1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Capella, Martianus Minneus Felix
CAPELLA, MARTIANUS MINNEUS FELIX, Latin writer, according to Cassiodorus a native of Madaura in Africa, flourished during the 5th century, certainly before the year 439. He appears to have practised as a lawyer at Carthage and to have been in easy circumstances. His curious encyclopaedic work, entitled Satyricon, or De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii et de septem Artibus liberalibus libri novem, is an elaborate allegory in nine books, written in a mixture of prose and verse, after the manner of the Menippean satires of Varro. The style is heavy and involved, loaded with metaphor and bizarre expressions, and verbose to excess. The first two books contain the allegory proper—the marriage of Mercury to a nymph named Philologia. The remaining seven books contain expositions of the seven liberal arts, which then comprehended all human knowledge. Book iii. treats of grammar, iv. of dialectics, v. of rhetoric, vi. of geometry, vii. of arithmetic, viii. of astronomy, ix. of music. These abstract discussions are linked on to the original allegory by the device of personifying each science as a courtier of Mercury and Philologia. The work was a complete encyclopaedia of the liberal culture of the time, and was in high repute during the middle ages. The author’s chief sources were Varro, Pliny, Solinus, Aquila Romanus, and Aristides Quintilianus. His prose resembles that of Apuleius (also a native of Madaura), but is even more difficult. The verse portions, which are on the whole correct and classically constructed, are in imitation of Varro and are less tiresome.
A passage in book viii. contains a very clear statement of the heliocentric system of astronomy. It has been supposed that Copernicus, who quotes Capella, may have received from this work some hints towards his own new system.
Editio princeps, by F. Vitalis Bodianus, 1499; the best modern edition is that of F. Eyssenhardt (1866); for the relation of Martianus Capella to Aristides Quintilianus see H. Deiters, Studien zu den griechischen Musikern (1881). In the 11th century the German monk Notker Labeo translated the first two books into Old High German.