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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 (Bordeauxmarker).


Decimius Magnus Ausonius was born in Bordeauxmarker 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 Burdigalamarker (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.


  • Epigramata de diversis rebus. About 120 epigrams on various topics.
  • Ephemeris. A description of the occupations of the day from morning till evening, in various meters, composed before AD 367. Only the beginning and end are preserved.
  • Parentalia. 30 poems of various lengths, mostly in elegiac meter, on deceased relations, composed after his consulate, when he had already been a widower for 36 years.
  • Commemoratio professorum Burdigalensium ('Professores'). A continuation of the Parentalia, dealing with the famous teachers of his native Bourdeaux whom he had known.
  • Epitaphia. 26 epitaphs of heroes from the Trojan war, translated from Greek
  • Caesares. On the 12 emperors described by Suetonius.
  • Ordo nobilium urbium. 14 pieces, dealing with 17 towns (Rome to Burdigala), in hexameters, and composed after the downfall of Maximus in AD 388.
  • Ludus VII Sapientium. A kind of puppet play in which the seven wise men appear successively and have their say.
  • The so-called 'Idyllia'. 20 pieces are grouped under this arbitrary title, the most famous of which is the
    • Mosella. It also includes
    • griphus ternarii numeri
    • de aetatibus Hesiodon
    • monosticha de aerumnis Herculis
    • de ambiguitate eligendae vitae
    • de viro bono
    • EST et NON
    • de rosis nascentibus (dub.)
    • versus paschales
    • epicedion in patrem
    • Technopaegnion
    • Cento nuptialis, composed of lines and half-lines of Vergil.
    • Bissula
    • Protrepticus
    • Genethliacon
  • Eglogarum liber. A collection of all kinds of astronomical and astrological versifications in epic and elegiac meter.
  • Epistolarum liber. 25 verse letters in various meters.
  • Ad Gratianum gratiarum actio pro consulatu. Speech of thanks to the emperor Gratian on the occasion of attaining the consulship, delivered at Trevesmarker in AD 379.
  • Periochae Homeri Iliadis et Odyssiae. A prose summary of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, attributed to but probably not written by Ausonius.
  • Praefatiunculae. Prefaces by the poet to various collections of his poems, including a response to the emperor Theodosius I's request for his poems.

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 Mosellemarker. 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 Bordeauxmarker.

His contribution to the carpe diem topic is also widely known and acclaimed:

Collige, virgo, rosas dum flos novas et nova pubes et memor esto aevumsic properare tuum
Pick, girl, the flowers while they are still fresh and the youth is new, remembering that the time goes by.

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 nearedtheir very goal: then rapid breathing shakes his limbsand 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 Mosellemarker:

....renowned is Celbismarker 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...

Modern reconstruction of Sutter's Mill.
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 Barbegalmarker in southern Francemarker 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 Millmarker in California shows.

Further reading

  • 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.
  • John R. Martindale: Decimius Magnus Ausonius. In: The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire. Vol I, Cambridge 1971, S. 140f.
  • Hagith Sivan: Ausonius of Bordeaux: Genesis of a Gallic Aristocracy,Routledge,1993

See also

External links



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