Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (ca 484/490 - ca585), commonly known as Cassiodorus, was a Roman statesman and writer, serving in the administration of Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths. Senator was his surname, not his rank.
He was born at Scyllaceum (Squillace) 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 ca 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 failing 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 Byzantium.
He spent his career trying to bridge the cultural divides that were fragmenting the 6th century, between East and West, Greek culture and Latin, Roman and Goth, Christian people with an Arian ruler. He speaks fondly in his Institutiones of Dionysius Exiguus, responsible for the Anno Domini dating system.
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. The library of Cassiodorus was a last effort, at the very close of Antiquity, to bring Greek learning to Latin readers, a concern shared by his contempoary Boethius. In the end both efforts failed, the library was dispersed and lost, Theodoric's Gothic kingdom was undermined by Christian forces from within and Lombard invaders from without.
- 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 contemporaneity;
- Gothic History (526-533), surviving only in Jordanes abbreviation, which must be considered a separate work;
- Variae epistolae (Theodoric's state papers) (537)
- Exposition psalmorum (Exposition of the Psalms)
- De anima (On the Soul) (540)
- Institutiones Divinarum et Sæcularium Litterarum (543-555)
- De Artibus ac Disciplinis Liberalium Litterarum (On the Liberal Arts)
- Codex Grandior (a version of the Bible)
- James J. O'Donnell's Cassiodorus webpage : an assessment of Cassiodorus' cultural predicament
- Christopher H. Walker, "Cassiodorus Senator and the Search for 6th Century Détente", 2002 : Abstract
- http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/texts/cassbook/toc.html James J. O'Donnell, Cassiodorus (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979) on-line e-text