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Pliny The Elder's Natural History: Encyclopedia For Carolingian Astronomy And Cosmology

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Chapter Summary

Already important to Bede (673–735) while circulating in excerpts and partial copies during the early eighth century, Pliny’s Natural History (NH) was appreciated by Alcuin, Charlemagne, and their contemporaries for supplying a tremendous increase in astronomical information. Pliny’s encyclopedic range offered Carolingians detailed answers to questions about interplanetary distances, the causes and timing of eclipses, the changes in speed and brightness of each planet. Of the thirty-seven books in Pliny’s compilation, Books 2 and 18 are the essential sources for astronomy and cosmology. While the Plinian planetary diagrams were born as parts of the encyclopedic Seven Book Computus, they underwent a fundamental transformation in form at the time of their association with the cosmological-cosmographical excerpts from Macrobius’s Commentary on Scipio’s Dream as found in the Bern Collection. Books 2 and 18 of the Natural History contain very many accounts of celestial influences and portents.

Keywords: astronomy; Carolingians; Charlemagne; cosmology; Macrobius; Natural History; planetary diagrams; Pliny



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