Aratea Online

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The term Aratea or Aratea carmina refers to three classical Latin translations (these of Cicero, Germanicus, and Avienus) as well as multiple medieval renderings of Aratus‘ (ca. 315/310-240 BC) didactic poem the Phaenomena.[1] With more than sixty manuscripts the Aratea was the main and in many respects the only source from which medieval readers received information about stellar astronomy, making it an important research topic. Sufficient numbers of studies have been devoted to the literary aspects of the Latin translations of the poem. Some manuscripts of the Aratea have attracted scholarly attention due to their illustrations and diagrams, but no overall study on the transmission and reception of the Aratea has been written.[2] The utmost goal of my dissertation project is an evaluation of the role the text of the Aratea played in the astronomical studies during a period from the 8th c. to the 12th c., taking into consideration how the entire body of the texts that make up the Aratea was read, commented on and copied during this period.

In this online part of the project the emphasis will be on the manuscript transmission and textual history of the medieval Aratea-s focusing on the freedom, with which medieval scribes worked with these textual corpora. The first task is, thus, to analyze the text versions and map up the changes that occurred. The digital editions of the Aratus Latinus will provide a base for comparison with the Greek original and shed more light to the pre-carolingian translation and the lexical instruments the Latin translator possessed.

The second task is to study the manuscripts of the different versions and analyze the intellectual context of their transmission. The starting point for this endeavor is the online catalog of the manuscripts, which are being described using Oxygen-XML editor following the guidelines of TEI.

Concise History of the Texts

The Greek Original(s)

Aratus’ Poem – the Phaenomena

The Phaenomena, literary “Things that appear”, is a didactic poem, which teaches about the fixed stars, and their annual motion, as well as about the atmospheric occurrences, and the behaviour of the flora and fauna.[3] Aratus leitmotif was not to write an astronomical didactic poem, but to draw attention to the perceivable signs in nature, which Zeus benignly gives to mankind. Nevertheless, early on a division was introduced between the astronomical part (refer to as Phaenomena and comprising the first 757 verses) and the later (refer to as Diosemeia comprising the later 383 verses).

  • 1-18 proem
  • 19-461 constellations in the northern and southern hemispheres
  • 462-558 description of the five celestial circles and intercepting constellations.
  • 559-732 simultaneous risings and settings.
  • 733-757 the phases of the moon
  • 758-1141 weather signs (Diosemeia); list of atmospheric and terrestrial phenomena
  • 1142-1154 closing section, ends with a concluding remark that “If you have watched for these signs all together for the year, you will never make an uninformed judgment on the evidence of the sky”.

Editions, Commentaries, and Scholia

Throughout the centuries the poem was read, edited, and commented. This rich history is discussed in detail by Jean Martin.[4] What is of interest in respect of this project is the so called Ω-edition, which reached the Latin West, and was the source for all medieval Aratea-s. Apart from providing a critical text of the poem the editor(s) of this edition added also an “attractive” explanatory commentary – patch work from previous commentaries, from astronomical and mythological free-standing works (Eratosthenes’ Catasterismi) which were adapted to compliment the poem. Most probably at that time were added also illustrations to the text.[5]

Before looking in more detail at this corpus, a few words about the Catasterismi.[6] Since the poem presented only a succinct pictorial appearance of the constellations the need was felt for a collection the mythological stories relating to the constellations together with a list of their stars. This demand was met by the work of Eratosthenes of Cyrene (ca. 276-ca. 194 BC). This work was in turn re-edited and excerpted multiple times till it received the form of what we now know as the Catasterismi – a collection of separate, thematically and syntactically complete sections, each devoted to one constellation reporting the myths and the position and number of the stars. When the Catasterismi was joined to the poem the original order was rearranged, so that in the latest edition the sequence of the constellations fit the sequence used by Aratus.

Now, back to the Ί-edition and its content. The textual corpus can be divided in eight parts:[7]

  1. Arati ea quae videntur. Description of the celestial sphere with its circles; the disposition of the constellations in relation to the circles; paranatellonta (simultaneous rising and setting of constellations); five terrestrial zones.
  2. Eratosthenis De circa exornatione stellarum et ethymologia de quibus videntur. List of the constellations following the order in the original work of Eratosthenes.
  3. Isagoga. This is an introduction to the poem, presenting the work and its author, and also pointing to the diacritical marks which the editor was to use in the text itself. It is followed rather abruptly by a note, which Martin recognised as a now lost preface to Anclides.
  4. Descriptio duorum semispheriorum. This short section is taken from the Greek Scholia to the poem. It relates to the earth’s division by the axis in two equal hemispheres.
  5. Arati genus. A biography of Aratus.
  6. Prefacio Arati. Short preface which according to the Greek fragment was addressed to Anclide.
  7. Involutio sphaerae. In reality these are two poems. The first describes the position of the constellations and the astrological significance and influence of the zodiacal signs; the second, much shorter than the first, is devoted to the planets’ influence on the human character.
  8. Phaenomena. This is the translation of the poem together with intertwined scholia/ excerpts from the Catasterismi and illustrations.

    Aratus Latinus, Revised Aratus Latinus and their derivative texts.

    Aratus Latinus

    Some time before or during the 8th century a Latin translation of the Ί-edition appeared which is commonly schemecalled the Aratus Latinus.[8] This version was characterized by its first editor Maass as barbarous and unintelligible in many cases. Hubert Le Bourdellès, on the other hand, paid much more detailed attention to this work and based on linguistic analysis suggested that it had been copied from an interlinear translation of the Greek Phaenomena.[9] With the gradual decline of Greek, he proposed, scholars first needed glossaries to read Greek which led to this now lost ‘bilingual’ copy. Later, however, the Greek text was abandoned and thus in the first half of the 8th c. the literal translation, namely the Aratus Latinus, began to circulate separately.

    Revised Aratus Latinus

    A revision of the Aratus Latinus (producing the Revised Aratus Latinus) most probably took place in the second half of the 8th c., when the confusing parts were eliminated and the meaning of the text was clarified, but without being collated with a Greek manuscript.  The text of the Revised Aratus Latinus itself included numerous excerpts from Isidore, Hyginus, Fulgentius Mythographus and others, which to a large extent replaced the second part of the poem on weather signs that was initially translated in the Aratus Latinus.

    The Revised Aratus Latinus, apart from correcting and omitting parts of the old texts, also added extracts from Latin works.[10]

      Aratus Latinus

    MS Paris, BnF Lat. 7886

    Revised Aratus Latinus

    MS Paris, BnF Lat. 12957

    I Arati ea quae videntur
    II (Pseudo-)Eratosthenis ‘De circa exornatione stellarum et ethymologia de quibus videntur’
    III Preface (incipit: Quibus Arati videntur)
    I2 Alia versio ‘Arati ea quae videntur’
    II2 Alia versio (Pseudo-)Eratosthenis’ ‘
’ ―
    IV Descriptio duorum semisphaeriorum
    V Arati genus
    ― De caeli positione
    ― De stellis fixis et stantibus
    VI Prefacio Arati ―
    VII Involutio spaerae Revised (omitted verses 75-178 from the first part, and the whole second part instead of which added  Duodecim signorum ordo)
    VIII Translation of the Phaenomena and the Scholia Revised (replaced the second part on meteorology with excerpts from other works)


    The De caeli positione and De stellis fixis et stantibus (sic! for errantibus) are actually chapters two and three from Pseudo-Censorinus’ fragments.[11] These fragments in the manuscripts are almost exclusively found after Censorinus’ De die natali (composed 238 AD). The first one discusses the five celestial and terrestrial circles, their characteristics, and the division of the zodiac in 360 parts and twelve signs. The second text treats the planets and the length of their circular motion around the stationary Earth.

    Duodecim signorum ordo is also a newly added piece probably borrowed from a computistical manual.[12] It provides information on what day of the year the Sun reaches each of the twelve zodiacal signs.

    Excerptum de astrologia

    The Excerptum de astrologia is a verbal map of the heavenly sphere.[13] In part of the manuscripts it is found side by side with an illustration of a planisphere with the figures of the constellations.

    De ordine ac positione stellarum in signis

    De ordine ac positione stellarum in signis is a rĂ©sumĂ© of the star catalogue found in the scholia Basileensia (the Latin translation of the Greek Scholia to the Phaenomena, which accompanied Germanicus’ Aratea).[14] While the Excerptum provides a general scheme of the two hemispheres, this text adds the images of the constellation and their mythical origin.

    Anonymus Sangallensis

    Another text which comes from the Revised Aratus Latinus is a short text entitled by Maass De astronomia Arati. Le Bourdellès considered it the work of an anonymous monk from Saint Gall and thus referred to it as Anonymus Sangallensis.[15]

    De signis caeli

    De signis caeli is a star catalogue short rĂ©sumĂ© of the Aratus Latinus.[16] In manuscripts it was often accredited to Bede. It was placed as scholia to Germanicus’ Aratea in the margines of MS Bern, Burgerbibliothek, 88, thus leading Breysig, the editor of Germanicus, to refer to it as “Scholia Bernensia ad Germanicum”.

    Dell’ Era first provided evidences for the origin of the De signis. He based his edition on almost all known manuscripts of the text, the collation of which provided evidences that the De signis is a reworking of the Aratus Latinus.[17]

    Scholia Strozziana

    Scholia Strozziana are accompanying Germanicus’ Aratea in some manuscripts, the earliest of which is datable to the 12th c.[18] This is a mixture of the scholia Basileensia and the Aratus Latinus (together with the De signis caeli).



[1] There are many editions of the Greek poem, the most recent ones being: Aratus, Phaenomena, ed. Douglas A. Kidd (Cambridge: CUP, 1997); Aratus, PhĂ©nomĂšnes, ed. Jean Martin, 2 vols. (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1998); Aratus, Phainomena: Griechisch – Deutsch, ed. Manfred Erren, 2nd ed. (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011). The three Latin translations are edited in CicĂ©ron, Les Aratea, ed. Victor Buescu (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1941); Marcus Tullius Cicero, Aratea. Fragments PoĂ©tiques. ed. Jean Soubiron. (Paris: SociĂ©tĂ© d’édition “Les Belles lettres,” 1972); Germanicus, Les phĂ©nomĂšnes d’Aratos, ed. André LeBƓuffle (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1975); Rufius Festus Avienus, Les PhĂ©nomĂšnes d’Aratos, ed. Jean Soubiran, 2. tirage. (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2003).
[2] See the extensive bibliography in Manfred Erren, “Arat Und Aratea 1966-1992,” Lustrum 36 (1994): 189–284. Some of the important studies to be mentioned in recent years focusing on the manuscript tradition are: Mechthild Haffner, Ein antiker Sternbilderzyklus und seine Tradierung in Handschriften vom frĂŒhen Mittelalter bis zum Humanismus: Untersuchungen zu den Illustrationen der “Aratea” des Germanicus, (Hildesheim [u.a.]: Olms, 1997); Dolan, Marion, The Role of Illustrated Aratea Manuscripts in the Transmission of Astronomical Knowledge in the Middle Ages, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh (2008); Eric RamĂ­rez-Weaver, Carolingian Innovation and Observation in the Paintings and Star Catalogs of Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, Ms. 3307, Doctoral Dissertation, Insitute of Fine Arts, New York University (2008); Dieter Blume, Mechthild Haffner, and Wolfgang Metzger, Sternbilder des Mittelalters : der gemalte Himmel zwischen Wissenschaft und Phantasie, vol. I, 1: Text und Katalog der Handschriften (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2012); Elly Dekker, Illustrating the Phaenomena: Celestial Cartography in Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Oxford, 2013). See also Kristen Lippincott’s The Saxl Project.
[3] The content of the Phaenomena is analysed in detail in the introduction to the modern edition by J. Martin, Aratos, PhénomÚnes (Paris: Les belles lettres, 1998), pp. XLIX-LXXXV. See also the analysis on the structure and the sequence of the presentation of the constellations in the poem in M. Erren, Die Phainomena Des Aratos von Soloi: Untersuchungen Zum Sach- Und SinnverstÀndnis, (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1967), pp. 76-100.
[4] Jean Martin, Histoire du texte des PhĂ©nomĂšnes d’Aratos (Paris: Klincksieck, 1956) and id., ed., Scholia in Aratum Vetera (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1974).
[5] The question about the first insertion of illustrations is treated most recently in a series of article published in Fabio Guidetti and Anna Santoni, eds., Antiche Stelle a Bisanzio: Il Codice Vaticano Greco 1087, (Pisa: Ed. della Normale, 2013).
[6] For general information on the text, its autorship, datation and multiple redaction see the study of Klaus Geus, Eratosthenes von Kyrene: Studien Zur Hellenistischen Kultur- Und Wissenschaftsgeschichte, (MĂŒnchen: C. H. Beck, 2002), p. 211f. who includes a separate chapter on the astronomical activities and works of Eratosthenes. Recent editions: EratĂČstenes de Cirene, Catasterismes, ed. Jordi PĂ mias i Massana (Barcelona: FundaciĂł Bernat Metge, 2004) with a Catalan translation; Eratosthenes, Sternsagen (Catasterismi), ed. Jordi PĂ mias and Klaus Geus, (Oberhaid: Utopica, 2007) with a German translation; and ÉratosthĂšne de CyrĂšne: CatastĂ©rismes, ed. Jordi PĂ mias i Massana and Arnaud Zucker, (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2013) with a French translation.
[7] Here I follow the practice of Maaß, Commentariorvm in Aratvm Reliqviae, pp. 25-75, although some of the here separated text appear as one in the manuscripts. The sections are discussed also by Martin, Histoire du texte, pp. 131-2.
[8] For a first time the text was edited by Alfredus Breysig in his edition to Germanicus ArateaGermanici Caesaris Aratea cum scholiis, (Hildesheim: Olms, 1967) (reprint); There, however, the text is dispersed throughout the scholia to Germanicus‘ poem. The first separa editiion was published by Maaß, Commentariorvm in Aratvm Reliqviae pp. 102-306.
[9] Hubert Le Bourdellès, L’Aratus Latinus Ă©tude sur la culture et la langue latines dans le Nord de la France au VIIIe siĂšcle (Lille: Universite de Lille III, 1985), pp. 51-2. See also his articles “Naissance D’un Serpent. Essai de Datation de l’Aratus Latinus MĂ©rovingien.,” in Hommages Marcel Renard, 1969, pp. 506–14 and “La DĂ©couverte de L’astronomie Grecque En Occident Au VIIIe SiĂšcle,” in L’Astronomie Dans L’antiquitĂ© Classique, 1979, pp. 245–49.
[10] The text is edited in a rather confusing manner in Maaß, Commentariorvm in Aratvm Reliqviae pp. 102-297 parallel to the Aratus Latinus mostly in the bottom of the page.
[11] Censorini De die natali liber, ed. Nicolaus Sallmann (Leipzig: Teubner, 1983), 62-67. See also the English translation Censorinus, The Birthday Book, trans. Holt N. Parker (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007), where the fragments are not present. See also the entry in RE 3.1908-10.
[12] This short text is edited only in Breysig, Germanici Caesaris Aratea cum scholiis, pp. 225-6 as part of Involutio sphaerae (in the manuscripts there is no division between the two).
[13] Most recent edition is by Antonio Dell’Era, Una “caeli descriptio” d’età carolingia, Quaderni della Facoltà di magistero dell’Università di Palermo. Serie di filologia latina (Palermo, 1974), pp. 43-46.
[14] Ibidem, pp. 49-70.
[15] In Maaß, Commentariorvm in Aratvm Reliqviae pp. 595-601. Hubert Le Bourdellès, L’Aratus Latinus, pp. 84-5.
[16] See Antonio Dell’Era, “Una rielaborazione dell’Arato latino,” Studi medievali, ser. 3 20, no. 1 (1979): 269–302.
[17] Ibidem, pp. 269-281.
[18] See Antonio Dell’Era, Una Miscellanea Astronomica Medievale: Gli Scholia Strozziana a Germanico, Atti Della Accademia Nazionale Dei Lincei : Memorie ; Ser. 8/Classe Di Scienze Morali, Storiche E Filologiche (Roma, 1979, 1979).

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