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Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Edit Profile

historian , statesman , author

Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator was a Roman statesman and writer serving in the administration of Theoderic the Great, king of the Ostrogoths. Senator was part of his surname, not his rank.

Background

Cassiodorus was born in 485 on his family's estate at Scylletium, near Catanzaro in Calabria, Italy.

His father had been prefect of the praetorium of Theodoric, king of the Goths, and Cassiodorus followed his father in the same career.

Education

He received the education in philosophy and rhetoric appropriate to the son of a noble family, and by 511 he held the office of quaestor (royal secretary) at the court of the Ostrogothic king Theodoric the Great in Ravenna.

Career

He was consul in 514 and in 523 he was elevated to the post of master of the offices, which made him in effect the head of the civil service in succession to Boethius, who was executed in 524. From 533 to 537 he held the powerful position of praetorian perfect.

He retired in about 537 but remained friendly with the Gothic King Vitiges. In 540 Ravenna was occupied by the Byzantines and Vitiges was taken prisoner to Constantinople.

Cassiodorus may have followed Vitiges.

Cassiodorus documented his career as public servant in his Variae (Miscellaneous Letters), which contained correspondence and official documents written by himself in the names of the Ostrogothic rulers under whom he served. Upon the successful invasion of Italy by the Byzantine emperor Justinian, Cassiodorus realized that he must abandon his long-cherished goal of an Italy in which Romans would live in peace and trust under Gothic rulers, and he retired from public life about 540. Thereafter he devoted himself largely to religious and literary matters.

By 550 he was certainly an influential man in Constantinople, one of the leaders of the Italian exiles there.

He came back a few years later when Justinian had pacified and reorganized Italy.

Its characteristic feature was its emphasis on the intellectual activities of the monks.

In the early 550s Cassiodorus founded a monastery at his ancestral home and named it Vivarium after some fishponds which he had constructed nearby. His purpose was to educate his monks in both sacred and classical pagan learning and to transmit this learning to posterity. Cassiodorus and his monks copied biblical and classical manuscripts, edited and assembled a text of the complete Latin Bible, wrote commentaries and marginal annotations for particular books of the Bible, and made Latin versions of works of Greek church authors.

Cassiodorus himself died at a very old age about 583.

Cassiodorus' first literary work of lasting value was a brief summary of the history of Rome called Chronica, a compilation of earlier sources which preserves for us a few useful pieces of information.

The main part of this work had already been written before 534, but it seems probable that Cassiodorus continued it up to 551.

His history is lost, but in 551 the Gothic historian Jordanes summarized it in a small book, Getica, which is extant.

Appended to it is a pamphlet on orthography.

He also organized the translation into Latin of Greek works.

Among these are the Jewish Antiquities of Flavius Josephus and the Historia tripartita, an ecclesiastical history from a. d. 306 to 439, compiled from Theodoretus, Socrates, and Sozomenus.

Cassiodorus's most important single work is the Institutiones. This encyclopedic collection of sacred and profane learning is divided into two parts. The first is concerned with the interpretation of the Bible and with the lives and works of eminent Church Fathers; the second is a manual for the study of the seven traditional liberal arts.

Cassiodorus spent his career trying to bridge the 6th-century cultural divides: between East and West, Greek culture and Latin, Roman and Goth, and between an Orthodox people and their Arian ruler.

Cassiodorus died c. 585 – c. 590, when he was approximately 95. His practice of preserving and copying manuscripts was followed by a great number of medieval monasteries, and his Institutiones was for many medieval readers one of the few means of access to the classic liberal arts.

Achievements

  • He founded the Vivarium - a monastery and a scholarly abode, where there was a school, a rich library and a scriptorium.

    Strived to achieve mutual understanding between the Goths and the Romans.

Works