th-cent. Platonic revival, both as a textbook and as a literary source of mystic cosmology and images of the seven Liberal Arts. Two hundred and forty-one manuscripts of the Philologia have been examined and described by C. Leonardi (Aevum 1959, 443–89, and 1960, 1–99 and 411–524), and much work has been, and is being, done on the medieval commentaries.

Danuta R. Shanzer

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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