Podcast episode

Episode 182: Ↄ. Martiana on Martianus Capella and the Marriage of Philology and Mercury

[Sorry about the robotic sound on this interview; I tried to plug my recorder in instead of running it on batteries, and got an annoying hum for my pains. Not trying that again. I removed the hum, but that left the sound pretty glitchy. The interview is far too superb to let that get in the way, however.]

We speak with Ↄ. Martiana about Martianus Capella’s magnum opus, the allegorical ascent-narrative-cum-textbook The Marriage of Philology and Mercury. This book is one of the strangest and most fascinating products of late-antique literature and deserves to be far better known. We introduce the text and its author, and then discuss a number of points about the book, including:

  • some points as to how we might approach a baffling text like this one,
  • an comprehensive exposition on daimones, integrating Roman creatures like manes and penates and newer imports like angels,
  • some discussion of the type of kosmology in which Capella’s narrative takes place, with elemental regions, an astral afterlife, and so forth,
  • kosmic ascent and how to do it, by ennobling the soul through the liberal arts but also through the practice of divination, incense-offerings (perhaps because these were a form of sacrifice one could plausibly deny directing at ‘pagan’ gods), sequential planetary worship, and then, once the planets have been dealt with, the ‘Chaldæan’ rites take over, and
  • some reflections on the usefulness of Capella’s text from a modern ‘practitioner’ point-of-view.

Interview Bio:

Ↄ. Martiana is a student of ancient theology, philosophy, and related matters. She maintains the SARTRIX wiki, ‘an online encyclopedia, public library and journal devoted to Ancient Mediterranean Polytheism’. The edition of Capella’s metrical work will appear there shortly!

Works Cited in this Episode:

Hypnerotomachia Polyphili. See the handy English translation of Godwin, which, however (and with sound reason), makes the text much less awkward than the original: Francesco Colonna, Joscelyn Godwin trans. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili: The Strife of Love in a Dream. Thames & Hudson, London, 1999.

Mario De Nonno. Un nuovo testo di Marziano Capella: la metrica. Rivista di filologia e di istruzione classica, 118:129, 1990.

Katie Reid. Martianus Capella in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Number 28 in Medieval and Renaissance Authors and Texts. Brill, Leiden, 2023.

Stahl 1965: see Secondary Literature below; we cite p. 103.

Recommended Reading:

Primary Access

James Willis, editor. Martianus Capella. Bibliotheca scriptorum Græcorum et Romanorum Teubneriana. Teubner, Leipzig, 1983.

W. H. Stahl, R. Johnson, & E. L. Burge, Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts, vol. 2: The Marriage of Philology and Mercury, Columbia University Press 1977.


D. Shanzer, A Philosophical and Literary Commentary on Martianus Capella’s De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii Book 1, University of California Press 1986.

Secondary literature

A. Cullhed, “Martianus Capella: A Hopeless Mess”, The Shadow of Creusa: Negotiating Fictionality in Late Antique Latin Literature, De Gruyter 2015, pp. 369–401.

J.-B. Guillaumin, “Martianus Capella mythographe?”, 2009.

F. J. LeMoine, “Judging the Beauty of Diversity: A Critical Approach to Martianus Capella”, in: The Classics Journal 67.3 (February–March 1972), pp. 209–215.

L. S. B. MacCoull, “Coptica in Martianus 2.193”, in: Classical Philology 90.4 (October 1995), pp. 361–366.

K. Petrovićová, “Martianus Capella’s Interpretation of Juno”, in: Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 57.2–3 (2017), pp. 279–296.

William Harris Stahl. To a Better Understanding of Martianus Capella. Speculum, 40(1):10215, Jan. 1965.

Judgmental bloviating

C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love, Clarendon Press 1936.


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