previous next

Cassiodo'rus, Magnus Aure'lius

or Cassiodo'rius. The MSS. vary between these two forms of the name, although the former has been generally adopted, was born about A. D. 468, at Scylaceum (Squillace), in the country of the Bruttii, of an ancient, honourable, and wealthy Roman family. His father was at one period secretary to Valentinian the Third, but retired from public life upon the death of that prince and the extinction of the Western Empire. Young Cassiodorus was soon discovered to be a boy of high promise, and his talents were cultivated with anxious assiduity and care. At a very early age his genius, accomplishments, and multifarious learning, attracted the attention and commanded the respect of the first barbarian king of Italy, by whom he was chosen Comes rerum privatarum and eventually Comes sacrarum largitionum, an appointment which placed him at the head of financial affairs. But when Odoacer after a succession of defeats was shut up in Ravenna by Theodoric, Cassiodorus withdrew to his estates in the south, and hastened to recommend himself to the conqueror by persuading his countrymen and the Sicilians to submit without resistance. Hence, after the murder of his former patron, he was received with the greatest distinction by the new sovereign, was nominated to all the highest offices of state in succession, and under a variety of different titles (for the parade and formality of the old court were studiously maintained), regulated for a long series of years the administration of the Ostrogothic power with singular ability, discretion, and success, possessing at once the full confidence of his master and the affection of the people. Perceiving, however, that Theodoric, enfeebled by age, was beginning to yield to the selfish suggestions of evil counsellors and to indulge in cruelty towards his Italian subjects, Cassiodorus wisely resolved to seek shelter from the approaching storm, and, resigning all his honours, betook himself to the country in 524, thus avoiding the wretched fate of Boethius and Symmachus. Recalled after the death of Theodoric, he resumed his position, and continued to discharge the duties of chief minister under Amalasontha, Athalaric, Theodatus, and Vitiges, exerting all his energies to prop their tottering dominion. But when the triumph of Belisarius and the downfall of the Ostrogoths was no longer doubtful, being now 70 years old, he once more retired to his native province, and having founded the monastery of Viviers (Coenobium Vivarienses. Castellense), passed the remainder of his life, which was prolonged until he had nearly completed a century, in the seclusion of the cloister. Here his activity of mind was no less conspicuous than when engaged in the stirring business of the world, and his efforts were directed towards the accomplishment of designs not less important. The great object which he kept steadily in view and prosecuted with infinite labour and unflagging zeal, was to elevate the standard of education among ecclesiastics by inducing them to study the models of classical antiquity, and to extend their knowledge of general literature and science. To accomplish this he formed a library, disbursed large sums in the purchase of MSS., encouraged the monks to copy these with care, and devoted a great portion of his time to labour of this description and to the composition of elementary treatises on history, metaphysics, the seven liberal arts, and divinity, which have rendered him not less celebrated as an author and a man of learning than as a politician and a statesman. The leisure hours which remained he is said to have employed in the construction of philosophical toys, such as sun-dials, water-clocks, everlasting lamps, and the like. The benefit derived from his precepts and example was by no means confined to the establishment over which he presided, nor to the epoch when he flourished. The same system, the advantages of which were soon perceived and appreciated, was gradually introduced into similar institutions, the transcription of ancient works became one of the regular and stated occupations of the monastic life, and thus, in all probability, we are indirectly indebted to Cassiodorus for the preservation of a large proportion of the most precious relics of ancient genius.


Works

The following is a list of all the writings of Cassiodorus with which we are acquainted:--


1.

Variarum (Epistolarum) Libri XII., an assemblage of state papers drawn up by Cassiodorus in accordance with the instructions of the sovereigns whom he served. In the first ten books the author always speaks in the person of the ruler for the time being; in the last two, in his own. The first five contain the ordinances of Theodoric, the sixth and seventh regulations (formulae) with regard to the chief offices of the kingdom, the eighth, ninth, and tenth, the decrees promulgated by the immediate successors of Theodoric, the eleventh and twelfth the edicts published by Cassiodorus himself during the years 534-538, when praefect of the praetorium. This collection is of the greatest historical importance, being our chief and most trustworthy source of information in regard to everything connected with the constitution and internal discipline of the Ostrogothic dominion in Italy. We must not, however, expect to find much that is attractive or worthy of imitation in the style of these documents. While we cannot help admiring the ingenuity displayed in the selection and combination of phrases, moulded for the most part into neat but most artificial forms, and polished with patient toil, we at the same time feel heartily wearied and disgusted by the sustained affectation and declamatory glitter which disfigure every page. The language is full of strange and foreign words, and little attention is paid to the delicacies of syntax, but Funceius is too harsh when he designates it as a mere mass of Gothic solecisms. Perhaps the best description which can be given of the general efiect produced upon the reader by these compositions is contained in the happy expression of Tiraboschi, who characterises the diction of Cassiodorus as " barbara eleganza."

Editions

The Editio Princeps of the "Variarum " was printed under the inspection of Accursius by Henr. Sileceus, at Augsburg, in the month of May, 1533 (fol.), the disquisition " De Anima" being included in the same volume.


2.

Chronicon, a dull, pompous, clumsy summary of Universal History, extending from the creation of the world down to A. D. 519, derived chiefly from Eusebius, Hieronymus, Prosper, and other authorities still accessible. It was drawn up in obedience to the orders of Theodoric, and by no means deserves the respect with which it was regarded in the middle ages, since it is carelessly compiled and full of mistakes.


3.

The origin of this work is sufficiently explained by the title. It contains a complete survey of ecclesiastical history from Constantine down to the younger Theodosius. This, like the Chronicon, is of little value in the present day, since the authorities from which it is taken are still extant, and are infinitely superior both in matter and manner to the epitomizer. Prefixed we have an introduction, in which Cassiodorus gives full scope to his taste for inflated grandiloquence.

Editions

The editio princeps of the Ecclesiastical History was printed by Johannes Schussler, at Augsburg, 1472, wol.


4.

Computus Paschalis sive de Indictionibus, Cyclis Solis et Lunae, &c., containing the calculations necessary for the correct determination of Easter. This treatise belongs to the date 562, and this is the latest year in which we can prove the author to have been alive.


5.

De Orthographia Liber, compiled by Cassiodorus when 93 years old from the works of nine ancient grammarians,--Agnaeus Cornutus, Velius Longus, Curtius Valerianus, Papirianus, Adamantius Martyrius, Eutyches, Caesellius, Lucius Caecilius Vindex, and Priscianus, in addition to whom we find quotations from Varro, Donatus, and Phocas.


6.

De Arte Grammatica ad Donati Mentem, of which a fragment only has been preserved.

Editions

This tract, together with the preceding, will be found in the "Grammaticae Latini Auctores an tiqui" of Putschius, Hanov. 1605, p. 2275 and p. 2322.


7.

De Artibus ac Disciplinis Liberalium Lite rarum, in two books, a compilation from the best authorities, much esteemed and studied during the middle ages. It contains a compendium of the seven liberal arts which were at one time supposed to embrace the whole circuit of human knowledge, --Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectics, Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, Music.

Angelo Mai has recently published from a Vatican MS. some chapters, hitherto unedited, which seem to have formed the conclusion of the work. Classicorum Auctorum e Vat. Codd. vol. iii. p. 349.)


8.

De Anima, on the name, origin, nature, qualities, abode, and future existence of the soul, together with speculations upon other topics connected with the same subject.


9.

De Institutione Divinarum Literarum, an introduction to the profitable reading of the Holy Scriptures, intended for the use of the monks. This is perhaps the most pleasing of all our author's works. His profound and varied knowledge is here displayed to the best advantage, his instructions are conveyed in more plain and simple phraseology than he elsewhere employs, while a truly Christian tone and spirit pervades the whole.


10.

Expositio in Psalmos sive Commenta Psalterii, extracted chiefly from the " Enarrationes" of St. Augustin, although we gather from internal evidence that the exegetical treatises of Hilarius, Ambrosius, Hieronymus, and others upon the same subject, had been carefully consulted. As a matter of course we detect in the copy the same features which distinguish the original, the same love of overstrained allegorical interpretation, the same determination to wring from the plainest and least ambiguous precepts some mystical and esoteric doctrine.


11.

The Expositio in Cantica Canticorum, although breathing a spirit similar to the commentary just described, and set down in all MSS. as the production of Cassiodorus, is throughout so different in style and language from all his other dissertations, that its authenticity has with good reason been called in question.


12.

Complexiones in Epistolas Apostolorum, in Acta et in Apocalypsim. Short illustrations of the apostolic Epistles, the Acts, and Revelations, first brought to light by Scipio Maffei.

Editions

published by Scipio Maffei at Florence from a Verona MS. in 1721, and reprinted at London with the notes of Chandler in 1722, and at Rotterdam in 1723, all in 8vo. These annotations are not considered by theologians of any particular value.

In addition to the above we frequently find two tracts included among the writings of Cassiodorus, one a rhetorical essay entitled " De Schematibus et Tropis," and the other " De Amicitia Liber." Of these the former is now generally ascribed to the renerable Bede, while the latter is believed to have been composed by Petrus Blesensis, archdeacon of London, an ecclesiastic of the twelfth century.


Lost Works

Among his lost works we may name, 1. " Libri XII De Rebus Gestis Gothorum," known to us only through the abridgement of Jornandes; 2. " Liber Titulorum s. Memorialis," short abstracts, apparently, of chapters in holy writ; 3. " Expositio Epistolae ad Romanos," in which the Pelagian heresy was attacked and confuted. The last two, together with the " Complexiones" and several other treatises already mentioned, are enumerated in the preface to the " De Orthographia Liber."


Editions

The first edition of the collected works of Cassiodorus is that published at Paris in 1584, 4to., with the notes of Fornerius; the best and most complete is that published by D. Garet at Rouen, 1679, 2 vols. fol., and reprinted at Venice in 1729.


Further Information

On his life we have Vita Cassiodori, prefixed to the edition of Garet; La Vie de Cassidore avec un Abrégé de l'Histoire des Princes qu'il a servi et des Remarques sur ses Ouvrages, by F. D. de Sainte Marthe, Paris, 1694, 8vo.; and Leben Cassiodor's, by De Buat, in the first volume of the transactions of the Royal Academy of Munich, p. 79. There is frequently much confusion in biographical disquisitions between Cassiodorus the father and Cassiodorus the son, the former having been supposed by many to be the individual who held office under Odoacer, and the latter not to have been born until 479. But the question seems to be set at rest by the 4th epistle of the 1st book of the Variarum, where the father and son are clearly distinguished from each other; and since the latter unquestionably enjoyed a place of trust under Odoacer, whose downfall took place in 490, the young secretary, although still " adolescens," could not by any possibility have been born so late as 479. Some remarks upon this point will be found in Osann, Beiträge zur Gr. und Röm. Literatur Geschichte, vol. ii. p. 160, Cassel. 1839. The different dignities with which he was invested are enumerated, and their nature fully explained, in Manso, Geschichte des Ostgothischen Reichs.

[W.R]

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
519 AD (1)
468 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: