Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Decimus Magnus Ausonius

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AUSONIUS, DECIMTJS MAGNUS, a Koman poet of the 4th century, was the son of an eminent physician, and born at Burdigala (Bordeaux} about 310 A.D. His education was conducted with unusual care, either because his genius was very promising, or because the scheme of his nativity, which had been cast by his maternal grandfather, was found to promise great fame and advancement. He made extraordinary progress in classical learning ; and, after completing his studies at Toulouse, he practised for a time at the bar in his- native place. At the age of thirty he became a teacher of grammar, and soon afterwards was promoted to the professorship of rhetoric. In this office he acquired so great a reputation that he was appointed pre ceptor to Gratian, the Emperor Valentinian s son. The rewards and honours conferred on him for the faithful discharge of his duties, prove the truth of Juvenal s maxim that when Fortune pleases she can raise a man from the humble rank of rhetorician to the dignity of consul. He was appointed consul by the Emperor Gratian in the year 379, after having filled other important offices ; for besides the dignity of quaestor, to which he had been nominated by Valentinian, he was made prefect of Latium, of Libya, and of Gaul, after that prince s death. His speech, returning thanks to Gratian on his promotion to the consulship, is a good specimen of high-flown rhetorical flattery. The time of his death is uncertain, but he was alive in 388, and probably survived till about 394. From references in his works he appears to have been a convert to Christianity. Of his prose writings, there are extant the Actio ad Gratianum, the Periochce (or summaries) in Iliadem et Odysseam, and one or two of the Epistolce. The principal pieces in verse are the Epigrammata, some of which are extremely felicitous ; the Parentalia and Com- mcmoratio Professorum Burdigalensium, which give interesting details concerning his relations and literary friends ; the Epistolce ; and, finally, the Idyllia, a collection of twenty small poems, the most famous of which are the Cento Nuptialis, an obscene selection of lines from Virgil, and the Mosella, a descriptive poem on the river Moselle, containing some good passages. Ausonius was rather a man of letters than a poet ; his wide reading supplied him with materials for verse, but his works exhibit no traces of a true poetic spirit ; even his versification, though ingenious, is frequently defec tive. The best editions of his works are those of Tollius (Amster dam, 1669), and Souchay (Paris, 1730), and the Bipontine (1785). The Mosella has been edited separately by Bocking (1828, 1842).