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Bill Thayer

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Book IV
Note F

This webpage reproduces a note in
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book IV
Chapter 9

Book 4 (continued)

Vol. III
Note G

The two Cassiodori (Father and Son)

There is now really no doubt that the succession of the different members of the family of Cassiodorus is as stated in the  p315 text; but as the reader may find a different theory advanced by some respectable authors, it is as well to state that theory and the reasons advanced in support of it.

Manso (Geschichte des Ostgotischen Reiches, pp332‑349), following the life of Cassiodorus prefixed to Garet's edition, contends that the third and fourth persons mentioned in our list — whom we may label Patricius and Senator — were in fact one.

According to his view, the author of the Variae was born about 468, filled at twenty the office of Comes Privatarum and at twenty‑one that of Comes Sacrarum Largitionum under Odovacar, joined the party of Theodoric, won over the inhabitants of Sicily to his cause, became between 491 and 514 successively Quaestor, Magister Officiorum, Praetorian Prefect, and Patrician, then held certain offices under Athalaric (about which there is no dispute), retired from official life in 538 (at the age of seventy), and died about 563.

The theory that Cassiodorus, at so early an age as twenty or twenty‑one, filled the high offices of Comes Privatarum and Comes Sacrarum Largitionum is, though not impossible, somewhat improbable. But the whole argument in favour of it rests on the belief that the Cassiodorus addressed in Variarum I.3 is Cassiodorus the writer of the letter. He might have been, for Cassiodorus, writing on behalf of Athalaric, does undoubtedly (in Variarum, IX.24) address himself in terms of high commendation. But it is quite certain that the person addressed in Variarum I.3 is not the writer, but the writer's father. As if in order to guard against the possibility of such a confusion, the younger Cassiodorus always speaks of himself as Senator. The letters I.3 and I.4 are evidently descriptive of a statesman retiring from his official career, not of one just entering on its busiest period. In III.28 we have an invitation to 'Cassiodorus Vir Illustris et Patricius' to visit the Court. How do the supporters of Manso's theory suppose that this was written, by Cassiodorus to himself, at the command of a king from whom he was separated by the whole length of Italy? Again in I.26 it is ordered that the Church of Vercelli shall not pay more land‑tax than she did 'in the time of the Magnificent Cassiodorus the Patrician, a man of pure faith and tried integrity.' Is that the way in which a man, still in office, speaks of himself? Would  p316 the present Chancellor of the Exchequer (1884) talk of this rate of income‑tax 'which was fixed by the Rt. Hon. Hugh Childers, a man of tried integrity?'

More convincing still is the argument derived from the date of the 'Various Letters' themselves. Let any one carefully study the letters included in that collection, endeavouring as far as may be to assign a date to each. (With some there are absolutely no materials for coming to a conclusion on such a point.) With two exceptions he will find that there are none, capable of being dated at all, that do not require a later date than A.D. 500. These two exceptions are the letter to the Emperor Anastasius (I.1) and that to Luduin (Clovis) king of the Franks (II.41).

The first used to be generally connected with the legation either of Faustus (493) or Festus (497) to Constantinople. But, now that the letter is more carefully examined, it is seen that, with its references to causas iracundiae and to contentiones and its prayer that sinceritas pacis may be restored, it is more suited to a time when there had been actually war between Italy and the East, and was therefore probably written in 506 or 509. No doubt the reason why it is placed first in the collection is, not its priority of composition, but the exalted rank of the person to whom it is addressed.

The letter to Clovis congratulating him on the victory over the Alamanni does certainly suggest most obviously 496, the date of the victory after which Clovis was baptized. But von Schubert, in his recent monograph, 'Die Unterwerfung der Alamannen unter die Franken' (Strassburg, 1884), has shown strong grounds for believing that this victory, though important, did not annihilate the independence of the Alamanni, and that another more important victory was gained by Clovis in the early years of the sixth century.

On the whole question then, looking to the intense literary activity of Cassiodorus Senator, from about 501 onwards, we have a right to ask, 'What was this prominent official, who had attained the rank of an Illustris in 480, and had borne such a leading part in the events connected with Theodoric's victory, doing in those years between 493 and 501, and how is it that all that early part of the reign of Theodoric is such a complete blank, if he was then conducting its correspondence?'

 p317  The real answer is that Senator was then in no high official position, but was a lad studying rhetoric, perhaps at Syracuse or at Rome.

These are the conclusions to which I, like most of those who have thoroughly examined the subject, was brought by weighing only the internal evidence afforded by the Variae. Upon this comes a piece of external evidence, which, if its genuineness and early date can be maintained, — and there seems no doubt of either, — simply annihilates the theory of Manso. Here is an extract from the Ordo generis Cassiodoriorum, from a libellus which the author of the Variae addressed to his friend Rufius Petronius Nicomachus [Cethegus]: —

'Cassiodorus Senator vir eruditissimus et multis dignitatibus pollens. Juvenis adeo, dum patris Cassiodori patricii et praefecti praetorii consiliarius fieret, et laudes Theodorichi regis Gothorum facundissime recitasset, ab eo quaestor est factus patricius et consul ordinarius, postmodum dehinc magister officiorum, et praefuisset (?) formulas dictionum quas in duodecim libris ordinavit et Variarum titulum superposuit. Scripsit praecipiente Theodoricho rege historiam Gothicam, originem eorum et loca moresque XII libris annuntians.'

This is from the so‑called Anecdoton Holderi published and commented upon by Hermann Usener (Leipzig, 1877).

After this, unless the authority of the 'libellus' can be upset, there is really nothing more to be said.

The provoking part of the controversy is that the true view was formerly held, but was too lightly abandoned. Tillemont (Histoire des Empereurs, tom. VI p625) has the four Cassiodori all right, speaking of 'les exploits militaires [contre Genseric] de l'ancien Cassiodore . . . qui était bisayeul de l'autre qui est célèbre par ses écrits.' Gibbon, following Tillemont, says (chap. XXXIX n. 57), 'Two Italians of the name of Cassiodorus, the father and the son, were successively employed in the administration of Theodoric. The son was born in the year 479.' His only mistake is that he fixes the beginning of the Variae some years too late, at 509. Clinton (Fasti Romani, s. a. 493) has the four generations correctly enumerated, though I do not know what authority he has for saying positively, 'Cassiodorus or Cassiodorius is thirteen years of age in 493.' All these authors have the matter correctly stated: but the worthy Manso in his seventh  p318 'Beylage,' by reviving an obsolete theory that father and son were the same person, has led a number of historians and essayists into error, they all following him like sheep through a hedge, until, as Dean Church says,​1 'there is some confusion between the different Cassiodori.'

The Author's Note:

1 Church Quarterly Review, X.293 n. 1.

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