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  • Disclosure and Discretion in Roman Astrology: Manilius and his Augustan Contemporaries by Steven J. Green
  • D. Mark Possanza
Steven J. Green. Disclosure and Discretion in Roman Astrology: Manilius and his Augustan Contemporaries. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. viii, 225. $78.00. ISBN 978–0–19–964680–7.

In a scornful sententia directed at astrologers (mathematici) Tacitus captures the paradoxical Roman attitude toward them and their science: genus hominum . . . quod [End Page 428] in civitate nostra et vetabitur semper et retinebitur (“a class of men which in our state will always be both forbidden and held fast,” Histories 1.22). Astrologers could be banished from the city but not from the seat of imperial power and the Roman psyche. Steven Green’s engaging study offers an insightful and informative exploration of this delicious paradox, with a focus on horoscopic astrology, through the analytical framework of disclosure and discretion in the treatment of astrology in poetry and prose of the Augustan Age: disclosure signifies authorial strategies by which poets and prose writers openly assert and acknowledge the power and influence of astrology, while discretion signifies the strategies by which they avoid saying anything that might be judged politically dangerous or seditious (4). Although the method of analysis is clearly explained, it is surprising that there is no consideration of a fundamental methodological assumption that some readers may find controversial, namely that an interpreter can make confident assertions about authorial motivation with regard to what writers have deliberately refrained from saying in order to avoid politically sensitive topics; what is perceived as authorial discretion may admit of alternative explanation. The investigation covers the time period 44 b.c.a.d. 16, a period coinciding more or less with Octavian’s rise to power and his long reign as Augustus. The princeps, along with the memory of his deified father Julius Caesar, is, in this study, the center of gravity around which the literary luminaries of the age revolve in their cautious orbits, which respect the imperial power’s desire to harness the cosmic order for the stability and legitimacy of its rule.

Major authors discussed include Manilius, who gets the lion’s share of attention, Cicero (Aratea and De Divinatione), Vitruvius, Horace, Vergil, Hyginus, Ovid, Germanicus Caesar, and Propertius (4.1). Green’s treatment of Manilius’ Astronomica (11–61) introduces the reader to how disclosure and discretion in astrological discourse operate. Through a careful analysis of the teacher–student relationship as it develops in the poem’s didactic drama of instruction, Green concludes that while the Astronomica establishes the intellectual legitimacy of astrology as a manifestation of that divina ratio that controls the cosmos and asserts the efficacy of its predictive power, the student ultimately leaves the poem frustrated and disappointed because it provides no practical instruction in how to cast a horoscope, an omission long recognized as a damaging one, if in fact it was Manilius’ intention to give a comprehensive account of his subject. In Green’s view, the poet deliberately omitted that information as an act of discretion in order to avoid making public expert knowledge that could then be used to make predictions that had the potential to be politically subversive. Explication and mystification seem to go hand in hand in astrological discourse. Similarly in his discussions of the other Augustan authors, Green detects a reticence, an inhibition to spell out the obscura reperta of the astrologer’s art. Thus Vitruvius, although he expresses admiration for the “calculations of the Chaldeans,” is happy to leave the subject to its expert practitioners (109–17); Horace, Carmina 1.11 is interpreted as a warning to Leuconoe to beware consultation of astrologers not only because she should live in the moment but also because of the dangers of unforeseen political consequences (121–23); and in Propertius 4.1B, even though Horos is portrayed as a quack diviner, nonetheless the poet, observing a distinction between the practitioner and the art, upholds the credibility of astrology. In the conclusion, chapter 11, Calpurnius Siculus and Favorinus, who are technically outside the chronological limits of the study, enter into the discussion as representatives of a relaxation of discretion in astrological discourse after [End...


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pp. 428-430
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