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Martianus Capella was a Latin author living in Carthage between 410 and 439 CE. He was born in Madaura, and though he'd received a thorough education, he earned a thread-bare living as a salesman in Carthage. His main claim to fame was the writing of a book caled De nuptiis Mercurii et Philologiae (About the marriage of Mercury and Philologia). The book spanned nine volumes of prose and verse, being both a fantasy allegory and an encyclopaedic commentary on what was considered by the Romans as the most important liberal arts.

The story goes that the god Mercury was itching for some action, though he'd already been turned down by Wisdom, Divination, and Soul. He whined to the god Apollo, who recommended he seek out an extremely intelligent girl named Philologia. The gods decide the marriage must be divine and allow Philologia to drink of the ambrosia and join them. The marriage goes splendidly, detailed in the first two books, and at the end Philologia is presented with a creative wedding gift that suits her quite well: seven hand maidens representing each of the liberal arts; Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic (also alled Dialectic), Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy.

The each of the next seven books describes the qualities of the seven liberal arts. Pendantry and fantasy are intermingled in equal measure, making it an odd but fascinating exposition. It had a lasting impact despite Martianus Capella's humble origins, especially during the medieval period, during which many authors wrote commentaries on the book. It was instituted as the authoritative description for purposes of pedagogy at schools across Europe. Despite this high esteem, there were some qualms, especially from the Roman Catholic Church, since there is not even a hint of Christianity espoused in the work.

Howatson M. C. The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, www.newadvent.org/cathen/

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