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Varro, Terentius.


Gaius, consul B.C. 216 with L. Aemilius Paulus. Varro is said to have been the son of a butcher, to have carried on business himself as a factor in his early years, and to have risen to eminence by pleading the causes of the lower classes against the opposition of the nobility (Livy, xxii. 25; Val. Max. iii. 4, 4). Notwithstanding the strong influence of the aristocracy, he was raised to the consulship by the people, who thought that it only needed a man of energy at the head of an overwhelming force to bring the war against Hannibal to a close, and who, moreover, had an excessive mistrust of the aims and motives of the Senate. His colleague was L. Aemilius Paulus, one of the leaders of the aristocratic party. The two consuls were defeated by Hannibal at the memorable battle of Cannae. (See Hannibal.) The battle was fought by Varro against the advice of Paulus. The Roman army was all but annihilated. Paulus and almost all the officers perished. Varro was one of the few who escaped and reached Venusia in safety, with about seventy horsemen. His conduct after the battle seems to have deserved praise. He proceeded to Canusium, where the remnant of the Roman army had taken refuge, and there adopted every precaution which the exigencies of the case required. His defeat was forgotten in the services he had lately rendered. On his return to the city all classes went out to meet him, and the Senate returned him thanks because he had not despaired of the commonwealth. This marked the determination of patricians and plebeians to work heartily together against the foreign enemy (Livy, xxii. 35-61; Polyb. iii. 106-116; Plut. Fab. 14-18; App. Ann. 17-26). Varro continued to be employed in Italy for several successive years in important military commands till nearly the close of the Punic War.


M. Terentius Varro Reatīnus, a celebrated writer, whose vast and varied erudition in almost every department of literature earned for him the title of the “most learned of the Romans” (Quint.x. i. 95; Dionys. ii. 21; C. D. vi. 2). He was born at Reaté B.C. 116, and was trained under L. Aelius Stilo Praeconinus, and afterwards by Antiochus, a philosopher of the Academy. Varro held a high naval command in the wars against the pirates and Mithridates, and afterwards served as the legatus of Pompeius in Spain in the Civil War, but was compelled to surrender his forces to Caesar (Flor. ii. 13, 29; B.C. i. 38, ii. 17-20). He then passed over into Greece, and shared the fortunes of the Pompeian party till after the battle of Pharsalia, when he obtained the forgiveness of Caesar, who employed him in superintending the collection and arrangement of the great library designed for public use (Iul. 44; Orig. vi. 5). For some years after this period Varro remained in literary seclusion, passing his time chiefly at his country seats near Cumae and Tusculum, occupied with study and composition. Caesar had forced Antony to restore to Varro an estate which he had seized (Cic. Phil. ii. 40, 103), and, perhaps in consequence, upon the formation of the Second Triumvirate his name appeared upon the list of the proscribed; but he succeeded in making his escape, and, after having remained for some time concealed, he obtained the protection of Octavian. His life is said to have been saved by Fufius Calenus (B. C. iv. 47), and it is probable that he recovered a great portion of his estates; but most of his magnificent library had been destroyed (Gell. iii. 10). The remainder of his career was passed in tranquillity, and he continued to labour in his favourite studies. His death took place B.C. 28, when he was in his eighty-ninth year.

Not only was Varro the most learned of Roman scholars, but he was likewise the most voluminous of Roman authors. Gellius (l. c.) states that Varro claimed to have written 490 books before he was seventy-seven: Ausonius gives in round numbers 600 as the total number of books written by Varro (Prof. Burd. xx. 10); and this agrees with a list given by St. Jerome which makes out the writings of Varro to consist of seventy-four different works, containing altogether 620 books. (Cf. also Augustin. De Civ. Dei, vi. 2; and Acad. i. 9.) Hence it would appear that 130 of the books were written in the last twelve years of his life. Of these works only two have survived:

    Extant works of Varro

    De Re Rustica Libri III, still extant, written when the author was eighty years old, and the most important of all the treatises upon ancient agriculture now extant, being far superior to the more voluminous production of Columella, with which alone it can be compared. It is edited by Keil (Halle, 1884 foll.), and in the Scriptores Rei Rusticae Veteres Latini, by Schneider (Leipzig, 1764-1797).
    De Lingua Latina, a grammatical treatise which extended to twenty-four books; but six only (v.-x.) have been preserved, and these in a mutilated condition. The remains of this treatise are particularly valuable, since they have been the means of preserving many terms and forms which would otherwise have been altogether lost, and much curious information is here treasured up connected with the ancient usages, both civil and religious, of the Romans. Editions by Spengel (Berlin, 1826, reëdited 1885); in Didot's collection (Paris, 1875); and by O. Müller (last ed. Leipzig, 1883). The remains of Varro's other grammatical treatises are discussed by Wilmanns (1864). The work entitled Antiquitatum Libri was divided into two sections: Antiquitates Rerum Humanarum, in twenty-five books, and Antiquitates Rerum Divinarum, in sixteen books. It described the political and religious institutions of Rome, and was Varro's greatest work, upon which chiefly his reputation for profound learning was based; but unfortunately only a few fragments of it have come down to us, printed in Merkel's edition of Ovid's Fasti, pp. cvi.-ccxlvii. (1841). With the second section of the work we are, comparatively speaking, familiar, since St. Augustine drew very largely from this source in his De Civitate Dei.

Varro wrote also a collection of biographies called Imagines or Hebdomades in fifteen books, which contain 700 lives or sketches of famous Greeks and Romans, arranged in groups of seven. It is said to have been illustrated with portraits and afterwards to have appeared in a cheaper edition without pictures. Another work, Disciplinae, in nine books, described the “liberal arts,” viz., grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, geometry, arithmetic, astrology, music, medicine, and architecture (see Liberales Artes); and he wrote other works on philosophy (Logistorici in seventy-six books), geography, and law. Among his poetical works were the Saturae, which were composed in a variety of metres and with an admixture of prose. Varro in these pieces copied to a certain extent the productions of Menippus the Gadarene (see Menippus), and hence designated them as Saturae Menippeae s. Cynicae. They appear to have been a series of disquisitions on a vast variety of subjects, frequently, if not uniformly, couched in the shape of dialogue, the object proposed being the inculcation of moral lessons and serious truths in a familiar, playful, and even jocular style. The best editions of the fragments of these Saturae are by Riese (Leipzig, 1865), and Bücheler (with Petronius) (Berlin, 1882). The Sententiae Varronis, a collection of pithy sayings, may possibly have been gathered from the writings of Varro Reatinus, but this is wholly uncertain. They are edited by Devit (Padua, 1843). See Boissier, Études sur M. T. Varron (Paris, 1861); and Ritschl, Die Schriftstellerei des Varro in his Opuscula, iii. 419-505; id. Parerga, pp. 70 foll.


P., a Latin poet of considerable celebrity, surnamed Atacīnus, from the Atax, a river of Gallia Narbonensis, his native province, was born B.C. 32. Of his personal history nothing further is known. He seems to have written, first, an epic on one of Caesar's Gallic wars, called Bellum Sequanicum (Gr. Lat. ii. 497), and Saturae in imitation of Lucilius ( Sat. i. 10, 46); and also at a later time to have written Argonautica, perhaps a free translation of the like work of Apollonius Rhodius; Chorographia, a sort of metrical system of geography and astronomy; and Libri Navales, perhaps a poem on navigation. Only fragments of these productions have survived to the present time.

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