Marcus Manilius

Marcus Manilius (fl. 1st century AD) was a Roman poet, astrologer, and author of a poem in five books called Astronomica.

The Astronomica

The author of Astronomica is neither quoted nor mentioned by any ancient writer. Even his name is uncertain, but it was probably Marcus Manilius; in the earlier books the author is anonymous, the later give Manilius, Manlius, Mallius. The poem itself implies that the writer lived under Augustus or Tiberius, and that he was a citizen of and resident in Rome. According to the early 18th century classicist Richard Bentley, he was an Asiatic Greek; according to the 19th-century classicist Fridericus Jacob, an African. His work is one of great learning; he had studied his subject in the best writers, and generally represents the most advanced views of the ancients on astronomy (or rather astrology).

Manilius frequently imitates Lucretius, whom he resembles in earnestness and originality and in the power of enlivening the dry bones of his subject. Although his diction presents some peculiarities, the style is metrically correct.

The astrological systems of houses, linking human affairs with the circuit of the zodiac, have evolved over the centuries, but they make their first appearance in Astronomicon. The earliest datable surviving horoscope that uses houses in its interpretation is slightly earlier, c. 20 BC. Claudius Ptolemy (c. AD 130–170) almost completely ignored houses (templa as Manlius calls them) in his astrological text, Tetrabiblos.

The work is also known for being the subject of the most salient of A. E. Housman's scholarly endeavours; his annotated edition he considered his magnum opus, and when at last the final volume was published 27 years after the first in 1930, he remarked he would now "do nothing forever and ever." Housman nonetheless also thought that it was an almost absurdly obscure pursuit; to an American correspondent he wrote, "I do not send you a copy, as it would shock you very much; it is so dull that few professed scholars can read it, probably not one in the whole United States."[1] It remains a source of bafflement to many that Housman should have elected to abandon his obsession for a poet as consummate as Propertius – which indeed cost him his degree, so consuming was the passion – in favour of Manilius. For example, the critic Edmund Wilson pondered the countless hours Hausman devoted to Manilius and concluded, "Certainly it is the spectacle of a mind of remarkable penetration and vigor, of uncommon sensibility and intensity, condemning itself to duties which prevent it from rising to its full height." [2]


Speak that I might see you![3]


An impact crater on the Moon is named after him: Manilius is located in the Mare Vaporum.


  1. Kermode, Frank (5 July 2007). "Nothing for Ever and Ever". pp. 7–8. Retrieved 27 April 2017 via London Review of Books.
  2. Wilson, Edmund (2007). Edmund Wilson: Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1930's & 1940's. New York: Library of America. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-59853-014-8.
  3. quoted in Georg Hamann Aesthetica in Nuce N II, 198[5] Manilius Astron Lib IV


  • J. R. Bram (ed), Ancient Astrology: Theory and Practice. Matheseos Libri VIII by Firmicus Maternus (Park Ridge, 1975).
  • Manilio Il poema degli astri (Astronomica), testo critico a cura di E. Flores, traduzione di Ricardo Scarcia, commento a cura di S. Feraboli e R. Scarcia, 2 vols. (Milano, 1996–2001).
  • Wolfgang Hübner (ed.), Manilius, Astronomica, Buch V (2 Bde) (Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 2010) (Sammlung wissenschaftlicher Commentare).

Further reading

  • Colborn, Robert. 2013. "Solving Problems With Acrostics: Manilius Dates Germanicus." Classical Quarterly 63.1: 450–452.
  • Fratantuono, Lee Michael. 2012. "Andromeda, Perseus, and the End of the Astronomica." Maia: rivista di letterature classiche 64.2: 305–315.
  • Glauthier, Patrick. 2017. "Repurposing the Stars: Manilius, Astronomica 1, and the Aratean Tradition." American Journal of Philology 138.2: 267–303.
  • Goold, G. P. 1961. "A Greek Professorial Circle at Rome." Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 92: 168–192.
  • Green, Steven J. 2014. Disclosure and Discretion in Roman Astrology: Manilius and his Augustan Contemporaries. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Green, Steven J., and Katharina Volk, eds. 2011. Forgotten Stars: Rediscovering Manilius’ Astronomica. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
  • Habinek, Thomas N. 2007. "Probing the Entrails of the Universe: Astrology as Bodily Knowledge in Manilius’ Astronomica." In Ordering Knowledge in the Roman Empire. Edited by Jason König and Tim Whitmarsh, 229–240. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Komorowska, Joanna. 2016. "Ad Duo Templa Precor: Poetry, Astronomy, and the Authorial Persona in Manilius' Astronomica, I." Eirene 52: 341–358.
  • Lapidge, Michael. 1989. "Stoic Cosmology and Roman Literature, First to Third Centuries A.D." Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt. Edited by Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase, 1379–1429. Berlin: de Gruyter.
  • MacGregor, Alexander. 2004. "Which Art in Heaven: The Sphere of Manilius." Illinois Classical Studies 29: 143–157.
  • Neuburg, Matt. 1993. "Hitch Your Wagon to a Star: Manilius and His Two Addressees." In Mega nepios: Il destinatario nell’epos didascalico/The Addressee in Didactic Epic. Edited by Alessandro Schiesaro, Philip Mitsis, and Jenny Strauss Clay, 243–282. Materiali e Discussioni per l’Analisi dei Testi Classici 31. Pisa: Giardini.
  • Volk, Katharina. 2009. Manilius and His Intellectual Background. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
  • Volk, Katharina. 2002. The Poetics of Latin Didactic: Lucretius, Vergil, Ovid, Manilius. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
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