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This webpage reproduces an article in
The Classical Quarterly
Vol. 7 (Apr. 1913), pp109‑114.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

p109 Manilius, Augustus, Tiberius, Capricornus, and Libra

'The date of the poem has been canvassed with merciless prolixity for the last four-and-twenty years, but the pertinent facts are few.' So I wrote in 1903 on p. lxix of my edition of the first book of Manilius; and in two octavo pages and a half I collected all those facts, said all that I could find to say on both sides of the questions in dispute, and drew the conclusion that books I and II were written under Augustus and book IV under Tiberius. Ten years have passed, and the prolixity has continued, but the prolix have added no pertinent fact to those which I collected: some of them have even subtracted one, by suppressing the numismatic evidence, which I duly recorded, that Tiberius had Libra for his star.

The occasion of the present paper is not any of these disputations, but some remarks on Man. II.507‑9 by Prof. J. G. Smyly in Hermathena for 1912, pp150‑9. I dissent from one of Mr Smyly's main contentions, and I shall show that in some particulars he is much mistaken; but I think that he has solved the difficulty which he set out to solve, and also, unknown to himself, another.

For determining the date of Manilius's several books we depend in part upon his allusions to the nativity of one or more Caesars. What I myself have now to say will concern the nativity of Tiberius and the date of book IV; but first I will report the conclusions of Mr Smyly, which have reference to neither of these subjects but to the nativity of Augustus.

That the sign of Capricorn was known and famed as Augustus' natal star is shown by Man. II.507‑9 'Capricornus in ipsum | conuertit uisus, quid enim mirabitur ille | maius, in Augusti felix cum fulserit ortum?', by Germ. phaen. 558‑60 'hic (Capricornus), Auguste, tuum genitali corpore numen | attonitas inter gentis patriamque pauentem | in caelum tulit et maternis reddidit astris,' by Suet. Aug. 94.12 'tantam mox fiduciam fati Augustus habuit, ut thema suum uulgauerit nummumque argenteum nota sideris Capricorni, quo natus est, percusserit,' and by extant coins with the head of Augustus on one face and the figure of Capricorn on the other.1 Now a man's natal star, for astrologers in general, is that sign of the zodiac which at the moment of his birth is rising in the east and which is technically termed his horoscope. But p110 Suetonius Aug. 5 says 'natus est Augustus M. Tullio Cicerone C. Antonio coss. IX kal. Oct. paulo ante solis exortum'; and if Augustus was born at that hour of that day of the year 63 B.C. his horoscope cannot have been Capricornus and was almost certainly Libra. Moreover Manilius himself at IV.547‑52 has these lines:

sed, cum autumnales coeperunt surgere Chelae,

felix aequato genitus sub pondere Librae:

iudex examen sistet uitaeque necisque

imponetque iugum terris legesque rogabit.

illum urbes et regna trement nutuque regentur

unius, et caeli post terras iura manebunt.

Here a career which might be that of Augustus is traced from a position of Libra which the sign appears to have occupied at Augustus' birth. For at that hour, so far as we can ascertain, Libra was just beginning to rise: coeperunt surgere Chelae. Even the epithet autumnales, though suitable under any circumstances to this equinoctial sign, will have special force if the person meant was born in September.2 The verses therefore are quite consonant with the verdict of astronomy and chronology that Augustus' horoscope in truth was Libra. Yet he and all the world believed that he was born under Capricornus. Can one man have two natal stars?

This has hitherto been hard to believe, and attempts to make it probable have failed;3 but Mr Smyly has tried again and seems to me to have succeeded. He points out that although, in the usual language of astrology, a man's natal star is the sign which was rising at his birth, there survive relics of another opinion, that it was the sign then occupied by the Moon.4 The words of p111Cicero which I quoted at Man. II.726, de diu. II.91 'cum, ut ipsi dicunt, ortus nascentium Luna moderetur, eaque animaduertant et notent sidera natalicia Chaldaei, quaecumque Lunae iuncta uideantur,' do not perhaps go quite so far as this; but Mr Smyly's point is fairly proved by a comparison of the three passages cited on p. xxix of my edition of book I: Man. IV.773 'Libra . . . qua condita Roma,' Cic. de diu. II.98 'L. Tarutius Firmanus . . . Romam, cum in Iugo esset Luna, natam esse dicebat,' Solin. I.18 'Romulus . . . fundamenta iecit . . . Sole in Tauro, Luna in Libra constitutis.' Evidently, when Manilius said that Rome was founded under Libra, he meant that Libra, at Rome's foundation, was occupied by the Moon. If therefore the Moon was in Capricornus at Augustus' birth, Manilius could consistently say, as he and everyone else did say, that Augustus was born under Capricornus. And Mr Smyly shows on p158 that at the date given, 'M. Tullio Cicerone C. Antonio coss. IX kal. Oct. paulo ante solis exortum,' the Moon must have been in Capricornus or very near it.5 It seems therefore that both Capricornus and Libra were entitled to be called Augustus' stars; and Manilius, though he assigns the honour to Capricornus in II.507‑9, may well have assigned it to Libra in IV.547‑52.

This explanation removes one of the reasons which I formerly gave for thinking that Augustus was dead when book IV was writing. Because in that book we find Capricornus begetting no nobler progeny than miners and smiths and clothiers at 243‑55 and sailors at 568‑70 and young men who give their strength to women at 257 sq. I inferred that Augustus had quitted the earth and left Manilius no motive for saying more of Capricornus than he found in p112the manuals of his art. But in these verses of book IV it is only as a horoscope that Capricornus comes upon the scene; and if he was not Augustus' horoscope there was no cause why Manilius, even in Augustus' reign, should extol him in that capacity.

Nor does what is said of Libra in IV.548‑52 determine or help to determine the date of the book. Those verses may possibly refer to Tiberius, and there is independent evidence that Libra was in some sense his star; and if they do refer to him they can only have been written when Augustus was dead. But also they may refer to Augustus, and they agree more closely with what is known about his birth than with anything known about the birth of Tiberius; and if they refer to Augustus they cannot help to date book IV, unless indeed we like to say that the words 'caeli post terras iura manebunt' will gain in force if the emperor meant was already dead and deified.

The sole internal evidence for the date of book IV is contained in verses 763‑6 and 773‑7; for its last lines 933‑5, from which one faction infers that Augustus was living and another that he was dead, are equally compatible with either hypothesis. The first of these passages I discussed on p. lxxi of my edition of book I, where I argued that the words 'Rhodos, hospitium recturi principis orbem, | tumque domus uere Solis, cui tota sacrata est, | cum caperet lumen magni sub Caesare mundi' could only mean 'Rhodes, the sojourn of him who was one day to rule the world, and in very truth the Sun's abode at that time when the lamp of the universe, in the person of our emperor, was within her gates.' If this is so, then Tiberius was reigning when Manilius wrote. The second passage, 773‑7, is the following:

Hesperiam sua Libra tenet, qua condita Roma

orbis et imperium6 retinet discrimina rerum

775lancibus et positas gentes tollitque premitque,

†qua genitus Caesarque meus nunc condidit orbem

et propriis frenat pendentem nutibus orbem.

I give the corrupt verse 776 as it appears in M, postponing the variants. Under Libra, says Manilius, was founded Rome; under Libra was born Caesar, who now governs a world which hangs upon his nod. This Caesar therefore is now reigning; and, since 763‑6 showed Tiberius to be reigning, this Caesar is Tiberius. And that Libra was Tiberius' star appears from the Pontic coin of Queen Pythodoris which I mentioned when discussing this question in 1903. But Mr Smyly's observations on Capricornus and Augustus have shown me how to clear these lines of an awkwardness which always made me unhappy. The words 'qua condita Roma,' as we know from the passages I cited above on p111, mean that the Moon was in Libra when Rome was founded. If then the words 'qua genitus Caesar' mean that Tiberius had Libra for his horoscope, the balance is awry; one would expect them to mean p113that the Moon was in Libra when Tiberius was born. And so they do. Suetonius Tib. 5 relates that Tiberius was born on Nov. 16th 42 B.C.: 'ut plures certioresque tradunt, natus est Romae in Palatio XVI kal. Dec. M. Aemilio Lepido iterum L. Munatio Planco coss. per bellum Philippense. sic enim in fastos actaque in publica relatum est.' On that day the Moon was in Libra.

Mr Smyly's definition of the Moon's place on Augustus' birthday is ratified by this coincidence. Astronomy numismatics and literature all point one way: the relation of Libra to Tiberius was the same as that of Capricornus to Augustus, and these are the two signs which the Moon was traversing when the two emperors were born.

Now I return to the details of IV.776.

qua genitus Caesar melius nunc condidit urbem.

caesar melius scripsi anno 1903 in ed. Man. lib. I pp. xxix sq., caesarque meus M, meus L, cum fratre remus GL2. nunc LM, hanc GL2. urbem GL2, orbem LM. Manilius could neither call Tiberius 'Caesar meus' nor write 'qua genitus Caesarque meus' instead of 'quaque meus Caesar genitus'; 'condidit orbem has no sense, and the sense of condidit urbem requires an adverb, whether 'melius' or 'rursus' or another. melius or meuus shrank to meus as meus has swelled to melius at Mart. VII.87.1, and the archetype had caesar meus: one apograph inserted que for metre; in the other caesar was half obliterated, so that L omits it and the interpolator of GL2 made what was left of caesa rmeus into cum fratre remus. I showed that a similar compliment was paid not only to Augustus, who deserved it better than Tiberius, but to Caligula, who deserved it less: Suet. Calig. 16.4 'decretum autem ut dies, quo cepisset imperium, Parilia uocaretur, uelut argumentum rursus conditae urbis.' It is true that Tiberius was no great builder, 'princeps nulla opera magnifica fecit' says Suetonius; but that did not prevent Velleius from saying 'quanta suo suorumque nomine exstruxit opera!" Moreover there are other ways of founding cities than building, as may be seen from what Livy says of Numa, I.19.1 'urbem nouam, conditam ui et armis, iure eam legibusque ac moribus de integro condere parat.' Indeed in Augustus' own case the proposal to name him Romulus 'quasi et ipsum conditorem urbis' (Suet. Aug. 7.2) was made before 27 B.C., when he had hardly begun his transformation of the brick city to marble; while Caligula was supposed to have founded Rome anew by simply ascending the throne. Manilius himself confers the title not only on Camillus but on Brutus, who never laid one stone upon another: I.784‑6 'et Ioue qui meruit caelum Romamque Camillus | seruando posuit, Brutusque a rege receptae | conditor.'

Readers who use the text of Bechert or of Breiter will be wondering why I ignore a remarkable variant which figures in their notes. That M in this verse had possidet for condidit was reported in the Classical Review for 1894 p141; and we all believed it, Mr Bechert in 1900, I myself in 1903. But in p1141907 I got hold of Loewe's collation and found him noting no variant against condidit; and in the Classical Quarterly vol. I pp294 sq. I published my suspicion that possidet was only a phantom. Breiter, having the same facts before him, came to the opposite conclusion; and although he had said on p. iv 'aliquot locis Löwe et Ellis discrepant, quod indicandum putaui,' he here gave no such warning, and simply stated that M read possidet.7 I now have photographs of the MS, and they show that M reads condidit just like G and L.

This makes no difference to me; for in 1903, Man. lib. I p. xxix, long before I knew whose interpolation possidet was, I said that it was an interpolation. But it makes a difference to scholars like Mr E. Bickel, who do not know an interpolation when they see one. Mr Bickel, Rhein. Mus. 1910 pp233 sqq., seized upon this false reading, and spun out of it the false conjecture 'qua genitus Caesarque deus nunc possidet urbem,' because of his opinion 'ducem fidelissimum in Manilio restituendo esse codicem Matritensem,' non rationem et rem ipsam. That he mistook possidet for the reading of the Matritensis was the fault of others, but it was his own fault that he mistook it for the writing of Manilius. This error he can now repair, and there is no harm done; but the accident is timely and ought to be instructive. The Matritensis is full of things which are just as false as this spectral possidet and yet will seem just as true to Mr Bickel and the rest of its acolytes. A MS is a blind leader, and when a blind leader has a blind follower they both fall into the ditch. One thing is needful, and that is to know chalk from cheese.

A. E. Housman.

Trinity College, Cambridge.


The Author's Notes:

1 Readers of Horace may like to know that Mr Bouché-Leclercq has discovered yet another piece of evidence in carm. I.12.50: astr. Gr. p374 'Cf. le mot d'Horace: Orte Saturno, ♑ étant la maison de ♄.'

2 The anecdote in Suet. Aug. 94.5, 'quo natus est die, cum de Catilinae coniuratione ageretur in curia et Octauius ob uxoris puerperium serius affuisset, nota ac uulgata res est P. Nigidium comperta morae causa, ut horam quoque partus acceperit, affirmasse dominum terrarum orbi natum, which answers well in other respects to the words of Manilius, has something wrong with it; for the reference to Catiline's conspiracy, vague though it is, will not square with the month of September. Virgil's suggestion in georg. I.32‑5 that Augustus may choose Libra for his seat in heaven, though it possibly implies a link between the man and the sign, can easily be explained without assuming any.

3 Mr Smyly on p151 says that I made one of these attempts: 'Mr Housman and the Germans try to escape from this difficulty by asserting that Libra was the Sign of his birth, and Capricornus that of his conception.' I neither asserted this nor tried in any way to escape from the difficulty: I said, like Mr Smyly himself, that this hypothesis was possible, and I objected, like him, that it was ineffectual.

4 Mr Smyly on pp152‑6 goes further, and suggests that for Nigidius, who cast Augustus' nativity on the day of his birth, and even for Manilius, the horoscope was not, as it is for later astrologers, the determining factor in the geniture. Suetonius however, in telling the story about Nigidius, implies the contrary; for he says that Nigidius broke out into his prophecy upon hearing the hour of the infant's birth. His prophecy therefore was founded on some brief and passing condition of the heavens, like the rising of the horoscope, not on a condition of more than two days' duration, like the Moon's sojourn in a sign. As to Manilius himself, it is true, as Mr Smyly says, that he nowhere distinctly affirms that predominance of the horoscope in nativities. But he does distinctly imply it, and especially in the passage which Mr Smyly cites on p154 to prove the contrary. In IV.122‑291 Manilius has described the influence of the twelve signs on the characters of men, without saying when or where they exert it; then in 292‑408 he explains how each sign is divided into three decans; and then in 409‑501 he runs through the thirty partes or degrees of each sign, distinguishing the bad from the good. Now, in 502 sqq., he begins to speak of something else:

nec te perceptis signorum cura relinquat

partibus; in tempus quaedam mutantur et ortu

accipiunt proprias uires ultraque remittunt.

Mr Smyly, like Fayus and all other editors whose opinion is discoverable, like Mr Bouché-Leclercq astr. Gr. p385, and like the author of the titles in the archetype, who headed this paragraph with 'orientia signa quid efficiant,' understands quaedam to mean quaedam signa; and thence he derives an argument which would be just and cogent if this opinion were true, but which falls to the ground if it is false. And false it is. quaedam signa will not make sense, for Manilius in 505‑84 proceeds to speak not of quaedam but of omnia signa. Moreover the whole paragraph will then be out of place, and ought to have followed upon 122‑291. It is certain and should be evident that quaedam means quaedam partes. After describing in 409‑501 the permanent quality of the degrees in each sign, Manilius now describes changes which some of those degrees undergo as they surmount the eastern horizon. The degrees in question are those at the beginning of Aries Taurus Leo Virgo Libra Aquarius and Pisces, the end of Scorpius and Capricornus, and the middle of Gemini Cancer and Sagittarius. Now the powers which they wield when rising are in some instances tremendous; they beget an Augustus or a Hannibal. This could not be, unless the horoscope, the region of the eastern horizon, possessed predominance. The whole of book V points the same way.

There are several errors of less moment in this part of Mr Smyly's paper. His interpretation of IV.144 has nothing in its favour: Manilius tells us that Taurus creates farmers, and he remarks, very aptly indeed, that in spring-time, when the sun with Taurus rides, a farmer has plenty to do. Mr Smyly says of verses 162‑4 that unless they mean what he thinks they 'are purely ornamental and misleading': they are purely ornamental, but Mr Smyly seems to have been the first whom they have misled; and his sentence about fulgens confuses that word with ardens or feruens and confuses Cancer with the νεφέλιον. What he says of mores on p156 is contradicted by Manilius at II.831, V.127, 236, 349.

5 Mr Smyly interprets IX kal. Oct. as Sept. 22nd: it is more commonly identified with Sept. 23rd.

6 imperium is nominative and the construction is condita ara et conditum orbis imperium'; see Flor. II.34 'an quia condidisset imperium Romulus uocaretur' and Sen. de ben. III.37.1 'conditores Romani imperii.'

7 His report of the reading of L in this verse contains two errors, though Mr Bechert had already given it correctly.


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