Julius Firmicus Maternus
was a Christian Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...
writer and notable astrologer
An astrologer practices one or more forms of astrology. Typically an astrologer draws a horoscope for the time of an event, such as a person's birth, and interprets celestial points and their placements at the time of the event to better understand someone, determine the auspiciousness of an...
, who lived in the reign of Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...
and his successors.
Life and works
He was also a Sicilian lawyer from upper nobility; his manuscripts include titles indicating the Senatorial order. Author of Matheseos Libri Octo
("Eight Books of Astrology", c.
330) and De errore profanarum religionum
("On the error of profane religions"). The lunar crater Firmicus
Firmicus is a lunar crater that lies in the eastern part of the Moon's near side, so that from Earth it appears oval in shape due to foreshortening. It is, however, very nearly circular. The crater is located to the west of the Mare Undarum, and northeast of the similar-sized crater Apollonius. To...
was named in his honour.
About the year 346 he composed a work entitled De errore profanarum religionum
, which he dedicated to Constantius II
Constantius II , was Roman Emperor from 337 to 361. The second son of Constantine I and Fausta, he ascended to the throne with his brothers Constantine II and Constans upon their father's death....
Constans , was Roman Emperor from 337 to 350. He defeated his brother Constantine II in 340, but anger in the army over his personal life and preference for his barbarian bodyguards saw the general Magnentius rebel, resulting in Constans’ assassination in 350.-Career:Constans was the third and...
, the sons of Constantine, and which is still extant. He holds up to scorn the religious beliefs and practices of pagans and implores the Emperor to stamp out the old religions as a sacred duty which will be rewarded by God.
In the first part (chs. 1‑17) he attacks the false objects of worship among the Oriental cults; in the second (chs. 18‑29) he discusses a number of formulae and rites connected with the mysteries, with particular attention and animus toward alleged homosexual practices.
De errore profanarum religionum
provides such a sharp contrast with Firmicus' book on astrology (commonly referred to as the Mathesis
), that the two works have sometimes been attributed to different writers. However, Theodor Mommsen
Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen was a German classical scholar, historian, jurist, journalist, politician, archaeologist, and writer generally regarded as the greatest classicist of the 19th century. His work regarding Roman history is still of fundamental importance for contemporary research...
has shown that the Mathesis
was composed in the year 336 and not in 354 as was formerly held, thus making it an earlier work than De errore profanarum religionum
, and could have been written prior to Firmicus' conversion to Christianity. When we add to this the similarity of style, and the fact that each betrays a connection with Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...
, this provides compelling evidence that the same author wrote both books.
The Christian work, "On The Error of Profane Religions", is preserved in a Palatine manuscript in the Vatican library
The Vatican Library is the library of the Holy See, currently located in Vatican City. It is one of the oldest libraries in the world and contains one of the most significant collections of historical texts. Formally established in 1475, though in fact much older, it has 75,000 codices from...
. It was first printed at Strassburg in 1562, and has been reprinted several times, both separately and along with the writings of Minucius Felix, Cyprian
Cyprian was bishop of Carthage and an important Early Christian writer, many of whose Latin works are extant. He was born around the beginning of the 3rd century in North Africa, perhaps at Carthage, where he received a classical education...
Arnobius , Christian priest or bishop in Gaul, flourished about 460.He is the author of a mystical and allegorical commentary on the Psalms, first published by Erasmus in 1522, and by him attributed to the elder Arnobius....
. The Neoplatonist work was first printed by Aldus Manutius
Aldus Pius Manutius , the Latinised name of Aldo Manuzio —sometimes called Aldus Manutius, the Elder to distinguish him from his grandson, Aldus Manutius, the Younger—was an Italian humanist who became a printer and publisher when he founded the Aldine Press at Venice.His publishing legacy includes...
in 1501, and has often been reprinted.
- De errore profanarum religionum, translated by Clarence A. Forbes as The Error of the Pagan Religions, Newman Press, 1970.
- Matheseos libri VII, 2 vols, edited by W. Kroll and F. Skutsch, Stuttgart, Teubner, 1968.
- Ancient Astrology: Theory and Practice. Matheseos Libri VIII by Firmicus Maternus, translated by Jean Rhys Bram, Park Ridge, Noyes Press, 1975.
- Mathesis, edited and translated by James Herschel Holden, Tempe, Az., A.F.A., Inc., 2011.