In around 430, the Latin grammarian and philosopher, Macrobius wrote Commentarii in somnium Scipionis, a commentary on the Dream of Scipio. Cicero’s text forms the final section of his De re publica (Treatise on the Republic), a dialogue about the state of Roman politics and government, written between 54 and 51 BC. Macrobius’ commentary is a philosophical exploration of astronomy and the nature of the cosmos, with subject matter ranging from music to mysticism and moral virtue. In the text are instructions for maps and diagrams to be included as teaching tools, as Macrobius claims they are more effective than words.
One of these, a colourful zonal map, divides the earth into geographical zones or climates: two frigid polar zones, a hot zone surrounding the equator, and two habitable temperate zones in between. The northern temperate zone includes Europe, Asia and North Africa, though a large part of northern Europe is in the frigid zone, labelled ‘INHABITABLE’. In the south is the fictional Antipodean continent that was believed to balance out the northern land-masses.
The other texts in this volume, copied in the Champagne region of France around the same time, are an excerpt from Cicero’s De re publica containing the Dream of Scipio and another text by Macrobius, the Saturnalia. There are numerous marginal notations including a diagram of fabula or narrative genres.
This manuscript was digitised with the support of The Polonsky Foundation.
- Article by:
- Taylor McCall
- History and learning, Science and nature
Taylor McCall discusses early medieval approaches to various types of knowledge we might consider today to be ‘scientific’, as well as those subjects taught in the earliest universities, including mathematics and astronomy.