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Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (c. 485 - c. 585), commonly known as Cassiodorus, was a Roman statesman and writer, serving in the administration of Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths. Senator was part of his surname not his rank.

Life

Cassiodorus was born at Scylletiummarker, near Catanzaromarker in southern Italymarker. 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 Ravennamarker, 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. Cassiodorus also collaborated with Pope Agapetus I in establishing a library of Greek and Latin texts, which were intended to support a Christian school in Rome.

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 Justinian. His Constantinopolitan 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 Catholic 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 Seamarker, and his writings turned to religion.

Monastery at Vivarium

Vivarium was composed of two main buildings; a coenobitic monastery and a retreat, on the site of the modern Santa Maria de Vetere, for those who desired a more solitary life. The twin structure of the Vivarium was to permit coenobitic monks and hermits to coexist. Vivarium appears not to have been governed by a strict monastic rule, such as that of the Benedictine Order. Rather Cassiodorus' Institutiones was written to guide the monks' studies. To this end, Institutiones focusses largely on texts assumed to have been available in Vivarium's library. The first section of the Institutiones deals with Christian texts, and was intended to be used in combination with the Exposito Psalmorum. The second book deals with the liberal arts and suggests a number of Greek and Latin texts, and to further such studies a scriptorium for copying and translation was established at Vivarium. While he encouraged study of secular subjects, Cassiodorus clearly considered them useful primarily as aids to the study of divinity, much in the same manner as St. Augustine. Nontheless, he did contribute to the preservation and transmission of Greek scientific knowledge. 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.

Works

  • 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' abridgment, 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)


References

  • Institutions of divine and secular learning and On the soul, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press 2004. Translated with notes by James W. Halporn and introduction by Mark Vessey
  • James J. O'Donnell (1979). Cassiodorus (Berkeley: University of California Press,). On-line e-text.
  • James J. O'Donnell, Cassiodorus Univeristy of California Press, Berkely, CA, 1969.

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