the grammarian. Ambrosius Aurelius Theodosius Macrobius
are the names usually prefixed to the works of this author. One MS. is said to add the designation Oriniocensis,
which in a second appears under the form Ornicensis
words supposed to be corruptions of Oneirocensis,
and to bear reference to the commentary on the dream (ὄνειρος
) of Scipio; in a third we meet with the epithet Sicetini,
which some critics have proposed to derive from Sicca
in Numidia, others from Sicenus
one of the Sporades. Both Parma and Ravenna have claimed the honour of giving him birth, but we have no evidence of a satisfactory description to determine the place of his nativity. We can, however, pronounce with certainty, upon his own express testimony (Sat.
i. praef.), that he was not a Roman, and that Latin was to him a foreign tongue, while from the hellenic idioms with which his style abounds we should be led to conclude that he was a Greek. From the personages whom he introduces in the Saturnalia, and represents as his contemporaries, we are entitled to conclude that he lived about the beginning of the fifth century, but of his personal history or of the social position which he occupied we know absolutely nothing.
In the Codex Theodosianus, it is true, a law of Constantine, belonging to the year A. D. 326, is preserved, addressed to a certain Maximianus Macrobius, another of Honorius (A. D. 399) addressed to Macrobius, propraefect of the Spains, another of Arcadius and Honorius (A. D. 400), addressed to Vincentius, praetorian praefect of the Gauls, in which mention is made of a Macrobius as Vicarius;
another of Honorius (A. D. 410), addressed to Macrobius, proconsul of Africa; and a rescript of Honorius and Theodosius (A. D. 422), addressed to Florentius, praefect of the city, in which it is set forth, that in consideration of the merits of Macrobius (styled Vir illustris),
the office of praepositus sacri cubiculi shall from that time forward be esteemed as equal in dignity to those of the praetorian praefect, of the praefect of the city, and of the magister militum; but we possess no clue which would lead us to identify any of these dignitaries with the ancestors or kindred of the grammarian, or with the grammarian himself.
In codices he is generally termed V. C. ET INL., that is, Vir clars
) et inlustris,
but no information is conveyed by such vague complimentary titles.
It has been maintained that he is the Theodosius to whom Avianus dedicates his fables, a proposition scarcely worth combating, even if we could fix with certainty the epoch to which these fables belong. [AVIANUS.] When we state, therefore, that Macrobius flourished in the age of Honorius and Theodosius, that he was probably a Greek, and that he had a son named Eustathius, we include every thing that can be asserted with confidence or conjectured with plausibility.
The works which have descended to us are,
consisting of a series of curious and valuable dissertations on history, mythology, criticism, and various points of antiquarian research, supposed to have been delivered during the holidays of the Saturnalia at the house of Vettius Praetextatus, who was invested with the highest offices of state under Valentinian and Valens.
The form of the work is avowedly copied from the dialogues of Plato, especially the Banquet: in substance it bears a strong resemblance to the Noctes Atticae of A. Gellius, from whom, as well as from Plutarch, much has been borrowed.
It is in fact a sort of commonplace book, in which information collected from a great variety of sources, many of which are now lost, is arranged with some attention to system, and brought to bear upon a limited number of subjects.
The individual who discourses most largely is Praetextatus himself, but the celebrated Aurelius Symmachus, Flavianus the brother of Symmachus, Caecina Albinus, Servius the grammarian, and several other learned men of less note, are present during the conversations, and take a part in the debates.
The author does not appear in his own person, except in the introduction addressed to his son Eustathius; but a pleader named Postumianus relates to a friend Decius the account, which he had received from a rhetorician Eusebius, who had been present during the greater part of the discussions, both of what he had himself heard and of what he had learned from others with regard to the proceedings during the period when he had been absent. Such is the clumsy machinery of the piece.
The first book is occupied with an inquiry into the attributes and festivals of Saturnus and Janus, a complete history and analysis of the Roman calendar, and an exposition of the theory according to which all deities and all modes of worship might be deduced from the worship of the sun.
The second book commences with a collection of bon mots, ascribed to the most celebrated wits of antiquity, among whom Cicero and Augustus hold a conspicuous place; to these are appended a series of essays on matters connected with the pleasures of the table, a description of some choice fishes and fruits, and a chapter on the sumptuary laws.
The four following books are devoted to criticisms on Virgil.
In the third is pointed out the deep and accurate acquaintance with holy rites possessed by the poet; the fourth illustrates his rhetorical skill; in the fifth he is compared with Homer, and numerous passages are adduced imitated from the Iliad
; the sixth contains a catalogue of the obligations which he owed to his own countrymen.
The seventh book is of a more miscellaneous character than the preceding, comprising among other matters an investigation of various questions connected with the physiology of the human frame, such as the comparative digestibility of different kinds of food, why persons who whirl round in a circle become affected with giddiness, why shame or joy calls up a blush upon the cheek, why fear produces paleness, and in general in what way the brain exercises an influence upon the members of the body.
A tract which was greatly admired and extensively studied during the middle ages. The Dream of Scipio, contained in the sixth book of Cicero de Republica [CICERO, p. 729], is taken as a text, which suggests a succession of discourses on the physical constitution of the universe, according to the views of the New Platonists, together with notices of some of their peculiar tenets on mind as well as matter. Barthius has conjectured that this commentary ought to be held as forming part of the Saturnalia, and that it constituted the proceedings of the third day.
He founded his opinion upon a MS. which actually opened with the words Macrobii Th. V. C. et inl. commentariorum tertiae diei Saturnaliorum liber primus incipit,
and upon the consideration that an exposition of the occult meaning of Cicero might with propriety follow a somewhat similar development of the sense of Virgil. On the other hand, it must be remarked that the commentary consists of a number of continuous essays, while the form of a dialogue is maintained throughout the Saturnalia, the remarks of the auditors being freely interspersed in the latter, while in the former there is no indication given of the presence of listeners.
III. De Differentiis et Societatibus Graeci Latinique Verbi,
a treatise purely grammatical. We do not possess the original work as it proceeded from the hand of Macrobius, but merely an abridgement by a certain Joannes, whom Pithou has thought fit to identify with Joannes Scotus, who lived in the time of Charles the Bald.
A controversy has been maintained with considerable animation upon the religious opinions of Macrobius.
The assailants of Christianity having asserted that no pagan writer had recorded the massacre of the Innocents by Herod, found it necessary to get rid of the direct testimony to the fact contained in the Saturnalia (2.4), by endeavouring to prove that the author was a Christian.
The position seems wholly untenable. Not only is an absolute silence preserved throughout the dialogues with regard to the new faith, but the persons present express their warm admiration of the sanctity and theological opinions of Praetextatus, who was a heathen priest; and terms of reverence towards various divinities are employed, with a degree of freedom and frankness which would not have been tolerated in that age by a believer, and would indeed have been looked upon as amounting to apostacy. On the other hand, the phrases which are supposed to wear a scriptural air, "Deus omnium fabricator," " Deus opifex omnes sensus in capite locavit" (Sat.
7.5, 14), involve no doctrine which was not fully recognised by the Neo-Platonists.
Editions of the
Commentarius and of the
The Editio Princeps of the Commentarius and of the Saturnalia was printed at Venice by Jenson, fol. 1472.
The text was gradually improved by Camerarius, fol. Basil. 1535
; by Carrio, 8vo. Paris, H. Stephan. 1585
; by J. J. Pontanus, 8vo. Lug. Bat. 1597, reprinted with corrections 1628
; by Gronovius, 8vo. Lug. Bat. 1670
, reprinted, with some improvements, but omitting a portion of the notes, 8vo. Patav. 1736
; and by Zeunius, 8vo. Lips. 1774
. No really good edition of Macrobius has ever appeared, but that of Gronovius is the best.
Editions of the De Differentiis
The tract De Differentiis was first published at Paris, 8vo. 1583, by H. Stephens
, and again at the same place by Obsopaeus, 8vo. 1588
It will be found in the collection of Putschius, 4to. Hannov. 1605, p. 2727
, and in the editions of Pontanus
, and Zeunius
; see also Endlicher, Analect. Gramm.
Two French translations of Macrobius appeared at Paris in the same year (1826), one by Ch. de Rosoy
, the other by an individual who prefixes his initials only, C. G. D. R. Y.
There is no English version.
39.12; Pontanus, Comment. in Macrob.;
Cod. Theod. 9. tit. 12. s. 2, 16. tit. 10. s. 15, 8. tit. 5. s. 61, 11. tit. 28. s. 6, 6. tit. 8.
See especially Mahul, Dissertation Historique, Littéraire et Bibliographique sur la Vie et les Ouvrages de Macrobe,
Paris, 1817, reprinted in the Classical Journal,
vols. xx. p. 105, xxi. p. 81, xxii. p. 51, where the materials are all collected and well arranged. Some good remarks on the plan and arrangement of the different parts of the Saturnalia are contained in the essays of L. von Jan, Ueber die ursprüngliche Form der Saturnalien des Macrobius,
inserted in the Münch. gelehrt. Anzeig.
1844. On the Christianity of Macrobius consult Masson, the Slaughter of the Children in Bethlehem, &c.,
8vo. Lond. 1728, appended to Bishop Chandler's Vindication of his Defence of Christianity.