Martianus Capella and the Liberal Arts

Andrew Hicks

in The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Latin Literature

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780195394016
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Martianus Capella and the Liberal Arts

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  • Classical Studies
  • Classical Reception
  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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This article addresses the ubiquitous matrix of cultural capital in the Latin Middle Ages, namely the liberal arts through the lively panoply of Martianus's disciplinae cyclicae. This is carried out in the company of the other divisions of knowledge within which the liberal arts were differently subsumed at different periods in the reception of Martianus's text: the divisions of Boethius, Cassiodorus, and Isidore of Seville. The commentary tradition on Martianus Capella's fifth-century allegorical encyclopedia of the liberal arts, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, provides an enclosed and rugged terrain through which to map the differing conceptual frameworks within which the liberal arts gained pedagogical and philosophical traction. Martianus remained the ancient authority on the liberal arts from his “re-discovery” at the beginning of the ninth century through to the close of the twelfth. The trajectory of the De nuptiis through its medieval commentary tradition is charted. Despite the continuity ostensibly guaranteed by the nearly uninterrupted use of a single text, the interpretative mutability of the De nuptiis's elaborate allegorical frame provided a site for the continual renegotiation of the liberal arts.

Keywords: liberal arts; Martianus Capella; De nuptiis; cultural capital; commentary tradition

Article.  13462 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Reception ; Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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