Iulii Firmici Materni, Mathesis. Texte établi et traduit par Pierre Monat, Paris 2002 (Collection des Universités de France)
The Mathesis (or Matheseos libri VIII) is an astrological work written by Julius Firmicus Maternus (c. 300 – c. 360 AD). It is dedicated to the consul ordinarius designatus Lollianus Mavortius (Jones-Martindale-Morris) and – thanks to a series of internal references, e.g. the solar eclipse of July 334 AD (1.4.10) and repeated allusions to Constantine that suggest the emperor was still alive while the work was being written (1. pref. 7; 1.10.13-14) – can be dated likely to the period 334-7 AD. Firmicus’ treatise clearly draws on Manilius’ five-book p Astronomica even though it never cites the latter work directly (Ziegler 1969; Abry), placing itself within the Greek astronomical tradition that is represented above all by Aratus’Phaenomena. The Mathesis was the first Latin prose treatment of astrology, a fact that Firmicus himself advertises: hos… libros scripsimus, ne omni disciplinarum arte translata solum hoc opus extitisse videatur, ad quod Romanum non adfectasset ingenium (5. praef.4). The first two books serve as an introduction to the main topic: Book 1 defends astronomy from the criticisms of its detractors, chief among them Carneades, while Book 2 outlines a series of concepts and techniques that can be employed by those “uninitiated” in the rites of astrology. The remaining books describe the application of these basic theories: Book 3 describes the sky on the first day, introduces the ages of the world, and explains the influence of stars on an individual’s fate; Book 4 covers the moon’s role and movements; Book 5 addresses the role of the cardinal points; Book 6 explains the effects of the different configurations connecting each planet to the other six and illustrates them through reference to famous individuals; Book 7 describes the relationships between human fates and the configurations of the stars; and Book 8 describes the sphaera barbarica, i.e. the detailed representation of the heavenly sphere used by Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians, and other “barbarian” people (Boll 1903). The work’s stated goal is to furnish beginners with a systematic and precise manual of all the astrological knowledge accumulated in prior centuries by Firmicus’ predecessors in the three great astrological traditions (Babylonian, Egyptian, and Greek), and its frequent use of the word institutio, which derives from the rhetorical and juridical spheres, confirms this prescriptive intent (Monat). The astrology found in Firmicus’ manual is presented as an esoteric doctrine on par with a religion, and scholars consequently doubted for a long time whether the Julius Firmicus Maternus Junior mentioned in the subscriptiones of the manuscripts containing the Mathesis was the same as the author of the De errore profanarum religionum; today, however, it is generally agreed that a single individual wrote both works, and that Firmicus converted to Christianity after composing the astrological treatise (Ziegler 1953; Monat). The tradition of the Mathesis is – paradoxically – richer than that of Firmicus’ Christian work, as can be seen from the fact that the astronomical treatise, whose oldest testimonia date to the 11th c., is transmitted by 43 exemplars, while the De errore is reported by just one codex, Vat. Pal. Lat. 165 (Kroll–Skutsch–Ziegler; Ziegler 1953). [D. Caso; tr. C. L. Caterine].