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§ 153. Cassiodorus.


I. Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator: Opera omnia, in Migne, “Patrol. Lat.” Tom. LXIX. col. 421-LXX. Reprint of ed. of the Benedictine Jean Garet, Rouen, 1679, 2 vols. 2d ed., Venice, 1729. The Chronicon was edited from MSS. by Theodor Mommsen, Leipzig, 1861, separately published from Abhandlungen der königlichsächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften. Historische Klasse. Bd. III. The Liber de rhetorica, a part of his Institutiones, was edited by C. Halm, Leipzig, 1863.

II. Vita, by Jean Garet, in Migne, LXIX., col. 437–484, and De vita monastica dissertatio by the same, col. 483–498. Denis de Sainte-Marthe: Vie de Cassiodore. Paris, 1694. Olleris: Cassiodore conservateur des livres de l’antiquité latine. Paris, 1841. A. Thorbecke: Cassiodorus Senator. Heidelberg, 1867. A. Franz: Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorius Senator. Breslau, 1872. Ignazio Ciampi: I. Cassiodori nel V. e nel VI. secolo. Imola, 1876. Cf. Du Pin, V. 43–44. Ceillier, XI. 207–254. Teuffel, 1098–1104. A. Ebert, I. 473–490.


Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator979979    Senator was a part of his proper name. Cassiodorius is a variant of Cassiodorus., whose services to classical literature can not be over-estimated, was descended from an old Roman family, famous for its efficiency in state affairs. He was born about 477, at Scyllacium in Bruttium, the present Squillace in Calabria, the extreme southwest division of Italy. His father, whose name was Cassiodorus also, was pretorian prefect to Theodoric, and senator. The son, in recognition of his extraordinary abilities, was made quaestor when about twenty years of age, and continued in the service of Theodoric, as private secretary and indeed prime minister, being also with him on terms of friendship, until the latter’s death, Aug. 30, 526. He directed the administration of Amalasontha, the daughter of Theodoric, during the minority of her son Athalaric, and witnessed her downfall (535), but retained his position near the throne under Theodatus and Vitiges. He was also consul and three times pretorian prefect. He labored earnestly to reconcile the Romans to their conquerors.

But about 540 he withdrew from the cares and dangers of office, and found in the seclusion of his charming paternal domains in Bruttium abundant scope for his activities in the pursuit of knowledge and the preservation of learning. He voluntarily closed one chapter of his life, one, too, full of honor and fame, and opened another which, little as he expected it, was destined to be of world-wide importance. Cassiodorus the statesman became Cassiodorus the monk, and unwittingly exchanged the service of the Goths for the service of humanity. The place of his retirement was the monastery of Viviers (Monasterium Vivariense), at the foot of Mt. Moseius,980980    Var. xii. 15 (Migne, LXIX. col. 867). in southwestern Italy, which he had himself founded and richly endowed. Upon the mountain he built another monastery (Castellense) in which the less accomplished monks seem to have lived, while the society of Viviers was highly cultivated and devoted to literature. Those monks who could do it were employed in copying and correcting classical and Christian MSS., while the others bound books, prepared medicine and cultivated the garden.981981    De Instit. div. litt. c. 28, 30, 31 (Migne, LXX. cols. 1141-1147). He moved his own large library to the monastery and increased it at great expense. Thus Viviers in that sadly confused and degenerate time became an asylum of culture and a fountain of learning. The example he set was happily followed by other monasteries, particularly by the Benedictine, and copying of MSS. was added to the list of monastic duties. By this means the literature of the old classical world has come down to us. And since the initiation of the movement was given by Cassiodorus he deserves to be honored as the link between the old thought and the new. His life thus usefully spent was unusually prolonged. The year of his death is uncertain, but it was between 570 and 580.

The Works of Cassiodorus are quite numerous. They are characterized by great erudition, ingenuity and labor, but disfigured by an incorrect and artificial style. Some were written while a statesman, more while a monk.982982    The order here followed is that of Migne.

1. The most important is the Miscellany,983983    Variarum libri duodecim, in Migne, LXIX. col. 501-880. in twelve books, a collection of about four hundred rescripts and edicts issued by Cassiodorus in the King’s name while Quaestor and Magister officiorum, and in his own name while Pretorian prefect. He gives also in the sixth and seventh books a collection of formulas for the different offices, an idea which found imitation in the Middle Age. From the Miscellany a true insight into the state of Italy in the period can be obtained. One noticeable feature of these rescripts is the amount of animation and variety which Cassiodorus manages to give their naturally stiff and formal contents. This he does by ingeniously changing the style to suit the occasion and often by interweaving a disquisition upon some relevant theme. The work was prepared at the request of friends and as a guide to his successors, and published between 534 and 538.

2. His Ecclesiastical History, called Tripartita,984984    Historica ecclessiastica vocata Tripartita, ibid. col. 879-1214. is a compilation. His own part in it is confined to a revision of the Latin condensation of Sozomen, Socrates and Theodoret, made by Epiphanius Scholasticus. It was designed by Cassiodorus to supply the omissions of Rufinus’ translation of Eusebius, and was indeed with Rufinus the monastic text-book on church history in the Middle Age. But it is by no means a model work, being obscure, inaccurate and confused.

3. The Chronicle,985985    Chronicon, ibid. col. 1213-1248. the earliest of his productions, dating from 519, is a consular list drawn from different sources, with occasional notes of historical events. Prefaced to the list proper, which goes from Junius Brutus to Theodoric, is a very defective list of Assyrian (!), Latin and Roman Kings.

4. The Computation of Easter, written in 562.986986    Computus Paschalis, ibid. col. 1249, 1250.

5. Origin and History of the Goths, originally in twelve books, but now extant only in the excerpt of Jordanis.987987    De Getarum sive Gothorum origine et rebus gestis, ibid. 1251-1296. In it Cassiodorus reveals his great desire to cultivate friendship between the Goths and the Romans. It dates from about 534.

6. Exposition of the Psalter.988988    Expositio in Psalterium. Migne, LXX. col. 9-1056. This is by far the longest, as it was in the Middle Age the most influential, of his works. It was prepared in Viviers, and was begun before but finished after the Institutes989989    Inst. I. 4. 1. 1. (Migne, LXX. col. 1115) “Sequitur qui nobis primus est in commentatorum labore.” (see below). Its chief source is Augustin. The exposition is thorough in its way. Its peculiarities are in its mystic use of numbers, and its drafts upon profane science, particularly rhetoric.990990    The Expositio in Canticum, which comes next in the editions, is now thought to be by another author. So Garet (Migne, LXX. col. 1055).

7. Institutions of Sacred and Secular Letters,991991    Institutiones divinarum et secularium lectionum. Ibid. col. 1105-1220. from 644, in two books,992992    So Ebert l. 477. Their common titles are (a) De institutione divinarum litterarum. (b) De artibus et disciplinis liberalium litterarum. which are commonly regarded as independent works. The first book is a sort of theological encyclopaedia, intended by Cassiodorus primarily for his own monks. It therefore refers to different authors which were to be found in their library. It is in thirty-three chapters—a division pointing to the thirty-three years of our Lord’s life—which treat successively of the books of the Bible, what authors to read upon them, the arrangement of the books, church history and its chief writers, and the scheme he had devised for usefully employing the monks in copying MSS., or, if not sufficiently educated, in manual labor of various kinds. In the second book he treats in an elementary way of the seven liberal arts (grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy).

8. On Orthography,993993    De orthographia. Migne, LXX., col. 1239-1270. a work of his ninety-third year,994994    Prefatio. Ibid. col. 1241, 1. 9. and a mere collection of extracts from the pertinent literature in his library.

9. The Soul,995995    De anima. Ibid. col. 1279-1308. written at the request of friends shortly after the publication of his Miscellany. It is rather the product of learning than of thought. It treats of the soul, its nature, capacities and final destiny.

10. Notes upon some verses in the Epistles, Acts of the Apostles, and Apocalypse996996    Complexiones in Epistolas et Actus apostolorum necnon in Apocalypsim. Ibid. col. 1321-1418. This was a product of his monastic period, strangely forgotten in the Middle Age. It was unknown to Garet, but found at Verona and published by Maffei in 1702. Besides these a Commentarium de oratione et de octo partibus orationis is attributed to him and so published.997997    Ibid. col. 1219-1240. But its authorship is doubtful.



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