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 p753  Introduction
to Rutilius Namatianus

The last of the classical Latin poets, Claudius Rutilius Namatianus, or (as is quite possibly the correct order for his name) Rutilius Claudius Namatianus, belonged to a Gallo-Roman family​1 and was born late in the fourth century, most likely at Toulouse. His father, almost certainly the Lachanius of his poem, and more or less plausibly identified with different official Claudii of the period, passed through a distinguished public career and had been honoured with a statue at Pisa, a visit to which is described with filial pride.​2 Rutilius held high appointments under the emperor Honorius, who reigned A.D. 395‑423. We must, however, beware of being misled by distinctions spuriously thrust upon him in the title of the Bologna edition; he was not a vir consularis, though he was a vir clarissimus; he had been neither a tribunus militum nor a praefectus praetorii, but he had attained to the influential positions of magister officiorum3 and praefectus urbis.​4 It can be shown that he held the former office in A.D. 412 and that he immediately  p754 preceded his friend Albinus​5 as prefect of the city for part of the year A.D. 414.

Educated on the lines of the ancient learning, Rutilius, as his poem indicates, was a man of literary knowledge and taste, an adherent of paganism, and influenced by Stoic philosophy. The times in which he lived had brought devastation again and again into Italy at the hands of northern barbarians. In A.D. 410, six years before he undertook the journey back to his native Gaul which makes the subject of his poem De Reditu Suo,​6 Rome had witnessed in a three days' sack the culmination of the third siege of the city by Alaric, King of the Visigoths.

That same year men had seen the burial of the Gothic chief under the diverted waters of the Busento; and in 412 Ataulf, the successor of Alaric, had withdrawn his Goths from Italy into Gaul, whence he had been forced across the Pyrenees into Spain to meet his death by assassination in 415. Soon afterwards, under their King Walia, the Visigoths concluded peace with Rome; but years of merciless ravage had left in Italy and Gaul scenes of depressing desolation which are reflected in our author's realistic allusions.​7 The misery of it all touched him closely as he was planning his route in 416 from the one devastated country to the other, and so he decided to coast northwards from the mouth of the Tiber rather than face the dangerous roads and broken bridges of Italy. The motive for his journey has been questioned:​a it is at least more likely that he  p755 may have wished to inspect some property of his own in Gaul than that his paganism had somehow lost him favour in Rome.8

It was autumn when he started from the city, and in the extant portion of the poem we can read an entertaining elegiac journal for two months from September 22nd to November 21st, A.D. 416,​9 when his second book breaks off at the 68th line after the arrival at Luna. This was something more elaborate as a travel-poem than Horace's journey to Brundusium or Ovid's sketch of his voyage in the Tristia or Statius' send-off to his patron bound for Egypt.​10 We may guess that the composition of the poem followed not long after the time of the journey; but our knowledge of the author and of his fortunes stops short with the interruption of his work. Only half-a‑dozen lines before the end, as we now have it, the author had contemplated the continuance of his narrative. Is the conclusion lost or was it never written?

A brief summary will enable us to follow him on his voyage so far as his poetic record runs. A long exordium (1‑164) is largely a rhetorical eulogy on  p756 the majestic greatness of Rome and her gift of unifying nations. After the start from the city (165) Rutilius was weather-bound for fifteen days at Ostia in the harbour of Claudius and Trajan. When his sailors had once found a fair wind, the coasting and mainly daylight voyage began, and, as related in Book I, lasted six days (or, according to Vessereau, seven). The first day (217‑276) brings them to Centumcellae, where they spend the night. On the second day (277‑312) they sail at dawn, pass off the mouth of the Munio and the pinewoods of Graviscae, sighting Cosa before putting into Portus Herculis at nightfall. On the third day (313‑348), sailing still earlier, before sunrise, they coast along Monte Argentario, pass the island of Igilium (recently a refuge for fugitives from the Goths), touch, without staying, at the Umbro mouth, and are forced, when overtaken by night, to bivouac ashore. The fourth day (349‑428) finds them compelled to take to oars in the morning: and after sighting Ilva (Elba), whose mines suggest to the poet the praises of iron, they land in a state of fatigue before midday at Faleria, where they chance upon an Osiris fête in progress. Their most unpleasant experiences with an extortionate landlord, a Jew, lead to an outburst against Judaism. Subsequent rowing brings them to Populonia, where they are rejoiced to get news from Rome. With the fifth day (429‑510) we have the distant view of Corsica chronicled, and when Capraria rises in sight, the opportunity is seized for an onslaught on the monasticism of its inhabitants. The travellers later reach Volaterrana Vada. A visit is paid to the villa of a good friend, Albinus, and the processes  p757 of the neighbouring salt-pans are described. The welcome meeting with Victorinus, a friend from Toulouse, compensates for the delay caused by a gale. During the early part of the sixth day​11 (511‑540) they find themselves off the dangerous rocks of Gorgon island, the home of a hermit whom Rutilius regards as one of a group of misguided fanatics, more bewitched, he thinks, than the victims of Circe's enchantments. They next arrive at the villa Triturrita, built on an artificial causeway near a harbour protected by a curious barrier of seaweed. Here, in spite of the inducement to proceed with the voyage in fair weather, an interruption is made, as Rutilius cannot resist the temptation to visit his friend Protadius in the neighbouring town: so Protadius' merits, Pisa itself and the statue erected there to his own father are in turn touched upon. This voluntary delay (541‑614) is followed by a compulsory one (615‑644); for on coming back to Triturrita, the travellers being storm-stayed have to occupy their time in a boar-hunt: and for the moment horn and song appear to be echoed in one of Rutilius' couplets.​12 A long stay is made in this district, Book I ending in a description of violent and continued storm.

Book II in its 68 lines narrates only the voyage from Portus Pisanus to Luna, but it also contains a description of Italy, a furious invective against the dead general Stilicho, and an account of the marble quarries in the Luna district.

 p758  His poem, in some ways the better for those digressions which make it more than a journal of travel, exhibits Rutilius as a man with an eye for the scenery of the Italian coast, interested in the affairs of the places touched at during his voyage northwards, and stirred by warm affection for friends​13 no less than by frankly expressed dislike for Jews, Christian monks and Stilicho. It is pleasant to note his joy at meeting friends and his regret at parting: it is an equally human trait that he is a good hater. His tender Stoic melancholy, coloured rather than seared by the memory of Rome's recent capture by the Goths, does not prevent him from cherishing an optimistic confidence in her recovery, even as in long-past history she had recovered after the Allia and Cannae. And so in his encomium upon the imperial city, sincere enough in feeling and yet in phrasing more rhetorical than poetic, Rutilius has uttered the swan-song of Rome.

Nor is it a song unworthy of the classical tradition. His Latin has a prevailing lucidity which befits his theme; and, despite the influence of Virgil and Ovid, his work, thanks to concentration upon his own experiences, which are narrated in a vivid and realistic style, bears a definitely individual mark. But it is rare for this individual note of his to show itself in mere linguistic usage such as decessis (if that be the true reading at I.313) or the archaistic propudiosa (I.388). As to metre, it is true that amphitheatrum is not a Virgilian ending for a hexameter, nor sollicitudinibus an Ovidian ending for a pentameter.​14 It is true also that Rutilius is too free  p759 in his employment of spondees. There is, further, little enjambement between hexameter and pentameter, so that his lines tend to be monotonously self-contained.​15 Yet, on the whole his versification must be called graceful,​16 and at times his elegiac couplets gain greatly in strength by a kind of Propertian force which Rutilius succeeds in conferring upon the pentameter.


J. B. Pius. Editio princeps. Bologna, 1520.

Onuphrius Panvinius. In his Reipublicae Romanae Commentarii. Venice, 1558.

J. Castalio. Rome, 1582.

C. Barth. Frankfort, 1623.

Th. J. Almeloveen (c. not. variorum). Amsterdam, 1687.

P. Burman. P. L. M. II pp1‑184. Leyden, 1731.

C. T. Damm. Brandenburg, 1760.

J. C. Wernsdorf. P. L. M. V.1 pp1‑202. Altenburg, 1788.

A. W. Zumpt. Berlin, 1840.

L. Mueller. Leipzig, 1870.

Itasius Lemniacus (A. v. Reumont). Berlin, 1872.

E. Baehrens. P. L. M. V pp3‑30. Leipzig, 1883.

 p760  J. Vessereau (text, French prose transln. and essays). Paris, 1904.

C. H. Keene (Eng. verse transln. by G. F. Savage-Armstrong). London, 1907.

G. Heidrich (introd. and crit. appar.). Vienna, 1911.

V. Ussani. Florence, 1921.

R. Helm. Heidelberg, 1933.

J. Vessereau and F. Préchac (texte établi et traduit). Paris, 1933.

Relevant Works

E. Gibbon. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (esp. chaps. xxviii‑xxxi for historical background).

T. Hodgkin. Italy and her Invaders, Vol. I. Oxford, 1880‑1899.

Fr. Mueller. De Rutilio Namatiano stoico, progr. Soltquellae (= Saltwedel), 1882.

H. Schiller. Geschichte der röm. Kaizerzeit,º II. Gotha, 1887.

P. Monceaux. Les Africains: étude sur la littér. latine d'Afrique. Paris, 1894.

C. Hosius. Die Textgeschichte des Rutilius, Rh. Mus. 51 (1896), pp197‑210.

P. Rasi. In Cl. Rut. Namatiani libros adnotationes metricae. Turin, 1897.

S. Dill. Roman Society in the last Century of the Wn. Empire. London, 1905.

R. Pichon. Les derniers écrivains profanes (ch. v, "un grand fonctionnaire gallo-romain : le poète Rut. Nam."). Paris, 1906.

H. Schenkl. Ein spätrömischer Dichter u. sein Glaubensbekenntnis, Rh. Mus. 66 (1911), pp393‑416.

 p761  P. de Labriolle. Rut. Nam. et les moines in Rev. des études latines, VI pp30‑41. Paris, 1928.

J. Carcopino. À propos du poème de Rut. Nam. in Rev. des études latines, VI pp180‑200. Paris, 1928.

M. L. W. Laistner. Thought and Letters in Wn. Europe, A.D. 500‑900 (opening chapter on "Empire and its Invaders"). London, 1931.

E. S. Duckett. Latin Writers of the Fifth Century. New York, 1931.


V = Codex Vindobonensis 277 (olim 387), qui, post membranas vetustas Ovidii Halieutica et Gratti Cynegetica continentes, foliis 84a‑93b saeculi XVI nostrum carmen habet.

[·f· = the symbol accompanying some of the marginal corrections in the Vienna MS.: it has been variously interpreted as fortasse (L. Mueller, Baehrens), fiat (Hosius), or fuit (Purser).]

B = editio princeps, Bononiae anno 1520 emissa.

R = Codex Romanus: saec. XVI, Romae anno 1891 repertus.

On these three sources of the text, two MSS. and the editio princeps, a few notes are desirable. Baehrens in his edition of 1883 based his text upon the Vienna manuscript (now denoted by V, the collation of which by Humer was called c by Baehrens) and upon Mau's collation of the editio princeps published by Battista Pio at Bologna in 1520 (here denoted by B but in Baehrens by b). Since Baehrens' time a second manuscript, denoted by R, has become available: it was discovered in the library  p762 of the Duke of Sermoneta at Rome in 1891. V and R, both written in the sixteenth century, are indirectly and independently derived from an archetype found at Bobbio in 1494 or 1493. This archetype may be conjectured to have been written in Lombardic characters in the eighth or ninth century; but it has been lost since its removal from Bobbio in 1706. In 1495 Inghiramius, surnamed Phaedrus of Volaterra, afterwards librarian at the Vatican, made a copy of it at Bobbio and took it to Rome before 1506. About that time the poet Sannazaro had brought with him from France to Italy the newly-discovered Halieutica of Ovid and Cynegetica of Grattius and of Nemesianus; and in his enthusiasm for new works he either acquired or transcribed Phaedrus' copy of the manuscript. According to Baehrens and to Vessereau, V is Sannazaro's copy, though, according to Hosius, the descent of V is traceable back through Sannazaro and then through Phaedrus to the codex Bobiensis. The Vienna MS. is on paper, of the sixteenth century, bound up at the end of a volume immediately after Ovid's Halieutica, also on paper and preceded by seven older manuscripts on vellum of smaller dimensions than the paper MSS. Among these vellum MSS. certain lines of Eucheria and another copy of the Halieutica, with Sidonius Apollinaris and Grattius, have been identified with the actual poems which Sannazaro brought from France.

The editio princeps published by Battista Pio at Bologna in 1520 has a value for determining the text, as it represents Phaedrus' copy according to Hosius, and thus offers a testimony earlier than Sannazaro's copy and its derivative V.

 p763  R is dated by Vessereau a quarter of a century after V, i.e. in 1530, as he holds V to be Sannazaro's copy. Hosius, who collated R in Rh. Mus. (1896), vol. LI, inferred that it was written within 30 or 40 years of the discovery of Rutilius' poem in 1493.​17 The corruptions shared by V and R prove their common descent, but R cannot have come from Phaedrus' copy (represented in the editio princeps B), because R sometimes preserves the true reading in contrast with V and B. On the other hand, a consensus of V and R virtually establishes a reading in the lost codex Bobiensis of the eighth century.

Bibliographical addendum (1982)

Rutilius, De reditu (with Italian translation and commentary), ed. E. Castrina, Florence 1967.

Rutilius, De reditu, ed. E. Doblhofer, Heidelberg: I (introduction, text, German translation, index verborum) 1972; II (commentary) 1977.

Thayer's Note: The Bibliographical addendum remains under copyright (© Harvard University Press 1982). It is so brief as surely to fall under fair use.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 I.20.

2 I.575‑596.

3 I.563.

4 I.157‑160 and 427.

5 I.466‑474.

6 A slightly more satisfactory title than the alternative Itinerarium.

7 I.21, 39‑42.

8 H. Schenkl, Rh. Mus. 66 (1911), pp393 sqq., argues that Rutilius' attacks on Christian monks do not prove his pagan creed, and it is true that some Christians have censured monasticism severely. But this is not the whole case. Rutilius' tone elsewhere seems inconsistent with Christian belief. Labriolle quite reasonably distinguishes it from that of a professing Christian like Ausonius, Rev. des études latines, 6 (1928), pp30 sqq.

9 Carcopino, Rev. des études lat., 6, 180 sqq., 1928, argues for 16th Oct. 417 as the date of the departure from Rome. Both Helm and Préchac agree in their editions.

10 Hor. Sat. I.V (partly suggested by Lucilius' Iter Siculum); Ovid, Trist. I.X; Stat. Silv. III.II.

11 Vessereau makes this the seventh day, as he estimates that the distance from Populonia to Vada and the visit to Albinus would need more than a single day. The sixth day may therefore have been spent at the villa; but the poem does not clearly indicate this.

12 629‑630.

13 See notes on the translation.

14 There are some sixteen exceptions in Rutilius to the dissyllabic close of a pentameter.

15 Usually hexameter and pentameter constitute a unity, as in I.65‑66, or the second line takes up and completes the first, as in I.91‑92, 331‑332. Only occasionally does a sentence run into more than one distich, as in I.403‑408, 519‑522.

16 The elisions are 61 in 712 lines. There are no elisions of a long vowel before a short, nor of a monosyllable, nor at the caesura, nor in the second half of a pentameter.

17 The comparative value of V and R is hard to estimate. Keene points out that while R has the advantage in I.178 tenet, 211 curae, 235 largo, 265 lymphas, 461 algam, 552 utramque, V has the superiority in I.22 miseranda, 232 Inui, 317 ternis, 573 ElideII.62 propositum. R certainly has serious disfigurements due to one or other of its three hands. Recently L. Bartoli (Athenaeum IX.3, 1931), writing on the two codices, has awarded the palm to the Vienna manuscript.

Thayer's Note:

a In 2004, an Italian movie was made, Il Ritorno ("The Return"), the plot of which I find anonymously summarized online as follows:

"A nobleman frustrated by the dominance of Christianity (which he blames for Rome's troubles) and a failed love affair, Claudio embarks on a sea journey to his native Gaul in order to raise an army and bring glory back to the Empire."

Now this may make a good movie — I don't know, I haven't seen it — but almost none of this can be affirmed. Although he doesn't like Christianity, nowhere can we find Rutilius blaming it for Rome's troubles: the idea was current in his time, but it was most clearly expressed only a thousand and some years later, by Gibbon. Nowhere does Rutilius mention a failed love affair: that bit of spice is mandatory in a movie, of course. And finally, nothing lets us infer that our man is off to raise an army; if he is, he's certainly lackadaisical about it. Moral: beware of movies. (As in the hash Oliver Stone made of Alexander; examples could be multiplied, of course.)

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