Cassiodorus Senator, Flavius Magnus Aurelius
Cassiodorus Senator, Flavius Magnus Aurelius
CASSIODORUS SENATOR, FLAVIUS MAGNUS AURELIUS
Sixth-century statesman, author, and scholar; b. Scyllacium, Calabria, c. 485; d. Vivarium, c. 580. Of a Calabrian family in the Ostrogothic civil service, Cassiodorus received an excellent classical education, entered the employment of the Ostrogothic kings, and became quaestor and secretary (507) to theodoric the great (474–526), consul (514), and a little later master of of-fices, the equivalent of prime minister. In this position he worked for a reconciliation between the conquered Romans and the barbarians. In 533 he was made a praetorian prefect by Athalaric and under Vitiges received the title of patrician.
After the Byzantine invasions of northern Italy, the Ostrogothic kingdom crumbled and Cassiodorus attempted to found a school for theology in Rome under Pope Agapetus (535–536); failing, he retired to his villa at Vivarium in Calabria. There he founded a monastery whose monks devoted themselves to studying and copying books of both sacred and profane learning. Though not a monk himself, he followed the religious services as patron.
Writings. The writings of Cassiodorus reflect his interests as statesman and educator. His De origine actibusque Getarum is a history of the Gothic peoples compiled for Theodoric but completed under Athalaric. The text is lost, but the work is cited frequently by Jordanis. Since the Goths were nomads without a written tradition, Cassiodorus collected the tribal legends and arbitrarily identified material found in the classic authors, which referred to the Scythians and Getes, with the Goths in order to compose 12 books in classic style.
His panegyric for Theodoric and other discourses are preserved only in fragments, but the Chronicle that he composed at the request of Eutharic (519) is a world history concentrating in later sections on the achievements of the Goths. Its purpose is apologetic.
About 537 Cassiodorus published his Variae, a collection in 12 books of official letters written while he was in service to the Ostrogothic kings. Composed as models of correspondence rather than as source material for historians, they frequently omit dates and personal names. Books one to five are from the reign of Theodoric; six to eight contain chancellery formulas; eight to ten give the edicts published under Athalaric, Theodahat, and Vitiges; 11 and 12 contain letters Cassiodorus wrote as praetorian prefect and display his love of erudition, human interests, and observations on nature.
Of Ordo generis Cassiodororum, a family genealogy, only fragments remain. Finally, his De anima was written at the end of his public service and represents his leave-taking of the world. Influenced by Augustine and claudianus mamertus, he discusses in it the problems connected with a knowledge of the soul from its origin to its immortal destiny.
Monastic Instructions. For the monks, Cassiodorus composed a series of instructions. His Commentary on the Psalms is a useful, mainly allegorical, explanation based on St. augustine but exhibiting personal opinions also. His Expositio epistolae ad Romanos is a corrected version of the originally heretical work composed by pelagius, in which Cassiodorus established the characteristic readings of the Vulgate text, apparently extending his revision to the whole Bible as is witnessed in the Codex Amiatinus, copied directly from a Cassiodoran manuscript. His Complexiones in epistolis apostolorum is a brief commentary on selected passages from the Gospels and Acts.
The Institutiones divinarum et humanarum lectionum is his most influential work. After deploring the lack of theological schools in the West (preface), the first book gives the monks an account of the theological treatises monks should have read in order to understand Scripture and appreciate the Church's teachings. It enumerates the older commentaries and the works of historians, and remarks that even monks who are educated enough to read or copy manuscripts should be made aware of the Christian heritage. The second book enumerates the secular (liberal) arts necessary for a comprehension of the Scriptures: grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy. It lists also the authors dealing with these subjects. The Institutes is thus a catalogue of the books contained in the library at Vivarium.
Cassiodorus is responsible also for the compendium of the ecclesiastical histories written by Theodoret of Cyr, Socrates, and Sozomen, as translated and condensed by the monk Epiphanius and called the Historia ecclesiastica tripartita. Finally, in his 92d year he wrote a De orthographia at the request of monks seeking rules for copying manuscripts.
Intent on preserving the Church's culture, Cassiodorus performed an invaluable service in supervising translations from the Greek and in recopying all the books he had gathered in his long career. Unlike the monks of St. benedict at monte cassino, who combined physical labor with spiritual contemplation, he insisted on preserving the materials for the intellectual life of the Church. Thus he had an incalculable effect on the Middle Ages even though after his death the library at Vivarium was destroyed, most of its manuscripts finding their way to the papal library in the Lateran. He was not the author of the regula magistri, and the Benedictine rule was not observed at Vivarium. Only later did the Benedictines take over the intellectual interests cultivated by Cassiodorus.
Bibliography: Opera Omnia, 2 v. Patrologica Latina, ed. j. p. migne (Paris 1878–90) 69–70; Chronica, ed. t. mommsen (Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Auctores antiquissimi, 11;1894) 109–161; Variae, ed. t. mommsen and l. traube (ibid. 12;1894); Institutiones, ed. r. a. b. mynors (Oxford 1937). e. k. rand, "The New Cassiodorus," Speculum 13 (1938) 433–447. w. a. baehrens, Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der alchristlichen Literatur (Berlin 1882), 42:186–199, Vivarium and its MSS. w. weinberger, "Handschriften von Vivarium," Miscellanea Francesco Ehrle, 5 v. (Studi e Testi, 37–41; 1924) 4:75–88. p. courcelle, "Le Site du monastère de Cassiodore," Mélanges d'archéologie et d'histoire 55 (1938) 258–307; Les Lettres grecques en Occident: De Macrobe á Cassiodore (rev. ed. Paris 1948) 313–388. g. bardy, Catholicisme 2:618–621. d. m. cappuyns, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912), 11:1350–1408. r. helm, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, 3:915–926. f. blatt, "Remarques sur l'histoire des traductions latines," Classica et Mediaevalia 1 (1938) 217–242. l. szymanski, The Translation Procedure of Epiphanius-Cassiodorus (Catholic University of America, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Latin, Language and Literature 24; 1963), with bibliog.
[f. x. murphy]