1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cassiodorus
CASSIODORUS (not Cassiodorius), the name of a Syrian family settled at Scyllacium (Squillace) in Bruttii, where it held an influential position in the 5th century A.D. Its most important member was Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (c. 490–585), historian, statesman, and monk. “Senator” (not a title) is the name used by himself in his official correspondence. His father held the offices of comes privatarum and sacrarum largitionum (controller of the emperor’s private revenue and the public exchequer) under Odoacer, and subsequently attached himself to Theodoric, by whom he was appointed corrector (governor) of Bruttii and Lucania, and praefectus praetorio. The son at an early age became consiliarius (legal assessor) to his father, and (probably in 507) quaestor, an official whose chief duty at that time consisted in acting as the mouthpiece of the ruler, and drafting his dispatches. In 514 he was ordinary consul, and at a later date possibly corrector of his native province. At the death of Theodoric (526) he held the office of magister officiorum (chief of the civil service). Under Athalaric he was praefectus praetorio, a post which he retained till about 540, after the triumphal entry of Belisarius into Ravenna, when he retired from public life. With the object of providing for the transmission of divine and human knowledge to later ages, and of securing it against the tide of barbarism which threatened to sweep it away, he founded two monasteries—Vivarium and Castellum—in his ancestral domains at Squillace (others identify the two monasteries). The special duty which he enjoined upon the inmates was the acquisition of knowledge, both sacred and profane, the latter, however, being subordinated to the former. He also collected and emended valuable MSS., which his monks were instructed to copy, and superintended the translation of various Greek works into Latin. He further amused himself with making scientific toys, such as sun-dials and water-clocks. As he is stated to have written one of his treatises at the age of ninety-three, he must have lived till after 580. Whether he belonged to the Benedictine order is uncertain.
The writings of Cassiodorus evince great erudition, ingenuity and labour, but are disfigured by incorrectness and an affected artificiality, and his Latin partakes much of the corruptions of the age. His works are (1) historical and political, (2) theological and grammatical.
1. (a) Variae, the most important of all his writings, in twelve books, published in 537. They contain the decrees of Theodoric and his successors Amalasuntha, Theodahad and Witigis; the regulations of the chief offices of state; the edicts published by Cassiodorus himself when praefectus praetorio. It is the best source of our knowledge of the Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy (ed. T. Mommsen in Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Auctores Antiquissimi, xii., 1894; condensed English translation by T. Hodgkin, 1886).
(b) Chronica, written at the request of Theodoric's son-in-law Eutharic, during whose consulship (519) it was published. It is a dry and inaccurate compilation from various sources, unduly partial to the Goths (ed. T. Mommsen in Mon. Germ. Hist.: Auct. Ant. xi. pt. i., 1893).
(c) Panegyrics on Gothic kings and queens (fragments ed. L. Traube in Mon. Germ. Hist.: Auct. Ant. xii.).
2. (a) De Anima, a discussion on the nature of the soul, at the conclusion of which the author deplores the quarrel between two such great peoples as the Goths and Romans. It seems to have been published with the last part of the Variae.
(b) Institutiones divinarun et humanarum litterarum, an encyclopedia of sacred and profane literature for the monks, and a sketch of the seven liberal arts. It further contains instructions for using the library, and precepts for daily life.
(c) A commentary on the Psalms and short notes (complexiones) on the Pauline epistles, the Acts, and the Apocalypse.
(d) De Orthographia, a compilation made by the author in his ninety-third year from the works of twelve grammarians, ending with his contemporary Priscian (ed. H. Keil, Grammatici Latini, vii.).
The Latin translations of the Antiquities of Josephus and of the ecclesiastical histories of Theodoret, Sozomen and Socrates, under the title of Historia Tripartita (embracing the years 306–439), were carried out under his supervision.
Of his lost works the most important was the Historia Gothorum, written with the object of glorifying the Gothic royal house and proving that the Goths and Romans had long been connected by ties of friendship. It was published during the reign of Athalaric, and appears to have brought the history down to the death of Theodoric. His chief authority for Gothic history and legend was Ablavius (Ablabius). The work is only known to us in the meagre abridgment of Jordanes (ed. T. Mommsen, 1882).