In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Symmetrical wordplay in the First Book of Manilius' Astronomica
  • Tetsufumi Takeshita

Marcus Manilius' Astronomica is one of the earliest extant astrological treatises. Consisting of five books, the work dates at least partly from the reign of Augustus and thus the poet belongs to the last generation of Latin literature's Golden Age.1 While the didactic poem attracted little attention until the later twentieth century, especially among English-speaking scholars,2 recent scholarship has shed fresh light on the Augustan poet's literary contributions. Focusing on Manilius' fondness for the deliberate arrangement of words, this note suggests a further example of wordplay in the didactic poem.

Manilius has been shown to employ more than one form of wordplay. One such is the acrostic, the technique of forming a word from the first letters of successive lines of a poem.3 Already occurring in the last book of the Iliad,4 acrostics are more typically found among Hellenistic poets such as Aratus, in whose Phaenomena Jacques discovered the famous λεπτή acrostic.5 Manilius imitates Aratus' poem in the first book of the Astronomica, particularly regarding the catalogue of constellations (Man. 1.255–531). The [End Page 316] most interesting example occurs in lines 796-99, in which a proper name in the vocative case is spelled by the initial letters of the subsequent lines (Man. 1.796–99):6

        … et Claudi magna propago,Aemiliaeque domus proceres, clarique Metelli,et Cato fortunae victor, fictorque sub armismiles Agrippa suae, Venerisque ab origine prolesIulia.

Here is the great line of Claudius; the leading members of the Aemilian house, and the famed Metelli. Here are Cato and Agrippa, who proved in arms the one the master, the other the maker of his destiny; and the Julian who boasted descent from Venus.7

Another technique was pointed out by MacGregor, in which the poet repeats the same words at regular intervals: in Man. 5.161–70, for instance, the word ille is deliberately and regularly repeated four times.8 While Mac-Gregor considers this 'tetractys pattern' to be evidence of Pythagorean sources in the Astronomica, it seems more likely that this rhythmical word-patterning reflects the lively movement of children born under Lepus, an extra-zodiacal constellation rising with Gemini. Like acrostics, the technique belongs to Hellenistic literary aesthetics and shows that Manilius was not only well acquainted with ludic word-arrangement, but also keen to apply it in his poem.

While scholars have tended to concentrate on word-patterning at the start of verses, an examination of word arrangements at verse ends also yields an instance of symmetrical wordplay in the Astronomica that has thus far gone unnoticed. In the first book, Manilius describes the structure of the universe. After a brief doxography on the origins of the universe (Man. 1.118–254), he enumerates the constellations. Having listed the twelve zodiacal signs, Manilius precedes a catalogue of the northern constellations with an argument concerning the polar axis, which he explains as follows (Man. 1.285–93):

nec vero solidus stat robore corporis axisnec grave pondus habet, quod onus ferat aetheris alti, [End Page 317] sed cum aer omnis semper volvatur in orbemquoque semel coepit totus volet undique in ipsum,quodcumque in medio est, circa quod cuncta moventur,usque adeo tenue ut verti non possit in ipsumnec iam inclinari nec se convertere in orbem,hoc dixere axem, quia motum non habet ullumipse, videt circa volitantia cuncta moveri.

Yet the axis is not solid with the hardness of matter, nor does it possess massive weight such as to bear the burden of the lofty firmament; but since the entire atmosphere ever revolves in a circle, and every part of the whole rotates to the place from which it once began, that which is in the middle, about which all moves, so insubstantial that it cannot turn round upon itself or even submit to motion or spin in circular fashion, this men have called the axis, since, motionless itself, it yet sees everything spinning about it.

Colborn has already noted that in ipsum in 290 corresponds to in ipsum in 288,9 but it is also part of...