Abstract – Acrostic Authority in Germanicus’ Phaenomena

Aratus, in his Ancient Greek astronomical poem of the 3rd century BC, the Phaenomena, literally records his readings of the universe in his work, and acrostics, patterns formed by letters, are an important example of this interpretative process. Germanicus Julius Caesar (15/16 BC–AD 19), third to adapt Aratus to Latin verse after Varro of Atax and Cicero in the 1st century BC, also uses this form of wordplay as well as others as both a corrector and re-interpreter of Aratus in his own Phaenomena. This paper examines heretofore unobserved acrostics in Germanicus’ Phaenomena and connects the author and his work to Hellenistic and Latin wordplay traditions to further Latin acrostic, didactic, and cosmological scholarship. I suggest that Germanicus employs acrostics as sophisticated, didactic devices to develop his interest in catasterism, the placement of objects in the sky, and to complement his retelling of myth. Further, this paper serves to elucidate Germanicus’ literary talent and argue that he is a more sophisticated author than scholarship currently concedes.

Leave a Reply