18 September 2019

Rusticus in Luna

The earliest literary appearance of the familiar character of the Man in the Moon, the man punished by being eternally banished on the moon, is in “Rusticus in Luna” (“Ruſticuſ in luna”), a 12th‐century folk rhyme in Latin that is preserved in the book De naturis rerum (On the Nature of Things), by Alexander Neckam. Having only known the rhyme from 19th‐century typeset sources, I wondered if a manuscript copy from the Middle Ages had been digitized for the delight of Internet users, and then, thanks to the Trinity College library, I located one.

An 1866 translation into English by Sabine Baring‐Gould goes
See the rustic in the Moon,
How his bundle weighs him down ;
Thus his sticks the truth reveal
It never profits man to steal.

“Ruſticuſ in luna,” manuscript copy of De naturis rerum, by Alexander Neckam, 13th century. From the collection of Trinity College, Cambridge.


Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, by S. [Sabine] Baring‐Gould, London: Rivingtons, 1866, new ed., 1877, p. 196. Digitized by the Internet Archive from the collection of the John P. Robarts Research Library, University of Toronto.

(1866 printings: UCLA, Oxford.)