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Martianus Minneus Felix Capella

Martianus Minneus Felix Capella was a writer of the late Latin period, whose career flourished some time during the 5th century, before the year 439.

According to Cassiodorus, Capella was a native of Madaura in Africa, and appears to have practised as a lawyer at Carthage. His curious encyclopaedic work, 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 wordy and involved, loaded with metaphor and bizarre expressions.

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, representing the sum of human knowledge. Book 3 deals with grammar, book 4 with dialectics, book 5 with rhetoric, book 6 with geometry, book 7 with arithmetic, book 8 with astronomy, book 9 with 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 the Elder, 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, on the whole correct and classically constructed, are in imitation of Varro.

The eighth book contains a very clear statement of the heliocentric system of astronomy. It is possible that it inspired Copernicus, who quotes Capella.

Editio princeps, by F Vitalis Bodianus, 1499; F Eyssenhardt (1866). In the 11th century the German monk Notker Labeo translated the first two books into Old High German.

This entry incorporates public domain text originally from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica.