Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator
(c. 485 - c. 585), commonly known as Cassiodorus
, was a Roman
statesman and great writer, serving in the administration of Theodoric the Great
, king of the Ostrogoths
was part of his surname not his rank.
Cassiodorus was born at Scylletium
) in southern Italy
, of a family that was apparently of Syrian origin. He began his career as councillor to his father, the governor of Sicily
, and made a name for himself while still very young as learned in the law. During his working life, as quaestor
c. 507-511, as a consul
in 514, then as magister officiorum
under Theodoric, then under the regency for Theodoric's young successor, Athalaric
, Cassiodorus kept copious records and letterbooks concerning public affairs. At the Gothic court, his literary skill that seems so mannered and rhetorical to a modern reader was accounted so remarkable that, whenever he was in Ravenna
, significant public documents were often entrusted to him for drafting. His culminating appointment was as praetorian prefect
for Italy, effectively the prime ministership of the Ostrogothic civil government and a high honor to finish any career.
James O'Donnell notes:
- "it is almost indisputable that he accepted advancement in 523 as the immediate successor of Boethius, who was then falling from grace after less than a year as magister officiorum, and who was sent to prison and later executed. In addition, Boethius' father-in-law (and step-father) Symmachus, by this time a distinguished elder statesman, followed Boethius to the block within a year. All this was a result of the worsening split between the ancient senatorial aristocracy centered in Rome and the adherents of Gothic rule at Ravenna. But to read Cassiodorus' Variae one would never suspect such goings-on."
There is no mention in Cassiodorus' selection of official correspondence of the death of Boethius.
Athalaric died in early 534, and the remainder of Cassiodorus' public career was engulfed by the Byzantine reconquest and dynastic intrigue among the Ostrogoths. His last letters were drafted in the name of Witigis. Cassiodorus' successor was appointed from Constantinople.
Around 537-38, he left Italy for Constantinople where he remained almost two decades, concentrating on religious questions. He noticeably met Junilius, the quaestor of Justinianus. His constantinopolitean journey contributed to the improvement of his religious knowledge.
He spent his career trying to bridge the cultural divides that were causing fragmentation in the 6th century between East and West, Greek culture and Latin, Roman and Goth, and Christian people with their Arian ruler. He speaks fondly in his Institutiones of Dionysius Exiguus, the calculator of the Anno Domini era.
In his retirement he founded the monastery of Vivarium on his family estates on the shores of the Ionian Sea, and his writings turned to religion. The twin structure of the Vivarium was to permit coenobitic monks and hermits to coexist. Cassiodorus also established a library where, at the very close of the classical period, he attempted to bring Greek learning to Latin readers and preserve texts both sacred and secular for future generations. As its unofficial librarian, Cassiodorus not only collected as many manuscripts as he could, he also wrote treatises aimed at instructing his monks in the proper uses of reading and methods for copying texts accurately. In the end, however, the library at Vivarium was dispersed and lost, though it was still active ca. 630, when the monks brought the relics of Saint Agathius from Constantinople, to whom they dedicated a spring-fed fountain shrine that still exists.
- Laudes (very fragmentary published panegyrics on public occasions)
- Chronica, (ending at 519) uniting all world history in one sequence of rulers, a union of Goth and Roman antecedents, flattering Goth sensibilities as the sequence neared the date of composition
- Gothic History (526-533), survives only in Jordanes' abbreviation, which must be considered a separate work
- Variae epistolae (537), Theodoric's state papers. Editio princeps by M. Accurius (1533). English translations by Thomas Hodgkin The Letters of Cassiodorus (1886); S.J.B. Barnish Cassiodorus: Variae (Liverpool: University Press, 1992) ISBN 0-85323-436-1
- Expositio psalmorum (Exposition of the Psalms)
- De anima ("On the Soul") (540)
- Institutiones Divinarum et Saecularium Litterarum (543-555)
- De Artibus ac Disciplinis Liberalium Litterarum ("On the Liberal Arts")
- Codex Grandior (a version of the Bible)
- James J. O'Donnell (1979). Cassiodorus (Berkeley: University of California Press,). On-line e-text.