The rehabilitation of Martianus Capella’s De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii has been announced repeatedly over the past two decades.1 We now have tangible proof in the form of new editions and translations in the major research languages, which should help make Martianus better known and appreciated. William Stahl’s and Richard Johnson’s useful but occasionally faulty English translation is unfortunately not aging gracefully, due in part to J. Willis’ 1983 Teubner edition, which provides a much better text than previously available.2 The serious scholar will want to consult editions and commentaries in other languages: Ilaria Ramelli’s 2001 Italian translation is good and her commentary is solid; Hans Zekl published more recently a serviceable German translation, sadly with only a skeletal commentary;3 finally, the heavyweight Budé collection is also stepping in, and is currently publishing each book of the De Nuptiis as a separate volume. If the volumes already published are any indication of the series as a whole, by the time it is complete scholars will have access to an edition that surpasses previous ones both in quality and detail.
Martianus’ De Nuptiis is a compendium of ancient culture and science presented as an allegorical depiction of the wedding of Philology and the god Mercury (books
Book VI of the De Nuptiis marks the transition between the liberal arts, covered in books
Following the double nature of book VI, F.’s introduction is divided into two sections: one on geometry and one on geography. Each aims at situating Martianus within the history of Greco-Roman geometric thought and within Greco-Roman geographic literature respectively. Some readers may be put off by the format of these introductions, which read like a Who’s Who in Ancient Science, but they provide the necessary background to understanding Martianus’ available sources and the ways geometrical and geographic knowledge was transmitted in late antiquity. The geographical section is especially useful in this respect and explores not only the great names of ancient geography, from Hecataeus of Miletus to Ptolemy but also late Latin authors whose works have geographical content of some consequence, such as Ausonius and Servius.
More interesting is F.’s analysis of Martianus’ composition techniques and sources. Contrary to the view expressed by Stahl and upheld by Ramelli that Martianus drew on summaries of Pliny and Solinus for most of his geographical narrative, F. suggests that he relied instead on a single intermediary source, “le Compilateur”, who is held responsible for most of the mistakes and oddities usually attributed to Martianus himself (although F. makes room for the possibility that there were two compilations: one for mathematical and one for descriptive geography). I am convinced by F.’s demonstration but worry that it may have been carried a bit far and strips Martianus of too much editorial responsibility. Regarding the geometrical section of book VI, which presents elements of Euclid, F. rightly rejects Stahl’s supposition that Martianus relied on an epitome of Varro’s De geometria. In her view, Martianus’ source would rather be an unidentified Latin translator of Euclid, who is to be held once again responsible for the editorial choices usually ascribed to Martianus himself.
Unfortunately missing from F.’s introduction is an account of the reception of book VI, which enjoyed great popularity in the Middle Ages, as did the rest of the De Nuptiis. In particular, Carolingian centers of learning such as Auxerre and Reims seem to have developed keen geographic interests and produced extensive commentaries on this portion of Martianus’ text. In F.’s defense, she touches on Martianus’ Nachleben in a recent article, and the topic has already been well covered by Natalia Lozovsy’s analysis of glosses to book VI. Those interested in reading more can now turn to Ramelli’s massive edition of commentaries on the De Nuptiis (BMCR 2007.09.39).5
The Latin text offered by F. is close to the Teubner edition of Willis but correctly sees more later interpolations in Martianus’ text, which she points out, and, in addition, offers a number of welcome minor corrections. F. significantly improves upon Willis’ text in two instances. First, she improves our reading of Martianus’ notice on Attica (6.653), which is a textual mess. Second, and far more importantly, F. dramatically shortens Martianus’ account of how Eratosthenes calculated the Earth’s circumference by the use of a gnomon (6.596-598). Half of this notice (6.597) is a confused description of bowl-shaped sundials ( scaphia), which F. considers to be an early medieval gloss. This emendation is highly sensible, makes Martianus’ text all the more clear, and lifts suspicions of intellectual incompetence.
The French translation is good and clear, and is at times more reliable that Stahl’s (I admit not comparing Ramelli’s and Zekl’s translations). Geometric terms quoted in Greek or in Latin transliteration by Martianus are rendered in Greek exclusively, for an Euclidian feel. Geographical terms that are only understandable to a Greek-speaker (e.g. 6.57: Ceras Chryseon, 6.659: Macaronesos), on the other hand, are given French translations (“Corne d’Or”, “Île des Bienheureux”).
The text is followed by a hundred pages of detailed notes, which surpass in scope and depth all previous commentaries on book VI. F.’s observations are thorough and fully documented, with somewhat more emphasis put on ancient than modern authors, a sensible decision in view of the subject matter. F. is at her best in identifying and discussing the ultimate origin of the geographical data transmitted by Martianus and in explaining the technicalities of his Euclidian geometry. Martianus’ allusions to classical literature are handled with care. Parallels in other authors are well explored, although with an antiquarian bent that Martianus would approve, which brings F. to undervalue parallels with contemporary authors in favor of situating Martianus vis-à-vis his precursors (e.g. on p. 112 where Varro, Hyginus and Mela illustrate competing views on the number of continents; it would be more interesting in my view to compare Martianus with near-contemporaries, such as Orosius, who use similar material).
The commentary is at times overburdened by unnecessary thoroughness. Several entries do no more than convert Roman miles into kilometers, which is marginally useful and may be moot given that Martianus’ figures are obtained second or third hand at best and therefore removed from reality. Some readers will be perplexed by F.’s use of lengthy citations where short paraphrases or simple references would suffice.
This volume is completed by a useful geographical index, featuring place-names in Latin glossed in French, as well as a partial index of Latin terms and an index of Greek terms. The table of contents is unfortunately of no use whatsoever and points the reader to the wrong pages. I note that exactly the same mistakes are to be found in book IV’s table of contents. This should be corrected in a future reprinting.
These minor criticisms do no diminish the overall quality of this edition. F. does a great service to Martianus by renewing our appreciation and understanding of his composition technique, as well as by presenting a solid translation and exhaustive commentary. The same can be said of the other volumes already published in this series, and we can only hope that more are on the way.
1. E.g. G.B. Conte, Latin Literature: A History, rev. ed. D. Fowler and G. Most (Baltimore, 1994), 701; J.C. Relihan, Ancient Menippean Satire (Baltimore, 1993), 137.
2. W.H. Stahl, R. Johnson, E.L. Burge, eds, Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts, 2 vols (New York, 1971-77); J. Willis, ed., Martianus Capella (Stuttgart, 1983).
3. I. Ramelli, ed., Marziano Capella. Le nozze di Filologia e Mercurio (Milan, 2001); H.G. Zekl, Martianus Capella. Die Hochzeit der Philologia mit Merkur (Würzburg, 2005). Translations and commentaries of individual books of the De Nuptiis have also been published, including, for book VI, G. Gasparotto, Marziano Capella. Geometria. De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii liber sextus (Verona, 1983).
4. D. Shanzer, A Philosophical and Literary Commentary on Martianus Capella’s De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii Book I (Berkeley, 1986), 27 proposed a dating of 470-80, while S. Grebe, Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii (Stuttgart, 1999), 21 goes as far as 523. The orthodox dating of 410-429 (or sometimes 439) is put forward, inter alia, in the editions of Ramelli and Stahl (Zekl is vague on this point), and by Alan Cameron, “Martianus and His First Editor,” Classical Philology 81 (1986), 328.
5. B. Ferré, “Une paraphrase médiévale du livre VI des Noces de Philologie et de Mercure de Martianus Capella,” Latomus 66 (2007) 414-427. N. Lozovsky, “The Earth is Our Book.” Geographical Knowledge in the Latin West ca. 400-1000 (Ann Arbor, 2000), 113-38; I. Ramelli, ed., Tutti i commenti a Marziano Capella. Scoto Eriugena, Remigio di Auxerre, Bernardo Silvestre e Anonimi. (Milano, 2006).