(fl, Rome, beginning of the first century a.d.)
Manilius’ life is a mystery to us. Even his name is variously presented in the somewhat restricted manuscript tradition of his one surviving work as Manlius or Mallius, to which is often added Boenius or Boevius; this probably reflects some confusion with the philosopher Anicius Manilius Boethius. The fact is that Manilius is known to us only through an incomplete Latin poem on astrology, the Astronomicôn libri V.1 The composition of this poem began while Augustus was still reigning, and book I was written later than a.d. 9; but it has been much debated whether the work as we have it was completed before Augustus’ death in a.d. 142 or only under his successor, Tiberius.3 In either case, Manilius intended to write more than the five books preserved in our manuscripts. Not only does he promise to expound the nature of the planets in book II and fail to accomplish this before the end of book V, but the poem as it stands is not adequate for its purpose—the instruction of students in the science of astrology. In fact, its astrological content, while important because of its antiquity (Manilius’ is our oldest connected treatise on astrology), is quite rudimentary.
Roughly, the scheme of the Astronomica is as follows. Book I treats the sphere, zodiacal and other constellations, great circles, and comets; book II, the zodiacal signs, their classifications, interrelations, and subdivisions, and the dodecatopus; book III, the twelve astrological places (here called athla), the Lot of Fortune, the rising times of the signs at Alexandria,4 the lord of the year, and the length of life; book IV, the decans, the monomoria, and an astrological geography; and book V, the fixed stars that rise simultaneously with points on the ecliptic. The possessor of only this poem could not hope to cast or to read a horoscope; he would have several thousand Latin hexameters, some of which are very fine, and a curious congeries of strange doctrines, many of which are found in no other extant text in either Greek or Latin.
The sources of Manilius’ doctrines are not often evident. Housman has cited those that are in his edition, and also a large number of parallel passages. An attempt at a survey of the sources in book I was made by R. Blum.5 The evidence which points to his use of Hermetic astrological writings is strong,6 and the relation of book V to Germanicus’ version of Aratus’ Phaenomena has been studied by H. Wempe.7 But the fragmentary state of our knowledge of the early stages of the development of astrology in Hellenistic Egypt makes it impossible to pursue the search for Manilius’ sources much further. It is even more difficult (though not because of a lack of texts) to discern any influence exercised by Manilius over later astrologers. If he was read at all in antiquity, it was not by the profession.
1. But see P. Thielscher, “Ist ‘M. Manilii Astronomicon libri V’ richtig ?” in Hermes, 84 (1956), 353–372.
2. See E. Flores, “Augusto nella visione astrologica di Manilio ed il problema della cronologia degli Astronomicon libri,” in Annali della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia della Università di Napoli, 9 (1960–1961), 5–66.
3. See E. Gebhardt, “Zur Datierungsfage des Manilius,” in Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, 104 (1961), 278–286.
5.Manilius’ Quelle im ersten Buche der Astronomica Berlin, 1934).
6. See G. Villauri, “Gli Astronomica di Manilio e le fontiermetiche,” in Rivista di Filologia e di Istruzione Classica, n.s. 32 (1954), 133–167; and M. Valvo, “Considerazioni su Manilio e l’ermetismo,” in Siculorum Gymnasium, 9 (1956), 108–117.
7. “Die literarischen Beziehungen und das chronologischen Verhältnis zwischen Germanicus und Manilius,” in Rheinisches Museum fü Philologie, 84 (1935), 89–96.
The standard ed. of Manilius is that by A. E. Housman, 2nd ed., 5 vols. (Cambridge, 1937). Numerous articles on the text tradition and certain difficult passages have appeared since 1937; among the most impressive of these are by G. P. Goold, “De fonte condicum Manilianorum,” in Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, 97 (1954), 359–372, and “Adversaria Maniliana,” in Phoenix, 13 (Toronto, 1959), 93–112, from whom a new critical ed. is expected. See also E. Flores, Contributi di filologia maniliana (Naples, 1966).