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Ausonius

Ausonius

Ausonius (Decimus Magnus Ausonius), c.310-c.395, Latin poet and man of letters, b. Bordeaux. He tutored Gratian, who, when he ascended the throne, made Ausonius prefect of Gaul, and finally consul (379). When Gratian died, Ausonius returned to Bordeaux. His work gives a detailed picture of contemporary people and places. Mosella, a description of his journey on the Moselle River, contains his best verse. Among his other works are Parentalia, verse sketches of dead relatives, and Ordo nobilium urbium, a description of 20 leading cities of the Roman world. Ausonius was nominally a Christian, although his works reveal many pagan beliefs.

See H. G. Evelyn-White's Loeb ed. (1968-85); R. P. H. Green, The Works Of Ausonius (1991).

This article is about the Roman poet Ausonius. For John Ausonius, the Swedish murderer, see John Ausonius.

Decimius Magnus Ausonius (ca. 310-395) was a Latin poet and rhetorician, born at Burdigala (Bordeaux).

Biography

Decimius Magnus Ausonius was born in Bordeaux in ca. 310. His father was a noted physician of Greek ancestry and his mother was descended on both sides from long-established aristocratic Gallo-Roman families of southwestern Gaul . Ausonius was given a strict upbringing by his aunt and grandmother, both named Aemilia. He received an excellent education, especially in grammar and rhetoric, but professed that his progress in Greek was unsatisfactory. Having completed his studies, he trained for some time as an advocate, but he preferred teaching. In 334, he established a school of rhetoric in Bordeaux, which was very popular. His most famous pupil was St. Paulinus of Nola, who later became Bishop of Nola.

After thirty years of this work, he was summoned by Valentinian to the imperial court to teach Gratian, the heir-apparent. The prince greatly respected his tutor, and after his accession bestowed on him the highest titles and honours that any Roman (besides from the royal family) could attain, culminating in the consulate in 379. Ausonius also took part in a military campaign against the Alamanni, in 375, and then later he received the Suebian slave girl Bissula as his part of the booty; he later addressed a poem to her.

After the murder of Gratian in 383, Ausonius retired to his estates near Burdigala (now Bordeaux) in Gaul. These supposedly included the land now owned by Château Ausone, which takes its name from him. He appears to have been a late and perhaps not very enthusiastic convert to Christianity. He died about 395.

Works

Although much admired by his contemporaries, the writings of Ausonius have not since been ranked among Latin literature's finest. His style is easy and fluent, and his Mosella is still widely appreciated for its description of life and scenery along the River Moselle. Overall, however, he is generally considered derivative and unoriginal. Edward Gibbon observed in the third volume of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that "the poetical fame of Ausonius condemns the taste of his age." However, he is frequently cited by historians of winemaking, as his works give early evidence of large-scale viniculture in the now-famous wine country around his native Bordeaux.

An interesting little work of his is the "Cento Nuptialis," translated as "A Nuptial Cento" by H.G. Evelyn-White for Loeb Classical Library. Composed entirely of quotations from Virgil, the poem celebrates a wedding culminating in a Defloration of great virtuosity and obscenity:

Back and forth he plies his path and, the cavity reverberating,
thrusts between the bones, and strikes with ivory quill.
And now, their journey covered, wearily they neared
their very goal: then rapid breathing shakes his limbs
and parched mouth, his sweat in rivers flows;
down he slumps bloodlesss; the fluid drips from his groin.

Saw mill

His writings are also remarkable for mentioning, in passing, the working of a water mill sawing marble on a tributary of the Moselle:
"....renowned is Celbis for glorious fish, and that other, as he turns his mill-stones in furious revolutions and drives the shrieking saws through smooth blocks of marble, hears from either bank a ceaseless din..."

The excerpt sheds new light on the development of Roman technology for using water power for different applications. It is one of the rare mentions in Roman literature of water mills used to cut stone, but is a logical consequence of the application of water power to mechanical sawing of stone (and presumably wood also). Earlier references to the widespread use of mills occur in Vitruvius in his De Architectura of circa 25 BC, and the Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder published in 77 AD. Such applications of mills were to multiply again after the fall of the Empire through the Dark ages into the modern era. The mills at Barbegal in southern France are famous for their application of water power to grinding grain to make flour and were built in the first century AD and consisted of 16 mills in a parallel sequence on a hill.

The construction of a saw mill is even simpler than a flour or grinding mill, since no gearing is needed, and the rotary saw blade can be driven direct from the water wheel axle, as the example of Sutter's Mill in California shows.

Literature

  • John R. Martindale: Decimius Magnus Ausonius. In: The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire. Vol I, Cambridge 1971, S. 140f.
  • Altay Coskun: Die gens Ausoniana an der Macht. Untersuchungen zu Decimius Magnus Ausonius und seiner Familie. Prosopographica et Genealogica 8. Oxford 2002, ISBN 1-900934-07-8.

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