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The Role of Illustrated Aratea Manuscripts in the Transmission of Astronomical Knowledge in the Middle Ages

Dolan, Marion (2008) The Role of Illustrated Aratea Manuscripts in the Transmission of Astronomical Knowledge in the Middle Ages. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The Aratea manuscripts contain Latin translations of the astronomical poem originally written in Greek by Aratus of Soli around 270 BCE. The Greek poem was translated into Latin by three Roman authors: Cicero, Germanicus and Avienus. These three Latin versions became quite popular in the Middle Ages and were usually decorated with pictures of the full cycle of constellations, a celestial map, and personifications of the Sun, Moon and planets.In undertaking this study, essential questions needed to be answered, such as: how many manuscripts survive and from what time periods? How are the three different authors illustrated? What were their models? Are there patterns to be discovered in regard to illustrations of each author? Are the illuminators reading the poem and creating images in accordance with their readings or simply following ancient models? Who was the intended audience?This body of Latin manuscripts, correctly called Aratea, had not been studied in its entirety, nor was there a catalog or listing of the pertinent information. Many conflicting statements have been published concerning Aratea manuscripts, as to their content and function in medieval society. Were Aratea manuscripts produced, collected and read for their poetic content, mythological content, astronomical content, or for their classical or historical connections? Or perhaps it was the pictorial cycle of classical gods, semi-gods, and celebrated semi-nude heroes of antiquity that should be credited for keeping Aratea manuscripts alive through the thousand years of the medieval period? This inquiry addresses these issues and attempts to clarify the content, function and circulation patterns of the three Latin poems. Therefore it was necessary to pursue the sources of astronomical art and to examine the cultural and historical circumstances that influenced Aratea manuscript production. This dissertation has attempted to pull together the numerous threads of this complex but highly-valued body of manuscripts in order to provide a more complete understanding of its role, especially in the transmission of astronomical knowledge.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairStones, M.
Committee MemberPossanza, D. Markpossanza@pitt.eduPOSSANZA
Committee MemberHearn, Filfih@pitt.eduFIH
Committee MemberLinduff, Katherynlinduff@pitt.eduLINDUFF
Committee MemberMachamer, Peterpkmach@pitt.eduPKMACH
Date: 19 February 2008
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 7 November 2007
Approval Date: 19 February 2008
Submission Date: 28 November 2007
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History of Art and Architecture
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: astronomy; Aratus; astronomical art
Other ID:, etd-11282007-141634
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 20:06
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:52


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