Marcus Manilius Analysis


Marcus Manilius (MAHR-kuhs ma-NIHL-ee-uhs) wrote a long didactic poem in five books, the Astronomica (n.d.; English translation, 1977), a treatise on astrology. Nothing is known about his life. Scholars surmise from his zodiacal allusion in Book 4 of the Astronomica to the ascension of Tiberius (14 c.e.) that he outlived Augustus. His name was probably Marcus Manilius, but other forms are possible. He may have been Roman. He knew the works of Vergil, Livy, and Cicero, and he specifically opposed the poet Lucretius, but since his apparent knowledge of Greek literature was broader, he may have been Greek. His idiosyncratic Latin diction suggests that he may have been from Asia Minor.


The Astronomica found favor among the Roman Stoics. In the first century, Juvenal, Lucan, Seneca the Younger, and Gaius Valerius Flaccus all referred to it. In the fourth century, Julius Firmicus Maternus derived much of Book 8 of his Mathesis (c. 335 c.e.; English translation, 1975) from Book 5 of the Astronomica. In the sixteenth century, Julius Caesar Scaliger compared Manilius favorably to Ovid. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe knew the Astronomica well and was more impressed with its style than with its astrological speculation.

Additional Resources

Manilius. Astronomica. Edited by G. P. Goold. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Neugebauer, Otto. Astronomy and History. New York: Springer, 1983.

Neugebauer, Otto. A History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy. New York: Springer, 1975.