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Antoine Court de Gebelin- Martianus Capella’s ‘Hymn To The Sun, Under The Name Of Bacchus’

Bacchus, detail from ‘An Eleusinian Initiation’ engraving, in ‘Monde Primitif’, volume IV.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA is an excerpt from Antoine Court de Gebelin’s ‘Le Monde Primitif’, tome 4_page 544 to 548, honoring Martianus Minneus Felix Capella (fl. c. 410–420) who was a jurist, polymath and Latin prose writer of late antiquity, one of the earliest developers of the system of the seven liberal arts that structured early medieval education. He was a native of Madaura. His single encyclopedic work, ‘De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii ‘(“On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury”), also called ‘De septem disciplinis’ (“On the seven disciplines”), is an elaborate didactic allegory written in a mixture of prose and elaborately allusive verse. Martianus often presents philosophical views based on Neoplatonism, the Platonic school of philosophy pioneered by Plotinus and his followers. Like his near-contemporary Macrobius, who also produced a major work on classical Roman religion, Martianus never directly identifies his own religious affiliation. Much of his work occurs in the form of dialogue, and the views of the interlocutors may not represent the author’s own. (Source: Wikipedia)


Antoine Court de Gebelin’s excerpt starts here:

‘The Hymn to the Sun’ preserved by Martianus Capella, in his ‘Wedding of Philologia and Mercur’, is little known and contains a summary of the Egyptian and Pythagorean Theologies concerning the Sun and this is why we shared it with our readers, with an attempt to translate it and some observations.

1. The translation

Supreme strength of the unknown Father, His first born, principle of feeling and intelligence, source of light, rule of nature, glory of the Gods, proof of their existence, eye of the world; blazing radiance of the Olympus, of which it is only allowed to perceive the Father placed above the World; and conceive the great God; You, who in your immense towers rule the Universe and its revolutions: because you journey in its midways, giving to the upper Worlds a temperate warmth, and dictating your laws to the sacred stars of the Gods, because you are placed in the fourth orbit; and your number has been assigned to you by the rightful reason, so that as far from the beginning you manifest us a double tetra-chord.


The Latium calls you the Sun, because, after the Father, you are the only source of light. Twelve rays crown your sacred head, because you are forming that many hours. Four steeds are harnessed to your carriage, because you are taming the quadrille formed by the Elements. As you are dissipating the darknesses, you manifest the light of the heavens, you are called Phoebus who discovers the mysteries of the future; and Lyeus, because you dissipate the mysteries of the night. The Nil adores you under the name of Serapis; Memphis, under the one of Osiris. In the festivals of Winter (Hyver), you are called Mithra, Pluton, the barbarian Typhon. You are revered also under the names of the handsome Atys, and of the cherished child of the plow. In the burning Lybia you are Ammon; and in Biblos, Adonis. Therefore, the whole Universe invokes you under different names.


I salute, You, true face of the Gods, image of your Father, you of which three letters, that gives a value in numbers of six hundred height, form the sacred name, the surname and the omen. Grant us, o Father, to climb into the ethereal assemblies of the Spirit; and to contemplate, through the blessing of your sacred name, the blazing of the heavenly torches.’

2. Some observations 

This hymn, composed in the taste (manner) of Orpheus’s hymns, is especially remarkable because we find in it the exposition of the ideas that the Ancients were having of the Sun, of its Maker. His Father was,’ the Great God, the unknown Father, that dwells beyond the sensible world; he was his first born, his most perfect image, the eye of the world, the source of knowledge and all light. Ruler of all the sensible world, he was dwelling in its middle’, and likewise forming the double tetra-chord, or the two quarts, that we have spoken before, that we represent here as a double lyre, and due to that the Sun got the name of Mises.

We see also here the confirmation of what we have suggested, that the Sun was the supreme God of all the nations and that they differ only in the names they were giving to him, being called Osiris by the inhabitants of Memphis, Serapis by those of another part of Egypte, Ammon in Lybia, Adonis in Syria, Atys in phrygia, Phoebus in Greece, etc.,

We see also, that two relatively different names were given at Summer or in Winter; that those of Mithra, Pluton and Typhon were related to the Winter Sun; that the Sun is the same as Bacchus; because this star is here called Lyeus, which was a name absolutely proper to Bacchus, as the fire that dissipates darkness and black grief.

Also, Plutarch was assuring that Adonis, which is here one of the names of the Sun, was the same with Bacchus, and we cannot doubt it when we take a glance to the Hymn to Adonis by Orpheus, who is called ‘the excellent Genius of the multiplied names; male and female; two horned; who dies and fires itself back with the years, who sometimes lives in the Tartarus, sometimes finds himself in the Heavens; who bears the earth with abundant fruits, who indulges in hunting and of whom fair-haired Prosperpine was the mother.’

Let’s start with this last aspect: If Adonis is called ‘the son of fair-haired Prosperpine’, that is a quality that is also common with the ancient Bacchus; we will see late, when we will give the narrative of Nonnus’s poem on Bacchus, that he was the son of Prosperpine and Iou.

We will also see that he is called Zagreus; but this word we couldn’t discover until now the origin, is perfectly consistent with one of the preceding attribute of Adonis and which is depicting him as indulging in hunting. Zagreus, for Za-agreus, meaning a great, fearless hunter.

The attribute ‘two horned’ mirrors to the bull aspect given to Bacchus; the same with ‘ male and female’.

Now as for the names by which Adonis is represented as ‘dying’ and ‘resurrecting with the years’; ‘sometimes in the underworld, sometimes in the Heavens’, ‘ bearing the earth with abundant fruits’, they prove without any doubt that Adonis was the Sun, that it was his name as Lord of the Universe.

Bacchus appears in the same hymn, under another aspect that i have not seen elsewhere; he is designated by these words: ‘Curvi & puer aratri’ (The dear son of the Plough). This dear son, it was him one would invoke in the Mysteries of Ceres under the name of Iackus and was he considered the son of Jupiter and Prosperpine, or Ceres herself, according to others. Here he is represented as a child with a van, the emblem of agriculture. (note: Iacchus is also known as ‘Triptolemus’ which means ‘opening furrows with a plough’, hence the van or cart- See Pluche, ‘Histoire du Ciel’, page 411).

Last but not least, our last figure, Bacchus-Hyes. This hymn presents an enigmatic aspect of the Sun, which is explained by one of the names of Bacchus, Hyes, as Legrand and Grandis have noticed. This name is composed of three letters and together their value is of 608: Y has a value of 400; H of 8; and S of 200.

But this name means rainy, an aspect that fits the Sun-Bacchus as master and moderator of the humid Nature.

This name also offers the meaning of omen, because one would cast omens from the rain, from a rainy year, and it is the name of a constellation, the Hyades, considered as a rainy constellation and were regarded as the nannies of Bacchus.


Original French



Columbia University Press, 1977 English translation.

Martianus Capella’s

 ‘Wedding of Philologia and Mercur’

original Latin


and about

Martianus Capella’s

life and legacy



Antoine Court de Gebelin- Martianus Capella’s ‘Hymn To The Sun, Under The Name Of Bacchus’

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