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Marcus Manilius’ Astronomicon: From Shakespeare’s Reading List?

In Appendix E of The Undiscovered Country I suggest that Alderamin in the constellation Cepheus might be the star Bernardo refers to ("yond same star that's westward from the pole") in Act I, Scene I.

The best evidence for that speculation is the passage below, from Marcus Manilius' first-century Astronomicon, a Latin astronomical/astrological discourse in verse that was rediscovered in the 1400s and published in various editions, including three important ones edited by Joseph Scaliger in 1579, 1590, and 1600. (Appendix E has more information on Scaliger.)

This passage (from Book V, lines 449-485 in Goold's edition) describes the characteristics of people born with Cepheus rising. (Rising signs were/are believed to predict a person's outward character, distinct from their inner self, which is determined by their sun sign.)

The section reads like it was written to describe Shakespeare. And there are pretty remarkable connections to Hamlet, as well, with all its business about the players (discussed at length in Appendix B). It would seem downright uncanny if we didn't know the likelihood that Shakespeare would have seen this passage. (Again, see Appendix E.)

If you believed in this stuff you'd start to speculate that Shakespeare was born between ten and twelve PM (the rising time for Cepheus in late April).

I've provided two translations below. The first is fairly literal but not very poetic, by G. P. Goold (1977, Loeb Classical Library).The second—the only other English translation—is a (slightly) more poetic but not very literal verse translation by Edward Sherburne, published in 1675. The original latin is available here (lines 449-485).

—Steve Roth

Goold Translation (I’ve added paragraph breaks for easier reading.)

But Cepheus, rising beside the dripping Waterman [Aquarius], will not engender dispositions inclined to sport. He fashions faces marked by a stern demeanour, and moulds a countenance whereon is depicted gravity of mind. Such men will live on worry and will incessantly recall the traditions of a bygone age and commend old Cato’s maxims.

Cepheus will also create a man to bring up boys of tender age: he will lord it over his lord by virtue of the law which governs a minor and, bemused by this semblance of power, will mistake for reality the role of arrogant guardian or stern uncle which he plays.

Offspring of Cepheus will also furnish words for the buskin of tragedy, [Goold’s note: On the Farnese globe Cepheus is depicted in the garb of a tragic actor.] whose pen, if only on paper, is drenched in blood; and the paper no less [Goold: Than the audience at a performance] will revel in the spectacle of crime and catastrophe in human affairs .

They will delight to tell of scarce one burial accorded three: the father belching forth the flesh of his sons, the sun fled in horror, and the darkness of a cloudless day; they will delight to narrate the Theban war between a mother’s issue, and one who was both father and brother to his children; the story of Medea’s sons, her brother and her father, the gift which was first robe and then consuming flame, the escape by air, and youth reborn from fire. A thousand other scenes from the past will they include in their plays; perhaps Cepheus himself will also be brought upon the stage.

If anyone is born with the urge to write in lighter vein, he will compose for presentation at the merry games scenes of comedy about the loves of headstrong youths and abducted maidens, hoodwinked old men, and slaves of infinite resource. In such plays Menander made his own day live for all generations: a man whose eloquence surpassed that of his native Atherns (and that when its language attained its richest bloom), he held up a mirror to life and enshrined the image in his works.

Should his powers not rise to such masterpieces, the child of Cepheus will yet be fitted to perform those of others: he will interpret the poet’s words, now by his voice, now by silent gesture and expression, and the lines he declaims he will make his own. On the stage he will take the part of Romans or the mighty heroes of myth; he will assume every role himself, one after another, and in his single person represent a crowd; he will draw over his limbs the aspect of fortune’s every vicissitude and his gestures will match the songs of the chorus; he will convince you that you see Troy’s actual fall and Priam expiring before your very eyes.

Sherburne Translation:

When with Aquarius Cepheus mounts, require
No sportive Tempers from so grave a Fire:
But stiff, morose, severe, affected Fools,
With Looks as starcht, and heavy as their Souls:
Whose Guardian’s roughness, or an Uncle’s force
Praise, and in Cato’s Sentences Discourse:
Design’d for Tutors, whom the noble Heir,
Altho’ he keeps them, shall be foc’d to fear;
Shrink at their Nods, and of their Looks afraid,
Worship th’ Imperious Idol he hat made.
Or Tragick Poets; Those whose Style must flay
In Ppaer, and be Barbarous in a Play:
Who must kill Heroes to delight the Crowd,
And seek to please with Horror, and with Blood:
Antigone must fall the Tyrant’s Spoil,
And Brothers disagree upon their Pile:
Thyestes eat his Babes, the Sun retire,
And jealous Rage the mad Medea Fire;
Her Father, Brother, Sons must Murder’d lie,
Whilst Dragons bear her through the Guilty Sky:
Or she must Yough renew; such Themes as these
Shall raise their Thoughts, and make the srive to please.

But then if softer Themes their Fancies move
In Comedy, the heated Youth shall Love;
The Maid be stoln, the witty Slave defeat
The covetous Father, and enjoy the Cheat.
Thus fam’d Menander in immortal Rhymes
Exposeth Humour and instructes the Times;
Nature to him her Parts might safely trust,
His Words expressive, and his Thoughts were just;
And when he copy’d her, she hardly knew
Her own Original; he wrought so true.

But if unequal to a Poet’s Rage
They cannot Write, yet they shall serve the Stage.
Their graceful action and their voice shall raise
The native value of another’s Plays;
TheSchool’s Simplicity, the Court’s Address,
The Souldier’s Huff so decently express;
As if they acted not another’s part;
And all was simple Nature, and not Art.
In one short view they shall present to fight
Whole Crowds, make Kings engage, and Armies fight:
Before the pleas’d Spectators Troy shall lye
In ruins, and the wretched Priam dye.