FORGOTTEN STARS ------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc www.nyskies.org email@example.com 2008 December 15
Introduction ---------- Marcus Manilius was a 1st century AD poet, who wrote 'Astronomica'. This is a long poem of astronomy and astrology of his era. The original was probably is circulation in his time, but was lost until the 1400s. After recovery, it was routinely distributed thru the present era. On 2008 October 24-25 the first international conference about Manilius and Astronomca, 'Forgotten stars', was held in New York. Organized by Dr Katherina Volk, Columbia University, and Dr Steven Green, Leeds University, it met in the Kellog Center, 118 St and Amsterdam Av, Morningside Heights, Manhattan. I attended the Forgotten Stars meeting from my interest in astronomy history and the furtherance of astronomy culture in the City with NYSkies. I present here highlights, combining material from the 15 or so speakers on the both days and adding some of my own comments..
Marcus Manilius ------------- We really know next to nothing at all about the person, not even his age when he wrote the poem! This is not too surprising being that ordinary inhabitants in the Roman or other early culture were poorly chronicled. They may have been tracked for commercial, civic, and political purposes, but there records were on perishable media. Only the higher society folk were preserved in permanent form like statues, monuments, mosaics. That he lived during the reign of Augustus Caesar is pretty clear from the text. The early parts of Astronomica were written while Augustus was emperor; the later sections, after his death. The work is filled with ululations to Augustus and the Roman Empire. Allusions by much earlier authors to a 'Manilius' of about 80 BC must refer to an other person not related to the present fellow. He probably lived in or near Rhodes He called himself 'Roman' being that Rhodes was then thoroly integrated into the Roman Empire. I may note that after the Romans faded from Rhodes and the rest of Asia Minor, the Byzantine emperors continued to call themselfs 'Romans' as successors to the old emperors. Manilius got some good education to command a rich vocabulary, compose verse, and exercise technical concepts. He also shows awareness of other litterature of his time, which would have been tough to get at without some privilege. Yet, there is no good indication that he traveled about or shifted residence during his life. To acquire an education, Manilius likely had some enhanced standing, there being no public or cheap private schools. He could have enjoyed company of other learned folk. He was at least a young adult, to allow sufficient years to enculturate himself. How long he lived after the 'Astronomica' is unknown. Mind well that in the 1st century a male human lifespan was only about sixty years. The stock picture of him, in a flowing robe leaning over a star globe, is pura mente a modern image. We plain don't know what he looked like.
Astronomuca --------- The prime manuscript, while likely in routine circulation when new, disappeared by the 5th century AD. The events cited in the work, plus his explicit references to Augustus, date the Astronomica to about 20 AD.There are several allusions to it in following centuries but no solid quotes from it. Our present study of Astronomica banks off of manuscripts first uncovered in 1417 by Bracciolini. Regiomontanus in 1782 rendered the first current edition for general circulation. Since then, there were numerous new translations and commentaries. The work is in five 'books', as first-level divisions of ancient , books were called. The material we have seems to be complete, altho here and there there are missing lines or phrases that were supplied by comparing various copies. It is written in Latin of a unconventional flavor, well beyond that learned in high school or lower college. Because the book is really a humongous poem, the language is hardly plain text. Manilius chooses words and constructs to fit the versification, derailing attempts at progressive reading. Making matters harder for modern readers is that many editions of the Latin text miss out the macrons of vowels, thwarting proper accent and rhythm. A trivial example is the word 'regina'. Without other indication it can be sounded 'REH-jih-na' or 'reh-JEE-na', according as the 'i' is long or short. An intimate knowledge of vocabulary can resolve the choice in most modern translations. This loss of vowel strength infects current pronunciation of astronomy words. The phrases 'gamma virginis' and 'theta orionis', names of certain stars, are typical. I hear 'GA-ma virr-JIH-niss' for 'GA-ma VIRR-jih-niss' and 'ZEE-ta o-RIGH-yo-niss' for 'ZEH-ta o-ree- OH-niss'. I just have to mention the case of two electric power companies I deal with, Orion Power and Orion Electric. They are separate enterprises with no relation to each other. A one calls itself 'oh- RIGH-yonn; the other 'O-ree-yonn'! In some cases which I had to inquire after, texts themselfs vary. So I have to allow for a star in the Pleiades 'meh-ROH-pee' and 'MEH- roh-pee'. One must be really correct, the opposite writing having a 'typo'. If you ask, yes, I so hear 'MEE-rohp' among Americans as well as, for the cluster, 'PLEE-aydz'. Some transcriptions use the 'u' for both 'u' and 'v', further forcing pauses in the pace of reading. In spite of these obstacles, for the fan of Latin, Astronomica illustrates how fluid the language is and how adaptable it is to build modern vocabulary.
Target? ----- Poetry was a common way of writing articles in the Roman and Greek times. They are mostly descriptions or narratives. Astronomica is a tuitional piece, supposedly for teaching some astronomy/astrology to some targeted lectorate. Apart from the lack of any meaningful numerical work -- every thing is in verse! -- it's not clear who was supposed to take tuition from it. Certainly not the layman in the street, whose Latin was a rough and tumble tongue. Likely not a ruler or politician for it deals with a subject too technical, even with its gushy praises. Probably his other learned friends? Students of astronomy? Maybe it was an exercise in self-instruction. One way to understand a new subject is to write an article about to teach it to an imaginary reader. The piece is not published or distributed, but kept for personal use. One important point to note is that Astronomica, unlike the Almagest, is NOT an instruction book for doing any actual figuring of the planet locations or motions. There aren't any base data to do that. More over, all number work is discussed in poetic words, making it pretty tough to follow and apply. The plausibly best target is us today! Astronomica happens to be the one and only astronomy/astrology work of substantial size and depth from the 1st century AD. There is nothing else near in time to compare or complement. It is a bit dicey for us to assign a ranking of importance to it. It is not clear if the material in Astronomica really represents the knowledge in general acceptance then or stuff that Manilius concocted away from mainstream practice.
Translations ---------- The far and away easiest and good translation is 'Manilius - Astronomica' in the Loeb Classical Library series of ancient litteature. Published by Harvard University Press, it is on shelf at scholarly book stores and central outlets of large libraries. The edition I crammed with for the conference seems to be the latest printing of 2006. The Latin and English are on facing pages, with the translation of a more narrative form than poetic. This does ease the reading but it is still a tough trip thru the words. The book has a deep letterpress about Manilius and the poem, a sexy map of the Roman world, several clarifying diagrams and tables, starchart of Manilius's constellations, explanation of astrological features.. It, like all in the Loeb series, is pocket-size (for a large jacket), comfortable to read while riding. Many delegates at Forgotten Stars had copies to hand to follow the speakers or to refresh during the breaks. You should explore the Loeb Classical Library for other science and astronomy works, otherwise hard to find in convenient form. The price of a given volume varies widely, from a few dollars to about 25 dollars, depending on store. The Latin text is also in Internet. The file may be too large to print all at once. You may want to dump the file into a wordrpoc to partition it into more manageable pieces.
Forgotten Stars ------------- The conference was held in a top-floor hall at Kellog Center with sweeping panoramas of the Columbia campus and the City. Some delegates remote from the City were awed at how densely built up Manhattan was so far from 'downtown'. They were even more amazed when they learned that the core campus was built, with mid-rise 'skyscrapers' in about 1900! As an astronomy issue, not captured by most delegates, the scene at night was incredibly subdued. Where are all the grotesque lights so characteristic of other towns? There were many individual glaring lamps in view but the general spectre was a majestic darkness with soft lights here and there, almost as if, unknown to the visitor, the entire island of Manhattan was replaced by a rural landscape. This was one demonstration of how it is feasible to maintain and enjoy an exalted urban life using sustainable principles, such as deeply abated reckless nighttime illumination. The benefit for astronomers is a vastly lower insult against the heavens at night. The room was fitted with about 80 seats in theater setting, 40 on each side of the center aisle. At first there ws only a lectern in front with no obvious means for visuals. The room was deep enough for maneuvering, a litterature table, coatrack. The receptions and breaks were taken in an adjacent hall with assorted sweets and drinks. This room had no seats or tables to set plates and glasses on. We improvised with the wide radiator sills under the windows.
Attendance -------- For so specialized a topic within a small intersect of classicists and astronomers, the attendance was quite full. Of the 80ish seats in the lecture hall, about 3/4 were occupied. As with many other conferences, the audience for particular speakers was erratic, from about the full roster to only twenty or so. The age range was from college graduates thru those needed canes. There were about half male and half female but hardly any 'minorities'. All spoke English quite well, some far better than the typical American. Many have accents, but none so thick to impede understanding. Every one, of all ages, was thoroly erudite and learned. They all at least could read Latin. Many could speak it by reading passages from Manilius or other texts. Some knew other early languages and sprinkled their banter with snippets from them. Some came from Columbia University, many from other American colleges. And there were delegates affiliated with major universities of Canada, England, Germany, Ireland, During the intermissions they spoke on a fantastic variety of topics, not only Manilius or only classics, with evidence of careful inquiry and examination. Several asked me questions about New York, which I was pleased to answer. The older folk appeared to be well- traveled, with comments derived from around the world they visited or lived in.
Presentations ----------- Entirely unlike most conferences, there were just about NO visual presentations! Only the very last speaker had a digital slide show. All the others merely dialoged at the lectern. Most speakers offered handouts to follow the dialog. I found it clumsy to shift attention from paper to speaker, so I put the handout away and listened. One booboo was in making announcements. The session chair spoke away from the microphone, not thru it. The voice for the rear rows of seats may have been a bit weak to hear. Handouts were offered by most, if not all, speakers. They were left on the litterature table in stages, the new ones set out for the ensuing sessions. While this seemed to be a reasonable way to get the papers into the delegates's hands, it somehow didn't quite work out. During each speaker's turn, some delegates scurried to the table to hunt up the matching handout. I myself ended up taking many duplicate papers because between sessions they were shuffled around on the table. Duplicates I vetted during the breaks were returned to the table, but when I got home i still had several extras. These I'll bring to the next NYSkies Seminar as take-homes. I took several extras of the conference schedule and poster for the next Seminar. The poster, also on the conference website for printout, has the stock Manilius picture with his name 'M. Manilius Romanus'. This is actually one of a set of four of astronomers of the ancient world. The others are Aratus Graecus, Ptolemaeus Egypticus, Azophi Arabicus. This last fellow I hardly call 'ancient', he being from the early Islamic era. He is also known as Alhazen. One handout had some copies without staples, so the separate sheets were laid out. Some delegates suddenly found during that speaker's talk they were missing a sheet. They scooted back to the table to fetch it. Despite these glitches, I have the bulk of the papers to fill out my 'Forgotten stars' file for future recourse.
The belt! ------- To capture the spirit of the meeting I wore my astronomy belt, with the four astronomers just mentioned on it. They are scattered against a background of a chart of the heavens. It's really a neck tie, but I simply no longer cotton to conventional neckties. I looped it over my slacks belt and made a simple overhand knot at one side. There was enough tongue to hang down with Manilius's picture in open view. Everyone went nots about it! Some wanted to get one for themselfs. They at first thought it was a belt on the European fashion. Even after explaining that it's a necktie, they still wanted one. I got the tie so long ago I utterly do not recall from where. If from a store, the place is likely no longer around. If I got it at, say, the Northeast Astronomy Forum or Astronomical League meeting, I for sure haven't seen it there for decades.
Astrology ------- Manilius lived in the grand epoch of Rome, when the regime was considered favored by celestial powers. Julius Caesar and then Augustus promoted themselfs as blessed by the gods, many being configured in the heavens as planets and constellations. If not the very god, his tools ar props were among the stars. In some situations, the alignment of planets in the zodiac was jimmied to justify the emperor's actions or status. The astrology practiced was based on Greek astrology. Rome often assimilated Greek gods into their own, changing the names or merely Latinizing them. The society was a polytheistic one, with deities for just about every thing in life. The public routinely appealed to their favorite deities, privately or in ceremonies, to enhance life. Since many deities were celestial in character, it is likely that the layman knew at least some of the constellations to recognize their gods. Astrology was routinely employed by rulers and officials to demonstrate the legitimate status in the empire. Augustus, as example, regularly included astrological devices on his coins and monuments. We see Capricornus (probably his Moon sign at birth), a stylized comet, cosmosphere, star associated with a figure of the emperor. Hence, astrology was simply part of the native culture, and remained so until monotheism took hold many centuries later. In this regard, Manilius was just discussing what was a common feature of his time and not pushing some new or special theme. Most of Astronomica is devoted to explaining the interactions of the the stars and signs, with many examples taken from his recent history. These help to fix the epoch of the poem by boxing it among its stated events. However, Manilius describes many astrology features not part of regular astrology. If we judge by the authority for mainstream astrology, Ptolemaeus's Tetrabiblos of the mid 2nd century AD, Manilius has many extra goodies. It is not at all well understood if these were in fact part of astrology in the Manilius time, the regular astrolofy was not quite stabilized, or Manilius added them himself. Never the less, like the features that survive into today's astrology, they are just as worthy or worthless.
Houses ---- Astrology has many features of little or no use for astronomy. One, which earned Manilius some vigorous criticism, is his treatment of the astrological houses. The concept is that a planet's power is modulated by both its place in the ecliptic and that in the client's horizon. The latter factors in the client's location on earth, to impute a terrestrial factor in addition to the celestial one of the signs along the zodiac. However, there is no natural or obvious points and planes linking the ecliptic and the horizon to bank a set of divisions. There are at least three planes to play with: horizon, celestial equator, ecliptic. There are at least three poles: celestial north, ecliptic north, zenith. And there are at least four origins: ascendent, vernal equinox, north (or east) point, medium coelum. By mix-&-match among these pieces, many schemes of houses, as the terrestrial slices of the ecliptic are called today, grew up over the ages. Each has its adhaerents among astrologers, to the point of bitter and contentious arguments. Some methods are valid only for the mid north latitudes, where astrology developed in the western world, but give ludicrous results in far north or south latitudes. Others are not defined too far from the equator. Until the late 20th century[!] the most common house system was the Placidus method. This came about because charts and tables for it were cheap and widely available. To use other house plans, the astrologer had to buy or borrow rarer and more costly publications. With the diffusion of home computers in the closing decades of the last century, astrologers can now choose which house method they want from the selection offered by many astrology programs. For us astronomers only two make any sense. The equatorial or equal or polar houses are congruent with 2-hour spacing of hour angle. The zenithal or horizon or azimuthal system aligns with verticals of azimuth, degrees apart. Between these two a planet's place in the local sky, as distinct from within the zodiac, can be assessed relative to the meridian or north point. I'm not all that surprised that Manilius screwed up with his description of houses. To properly calculate the boundaries of the houses, some hefty (for his time) maths are required. Manilius may simply have lacked the needed arts and skills.
Religion ------ There is none of any modern sense of the term in Astronomica. Manilius followed the prevailing polytheistic practice where there was a deity for just about every fixture and facet of life. He calls on these deities repeatedly in his book and moralizes about them and their representations in the heavens. He treats the hordes of gods like we today treat our single god of Christianity or Judaism. Hence, what we call 'mythology' and 'folklore' was the 'religion' of the era and not just a collection of fairy tales. Manilius lived a day or two by sea from Palestine, where Judaism was the prime belief system. He lived during the time allocated to Jesus. He says nothing that can be interpreted as acknowledgement of these schemes of life. He could have simply not known of them, passed them up to keep the polytheist system, or was smart enough to be nice to Augustus. Judaism was on the outs with the Roman rulers. It would be risky to play it up in a freely distributed literary work. Christianity may simply not yet been established in Manilius's life. Jesus was still around, probably not yet fully accepted as a new religious figure. The complete absence of any civil or commercial records for Jesus is used to dismiss his actual existence, he being a myth. However, the lack of documentation for Manilius, who is very definitely a real person, weakens that one argument. Yet it to me seems a bit odd that, under Augustus, citizens were not thoroly accounted for, if so no other reason than to keep them in line.. As an astronomer/astrologer, he shows no inkling that there was a 'Star of Bethlehem'. That apparition would have been as blatant a celestial sign as there could be and would be still fresh in minds of those who saw it only 20ish years earlier. Or, the Star of Bethlehem could have be an artificial device with no physical being. We have utterly no separate observation of the Star besides that in the New Testament. It would be one hell of a discovery in history if there was a documented person who was acquainted with Jesus, Jewish leaders, or witnessed some biblical incident and then commented about them in realtime. All the statements about Jesus, in the New Testament, are from decades or centuries later.
Astronomy ------- Astronomica exhibits a knowledge of astronomy far beyond what a layman Roman would possess, again pointing to some elevated erudition in the author. He does make many blunders, some serious, yet innocent in the context of the poem. Incredible as it may seem, these mistakes are among the very same ones committed by astrologers today! To cite just one he louses up the division of the ecliptic into four equal quadrants. He makes the ascendent (I use the Latin derivative), mid-heaven, descendent, and sub-heaven at equal spacing around the ecliptic and then divides each quadrant into three equal segments to form the 'houses' of astrology. Thus each house is a 30 degree slug of ecliptic fixed on the horizon. This is wrong, in spite of his earlier careful description of the ecliptic as an inclined great circle against the celestial equator. Such a circle will present greater and lesser fractions of arc between ascendent and mid-heaven as the sky goes thru its diurnal rotation. The other three segments expand and contract is step with this first one. The houses, if still equal thirds of each segment, are then of unequal length of ecliptic, changing continuously hour by hour. In fact, there IS such a scheme of houses in modern astrology, but it is now only one of about twenty different schemes in circulation. So badly do astrologers agree on what is the 'correct' way to lay out the houses, that computer astrology programs allow a choice of house to plot on the wheel chart! Manilius doesn't mention the variation of house size with hour. He just sets them out as the orthogonal cut of the ecliptic. Perhaps because of this error, he goofs with finding the ascendent itself. He notes that it is 90 degrees, three signs, east of the mid-heaven point of the ecliptic. This is completely wrong save in the peculiar case when the equinoctial points are rising and setting. For just a second example, he mixes up the circumpolar circle with the arctic circle. The latter is fixed by the obliquity of the ecliptic. because the obliquity changes only slightly over many centuries, this circle is fixed on the globe at about 66-1/2 degree latitude. The circumpolar circle is a function of observer latitude on Earth. It is the radius, equal to your latitude, from the north celestial pole within which stars never set. They are the semperpatent stars. At the North Pole itself, this circle is 90d wide, coinciding with the horizon. At the equator, it is 0 degrees radius, or a point on the horizon. for New York it is about 40 degrees radius, cutting just at the last star in the Big Dipper's handle.
Constellations ------------ He knows and describes the constellations. He misses a couple but n the main he goes thru the 'classical' groups as we know them. He uses variant names for some, like Equus for Pegasus, Deltoton for Triangulum (which was at that time two overlapping triangles, like on the Sky Ceiling of Grand Central Terminal, and 'Helice' for Ursa Major. He lists the stars in each, discusses their place in the constellation creature. These are plotted in the Loeb edition on two starcharts, north and south hemisphere. He seems not to specificly catalog the stars, like Hipparchus or Timocharis did, but appears to just look up and pick 'enough' stars to fill out the constellation. The creatures are the 'classical' ones, the ones still in use today. The anatomical alignments were standardized by the turn of the 1st millennium, so a star could be noted as in a this or that part of the creature's body. There are large gaps in the sky where there were no constellations. These were filled in with new ones in modern times, since the early 1600s. Some are in the 'north' sky, that visible from the Mediterranean latitudes. The other is a vast circular region around the south celestial pole, not known in ancient times. Manilius notes no stars in these areas, not even to say they are outside a constellation.
Anatomical details ---------------- Manilius along the way in Astronomica gives detailed information about the anatomy of the constellation creatures. He notes that Sagittarius is always in profile, so he shows only his right eye (like the Jack of playing cards). Virgo has Icarus-like wings, Taurus has only the fore end in the stars, Pisces are two fish tied together, and so on. If seems that some when in the previous century or two, somehow the constellation creatures were nailed into the stars. Before then, they were symbolic figures sitting in the area od stars assigned to them but not formally delineated. He also understands that some constellations were altered, perhaps recently relative to his time. He shows that Scorpius lost its claws to Libra. Such statements could, if other contemporary writings turn up, give deep insight to the formation of our constellations and maybe into some arcane feature of Greek and Roman culture. Did a committee look over the existing set of star grups and straighten them out? Was there some map, like in a palace floor, with the authority to set the constellations 'in stone'? We don't know. We had a couple failed attempts to redo the constellations. Schiller in the 1700s worked the stars into figures from the Christian bible. The zodiac was the twelve Apostles, stars north of the zodiac were cast into figures from the New Testament; south, Old. This was a dismal failure, with floods, epidemics, wars, deep winters, failed farms. The attempt was quickly junked. In the 1950s[!] Hans Rey wrote a book that had stick figures among the stars that resembled the creatures. For the most part these were OK but several were out of whack. Ursa Major faced EAST and squated on its hind feet. Pegasus was a complete horse facing NORTH with enormous wings, Cetus was a tea-kettle whale facing WEST. There were other alterations. Disease sweeped over the people. empires collapsed, burning sulfur spilled from the sky, tornados tore up whole cities. In his later editions, Rey put the figures right-way-round with new connecting lines. And all was well over the land and seas. Whether the calamities were CAUSED by or only URGED by the stars is a whole other story. That's what astrologers have to worry about.
Cetus --- While the constellations were configured in standard poses by the time of Manilius, there was one that slipped thru the cracks, an important one. Cetus is part of the saga of Andromeda, starring several constellation overhead and in the south in evening during 'Forgotten stars'. It was the creature threatening to gobble up Andromeda until Perseus rescued her. Manilius gives a detailed account of this story. The other constellations (leaving out Cepheus) are in proper configuration. Cetus is mentioned in only vague words. As it turned out in all future history. there is NO definite description of Cetus! Altho the word is zoologicly a whale, the constellation was never shown as a whale. It was depicted as a fanciful monster with piscine fins, so it is a sea animal. About the only agreement is that the tail is to the west near Aquarius and the head is to the east near Aries. Each uranographer, cartographer of the heavens, made up his own grotesque monster, while carefully keeping the standard poses of the other constellations. The only significant change is that the clothing may reflect the contemporary dress of the century.
The Sea ----- There are several constellations grouped that relate to water. Today astronomers call this region 'The sea'. There seems to be no interaction among these groups but it is a curiosity that water constellations are gathered here. The constellations are Delphinus, Capricornus, Aquarius, Piscis Austrinus, Pisces, Cetus, Eridanus. They span a large section of the autumn evening sky, like during 'Forgotten stars'. Manilius in his speculations about the relations among constellations does not specificly mention this aggregation with such a common feature.
Planets ----- Astrology and astronomy of the transmillennium period of Manilius colminates in understanding the erratic motions of the planets. It is the mathematical and intellectual success of mastering the planetary system that makes Greek science so, well, awesome. If the heavens contained only the fixed stars, the study of astronomy would be more like that of geography. Manilius, despite his intent to teach astronomy/astrology in his poem, just about totally neglects the planets! He gives only brief and simple description of them. He offers no example of how the planets move and how their positions are calculated. He misses out all study of the Moon, her phases, irregularity of movement, nodes and apogee, eclipses. The Moon was, of all the planets, the most tricky to deal with and get the numbers right way round for. Yet the position and motion of the Moon are crucial for astrology for finding, among other things, the Moon sign at birth. I myself see this a astounding for in his time the work of, say, Hipparchus and Apollonius, with their orbit model of the planetary motion, was circulated among learned folk. Thus, Astronomica is like a discussing of a street, explaining its alignment, profile, markings. Having done that, there is then nothing substantial about the location and movement of traffic.
Comets ---- Comets in the Greco-Roman era, and all the way thru the 1600s, were fearsome phaenomena in the sky. COming without warning or obvious cause, they shined brightly over the landscape with hideous shape and size. They moved about the stars with their own mind, growing and shrinking at will. The trampled over the constellations, within and without the zodiac with capricious speed and direction. Unlike the planets, they yielded to no effort at prediction or analysis. What they meant was anyone's guess, and every one did make a guess. Uniformily it was for some catastrophe, sometimes proved true by a shortly-after disaster. Note that 'disaster' litterally means 'wrong, or bad, star'. Manilius offers several explanations for comets, the same ones as those carried forward into the 1600s, One item seemed specially curious. He hazards that a comet is a star that is attracted by the Sun and then released back to heaven! This sounds awfully close to recognizing the sight of a comet near the perihelion of its path!! However, there seems to be no independent mention by others that such a fact was known. Comets CAN appear to approach and then reproach the Sun. Others have such cockeyed paths that there seems to be relation to the Sun at all. Halley's comet in 1986 seemed to past by the Sun rather than loop around it. The Sun could merely have been in the way of its heading. Comet Holmes, quite a year ago in 2007, was a faint known periodic comet attracting no public attention. Suddenly it just blew up! The luminance equaled other bright stars in the sky such that people watched it from Manhattan street corners! and it shined in a night sky far from the Sun. With the extreme variation of comet paths and the overall rarity of bright showy comets, it is hard to believe that there was a positive awareness that comets came onto the Sun, whipped around it, and flew back to deep space.
Other worlds ---------- In Manilius's time it was realized that the stars were very far away. How far was a matter of philosophic argument. They could not be close, else they would show a perspective shift from place to place on the Earth. By the way, it was a well-known fact that the world is round, like a sphere. There was no 'flat earth' mindset, even among the public. The distance from earth to Sun was unknown but appreciated to be pretty huge. It was already by Manlius's day worked out that the Sun was about 40 times farther away than the Moon, The Moon was reasonably accepted to be 30 Earth diameters away. Hence, a working figure for the Sun's distance was, uh, 1,200 times the Earth's diameter! This a way too short, but to the ancient world it was humongous. In would make the Sun in linear size about 12 times bigger than Earth, an other amazingly huge statistic. If the Sun was removed far enough to dwindle to a point to the bare eye, one arcminute diameter, how far would it stand? It would be about 31 times farther from Earth than the real Sun, or 31 astronomical units. This would put the Sun out near Pluto. In the ancient world it might as well be in heaven itself. The cosmos to the Greek and Roman mind was a compact place, with planets circling in nested spheres with narrow kerfs between them. The stars were in a outmost shell beyond the planets. The Sun at 31 AU would still be a blinding dazzling 'star'. It would light up the ground with the strength of about 1,000 Full Moons. By the 1600s it was recognized that the stars are vastly more remote than the planets. They could not be reflecting sunlight, but are orbs producing their own light. They could be entire other suns. Since the stars are way dimmer than that by orders, they must be much farther away. May they be really as points? From them we would be mere points. Manilius doesn't quite propose that there are worlds out there like Earth, probably because he believes, in other parts of Astronomica, that the heavens exist to interact with Earth and not just stand around it. At the same time, it seems that he, and probably others unknown to us, had the suspicion that the cosmos is a lot bigger than commonly allowed. It could be so big that from an other star we would be vanishingly small to its eye. Such immense remoteness would call into question the source of a star's light. This was not specificly brought up until the 1500s with the debates about the heliocentric system of planet orbits. If the stars are really vastly remote, they can't be reflecting sunlight. They must produce their own light, and, thus, be suns in themselfs. Ergo!, as suns they got planets. Manilius makes no such speculation.
Mathematics --------- Manilius employs virtually no maths in Astronomica. Here and there are simple arithmetic, all coded in poetry. Since computation of the motion and position of the planets is essential for a proper working of astronomy/astrology, this absence of mathematics at first seems surprising. He limits to descriptions of the planets and their qualities when in a this or that part of the zodiac, without showing how to find when a given planet is a particular sign. In this respect, Astronomica is a failure for instructing the reader in the actual practice of astrology or astronomy. Why would Manilius, a well lettered fellow, skip math? There are two plausible causes, among many, that I can appreciate, First is that it would be essentially hopeless to write any but the simplest of arithmetic into poetic verse. Try coding
(ecliptic latitude) = (longitude of ascending node) + (inclination) * sin(argument of latitude)'
in iambic pentameter. The other, prevalent today!, is the general aversion to maths among even knowledgeable fans of astronomy. Virtually every book, magazine, article written for amateur astronomers dutifully shivs all but the most trivial mathematics from it. Computations may be described in qualitative terms but the material offered does not allow the reader to personally exercise the maths. Of worse a state is the litterature that plays down mathematics or puts it as too advanced and beyond the reader. The amateur astronomer is led to believe that he not only does not but can not progress into the more independent levels of the profession. The result is rather pathetic. On the whole, amateur astronomers, while enthusiastic about the profession, are constrained to marvel at pictures and films and to recite facts and figures about the stars. So, it is possible that Manilius was such an 'amateur astronomer', lacking the math skills needed to complete Astronomica as a workbook. By the way, this dismathematication, if there be such a pedagogical term, pervades many 'amateur' pursuits. As just one example, in New York there is substantial fandom of rapid transit. There are several transit clubs, with newsletters, excursion trips, libraries,. Fans are commonly densely rich with descriptions of all aspects of transit operations, to the point of arguing for possible modification of existing lines or construction of new ones. However, a vanishingly few are able to compute the angle of banking for a curved track, dispatching of trains thru a junction, placement of signals blocks. The means to do these tasks is to hand in transit litterature and the maths can be done with a calculette. Yet instantly a fan approaches the need for such work, he flees like loose litter before an oncoming train.
Metaphors ------- We really don't know why or how the constellations were deployed across the stars as they are, why Corona is near Bootes, Orion near Lepus, and so on. Except for the ones in the Andromeda story, the constellations seem to be aloof from each other, each with its own story unrelated to its neighbors. Even for the Andromeda group, the only cohaesive grouping of stars with any logic or reason to them, there are the intrusions of Pisces and Triangulum among them. At any rate, Manilius in Astronomica indulges in the interaction among groups. He alludes to Sagitta being with the bird constellations of Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila (Lyra was also a Vulture). The arrow us used to catch birds in flight. He elsewhere makes out the Milky Way as the Forum in Rome, on account of the gathering of stars along it, like crowds of people. He allies some stars to the honor of Augustus and his administration of the empire. May some of this musing be patronage? The emperor relished such praise and invoked the stars to prove his rank and status. The influence of stars outside the zodiac is the realm of extrazodiacal astrology. This is a niche or fringe field, essentially disregarded by today's mainline astrologers. In fact, astrologers often ignore the actual stars along the zodiac and fixate on the downrange elongation of the planets from the vernal equinox. Saturn does such-&-such because it is in the 5th degree of Gemini, not because it also sits with star mu Geminorum near that point. As precession pulls the vernal equinox uprange, to the west, along the ecliptic the stars against a given degree of the ecliptic also slide west. That caused the signs to be offset from the constellations, with, say, sign of Gemini covering most of present day Taurus. I can't say for sure, but the neglect of the very stars may be the astrologer's work-around against the effects of precession.
Calendar ------ This topic wasn't part of the presentations, but came up in the banter of the breaks and reception. Manilius seems to say nothing about time and calendar as such. he lived in a period when the calendar was revamped by Augustus out of a confused application of Julius's reform a generation earlier. Julius Caesar in the 40s BC cleaned up the Roman calendar in several ways. he regularizd the month names and days in each month. he introduced leapday to help keep the seasons in line with the dates. He renamed the fifth month from Quintilis to Julius, our July. The year then began with March, as it did until the 1600s. As each country shifted the year start to January, the instant final old year was allowed only ten months. However, no attempt was made to rename the months to reflect their new sequence. October, the old eighth month, is still October, now the tenth month. The last old month was February, given the days left to finish out the year, then 29 day. The day count per month remained the same with the shift of year start, so February inside a year still has a shortfall of days compared to the other months. The Julian reforms, constituting the Julian calendar still used for various cultural functions, was not applied consistently across the empire. Leapdays were added by local officials as they wanted and day count per month was erratic. By Manilius's youth, there was a dispersion of calendar which Augustus had to deal with. Hence I suppose that Manilius engaged in debates, in the local forum, about the calendar and the ideas Augustus was considering. Such arguments would include discussion about astronomy concepts, solar motion, seasons, lunar pahses, and all that. Augustus, amoong other things, put the leapday plan on a definite footing, declaring 8 AD to take a leapday and to add one every four years there after. This time the reform stuck, right up to today. In addition to getting leapday back on track Augustus took over the sixth month Sextilis as his own Augustus, our August. He noted that it had only 30 days against Julius's month of 31. He captured one day from February at the end of the year. This made Augustus also 31 days but left February with only 29, where it stands today. However, before Augustus and even before the Romans built their calendar a few centuries earlier, we astronomers have to place events in a consistent continuous chronology. We can't cite dates in what ever calendar happened to be in force for each event. The conversions among them would be an irritating chore. We created an artificial Julian calendar that rolls back from 8 AD, with leapdays every fourth year no matter what. We use the months and days of the Julian calendar. Thus we can speak of an event taking place on 14 April 2351 BC when there was no April or concept of 'BC'. This is a means of allowing computations under a uniform system of chronology, however far back we care. For all future events we use the Gregorian calendar, likely no matter if it is tinkered with many centuries from now. Ny the way, the switch from Julian to Gregorian in 1582 was not simultaneous all over the world. Many countries stayed with Julian for decades and centuries after then. Russia, for instance, went to Gregorian in the 1920s, which explains why the 'Great October Revolution' is celebrated in November. Astronomy computer programs invariably force the Julian-Gregorian change in 1582 regardless of where the observer is located. It is crucial to examine results for observers in places that did not go over to Gregorian in 1582. Serious mistakes can come from this slip of caution.
Croton gatehouse -------------- If you come to Columbia University for any visit, you should treat yourself to a walk around the campus and nabe. There are dozens, if not a hundred, points of interest to enjoy. These are ampla mente discussed in visitor guides. I here briefly point out only four. At 119th St and Amsterdam Av stands a Croton gatehouse. This is a stone sqaurish blockhouse on the corner, fenced in and disused. It is sometimes called a pump house, but the Croton water works had little pumping. It was a free-falling flow of water from the mountains in upstate New York, as is the present evolved system. It is landmarked and subject to restoration in a historical context. It governed the flow of water thru the Croton aqueduct, which here runs under Amsterdam Av, sealed and abandoned in place. The Croton project took about ten years to build ub the 1830s-40s and today is the oldest continuously operated water works on earth. When the City studied the water supply of European towns, preparing for its own new system, it learned that what ever reliable plentiful sanitary water the towns had was furnished by the remains of Romans water works! Hence, the Croton system was modeled after the Roman method and is the first such water service built in some 1,500 years. The last before it perhaps was that of Constantinopolis in the 300s AD. There are many relics of the Croton project. They are under consideration for a 'Croton trail' of pylons and markers along the aqueduct route, similar to the Heritage Trail in Lower Manhattan. The entire path, except for short segments, is under city streets. It could stretch from Van Cortlandt Park, across the Harlem River on High Bridge, thru the lakes in Central Park, to the New York Public Library on 42nd Street.
Columbia Sundial -------------- About halfway between College Walk and Butler Library on the north-south axis of the core campus, is a two-tier drum. People use it as a stool to set on, but otherwise give little attention to it despite its commanding location and hefty 3ish meter diameter. . It has two sunken bronze tablets with markings for dates and one for a motto 'Horam expecta veniet' (Expect the hour; it will come). It appears that the date tablets are symmetrical across the geographic meridian of the University. When installed it had a 180cm granite sphere on top as the gnomon, but now it is missing. When the shadow of the ball sat across the instant date, on both tablets, it was local noon. I don't know if a correction was built in for equation of time. In 1946 the sphere was removed because of cracks that threatened to spall off dangerously large pieces. Its seat on the drum was filled with a newer stone to level off the top surface. In 2001 the ball was discovered in private hands in Ann Arbor, Michigan, intact as it was in the 1940s. On and off the University and concerned patrons are trying to recover the sphere, refurbish it, and place it back on the sundial.
Pupin Hall -------- When the original campus was planned in the late 1890s, the 120th Street side was reserved for science pavilions. Three were marked across this side, of the size and bulk of present Pupin Hall. When this one pavilion was constructed in the 1920s, it was merely the 'physics hall'. It was named in the 1930s for physicist Mikhail Pupin of Columbia, who died shortly before. Pupin Hall has the first high-elevation observatory ever built and remains today the highest such facility above grade level. The original telescope was replaced about 10 years ago with several smaller ones, which are used for public viewing on certain nights. In the halls of the many floors are intriguing displays about physics, astronomy. There seems to be no published guide for them. I suppose each office takes care of its own exhibits with little regard to those of other offices. Mikhail Pupin is also honored near Madison Sq by a bust at the Serbian Christian Church. Now out of sight from the street, it'll be moved to a vacant pedestal in front of the church. This pedestal stands next to a matching one occupied by Nikola Tesla.
116th Station ----------- This station, at 116th St and Broadway, is more spacious and airy than others along the Upper Broadway line. Parsons, the chief engineer for the New York underground railroad, was a trustee of Columbia at the time as well as an 1882 graduate from its old campus. He was proud of the new campus next to his subway, so he designed this station more lavishly than the others. The station's mezzanine once was reached from the street thru a headhouse in the mall of Broadway, like those at 96th St, 72nd St, and Bowling Green (off-street). In about 1966 it was removed and the mezzanine was extended to the sidewalks of Broadway. Stairs there communicate to the mezzanine on both sides of Broadway. Every so often a movement springs up to build a replica of the headhouse as a visitors office for Morningside Heights and the University. Nothing so far came of this idea. The station was renovated in the 1990s, the mosaics restored, the white and blue tiles carried into areas where it was destroyed or never applied. There's an artwork on the downtown platform, a chair fixed to the floor, which you may sit on. The station is landmarked. The decorations, of a Greek and Roman style typical of the early subways, repay closer inspection. The 'Columbia University' name tablet has a Lamp of Learning at its upper right and a Book of Knowledge at the upper left. The tablet is the largest, about two full meters long, of all on the initial section of the subway. The shields along the top of the wall alternate Columbia's Alma Mater and '116'. This is a unique feature for this station. Other stations have a single caption in their name shields. Friends ask me if the crossed lines in the border of the name shields are swastikas. Yes! The intersections of the rectilinear beading winding thru the frame deliberately form honest-to-goodness swastikas!! This device is found at certain other stations of the Upper Broadway line. The design has nothing to do with the Nazi regime. The word, sounding German, is found in writings from the Middle Ages, at least, coming from, I'm told, India or Africa. The sign was a lucky charm from at least the Greek era and was in routine wide use in the time of Manilius. Hitler expropriated this ancient honorable symbol and stigmatized it. The design, four Greek letters gamma butted foot-to-foot in a pinwheel pattern, is a 'gaamadion'. It gives good luck, fortunes, and well being to its bearer. This is the sense of the sign on the subway, despite what the kooks may argue. In astronomy the gaamadion represents the diurnal motion of the stars about the north celestial pole, Thus it spins counterclockwise with the spar of the gamma trailing the upright. If the gammadion is part of a window or grill, one side shows it mirrored. The intent and meaning are the same. Some artists and designers try to revive the traditional meaning by using the Greek name, but they scored little, if any, success.
Conclusion -------- Should an astronomer today study Astronomica? At the least, do take out a library copy and leaf thru it. If your Latin is rusted out, or you lacked it in your upbringing, read the English side of the text. It IS a tough plow on account of the poetic writing. The absence of numerical examples, all coded in verse, aggravates the chore to understand what's going on. On the other hand, there is probably very little to actually learn about early astronomy. Manilius goes over the simple topics of the celestial sphere, shenanigans with the zodiac, and repeated excursions into his own stream of thought. All can be quite interesting but pretty sure not of much incremental value to you as an astronomer. Yet as a period piece, a unique specimen of what a Roman person thought about the heavens, it can be extremely valuable. It also gives deep insight to the workings of a society under Augustus at the crest of imperial Rome. It will also give you an enriched Latin vocabulary, orders beyond the little dictionaries you made do with in school. Astrologers tend to disregard Manilius, except to carry him as a legacy figure to substantiate their trade. Likely none ever read it, being that it is a poem and not a narrative text. All translations I came across are hardly easy for a modern person to comprehend. Hence, many of the astrological items in it are missed out from modern astrology, not that they could augment its validity. The conference was a scholarly one, with speakers shifting between Latin and English, having just about no visuals but the handouts, and engaging in high-level chats. To blend in, you really had to be versed in many fields of history, language, astronomy, astrology, sociology, and to have a general world wiseliness about you.