The erudite world: the transformation of Solinus' 'Collectanea rerum memorabilium', or 'Polyhistor' in late antique geographical writing
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What is the point of compiling anachronistic geographical facts? Why did Solinus’ Collectanea rerum memorabilium have such an enduring influence on later geographies — and how does each geography transform this traditional knowledge into something relevant and new? These questions underlie this study of the Collectanea’s reuse in late antique geographical compilations. The study wends its way across the Mediterranean and spans the third/fourth to seventh centuries, tracing the evolution of Solinus’ ideas through Martianus Capella’s De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, Priscian’s Periegesis, and Isidore’s Etymologiae. There emerges an intricate picture of one strand of late antique geographical writing, which is then situated within a wider literary and historical context. These three writers look to Solinus as an expert — especially for the geography of far-away and exotic places — but his ideas are recontextualised within new ideologies. Ultimately, each text, responding to contemporary concerns, represents an utterly distinct world. The first chapter discusses the privileged position of compilation in ancient writing, and summarises some of the most relevant precedents for our study in the geographical and paradoxographical traditions. The rest of the study concerns individual texts. Chapter 2 argues that geography in the Nuptiae is connected to the work’s neoplatonic allegory: basic knowledge about the world, such as Solinus’ historical and ethnographic facts, is connected to the soul’s philosophical ascent. Chapter 3 identifies the Periegesis as a hellenising Christian poem, where Solinus’ mirabilia demonstrate the munificence of Nature’s divine order. Chapter 4 explores the Etymologiae as a Christian cosmography, which connects all elements of human and divine life and learning to their divine origin; Solinus’ wealth of detailed natural history, recoloured through Isidore’s Christian lens, helps to shade in this world. These compilations imitate ancient sources, but each promotes a new understanding of the natural world and the literary past. This study of late antique geographical compilations thus reveals the immense creativity behind such retellings.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2024-01-09
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 9th January 2024
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