The text of Manilius depends in the main upon four MSS.

G, Gemblacensis, once of the monastery of Gembloux in Brabant, now 10012 in the public library of Brussels, assigned to the end of the 10th century or the beginning of the 11th, containing Manilius and Priscian's descriptio orbis. ...

L, Lipsiensis, 1456 in the library of the university, of Leipsic, assigned to the middle of the 11th century. ....


The two MSS G and L are bound into one class and parted from N and V by many marks of which it is enough to mention two the omission of certain verses and the position of others. ..

The second family is derived from a MSS discovered north of the Alps by Poggio during the Council of Constance in the year 1416 or 1417. ...

M, Matritensis, M 31 in the national library at Madrid, assigned to the early part of the 15th century....

V, Vossianus 390 (which Jacob chose to call Vossianus secundus and to denote by the clumsy sign V. 2.), 3 in the public library of Leyden, bearing the date 1470...


Manilius was first made known to the Italy of the renascence by Poggio's discovery of the MS whence M and V are derived. But copies of the other family soon found their way across the Alps; and the vulgar MSS from which the first editions were printed present a chance medley of the two elements, obscured by a cloud of additional errors and of conjectures mostly, false. A good example of the class is the Florentine codex Laurentianus.


For a hundred years had men been editing Manilius and had never advanced a step, when in 1579 there appeared at Paris the first edition of Scaliger. This was reprinted at Heidelberg in 1590 by Franciscus Iunius, who added some insignificant notes of his own and a few conjectures of more value by Aliathaeus Lannoius, which Scaliger stole as he pleased for his next edition : it is arrant gasconading when he says in the Scaligerina 'se et patreni nihil umquam scripsisse, quod scinissent ab aliis dictum aut scriptum.' Not one good MS had yet been brought to light, and the transformation which first made Manilius a legible author was the work of Scaliger's own unaided wits; but for his second edition, issued at Leyden in 1600, he obtained a collation of the Gemblacensis: the second consequently excels the first almost as far as that excelled all others. It is true that Scaliger in 1579 had often recovered by conjecture the true readings later found in G; but the vulgate was in many parts too deeply falsified for emendation, and nothing could help it but the knowledge of a purer source. A third edition, corrected and enlarged from Scaliger's manuscript notes, was published after his death by I H. Boeherus at Strasburg in 1655, with additional remarks by T. Reinesius and L Bullialdus.

Perhaps no critic has ever effected so great and permanent a change in any author's text as Scaliger in Manilius'. Except the Emendatio Temporum, which is too dissimilar for comparison, this is his greatest work; and its virtues, if they had fewer vices to keep them company, are such that it is almost importunate to praise them. True, there is luck as well as merit in the achievement: many of his emendations required no Scaliger to make them, and were made by Scaliger only because Manilius hitherto instead of finding a Beroaldus or Marullus to befriend him, had fallen, as he was destined often to fall again, into the hands of dullards. To write tum di for timidi in 1 422 was a feat of easy brilliancy, and such corrections are less of an honour to Scaliger than a shame to his predecessors; but after all deductions there remains enough to make a dozen editors illustrious. The commentary is the one commentary on Manilius, without forerunner and without successor; today, after the passage of three hundred years, it is the only avenue to a study of the poem. He seems to have read everything, Greek and Latin, published and unpublished, which could explain or illustrate his author; and his vast learning is carried lightly and imparted simply in terse notes of moderate compass. Discursive he often is, and sometimes vagrant, but even in digressions be neither fatigues his readers like Casaubon nor bewilders them like Salmasius. His style has not the ease and grace and Latinity of Lambinus', but no commentary is brisker reading or better entertainment than these abrupt and pithy notes, with their spurts of mockery at unnamed detractors, and their frequent and significant stress upon the difference between Scaliger and a jackass.

There is a reverse to the medal, and I give it in the words of his most intelligent enemy, Huet p. 87. ... In particular he will often propound interpretations which have no bearing either on his own text of Manilius or on any other, but pertain to things which he has read elsewhere, and which hang like mists in his memory and veil from his eyes the verses which he thinks he is explaining. Furthermore it must be said that Scaliger's conjectures in Manilius, as in all the other Latin poets whom he edited, are often uncouth and sometimes monstrous. ... And the worse the conjecture the louder does Scaliger applaud himself.

Barth's Aduersaria, published in 1624, devote a good deal of space to Manilius without much result. To read 3000 tall columns of close print by a third-rate scholar is no proper occupation for mortals; but by means of the index I have unearthed his Manilian conjectures, futile for the most part but now and again of surprising merit: the best of them are usually ignored or attributed to later critics.... Salmasius, in those inimitable monuments of erudition and untidiness his Diatribae de annis climactericis and his Exercitationes Plinianae, busied though he is with astrology and astronomy, does very little for the criticism or interpretation of Manilius. Manilius' best friend in that generation, and the greatest critic, after Bentley and Scaliger, whose attention be ever enticed, was Gronotius, who in his four famous books of Observationes has filled many pages and chapters with admirable corrections of the Astronomica.

In 167,1 Sir Edward Sherburne published a translation of the first book into English verse, with ample notes displaying a wide reading but no great acuteness or alertness of mind. Another metrical version of the whole poem was produced by Thomas Creech in 1700. In 1679 appeared the Delphin edition by Michael Fayus or du Fay, a slovenly work, but yet deserving less neglect than it receives. The commentary, though neither learned nor accurate, contains a good deal of miscellaneous information and has its humble use; the paraphrase explains correctly many things which Scaliger had misinterpreted; the text, which seems to have composed itself without the help or knowledge of the editor, combines a mass of blunders and a sprinkling of Scaliger's readings with a certain number of corrections which I have found in no earlier book and have therefore assigned to Fayus. But the edition owes its worth to an appendix of 88 pages contributed by Pierre Daniel Huet, sometime bishop of Avranches, 'animaduersiones in Manilium et Scaligeri notas,' which perhaps deserves to be reckoned as the chief piece of work on Manilius in the age between Scaliger and Bentley. It includes a considerable sum of emendations, less brilliant and important than Gronouius' but yet skilful and judicious, a long series of admirably clear and accurate and erudite interpretations, and a running fire of polemical comment upon Scaliger, often wrong but much oftener right. Huet was a critic of uncommon exactness, sobriety, and malevolence, whose naturally keen wits were sharpened to a finer edge by his dislike of Scaliger. ... Hence it happens, in the irony of human affairs, that he, the shrewd and accomplished Huet, is now excessively admired by the dull, who cherish a timid enmity for great and victorious innovators, and delight to see them rapped over the knuckles by Huet or anyone else who has the requisite address. His services to Manilius are not so many and great as to estrange the affection of these admirers : indeed it would be hard to find 300 verses in a row for which Scaliger has not done more than Huet did for all five books together. Perhaps if he had been less bent on harming Scaliger he might have helped Manilius more: at any rate it is matter for some surprise and disappointment that so competent a critic should after all have done so little where there was so much to do. But the fact is that his mind had keenness without force, and was not a trenchant instrument. His corrections, deft as they are, touch only the surface of the text; his precise and lucid explanations are seldom explanations of difficulties, but only dispel perverse misunderstandings of things which hardly any one but Scaliger can ever have misunderstood. When a real obscurity had baffled Scaliger, it baffled Huet, and was reprieved till the advent of Bentley.

Lucida tela diei: these are the words that come into one's mind when one has halted at some stubborn perplexity of reading, or interpretation, has witnessed Scaliger and Gronouius and Huetius fumble at it one after another, and then turns to Bentley and sees Bentley strike his finger on the place and say thou ailest here, and here. His Manilius is a greater work than either the Horace or the Phalaris; yet its subject condemns it to find few readers, and those few for the most part unfit: to be read by Dorville and left unread by Madvig. Haupt alone has praised it in proportion to its merit: ...

Had Bentley never edited Manilius, Nicolaus Heinsius would be the foremost critic of Latin poetry; but this is a work beyond the scope of even Heinsius. Great as was Scaliger's achievement it is yet surpassed and far surpassed by Bentley's: Scaliger at the side of Bentley is no more than a marvellous boy. In mere quantity indeed the corrections of the critic who came first may be the more imposing, but it is significant that Scaliger accomplished most in the easiest parts of the poem and Bentley in the hardest. The firm strength and piercing edge and arrowy swiftness of his intellect, his matchless facility and adroitness and resource, were never so triumphant as where defeat seemed sure; and yet it is other virtues that one most admires and welcomes as one turns from the smoky fire of Scaliger's genius to the sky and air of Bentley's: his lucidity, his sanity, his just and simple and straightforward fashion of thought. His emendations are only a part, though the most conspicuous part, of his services to Manilius ; for here, as in Horace, there are many passages which he was the first to vindicate from mistaken conjecture by discovering their true interpretation. He had furnished himself too with fresh and efficacious tools: he had procured not only the use of G but collations of L and also more important, of V, which first revealed in a clear form the tradition of the second family; and from II 684, where V begins, to the end of the poem, his incomparable skill and judgment in the use of MSS have left but little in this department for his successors to do provided they have the wit, or in default of that the modesty, to follow his example.

The faults of this edition, which are abundant, are the faults of Bentley's other critical works. He was impatient, he was tyrannical, and he was too sure of himself. Hence he corrupts sound verses which he will not wait to understand, alters what offends his taste without staying to ask about the taste of Manilius, plies his desperate hook upon corruptions which do not yield at once to gentler measures, and treats the MSS much as if they were fellows of Trinity. Nay more: though Bentley's faculty for discovering truth has no equal in the history of learning, his wish to discover it was not so strong. Critics like Porson and Lachlan, inferior in [Greek], put him to shame by their serious and disinterested purpose and the honesty of their dealings with themselves. His buoyant mind, elated by the exercise of its powers, too often forgot the nature of its business, and turned from work to play; and many a time when he feigned and half fancied that he was correcting the scribe, he knew in his heart (and of his Paradise Lost they tell us he confessed it) that be was revising the author.

It is a point in which Bentley compares ill with Scaliger, that his conjectures often leave the MSS too far behind them and sometimes set them utterly at naught. The crowning instance is v 229 aut cornua lauri for atque arma feraruna. But the worst that can be said of this conjecture is that it is improbable to the last degree: dozens and scores of Scaliger's, distant only a letter or two from the MSS, are something very much worse; they are impossible. Bentley's rashness there is no denying, but it is less than Scaliger's. Again: he will now and then propose conjectures which instead of amending the text make havoc of it; and ii 322 nonqentae, iii 421 lucis, 547 mensibus, are very amazing blunders. But they amaze because they are Bentley's: in Scaliger such things occur on every second page, and the reader ceases to wonder at them.

It was one of Bentley's chief services to the text that he first detected the presence there of spurious verses. But this discovery, like Scaliger's discovery of transpositions in Propertius, was misused and perverted by its own author till its utility was well-nigh cancelled and its credit annulled. When a genuine verse was so corrupt that no meaning glimmered through it, and even Bentley's divination was baffled at the first assault, then the impatient critic, who had no turn for tiresome blockades, chastised its recalcitrancy by proclaiming it counterfeit He forgot that counterfeit verses are not wont to be meaningless unless they are corrupt as well, and that the aim of interpolators is not to make difficulties but to remove them. The best prize that Bentley missed, and the richest province left for his successors, is the correction of those verses of Manilius which he precipitately and despotically expelled.

To edit Manilius was one of Bentley's earliest projects, and he writes on p. Ixiii of the preface to Phalaris 'I had prepared a Manilius for the press, which had been published already (1699), had not the dearness of paper and the want of good types, and some other occasions, hindered.' The edition was brought out in 1739, when Bentley was seventy-seven, by his nephew and namesake; and such notes as that on v 404 declare that it was even yet unfinished. ...

If a man will comprehend the richness and variety of the universe, and inspire his mind with a due measure of wonder and of awe, he must contemplate the human intellect not only on its heights of genius but in its abysses of ineptitude ; and it might be fruitlessly debated to the end of time whether Richard Bentley or Elias Stoeber was the more marvellous work of the Creator. Elias Stoeber, whose reprint of Bentley's text, with a commentary intended to confute it, saw the light in 1767 at Strasburg, a city still famous for its geese. This commentary is a performance in comparison with which the Aetna of Mr S. Sudhaus is a work of science and of genius. Stoeber's mind, though that is no name to call it by, was one which turned as unswervingly to the false, the meaningless, the unmetrical, and the ungrammatical, as the needle to the pole. His purpose, put in short, is to depose good MSS, G and L and V, in favour of a bad ms, 'Parisinus uere Regius,' and to depose great critics, Scaliger and especially Bentley, in favour of Regiomontanus, who was no critic at all.

In 1786 appeared at Paris in two volumes the text of A. G. Pingre, with a French translation or rather paraphrase facing it, and a frugal equipment of brief notes textual and explanatory. Pingre, though intelligent and well-read, was no marvel of learning or brilliancy or penetration; but the prime virtue of a critic, worth all the rest, he had: simplicity and rectitude of judgment. The text is Bentley's, improved by the subtraction of many unnecessary or extravagant conjectures; and though it not only retains much of Bentley which ought to be omitted but omits much which ought to be retained, it is yet even now, in the year 1903, the best and far the best existing text of Manilius. Pingre's own conjectures are not many, but sensible and sometimes excellent; and the translation, though it grows reprehensibly vague and wordy where the text has no meaning or where its meaning is obscure to Pingre, is the student's smoothest way to a continuous understanding of the poem. In no edition of Manilius is there so little that calls for censure.

There is nothing to speak of between Pingre and Friedrich Jacob, who in the years 1832-6 put forth at Lubeck a series of five pamphlets successfully defending a number of the verses condemned by Bentley, and produced in 1846 what remained for the rest of the century the commonly accepted text. Bentley is first, and Scaliger second, among the conjectural emendators of Manilius, and there is no third; but if there were a third it would be Jacob. Say what you will, he has contributed to the Astronomica, as to the Aetna twenty years before, a body of corrections not only considerable in number but often of the most arresting ingenuity and penetration. Yet the virtues of his work are quenched and smothered by the multitude and monstrosity of its vices. They say that he was born of human parentage; but if so he must have been suckled by Caucasian tigers. His false quantities ... are the least and fewest of the horrors here amassed upon Manilius. Not only had Jacob no sense for grammar, no sense for coherency, no sense for sense, but being himself possessed by a passion for the clumsy and the hispid he imputed this disgusting taste to all the authors whom he edited; and Manilius, the one Latin poet who excels even Ovid in verbal point and smartness, is accordingly constrained to write the sort of poetry which might have been composed by Nebuchadnezzar when he was driven from men and did eat grass as oxen.

In his dealing with the MSS this blunderer has learnt no lesson from the chief master of the art, but conceives a spite against G and makes a pet of the Vossianus secundus (that is not only V but v, a poor kinsman of G's family) ; and this text, from which the skill and tact of Bentley had drawn more profit to Manilius than from any other, becomes in Jacob's hands an engine of depravation. In the notes with which he now and again supports his corruptions and misinterpretations of the text he seems to stick at no falsehood and no absurdity which the pen will consent to trace on paper. In short his book, if only its vices are considered, is a scarce less woful piece of work than Stoebers: the difference is that, while Stoeber never reminds one of a rational animal, the fog of Jacob's intellect is shot through, and that not seldom, by flashes of conspicuous and startling brilliancy. ...

Foremost among the critics who have written on Manilius since the time of Jacob stands Theodor Breiter, who published in 1854 a treatise of little moment 'de eniendatione Manilii,' in 1889 a far more valuable and important series of criticisms in vol. 139 of Fleckeisen's annual, and a few further notes in vol. 147 in 1893. The merits of Robinson Ellis will be thought quite equal to Breiter's by readers who get their knowledge of his conjectures from this edition and do not consult the book from which they are taken, his Noctes Manilianae published in 1891 at Oxford: these students too may wonder why it is that I comment sharply enough upon several of Mr Breiter's errors but never even mention any of Mr Ellis's. Mr Bechert, like Jacob, has a relish for the uncouth and is not dismayed by the hideous; he mistakes this taste, as Jacob mistook it, for a peculiar insight into the diction of Manilius; he finds in G, as Jacob found in V, a great deal to gratify it; and he uses 0, as Jacob used V, to corrupt the text. The two weapons are almost equally efficacious; Mr Bechert's recension of the poem is little better than Jacob's, and despite its wide and numerous divergencies in detail, it resembles Jacob's, and does not resemble latin literature. And Mr Bechert has nothing of that quality by which the performance of Jacob is in part redeemed; in all his edition I can find only four conjectures which seem true to me or even probable.


The two families GL and MY, or call them a and 5, are equal in value. This I say, not as having determined the indeterminable, computed the number and appraised the moment of their variants; but because we can nowhere dispense with either of them, and not a page of the text can be set right without alternately preferring the 'one to the other. This difference they have, that B is the less correct and A the less sincere; B has more corruptions and A has worse interpolations. ... The vice of A is not a perpetual and heedless blundering but a fitful and ineffectual effort to understand and to correct: its errors are far fewer than B's, but many of them are far deeper and more destructive of the truth. This difference in honesty between A and B is displayed in such examples as the following:


Here B has retained the simple corruptions from which critics have recovered the original: A has aimed at sense or grammar or metre, and has only succeeded in burying the truth out of sight.

So much for their diversity of character ; and now, to show their equality in merit, I will begin at ii 684 and enumerate their chief dissensions throughout the next 500 lines, omitting places where the true reading is doubtful, places where the two families are equidistant from the truth, and places where the two MSS of either family are at variance one with another.


Such is the equality of A and B, and such it remains throughout the poem. Let us hear no talk of 'the better family of MSS,' for nothing of that name exists.

So I will now take G and M as the two representative MSS and compare them as I have already compared the two groups which they represent; they will be found to display in a heightened form the contrasted natures of their stocks, and to possess like them, with all their difference of character, equality of value...

Housman's commentary on Manilius, book one (part two)

Housman's commentary on Manilius, book five

Housman's invective

My name is Chris Borthwick. My other enthusiasms - issues involved with, inter alia, IQ, FCT, disability, and the golden hemorrhoids of 1 Samuel 6 - may be found on my home page.