Click here to skip to content

The Constellation Aries, in a late Roman version of Cicero's 'Aratea'

The Constellation Aries, in a late Roman version of Cicero's 'Aratea'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 830

Shelfmark: Harley MS 647

Item number: f.2v

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 poem on the constellations and planets. The result of several layers of translation and being added to, the poem is a late Roman version of a Latin translation done in the 1st century BCE by Cicero. Cicero had translated a Greek poem written in the 3rd century BCE by Aratus. Hence, it was known as the 'Aratea'. The illustrations which accompany it in medieval manuscripts follow what was probably an ancient tradition. 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. This illustration depicts the constellation of Aries, the ram. The text, called the 'scholia', which is written within the figure of the zodiacal sign was a later addition to Cicero's translation and was always written within the figures, which usually were not outlined. In this copy of the 'Aratea', figures of the constellations sometimes have beautifully painted heads and feet, their bodies formed of the words of the scholia.

Search within this collection

Elsewhere on our websites

Newsletter

Latest events - register free online

Mobile app

For iPhone, iPad and Android

Report a Concern

What is the nature of your concern?

Report a Concern

What is the nature of your concern?

Email link to a friend

Write a brief note to accompany the email

Your friend's email address: