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[Click on the footnote number and you will jump down to the footnote, click on that number again at the footnote, and you will leap back to your place in the text. — Elf.Ed.]

From De Die Natale, by Censorinus, translated into English by William Maude, New York: The Cambridge Encyclopedia Co., 1900; pp. 1 to 8.









Translator’s Preface 1

Memoir of Censorinus 5

   I. — Music 9

  II. — Music of the Spheres 10

 III. — Various Stages of Life 11

  IV. — Old Age 13

   V. — Time 14

  VI. — The Ludi Saeculares 15

 VII. — The Great Year 20

VIII. — The Natural Year 25

  IX. — The Ten Months’ Year 27

   X. — The Historical Period 30

  XI. — The Months 33

 XII. — The Day 36

XIII. — The Divisons of the Day 58





The “Natal Day” of Censorinus is the only work of classical antiquity which contains any copious collection of dates; and on that account as well as many others it possesses a very high value to the student of history. The attribution of a divine quality to music; the curious speculations of Pythagoras with regard to the distances of the Sun and planets and their supposed musical arrangement; the various stages of human life and their marks; the history of the Ludi Sæculares; the various methods of intercalation employed by the ancients to harmonize the solar and lunar years; the arrangement of the Egyptian calendar; the various intervals accorded to the Divine Year; the Lifetimes of the Earth and the Precession of the Equinoxes; the Greek pentæteris and Roman lustrum; the various determinations of the ancients regarding the solar year; the ten months’ year of Alba and Rome; the jugglery of the pontiffs with the Roman calendar; the calendar reform of Julius Cæsar; the origin of the Olympiads; the Worship of Augustus Cæsar as the Son of God; the various æras, both Chaldean, Egyptian, Greek and Roman, which had been used for the computation of time; the festivals of Greece and Rome; the names of the months and their origin; the divisions of the day; the use of the clepsydra or water-clock for determining the hours; these and many other subjects relating to astronomy, astrology, religion and history are to be found in Censorinus, and as to many of them, they are to be found in this work only. Censorinus has never before been translated into English. The original of the present version is Nisard’s Latin and French edition of 1858, which, in turn, is from the edition of Havercamp, Leyden, 1743, reprinted 1767, 8vo.



Censorinus, in the only book we have from his pen, makes known to us only his country and the epoch in which he lived; all else must be drawn from conjecture. He was a Roman and he lived in the third century of the christian æra. His surname of Censorinus belongs to the Marcia family, one of the most ancient and illustrious of Rome, a circumstance which has induced some critics to identify him with this family; while other have thought that he bore the common prænomen of Caius. This family, originally plebian, had given to Rome a king, prætors, consuls and generals. The particular branch of Censorinus owes its lustre to C. Marcius Rutilus, the first plebian censor of Rome, (A.U. 403) but especially to him,1 who when he was called for the second time to the supreme functions of the censorship (A.U. 488), censured the people in the forum, for having twice conferred upon him such power and who by his great qualities merited the name of Censorinus. History cites after this, a curule ædile2 who became consul with M. Manilius (A.U. 605), then censor (A.U. 606); an admiral,3 unfortunate in the war against Mithridates; an orator,4 celebrated during the youth time of Cicero; a senator distinguished by his eloquence, who courageously perished in the famous defeat of Crassus by the Parthians; a prætor5 elevated by the favour of Marc Antonius to the consulate (A.U. 715) and finally he who was made consul6 with C. Asinius Gallus (A.U. 746).

This last named Censorinus was the friend of Caius Cæsar, the son of Julia and grandson of Augustus, and a patron of the arts and poetry. Horace, who was one of the clients of Censorinus, and was able 6 to give him, for the anniversary of his birth, neither gold cup nor pictures, nor statuary, as was the usage, yet occupied himself one whole year, to addressing him in verse, and made him feel, with the just pride of a poet, the great value of such a present.

The Marcian family, so illustrious under the Republic, even attained to the imperial dignity, if we include in it the Censorinus proclaimed emperor in A.D. 270 and with whom our author is sometimes confounded. But this was less the summit than the abyss attained by those who bore the name Censorinus. This Censorinus, whom history is pleased to enumerate by the titles of valiant in war and illustrious senator, was twice consul, twice prætorian præfect, three times præfect of Rome, four times proconsul, three times consular lieutenant, twice prætorian lieutenant, four times ædile, three times questor; as well as ambassador in Persia and Sarmatia. From this retreat he was called to the empire by the discontented troops under Claudius II., and by reason of his severity was killed at the end of a seven days’ reign by those who had chosen him. The historian who gives these facts adds that the descendants of Censorinus, flying from Rome and a magnificent palace, formerly the property of the emperor Titus, retired some to Thrace and some to Bithynia. The incredible anarchy of this time, rendered our author the witness of the violent death of about twenty emperors. Indeed the year in which he wrote his book, A.D. 238, saw two killed at the same time. Our author must have witnessed the vicissitudes of the emperor Censorinus, a fat that enable him to rejoice, philosopher that he was, at the mediocrity of his own fortune.

Thus placed by his birth, between the Censorinus of Horace, rich, powerful, intimate with the grandson of the emperor and the patron of poets, and the other, who for a few days was master of the world, our author lived poor, obscure, studious, and without influence. His patron was a certain Cerellius, who is only known to us through Censorinus. If we accept literally the praise given him, we must see in this Cerellius one who was worthy of the veneration of the world, a man who “was elevated to the height of all virtues and approached the immortal nature of the gods; the ancient sages; so famous, would have praised him as master and chosen him as their model, one whom the most eloquent could not eulogise, nor the most learned instruct; of whom everybody in the Roman empire, wished for, or envied his friendship; and whose eloquence, admired by his contemporaries, deserved the admiration of future centuries.”

But taking from this praise the exaggeration of gratitude and disengaging 7 the truth from a mass of hyperbole, we see merely that Cerellius, a Roman knight, shone in a single province, where he had exercised municipal functions and the dignity of a sacerdoce; possibly with the talent appropriate to the mediocrity of these offices; and that his eloquence, so much lauded, had for its principal audience the tribunals of the province and only very rarely the officers of the imperial palace. But Censorinus owed all to this Cerellius, who was sufficiently powerful to secure him some modest honours; sufficiently lettered to render the connection profitable; and sufficiently rich to afford the gratification of this luxury. That which appears to have mainly interested Censorinus was the fact that his patron was so generous as to accept this work of his client as a precious gift.

This is he to whom Censorinus dedicated his book; he called it De die Natale, because he composed it for the birthday of Cerellius, “the day which he religiously celebrates each year as the day of his birth.” He wrote in the second half of the year, A.U. 991 (A.D. 238,) or at the commencement of the reign of Gordian III., under the consulate of Ulpius and of Pontianus, the epoch of which he himself took care to fix, less to date his work than not to leave posterity ignorant of what age had produced Cerellius.

Of the details which fell within his plan as to the institution of days, of years, of cycles and of the principal æras used by the Romans and some other nations of antiquity, Censorinus searches with a somewhat vague curiosity and is inclined to digress from the subject and make researches not always new but generally interesting, on the origin of man, on generation, on certain religious customs, on the aspect of the stars, on music, and on astronomy. There are many things in this treatise, so briefly treated that some critics, those who detect abridgements in many of the books of antiquity, have thought that this was merely an epitome of a larger work by Censorinus, addressed under the same title to Cerellius. He had been most useful to the older chronologists, in fixing the date of many ancient events; and Scaliger, an excellent judge, has said of Censorinus: Eximius ille, et doctissimus temporum et antiquitatis vindex.

All the medieval writers who have spoken of this work, have accorded it praise; there are some who call it a Golden Book. Sidonius Apollinaris and Cassiodorus have placed the author amongst the most learned men whom Rome produced. Even the moderns have praised his erudition, his exactitude, his clearness, and his eloquence. His book exhibits none of that bad taste so common to his æra and but few expressions that are not classical. Censorinus was certainly one 8 of the most elegant writers of his time; he is, for example, much superior in style to the Augustan historians, of whom some were his contemporaries. Assuming his alleged æra to be genuine, his was the epoch of the lawyers (legistes). We presume he did not know Aulus Gellius or Apuleius, both born before him, but Papinian and his disciples, Paulus, Ulpian, Calistratus, and Hermogenes, who according to Lampridinus took part in the councils of Alexander Severus, may not have been strangers to him.

Censorinus was not only a philosopher, as his work indicates, he was a distinguished grammarian; he composed De arte grammatica, a work mentioned by Cassiodorus and Priscian and another work on accents, De accentibus, cited by the same authors; but both lost. To Censorinus also has been falsely attributed a book called Indigitamenta, or Sacred books of the Pontiffs. He himself cites the work, and names the author, Granius Flaccus, who dedicated it to the Cæsar.

The editions of Censorinus, until that of Aldus Manutius (1581), contained fifteen other chapters mixed confusedly with his. They treated of physics, geometry, astronomy, measures, etc. Louis Carrion was the first to announce that these chapters, although useful to those who might wish to know the Latin terms of the sciences, according to the remark of Fabricius, did not constitute a part of the work of Censorinus. This may, or may not, be the truth.

Carrion separated them in the edition published in 1583 and in the following editions they are found apart, under the title of Fragmentum incerti scriptoris. Censorinus was printed for the first time at Bologna in 1497, in folio, with Epictetus and selections from other authors. The best edition is that of Havercamp (Leyden, 1743, 8vo.) reprinted in 1767. It is this edition which is followed in the recension of Nisard.

There cannot be the slightest doubt that the text of Censorinus as we have it, has been very carefully scrutinized by the Latin Sacred College, the marks of whose revision appear in many places. Some of these may easily be detected with the aid of the canon of Nicephorus.

In the following translation the first eleven chapters of Censorinus, which relate to gestation, birth, etc., and therefore are only of interest to physiologists, have been omitted.


  1  He was named C. Marcius Rutilus, as the censor of the year A.U. 403.

  2  He was called L. Marcius Censorinus.

 3  He was simply called Censorinus.

 4  C. Censorinus.

 5  Marcius Censorinus.

 6  C. Marcius Censorinus, son of the consul of the year A.U. 715. Censorinus mentions this consulate in his chap. XXII.

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