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Positions and Orbits of the Seven Planets, with an excerpt from Pliny's 'Natural History', in a late Roman version of Cicero's 'Aratea'

Positions and Orbits of the Seven Planets, with an excerpt from Pliny's 'Natural History', in a late Roman version of Cicero's 'Aratea'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 830

Shelfmark: Harley MS 647

Item number: f.19r

Length: 32

Width: 27.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

Made in France, probably in Rheims, about 820-840, this manuscript has a copy of a famous illustrated poem, the 'Aratea', on the constellations and planets. Following the poem and pictures, it has excerpts on natural science subjects from works by Pliny and Macrobius. This manuscript is known to have been at St Augustine's monastery, in Canterbury, by the end of the 10th century. By that time, Anglo-Saxon interest in natural science, which can be seen three centuries earlier in Bede's writings, had gained widespread support by Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastics in their program to elevate the level of education for clergy and monks. Natural science was understood with the framework of Christian doctrine, although it represented a secular facet of their knowledge. Pliny, in his 'Natural History', discussed astronomy. This diagram illustrates an excerpt on the positions and movements of the seven planets--all that were to ancient and medieval philosophers and theologians. The earth is shown in the centre, and around it circle the moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The "Signifer" or zodiac encircles the whole. 'Tonus' and 'Semit' are musical terms used by Pythagoras in discussion the mathematical ratios of distances between the planets. His statement that they sang in harmonious musical modes, Pliny says, is "more pleasant than useful." Such information was important to theologians in understanding the relationship of God and humans, and also they needed expertise in astronomy to calculate dates of feasts such as Easter which depended upon the full moon and the vernal equinox.

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