Incunabula and the Keio University Library Collection


Martianus Capella, De nuptiis philologiae et Mercurii de grammatica (Vicenza: Henricus de Sancto Ursio, 16 Dec. 1499)

De nuptiis philologiae et Mercurii de grammatica Ed: Franciscus Vitalis Bodianus

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Martianus Capella was a Roman writer born in Africa in the 4th or 5th century CE, who was said to have practiced as a lawyer. He supposedly wrote the present work in the last quarter of the 5th century.

This is an encyclopaedic work that discusses liberal culture in terms of allegory, and it is known to have deeply influenced the development of academic scholarship during the medieval period. The first two of the nine books treat the engagement and marriage of Mercury to Philologia, using allegorical figures, while the other seven books deal with the seven liberal arts — described as Philologia's slaves — with each book explaining one of the arts governed by Philologia. It should be noted that Capella limited the seven liberal arts to Grammar, Dialectic, Rhetoric, Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy and Music making Medicine and Architecture simply appear at the wedding, and say nothing. Capella's attempt to fix the elements of the seven liberal arts, later duplicated by Boethius and Cassiodorus, was a pioneering idea. The structure of this work is based on the idea of cosmic order: macrocosm and microcosm are always parallel. Although it does not make any allusion to Christianity, it expresses the principles of pagan classical learning in a manner that might be readily accepted by Christians. It also epitomizes academia in the Middle Ages, with each book being a summary or compilation of various earlier works. Because it became widely known as a model for Carolingian culture after the middle of the 9th century, used by the Italian humanists from the 11th century onwards, more than half of the existing perfect copies date from the 9th and 10th centuries.

The first commentaries on this work were composed by Remy of Auxerre and others in the 9th century; Remy's commentary was regarded as the standard one, and frequently used up until the 12th century. The Keio copy is a first edition, printed in 1499, and eight further editions were printed up until 1600.

The printer of the present copy was Henricus de Sancto Ursio, who was mainly active in Vicenza at the end of the 15th century; he first published Juvenal's Satires, in 1480. His 'circle and cross' printer's mark can be seen at the end of the present copy.

The present copy consists of 124 leaves, each leaf having 37 lines, and the initial of each book is illuminated in red ink. Although this copy has been rebound, it serves as a good example of a blind-tooled binding using stamps of flowers and stars. On the inside of the wooden boards, we can see some letters that have been presumably transferred from a manuscript that had been used as the pastedown endpaper but which was later peeled off. As this book does not have the pastedown on the cover, we can see the binding structure with its double bands.

  Dictionary of the Middle Ages, ed. by Joseph R. Strayer and others, 13 vols (New York: Scribner, 1982– )
  'Martianus Capella', The Catholic Encyclopedia
  The Oxford Classical Dictionary, ed. by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, 3rd edn erv. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)



Capella, Martianus
Place of Publication
Henricus de Sancto Ursio, Zensus


Date of Publication

Contemporary blind-tooled calf over wooden boards, neatly rebacked, clasps missing.

Bibliographical Notes

124 leaves; initials are rubricated throughout; printer's device on u6v.

Goff C117, H 4370*, BMC VII 1048, XII 74, IJL 099, IJL2 119, PP105
Acquisition Year