« Aurifaber, Johannes, of Weimar Auso´nius, Decimus Magnus Austin »

Auso´nius, Decimus Magnus

AUSO´NIUS, DECIMUS MAGNUS: Latin poet and rhetor; b. at Burdigalia (Bordeaux) about 310; d. there about 393. His family was of Celtic origin and the poet numbered among his near ancestors members of the Druid class. He received his education at Tolosa and, returning to his native city about 327, established himself as a teacher of grammar and rhetoric, attaining in a career of more than thirty years the reputation of one of the greatest professors of his time. About the year 364 Ausonius probably declared himself formally a Christian, for in the following year he was summoned to Treves as tutor of the young Gratian, eldest son of the Emperor Valentinian I, a post which would have scarcely have been open to him if he had continued to profess the pagan faith. The sincerity of his conversion or rather the depth of his new belief has been made the subject of a long controversy, his writings offering evidence in support of different views. Thus his Versus paschales pro Augusto, falling between the years 367 and 371, express an undoubted adherence to the formulas of the Nicene Creed, while about the year 378 in the Precatio consulis designati he turns once more to the heathen gods, invoking Janus among them. Over Gratian, Ausonius exercised unbounded influence and when the former ascended the throne of the Western Empire in 375 his tutor attained an important position in state affairs and was powerful enough to bestow the highest offices on members of his own family. He made use of his influence to further the cause of education in Gaul by instituting schools of rhetoric in the principal cities and he was active in saving the monuments of the ancient civilization from the iconoclastic fury of the early Christians. In 378 he was made prefect of Gaul and in the following year became consul. This was the climax of his career and was followed by the speedy disappearance of his influence over the emperor, who was now completely under the sway of the great Ambrose. Ausonius felt deeply the loss of power and it has been conjectured that his animosity against Ambrose finds expression in his Mixobarbaron, which some would have to be a travesty in form and matter upon the hymns of the bishop of Milan. Whether his views upon Christianity also underwent an unfavorable change with the decline of his fortunes is uncertain. A poem of the year 379 in which Ausonius commends himself to the aid of Christ as his master, would be decisive on this point were it not for the fact that in the first collection of his poems which he prepared in 383 the Christian element appears as unimportant, while verses quite in the nature of the old pagan hedonism find a very conspicuous place. After the death of Gratian, Ausonius gave himself up to literary work, leading a life of luxurious ease in his native city or on his estates in Aquitania. From this period date the family poems, Parentalia, and the biographic Commemoratio professorum Burdigalensium, which, though far inferior in literary value to his exquisite masterpiece, the Mosella, are of value as sources for the life and thought of his times. It is in this period, too, that Ausonius appears in his most interesting aspect as the representative of the classic spirit and culture battling in vain against the rising spirit of asceticism, which under the inspiration of men like Martin of Tours was rapidly transforming the character of West European civilization. Among the most devoted followers of St. Martin was Paulinus of Nola, a former pupil of Ausonius, and in the letters which passed between the two men this conflict between the old and new finds eloquent expression. Possibly the nearest approximation to the poet’s real views on Christianity may be obtained by considering him solely in the character of a literary craftsman, to whom, by temperament, religion was a more remote influence than art, and who, while lending adherence to the formulas of the Christian faith, continued to find in the old beliefs inspiration and grateful material for the use of his poetic gifts.

(F. Arnold.)

Bibliography: The opuscula of Ausonius have been edited by C. Schenkl, MGH, Auct. ant., v, 2, 1883, and by R. Peiper, in Biblioteca Teubnariana, Leipsic, 1886; they are also in MPL, xix. An excellent edition of the Mosella, with French translation, is that of H. de la Ville de Mirmont, Bordeaux, 1889; consult also idem, De Ausonii Mosella, Paris, 1892; A. Ebert, Geschichte der Litteratur des Mittelalters, i, 294 sqq., Leipsic, 1889; M. Manitius, Geschichte der christlichen lateinischen Poesis, pp. 105 sqq., Stuttgart, 1891; C. Jullian, Ausone et Bordeaux, Bordeaux, 1893; J. W. Mackail, Latin Literature, pp. 265-267, New York, 1895; S. Dill, Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire, especially pp. 141-156, London, 1898.

« Aurifaber, Johannes, of Weimar Auso´nius, Decimus Magnus Austin »


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