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Some Watchers of the Skies

  • Stephanie West (a1)

Extract

Meleager, in assembling the poetic garland of his first epigram, picked palm-leaves to represent Aratus:

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1 Ep. 1. 49–50 = Gow-Page, HE 3975–6.

2 37, cf. Archil, fr. 201.

3 Thus Gow (Hellenistic Epigrams ii. 104): ‘The palm is perhaps selected with reference to Aratus’ residence in Syria at the court of Antiochus I.’

4 Strom. 6. 4.

5 ‘Ein altägyptisches astronomisches Instrument’, Zeilschr.f. Aeg. Sprache 37 (1899), 10–17; see also his Altägyptische Zeitmessung (Berlin, 1920), pp. 53–4, Tafel 16. A convenient account may be found in Edwards, I. E. S., The Pyramids of Egypt2 (Harmondsworth, 1961), pp. 258 ff.

6Radius enim proprie geometrarum virga est, qua in pulvere formas delineabant; nec in aliam rationem intelligendum videtur, quando Uraniae signis, aut, uti solenni more fit (cf. Aen. 6. 851), astronomis tribuitur, cum et figuris et numeris opus habeant.’ This sounds slightly defensive, and the use of ‘radius’ in Avienus, Arat. 53–4, which Heyne quotes just before this, certainly does not favour his interpretation: ‘hic (Jupiter) primum Cnidii radium senis intulit astris | mortalesque loqui docuit convexa deorum.’ Later commentators appear to have had no qualms.

7 66. 1 ff. Catullus’ opening line is so far removed from his model that guesses about what Callimachus said where his text is not actually preserved are unrewarding. Callimachus presents Conon consulting his charts, at once more bookish and more realistic (fr. 110. 1): Since Catullus clearly allowed himself considerable freedom, and by-passed Callimachus’ more technical phraseology, it is perhaps legitimate to wonder whether Callimachus might have used καυώυ in this context in a way which suggested ‘radius’ to Vergil as the proper equipment for an astronomer.

8 This was not perhaps so safe an assumption with Roman readers as it might have seemed at Alexandria; experience shows that the point does not strike undergraduates as self-evident, and the astronomical vagaries of Roman poets suggest a rather low level of general knowledge in this area. But though the reader who fails to appreciate this misses something interesting, he will not be puzzled, and there would have been obvious disadvantages in attempting to bring it out more explicitly.

9 Lloyd, G. E. R., Greek Science after Aristotle (London, 1973), pp. 67–8, cf. fig. 10.

10 1. 287 ff.: ‘ Like the moon, whose orb | Through optic glass the Tuscan artist views | At evening from the top of Fesole | Or in Valdarno to descry new lands, | Rivers or mountains in her spotty globe’; 3. 588 ff.: ‘There lands the fiend, a spot like which perhaps | Astronomer in the sun's lucent orb | Through his glazed optic tube yet never saw’; 5. 261 ff.:’ As when by night the glass | Of Galileo, less assured, observes | Imagined lands and regions in the moon’. When he came to write Paradise Regained Milton was more specific and technical: 4.40 ff. (Satan shows Christ the kingdoms of the world)’ By what strange parallax or optic skill | Of vision multiplied through air or glass | Or telescope, were curious to enquire’, 4. 55 ff. (Satan boasts) ‘Many a fair edifice besides, more like | Houses of gods (so well I have disposed | My aery microscope) thou mayest behold...’ (One would prefer to believe that the last passage was intended to indicate some confusion on Satan's part rather than that Milton himself did not understand the difference between the two instruments: a parade of technical terminology disguising an inadequate grasp of the subject is just what one might expect of the Father of Lies. But the alarming implications of PL 3. 588 ff. (quoted above) indicate that Milton himself could make dangerous mistakes in this area.) See further Nicholson, M., ‘Milton and the Telescope’, Journal of English Literary History 2 (1935), 1 ff. I owe this reference to Mr Clay Jenkinson.

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