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 article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopędia Britannica.
Martianus Capella (5th century AD), was a pagan writer of the Roman province of Africa whose one famous work De nuptiis philologię et Mercurii ("The wedding of philology and Mercury") in nine books, though all but unreadable today, was of stupendous importance in fixing the unchanging formulas of Academia from the Christianized Roman Empire of the 5th century until newly-available Arabic texts and the works of Aristotle became available in Western Europe in the 12th century. The book, which is thoroughly pagan in culture and makes no allusion to Christianity, continued to shape European education during the early Medieval period and through the Carolingian renascence.
Martianus composed his book between the sack of Rome by Alaric (410), which he mentions, but apparently before the conquest of Africa by the Vandals in 429. The author, a native of Madaura, which had been the native city of Apuleius had settled in Carthage, where he earned a slender living as a solicitor in the law courts. His didactic encyclopedic allegory in prose and verse, embracing in resumé form the narrowed classical culture of his time, was dedicated to his son. Its frame story relates the courtship and wedding of Mercury (eloquence), who has been refused by Wisdom, Divination and the Soul, with the maiden Philologia (learning, but literally "word-lore") who is made immortal, under the protection of the gods, the Muses, the Cardinal Virtues and the Graces. Among the wedding gifts are seven maids who will be Philologia's slaves: they are the seven Liberal Arts: Grammar, Dialectic, Rhetoric, Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy and (musical) Harmony. The first and second books of "De Nupitiis" contain this allegory, and each of the remaining books treats one of the Arts. Art herself gives an exposition of the principles of the science she governs. Finally night has come. Architecture and Medicine are present at the feast, but as they care for nothing but earthly things, they are condemned to remain silent. Harmony escorts the bride to the bridal chamber, where nuptial songs are sung.
Allegory and labored metaphor utterly dominates, and the personifications are purely mechanical. Each book is an abstract or a compilation from earlier authors. The treatment of the subjects belongs to a tradition which goes back to Varro's "Diciplinae," even to Varro's passing allusion to architecture and medicine, which in Martianus Capella's day were mechanics' arts, material for clever slaves, but not for senators. The classical curriculum, which was to pass— largely through Martianus Capella's book— into the early medieval period, modified but scarcely revolutionized by Christianity, was limited to rhetoric and its accompanying arts, treating philosophy merely as a matter of dialectics, a focus which served equally in public or ecclesiastical education, which were increasingly becoming one and the same. Even Augustine mentions architecture and medicine as distinct from the other liberal arts.
The encyclopedia of human knowledge remained in early medieval days very much as it had been represented to be by Martianus Capella, until the age of the School of Chartres, Scholasticism and the new encyclopedic knowledge of Thomas Aquinas. As early as the end of the 5th century, another African, Fulgentius, composed a work modeled on it. In the 6th century Gregory of Tours tells that it became virtually a school manual (History of the Franks X, 449, 14). It was commented upon copiously: by Scotus Erigena, Hadoard, Alexander Neckham, Remy of Auxerre. Copies of "De Nuptiis" increased in number; as early as the middle of the sixth century Securus Memor Felix, a professor of rhetoric, received the text in Rome. The book was first printed in 1499.