Marcus Manilius was a Roman poet who wrote an instructional poem on astrology in Latin sometime around the early 1st century CE. Due to a loss of earlier source texts, Manilius’ Astronomica is the earliest textbook on Hellenistic astrology that has survived largely intact into the present time.
The Dating of Manilius
The dating of Manilius is somewhat controversial, although he is generally thought to have written the Astronomica either sometime towards the end of the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus, or not long after the ascension of the Emperor Tiberius to the throne. This dating is entirely the result of allusions that Manilius makes to the emperor during the course of his poem, and these allusions have long been the subject of debate by historians.
A date of circa 14 CE is probably the safest, as this is when Augustus died and Tiberius became Emperor.
Manilius as a Source for Hellenistic Astrology
Even though Manilius is one of our earliest surviving sources for information about the practice and techniques of Hellenistic astrology, in several areas the approach that he outlines is unusual when compared with other astrologers from that period. This has led to some debates over the reliability of Manilius as a source for understanding the practice of Hellenistic astrology.
For example, virtually every astrologer from the 1st century through the 7th century reports that Venus rejoices in the 5th place and Saturn in the 12th, but Manilius is the only author who says that Venus rejoices in the 10th and Saturn in the 4th (Astronomica, 2: 918-938). It is not clear if Manilius is representing a variant tradition here, or if this variation in the joys was introduced by Manilius himself for unknown reasons, although we can say that subsequent astrologers seemed to ignore Manilius version of the joys over the next few centuries.
Elsewhere it is notable that in the surviving manuscripts of the Astronomica Manilius fails to address the significations of the planets. While this might simply indicate that something is missing in the manuscripts, in some instances Manilius seems to go out of his way to avoid invoking the planets in situations where they would otherwise normally be used, for example such as in the assignment of the planets to the decans, which he instead assigns to the signs of the zodiac (Astronomica, 4: 294-407). Volk refers to this issue as the “puzzle of the planets,” and suggests that Manilius may have purposely ignored the planets for philosophical or religious reasons (Volk 2009, p. 48f).
Here it may be worth noting a point that David Pingree made in his review of Goold’s translation of the Astronomica, which is that while Manilus’ work is partially meant to be instructional, “…its principle purpose seems to have been to delight its audience with poetry and to arouse admiration for the poet by its cleverness… (Pingree 1980, p. 263).” In other words, Manilius may have been more interested in creating an impressive work of art than he was in faithfully reporting the techniques of the astrological tradition.
The standard critical edition of Manilius in modern times is:
- M. Manilii Astronomica, ed. G. P. Goold, Teubner, Leipzig, 1985 (rev. ed. 1998).
Goold drew heavily on an earlier critical edition that was published by A. E. Housman in the early 20th century, scans of which are now available online:
- M. Manilii Astronomicon, Liber Primus, ed. A. E. Housman, Grant Richards, London, 1903. [Download]
- M. Manilii Astronomicon, Liber Secundus, ed. A. E. Housman, Grant Richards, London, 1912. [Download]
- M. Manilii Astronomicon, Liber Tertius, ed. A. E. Housman, Grant Richards, London, 1916. [Download]
- M. Manilii Astronomicon, Liber Quartus, ed. A. E. Housman, Grant Richards, London, 1920. [Download]
- M. Manilii Astronomicon, Liber Quintus, ed. A. E. Housman, The Richards Press, London, 1930. [Download]
The standard English translation of Manilius is:
- Manilius, Astronomica, ed. and trans. G. P. Goold, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1977 (rev. ed. 1997). [Available on Amazon]
A versified English translation of Manilius along with literary and historical commentary is currently in currently in preparation:
- Manilius Astronomica: Prolegomena, Translation and Commentary, Alexander P. MacGregor (forthcoming?).
- Update (January 2, 2016): Alexander P. MacGregor died on August 14, 2013 due to cancer, before he was able to publish his translation of Manilius. It is not clear what the state of his translation was when he died, or whether it will be published at this point.
A German translation and commentary on book 5 of Manilius was recently published by Wolfgang Hübner:
- Wolfgang Hübner, Manilius, Astronomica, Buch V, Sammlung wissenschaftlicher Commentare, 2 vols., De Gruyter, Berlin/New York, 2010.
For an Italian translation and commentary see:
- Manilio, Il poema degli astri (Astronomica), 2 vols., trans. Riccardo Scarcia, ed. Enrico Flores and Simonetta Feraboli, Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, Arnoldo Mondadori, Milan, 1996-2001.
Goold, G.P. (ed. and trans.), Manilius, Astronomica, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1977 (rev. ed. 1997).
Goold, G.P. (ed.), M. Manilii Astronomica, Teubner, Leipzig, 1985 (rev. ed. 1998).
Green and Volk (eds.), Forgotten Stars: Rediscovering Manilius’ Astronomica, Oxford University Press, Oxford/New York, 2011. [Available on Amazon]
Hübner, Wolfgang (trans.). Manilius, Astronomica, Buch V, Sammlung wissenschaftlicher Commentare. 2 vols. De Gruyter, Berlin/New York, 2010.
Pingree, David. Untitled review of G. P. Goold’s translation of Manilius’ Astronomica, in the journal Phoenix, published by the Classical Association of Canada, vol. 34, no. 3 (Autumn, 1980), pp. 263-266.
Scarcia, Riccardo (trans.), Enrico Flores and Simonetta Feraboli (eds.). Manilio, Il poema degli astri (Astronomica). 2 vols. Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, Arnoldo Mondadori, Milan, 1996-2001.
Volk, Katharina, Manilius and His Intellectual Background, Oxford University Press, Oxford/New York, 2009. [Available on Amazon]
- Author: Chris Brennan
- Originally published: January 21, 2012 | Last updated: January 2, 2016
- Article notes: The article is currently incomplete, and is primarily acting as a placeholder until I can add the other sections.
- Cite this article: Chris Brennan, “Marcus Manilius”, The Hellenistic Astrology Website, January 2, 2016, https://www.hellenisticastrology.com/astrologers/marcus-manilius/