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Amalasuentha
Anastasius
Belisarius
Boethius
Civilitas
Heodoric's Tomb
Introduction
Italy Under Odovacar
Narses
Roman Officials--cassiodorus
Rome And Ravenna
Storm And Stress
The Arian League
The Conquest Of Italy
The Might Of Attila
The Southward Migration
The Theodoric Of Saga
Theodoric's Ancestors
Theodoric's Boyhood
Totila



Roman Officials--cassiodorus








The government of Italy still carried on according to Roman
precedent--Classification of the officials--The Consulship and the
Senate--Cassiodorus, his character and his work--His history of the
Goths--His letters and state papers.


I have said that one of the most important characteristics of
Theodoric's government of Italy was that it was conducted in accordance
with the traditions of the Empire and administered mainly by officials
trained in the Imperial school. To a certain extent the same thing is
true of all the Teutonic monarchies which arose in the fifth century on
the ruins of the Empire. In dealing with the needs and settling the
disputes of the large, highly-organised communities, into whose midst
they had poured themselves, it was not possible, if it had been
desirable, for the rulers to remain satisfied with the simple, sometimes
barbarous, principles of law and administration which had sufficed for
the rude farmer-folk who dwelt in isolated villages beyond the Rhine and
the Danube. Nor was this necessity disliked by the rulers themselves.
They soon perceived that the Roman law, with its tendency to derive all
power from the Imperial head of the State, and the Roman official staff,
an elaborate and well-organised hierarchy, every member of which
received orders from one above him and transmitted orders to those
below, were far more favourable to their own prerogative and gave them a
far higher position over against their followers and comrades in war,
than the institutions which had prevailed in the forests of Germany.
Hence, as I have said, all the new barbarian royalties, even that of the
Vandals in Africa (in some respects more anti-Roman than any other),
preserved much of the laws and machinery of the Roman Empire; but
Theodoric's Italian kingdom preserved the most of all. It might in fact
almost be looked upon as a mere continuation of the old Imperial system,
only with a strong, laborious, martial Goth at the head of affairs, able
and willing to keep all the members of the official hierarchy sternly to
their work, instead of the ruler whom the last three generations had
been accustomed to behold, a man decked with the purple and diadem, but
too weak, too indolent, too nervously afraid of irritating some powerful
captain of foederati, or some wealthy Roman noble, to be able to do
justice to all classes of his subjects.

The composition of the official hierarchy of the Empire is, from various
sources,[82] almost as fully known to us as that of any state of modern
Europe.

[Footnote 82: Chiefly the Notitia Utriusque Imperii (a sort of
official Red-book of the time of Honorius,) but also the Various
Letters of Cassiodorus, to be described below.]

Pre-eminent in dignity over all the rest rose the Illustrious
Praetorian Prefect, the vicegerent of the sovereign, a man who held
towards Emperor or King nearly the same position which a Grand Vizier
holds towards a Turkish Sultan. Like his sovereign he wore a purple robe
(which reached however only to his knees, not to his feet), and he drove
through the streets in a lofty official chariot. It was for him to
promulgate the Imperial laws, sometimes to put forth edicts of his own.
He proclaimed what taxes were to be imposed each year, and their produce
came into his Praetorian chest. He suggested to his sovereign the names
of the governors of the provinces, paid them their salaries, and
exercised a general superintendence over them, having even power to
depose them from their offices. And lastly, he was the highest Judge of
Appeal in the land, even the Emperor himself having generally no power
to reverse his sentences.

There was another Illustrious minister, who, during this century both
in the Eastern and Western Empire, was always treading on the heels of
the Praetorian Prefect, and trying to rob him of some portion of his
power. This was the Master of the Offices the intermediary between the
sovereign and the great mass of the civil servants, to whom the
execution of his orders was entrusted. A swarm of Agentes in Rebus
(King's messengers, bailiffs, sheriff's officers; we may call them by
all these designations) roved through the provinces, carrying into
effect the orders of the sovereign, always magnifying their master's
dignity, (whence they derived their epithet of Magistriani,) and
seeking to depress the Praetorian Cohorts, who discharged somewhat
similar duties under the Praetorian Prefect. The Master of the Offices,
besides sharing the counsels of his sovereign in relation to foreign
states, had also the arsenals under his charge, and there was
transferred to him from his rival, the Prefect, the superintendence of
the cursus publicus, the great postal service of the Empire.

Again, somewhat overlapping, as it seems to us, the functions of the
Master of the Offices, came the Illustrious Quaestor, the
head-rhetorician of the State, the official whose business it was to put
the thoughts of the sovereign into fitting and eloquent words, either
when he was replying to the ambassadors of foreign powers, or when he
was issuing laws and proclamations to his own subjects. As his duties
and qualifications were of a more personal kind than those of his two
brother-ministers already described, he had not like them a large
official staff waiting upon his orders.

There were two great financial ministers, the Count of Sacred
Largesses (sacred, of course, is equivalent to Imperial), and the
Count of Private Domains, whose duties practically related in the
former case to the personal, in the latter to the real, estate of the
sovereign. Or perhaps, for it is difficult exactly to define the nature
of their various duties, it would be better to think of the Count of
Sacred Largesses as the Imperial Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the
Count of Private Domains as the Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests.

The Superintendent of the Sacred Dormitory was the Grand Chamberlain
of the Empire, and commanding, as he did, the army of pages, grooms of
the bed-chamber, vestiaries, and life-guardsmen, who ministered to the
myriad wants of an Arcadius or a Honorius, he was not the least
important among the chief officers of the State.

These great civil ministers, eight in number under the Western Emperors
(for there were three Praetorian Prefects, one for the Gauls, one for
Italy, and one for the City of Rome), formed, with the military officers
of highest rank (generally five in number), the innermost circle of
Illustres, who may be likened to the Cabinet of the Emperor. At this
time the Cabinet of Illustres may have been smaller by one or two
members, on account of the separation of the Gaulish provinces from
Rome, but we are not able to speak positively on this point.

Nearly every one of these great ministers of state had under him a
large, ambitious, and often highly-paid staff of subordinates, who were
called his Officium. The civil service was at least as regular and
highly specialised a profession under the Emperors and under Theodoric
as it is in any modern State. It is possible that we should have to go
to the Celestial Empire of China to find its fitting representative. A
large number of singularii, rationalii, clavicularii, and the like
(whom we should call policemen, subordinate clerks, and gaolers) formed
the Unlettered Staff (Militia Illiterata), who stood on the lowest
stage of the bureaucratic pyramid. Above these was the lettered staff,
beginning with the humble chancellor (Cancellarius), who sat by the
cancelli (latticework), at the bottom of the Court (to prevent
importunate suitors from venturing too far), and rising to the dignified
Princeps or Cornicularius, who was looked upon as equal in rank to a
Count, and who expected to make an income of not less than L600 a year,
equivalent to two or three times that amount in our day.

All this great hierarchy of officials wielded powers derived, mediately
or immediately, from the Emperor (or in the Ostrogothic monarchy from
the King), and great as was their brilliancy in the eyes of the dazzled
multitudes who crouched before them, it was all reflected from him, who
was the central sun of their universe. But there were still two
institutions which were in theory independent of Emperor or King, which
were yet held venerable by men, and which had come down from the days of
the great world-conquering republic, or the yet earlier days of Romulus
and Numa. These two institutions were the Consulship and the Senate.

The Consuls, as was said in an earlier chapter, still appeared to
preside over the Roman Republic, as they had in truth presided, wielding
between them the full power of a king, when Brutus and Collatinus, a
thousand years before Theodoric's commencement of the siege of Ravenna,
took their seat upon the curule chairs, and donned the trabea of the
Consul. Still, though utterly shorn of its power, the glamour of the
venerable office remained. The Emperor himself seemed to add to his
dignity when he allowed himself to be nominated as Consul, and in
nothing was the cupidity of the tyrant Emperors and the moderation of
the patriot Emperors better displayed than in the number of Consulships
which they claimed or forbore from claiming. Ever since the virtual
division of the Empire into an Eastern and Western portion, it had been
usual, though not absolutely obligatory, for one Consul to be chosen out
of each half of the Orbis Romanus, and in reading the contemporary
chronicles we can almost invariably tell to which portion the author
belongs by observing to which Consul's name he gives the priority. As
has been already stated, after the resumption of friendly relations
between Ravenna and Constantinople, Theodoric, while naming the Western
Consul, sent a courteous notification of the fact to the Emperor, by
whom his nomination seems to have been always accepted without question.
The great Ostrogoth, having once worn the Consular robes and distributed
largess to the Roman People in the streets of Constantinople, does not
seem to have cared a second time to assume that ancient dignity, but in
the year 519, towards the end of his reign, he named his son-in-law,
Eutharic, Consul, and the splendour of Eutharic's year of office was
enhanced by the fact that he had the then reigning Emperor, Justin, for
his colleague. As for the Senate, it too was still in appearance what
it had ever been,--the highest Council in the State, the assembly of
kings which overawed the ambassador of Pyrrhus, the main-spring, or, if
not the main-spring, at any rate the balance-wheel, of the
administrative machine. This it was in theory, for there had never been
any formal abolition of its existence or abrogation of its powers. In
practice it was just what the sovereign, whether called Emperor or King,
allowed it to be. A self-willed and arbitrary monarch, like Caligula or
Domitian, would reduce its functions to a nullity. A wise and moderate
Emperor, like Trajan or Marcus Aurelius, would consult it on all
important state-affairs, and, while reserving to himself both the power
of initiation and that of final control, would make of it a real Council
of State, a valuable member of the governing body of the Empire. The
latter seems to have been the policy of Theodoric. Probably the very
fact of his holding a somewhat doubtful position towards the Emperor at
Constantinople made him more willing to accept all the moral support
that could be given him by the body which was in a certain sense older
and more august than any Emperor, the venerable Senate of Rome. At any
rate, the letters in which he announces to the Senate the various acts,
especially the nomination of the great officials of his kingdom, in
which he desires their concurrence, are couched in such extremely
courteous terms, that sometimes civility almost borders on servility.
Notwithstanding this, however, it is quite plain that it was always
thoroughly understood who was master in Italy, and that any attempt on
the part of the Senate to wrest any portion of real power from Theodoric
would have been instantly and summarily suppressed.

I have said that it was only by the aid of officials, trained in the
service of the Empire that Theodoric, or indeed any of the new barbarian
sovereigns, could hope to keep the machine of civil government in
working order. We have, fortunately, a little information as to some of
these officials, and an elaborate self-drawn picture of one of them.

Liberius had been a faithful servant of Odovacar; and had to the last
remained by the sinking vessel of his fortunes. This fidelity did not
injure him in the estimation of the conqueror. When all was over, he
came, with no eagerness, and with unconcealed sorrow for the death of
his former master, to offer his services to Theodoric, who gladly
accepted them, and gave him at once the pre-eminent dignity of Praetorian
Prefect. His wise and economical management of the finances filled the
royal exchequer without increasing the burdens of the tax-payer, and it
is probable that the early return of prosperity to Italy, which was
described in the last chapter, was, in great measure, due to the just
and statesmanlike administration of Liberius. In the delicate business
of allotting to the Gothic warriors the third part of the soil of Italy,
which seems to have been their recognised dividend on Theodoric's
Italian speculation, he so acquitted himself as to win the approbation
of all. It is difficult for us to understand how such a change of
ownership can have brought with it anything but heart-burning and
resentment. But (1) there are not wanting indications that, owing to
evil influences both economic and political, there was actually a large
quantity of good land lying unoccupied in Italy in the fifth century;
and (2) there had already been one expropriation of the same kind for
the benefit of the soldiers of Odovacar. In so far as this allotment of
Thirds[83] merely followed the lines of that earlier redistribution, but
little of a grievance was caused to the Italian owner. An Ostrogoth, the
follower of Theodoric, stepped into the position of a slain Scyrian or
Turcilingian, the follower of Odovacar, and the Italian owner suffered
no further detriment. Still there must have been some loss to the
provincials and some cases of hardship which would be long and bitterly
remembered, before every family which crossed the Alps in the Gothic
waggons was safely settled in its Italian home. It is therefore not
without some qualification that we can accept the statement of the
official panegyrist[84] of the Gothic regime, who declares that in
this business of the allotment of the Thirds Liberius joined both the
hearts and the properties of the two nations, Gothic and Roman. For
whereas neighbourhood often proves a cause of enmity, with these men
communion of farms proved a cause of concord.[85] Thus the division of
the soil promoted the concord of the owners; friendship grew out of the
loss of the provincials, and the land gained a defender, whose
possession of part guaranteed the quiet enjoyment of the remainder. It
is possible that there was some foundation of truth for the last
statement. After the fearful convulsions through which the whole Western
Empire had passed, and with the strange paralysis of the power of
self-defence which had overtaken the once brave and hardy population of
Italy, it is possible that the presence, near to each considerable
Italian landowner, of a Goth whose duty to his king obliged him to
defend the land from foreign invasion, and to suppress with a strong
hand all robbery and brigandage, may have been felt in some cases as a
compensation even for whatever share of the soil of Italy was
transferred to Goth from Roman by the Chief Commissioner, Liberius.

Two eminent Romans, whom in the early years of his reign Theodoric
placed in high offices of state, were the two successive ambassadors to
Constantinople, Faustus and Festus. Both seem to have held the high
dignity of Praetorian Prefect. We do not, however, hear much as to the
career of Festus, and what we hear of Faustus is not altogether to his
credit. He had been for several years practically the Prime Minister of
Theodoric, when in an evil hour for his reputation he coveted the estate
of a certain Castorius, whose land adjoined his own. Deprived of his
patrimony, Castorius appealed, not in vain, to the justice of Theodoric,
whose ears were not closed, as an Emperor's would probably have been, to
the cry of a private citizen against a powerful official. We are
determined, says Theodoric, in his reply to the petition of Castorius,
to assist the humble and to repress the violence of the proud. If the
petition of Castorius prove to be well-founded, let the spoiler restore
to Castorius his property and hand over besides another estate of equal
value. If the Magnificent Faustus have employed any subordinate in this
act of injustice, bring him to us bound with chains that he may pay for
the outrage in person, if he cannot do so in purse. If on any future
occasion that now known craftsman of evil (Faustus) shall attempt to
injure the aforesaid Castorius, let him be at once fined fifty pounds of
gold (L2,000). Greatest of all punishments will be the necessity of
beholding the untroubled estate of the man whom he sought to ruin.
Behold herein a deed which may well chasten and subdue the hearts of all
our great dignitaries when they see that not even a Praetorian Prefect is
permitted to trample on the lowly, and that when we put forth our arm to
help, such an one's power of injuring the wretched fails him. From this
may all men learn how great is our love of justice, since we are willing
to diminish even the power of our judges, that we may increase the
contentment of our own conscience. This edict was followed by a letter
to the Illustrious Faustus himself, in which that grasping governor was
reminded that human nature frequently requires a change, and permission
was graciously given him to withdraw for four months into the country.
At the end of that time he was without fail to return to the capital,
since no Roman Senator ought to be happy if permanently settled
anywhere but at Rome. It is tolerably plain that the four months'
villeggiatura was really a sentence of temporary banishment, and we
may probably conclude that the Magnificent Faustus never afterwards held
any high position under Theodoric.

The letters announcing the King's judgment in this matter, like all the
other extant state-papers of Theodoric, were written by a man who was
probably by the fall of Faustus raised a step in the official hierarchy,
and who was certainly for the last twenty years of the reign of
Theodoric one of the most conspicuous of his Roman officials. This was
Cassiodorus, or, to give him his full name, Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus
Senator, a man, whose life and character require to be described in
some detail.

Cassiodorus was sprung from a noble Roman family, which had already
given three of its members in lineal succession (all bearing the name
Cassiodorus) to the service of the State. His great-grandfather, of
Illustrious rank, defended Sicily and Calabria from the incursions of
the Vandals. His grandsire, a Tribune in the army, was sent by the
Emperor Valentinian III. on an important embassy to Attila. His father
filled first one and then the other of the two highest financial offices
in the State under Odovacar. On the overthrow of that chieftain, he,
like Liberius, transferred his services to Theodoric, who employed him
as governor first of Sicily, then of Calabria, and finally, about the
year 500, conferred upon him the highest dignity of all, that of
Praetorian Prefect. The ancestral possessions of the Cassiodori were
situated m that southernmost province, sometimes likened to the toe of
Italy, which was then called Bruttii, and is now called Calabria. It was
a land rich in cattle, renowned for its cheese and for its aromatic,
white Palmatian wine; and veins of gold were said to be in its
mountains. Here, in the old Greek city of Scyllacium (Sguillace), a
city perched upon a high hill overlooking the sea, sunny yet fanned by
cool Mediterranean breezes, and looking peacefully on the cornfields,
the vineyards, and the olive-groves around her,[86] Cassiodorus was
born, about the year 480. He was therefore probably some twelve or
thirteen years of age when the long strife between Odovacar and
Theodoric was ended by the murder scene in the palace at Ravenna.

Like all the young Roman nobles who aspired to the honours and
emoluments of public life, Cassiodorus studied philosophy and rhetoric,
and, according to the standard of the age, a degraded standard, he
acquired great proficiency in both lines of study. When his father was
made Praetorian Prefect (about the year 500), the young rhetorician
received an appointment as Consiliarius, or Assessor in the Prefect's
court, at a salary which probably did not exceed forty or fifty pounds.
While he was holding this position, it fell to his lot to pronounce a
laudatory oration on Theodoric (perhaps on the occasion of one of his
visits to Rome), and the eloquence of the young Consiliarius so
delighted the King, that he was at once made an Illustrious Quaestor,
thus receiving what we should call cabinet-rank while he was still
considerably under thirty years of age. The Quaestor, as has been said,
was the Public Orator of the State. It devolved upon him to reply to the
formal harangues in which the ambassadors of foreign nations greeted his
master, to answer the petitions of his subjects, and to see that the
edicts of the sovereign were expressed in proper terms. The post exactly
fitted the intellectual tendencies of Cassiodorus, who was never so
happy as when he was wrapping up some commonplace thought in a garment
of sonorous but turgid rhetoric; and the simple honesty of his moral
nature, simple in its very vanity and honest in its childlike egotism,
coupled as it was with real love for his country and loyal zeal for her
welfare, endeared him in his turn to Theodoric, with whom he had many
gloriosa colloquia (as he calls them), conversations in which the
young, learned, and eloquent Roman poured forth for his master the
stored up wine of generations of philosophers and poets, while the
kingly barbarian doubtless unfolded some of the propositions of that
more difficult science, the knowledge of men, which he had acquired by
long and arduous years of study in the council-chamber, on the
mountain-march, and on the battle-field.

We can go at once to the fountain-head for information as to the
character of Cassiodorus. When he was promoted, soon after the death of
Theodoric, to the rank of Praetorian Prefect, it became his duty, as
Quaestor to the young King Athalaric (Theodoric's successor), to inform
himself by an official letter of the honour conferred upon him. In
writing this letter, he does not deviate from the usual custom of
describing the virtues and accomplishments which justify the new
minister's promotion. Why indeed should he keep silence on such an
occasion? No one could know the good qualities of Cassiodorus so well or
so intimately as Cassiodorus himself, and accordingly the Quaestor sets
forth, with all the rhetoric of which he had such an endless supply, the
virtues and the accomplishments which his observant eye has discovered
in himself, the new Praetorian Prefect. Such a course would certainly not
be often pursued by a modern statesman, but there is a pleasing
ingenuousness about it which to some minds will be more attractive than
our present methods, the inspired article in a hired newspaper, or the
feigned reluctance to receive a testimonial which, till the receiver
suggested it, no one had dreamed of offering.

This then is how Cassiodorus, in 533, describes his past career[87]:
You came (his young sovereign, Athalaric, is supposed to be addressing
him) in very early years to the dignity of Quaestor; and mv grandfather's
(Theodoric's) wonderful insight into character was never more abundantly
proved than in your case, for he found you to be endued with rare
conscientiousness, and already ripe in your knowledge of the laws. You
were in truth the chief glory of your times, and you won his favour by
arts which none could blame, for his mind, by nature anxious in all
things, was able to lay aside its cares while you supported the weight
of the royal counsels with the strength of your eloquence. In you he had
a charming secretary, a rigidly upright judge, a minister to whom
avarice was unknown. You never fixed a scandalous tariff for the sale of
his benefits; you chose to take your reward in public esteem, not in
riches. Therefore it was that this most righteous ruler chose you to be
honoured by his glorious friendship, because he saw you to be free from
all taint of corrupt vices. How often did he fix your place among his
white-haired counsellors; inasmuch as they, by the experience of years,
had not come up to the point from which you had started! He found that
he could safely praise your excellent disposition, open-handed in
bestowing benefits, tightly closed against the vices of avarice.

Thus you passed on to the dignity of Master of the Offices,[88] which
you obtained, not by a pecuniary payment, but as a testimony to your
character. In that office you were ever ready to help the Quaestors, for
when pure eloquence was needed men always resorted to you; and, in fact,
when you were at hand and ready to help, there was no accurate division
of labour among the various offices of the State.[89] No one could find
an occasion to murmur aught against you, although you bore all the
unpopularity which accompanies the favour of a prince.

Your detractors were conquered by the integrity of your life; your
adversaries, bowing to public opinion, were obliged to praise even while
they hated you.

To the lord of the land you showed yourself a friendly judge and an
intimate minister. When public affairs no longer claimed him, he would
ask you to tell him the stories in which wise men of old have clothed
their maxims, that by his own deeds he might equal the ancient heroes.
The courses of the stars, the ebb and flow of the sea, the marvels of
springing fountains,--nto all these subjects would that most acute
questioner inquire, so that by his diligent investigations into the
nature of things, he seemed to be a philosopher in the purple.

This sketch of the character of the minister throws light incidentally
on that of the monarch who employed him. Of course, as a general rule,
history cannot allow the personages with whom she deals to write their
own testimonials, but in this case there is reason to think that the
self-portraiture of Cassiodorus is accurate in its main outlines, though
our modern taste would have suggested the employment of somewhat less
florid colouring.

One literary service which Cassiodorus rendered to the Ostrogothic
monarchy is thus described by himself, still speaking in his young
king's name and addressing the Roman Senate.[90]

He was not satisfied with extolling surviving Kings, from whom their
panegyrist might hope for a reward. He extended his labours to our
remote ancestry, learning from books that which the hoary memories of
our old men scarcely retained. He drew forth from their hiding-place the
Kings of the Goths, hidden by long forgetfulness. He restored the Amals
in all the lustre of their lineage, evidently proving that we have Kings
for our ancestors up to the seventeenth generation. He made the origin
of the Goths part of Roman history, collecting into one wreath the
flowers which had previously been scattered over the wide plains of
literature. Consider, therefore, what love he showed to you (the Senate)
in uttering our praises, while teaching that the nation of your
sovereign has been from ancient time a marvellous people: so that you
who from the days of your ancestors have been truly deemed noble are
also now ruled over by the long-descended progeny of Kings.

These sentences relate to the Gothic History of Cassiodorus, which
once existed in twelve books, but is now unfortunately lost. A hasty
abridgment of it, made by an ignorant monk named Jordanes, is all that
now remains. Even this, with its many faults, is a most precious
monument of the early history of the Teutonic invaders of the Empire,
and it is from its pages that much of the information contained in the
previous chapters is drawn. The object of the original statesman-author
in composing his Gothic History is plainly stated in the above
sentences. He wishes to heal the wound given to Roman pride by the fact
of the supremacy in Italy of a Gothic lord; and in order to effect this
object he strings together all that he can collect of the Sagas of the
Gothic people, showing the great deeds of the Amal progenitors of
Theodoric, whose lineage he traces back into distant centuries. It is
true he seems to say to the Senators of Rome, that you, who once ruled
the world, are now ruled by an alien; but at least that alien is no
new-comer into greatness. He and his progenitors have been crowned Kings
for centuries. His people, who are quartered among you and claim
one-third of the soil of Italy, are an old, historic people. Their
ancestors fought under the walls of Troy; they defeated Cyrus, King of
Persia; they warred not ingloriously with Perdiccas of Macedonia.

These classical elements of the Gothic history of Cassiodorus (which
rest chiefly on a misunderstanding of the vague and unscientific term
Scythians) are valueless for the purposes of history; but the old
Gothic Sagas, of which he has evidently also preserved some fragments,
are both interesting and valuable. When a nation has played so important
a part on the theatre of the world as that assigned to the Goths, even
their legendary stories of the past are precious. Whether these early
Amal Kings fought and ruled and migrated as the Sagas represent them to
have done, or not, in any case the belief that these were their
achievements was a part of the intellectual heritage of the Gothic
peoples. The songs to whose lullaby the cradle of a great nation is
rocked are a precious possession to the historian.

The other most important work of Cassiodorus is the collection of
letters called the Variae, in twelve books. This collection contains
all the chief state-papers composed by him during the period (somewhat
more than thirty years) which was covered by his official life. Five
books are devoted to the letters written at the dictation of Theodoric;
two to the Formulae or model-letters addressed to the various
dignitaries of the State on their accession to office; three to the
letters written in the name of Theodoric's immediate successors (his
grandson, daughter, and nephew); and two to those written by Cassiodorus
himself in his own name when he had attained the crowning dignity of
Praetorian Prefect.

I have already made some extracts from this collection of Various
Epistles and the reader, from the specimens thus submitted to him, will
have formed some conception of the character of the author's style. That
style is diffuse and turgid, marked in an eminent degree with the
prevailing faults of the sixth century, an age of literary decay, when
the language of Cicero and Virgil was falling into its dotage. There is
much ill-timed display of irrelevant learning, and a grievous absence of
simplicity and directness, in the Various Epistles. It must be
regarded as a misfortune for Theodoric that his maxims of statesmanship,
which were assuredly full of manly sense and vigour, should have reached
us only in such a shape, diluted with the platitudes and false rhetoric
of a scholar of the decadence. Still, even through all these disguises,
it is easy to discern the genuine patriotism both of the great King and
of his minister, their earnest desire that right, not might, should
determine every case that came before them, their true insight into the
vices and the virtues of each of the two different nations which now
shared Italy between them, their persevering endeavour to keep
civilitas intact, their determination to oppose alike the turbulence
of the Goth and the chicane of the scheming Roman.

As specimens of the rhetoric of Cassiodorus when he is trying his
highest flights, the reader may care to peruse the two following
letters. The first[91] was written to Faustus the Praetorian Prefect, to
complain of his delay in forwarding some cargoes of corn from Calabria
to Rome:

What are you waiting for? says Cassiodorus, writing in his master's
name. Why are your ships not spreading their sails to the breeze? When
the South-wind is blowing and your oarsmen are urging on your vessels,
has the sucking-fish (Echeneis) fastened its bite upon them through the
liquid waves? Or have the shell-fishes of the Indian Sea with similar
power stayed your keels with their lips: those creatures whose quiet
touch is said to hold back, more than the tumultuous elements can
possibly urge forward? The idle bark stands still, though winged with
swelling sails, and has no way on her though the breeze is propitious;
she is fixed without anchors; she is moored without cables, and these
tiny animals pull back, more than all such favouring powers can propel.
Therefore when the subject wave would hasten the vessel's course, it
appears that it stands fixed on the surface of the sea: and in
marvellous style the floating ship is retained immovable, while the
wave is hurried along by countless currents.

But let us describe the nature of another kind of fish. Perhaps the
crews of the aforesaid ships have been benumbed into idleness by the
touch of a torpedo, by which the right hand of him who attacks it is so
deadened--even through the spear by which it is itself wounded--that
while still part of a living body it hangs down benumbed without sense
or motion. I think some such misfortunes must have happened to men who
are unable to move themselves.

But no. The sucking-fish of these men is their hindering corruption.
The shell-fishes that bite them are their avaricious hearts. The torpedo
that benumbs them is lying guile. With perverted ingenuity they
manufacture delays, that they may seem to have met with a run of
ill-luck.

Let your Greatness, whom it especially behoves to take thought for such
matters, cause that this be put right by speediest rebuke: lest the
famine, which will otherwise ensue, be deemed to be the child of
negligence rather than of the barrenness of the land.

The occasion of the second letter (Var., x., 30.) was as follows. Some
brazen images of elephants which adorned the Sacred Street of Rome were
falling into ruin, Cassiodorus, writing in the name of one of
Theodoric's successors, to the Prefect of the City, orders that their
gaping limbs should be strengthened by hooks, and their pendulous
bellies should be supported by masonry. He then proceeds to give to the
admiring Prefect some wonderful information as to the natural history
of the elephant. He regrets that the metal effigies should be so soon
destroyed, when the animal which they represent is accustomed to live
more than a thousand years.

The living elephant he says, when it is once prostrate on the ground,
cannot rise unaided, because it has no joints in its feet. Hence when
they are helping men to fell timber, you see numbers of them lying on
the earth till men come and help them to rise. Thus this creature, so
formidable by its size, is really more helpless than the tiny ant. The
elephant, wiser than all other creatures, renders religious adoration to
the Ruler of all: also to good princes, but if a tyrant approach, it
will not pay him the homage which is due only to the virtuous. It uses
its proboscis, that nose-like hand which Nature has given it in
compensation for its very short neck, for the benefit of its master,
accepting the presents which will be profitable to him. It always walks
cautiously, remembering that fatal fall into the hunter's pit which was
the beginning of its captivity. When requested to do so, it exhales its
breath, which is said to be a remedy for the headache.

When it comes to water, it sucks up a vast quantity in its trunk, and
then at the word of command squirts it forth like a shower. If any one
have treated its demands with contempt, it pours forth such a stream of
dirty water over him that one would think that a river had entered his
house. For this beast has a wonderfully long memory, both of injury and
of kindness. Its eyes are small but move solemnly, so that there is a
sort of royal majesty in its appearance: and it despises scurrile jests,
while it always looks with pleasure on that which is honourable.

It must be admitted that if the official communications of modern
statesmen thus anxiously combined amusement with instruction, the dull
routine of I have the honour to inform and I beg to remain your
obedient humble servant, would acquire a charm of which it is now
destitute.

I have translated two letters which show the ludicrous side of the
literary character of Cassiodorus. In justice to this honest, if
somewhat pedantic, servant of Theodoric, I will close this sketch of his
character with a state-paper of a better type, and one which
incidentally throws some light on the social condition of Italy under
the Goths.

THEODORIC to the Illustrious Neudes. (Var., v., 29.)

We were moved to sympathy by the long petition of Ocer but yet more by
beholding the old hero, bereft of the blessing of sight, inasmuch as the
calamities which we witness make more impression upon us than those of
which we only hear. He, poor man, living on in perpetual darkness, had
to borrow the sight of another to hasten to our presence in order that
he might feel the sweetness of our clemency, though he could not gaze
upon our countenance.

He complains that Gudila and Oppas (probably two Gothic nobles or a
Gothic chief and his wife) have reduced him to a state of slavery, a
condition unknown to him or his fathers, since he once served in our
army as a free man. We marvel that such a man should be dragged into
bondage who (on account of his infirmity) ought to have been liberated
by a lawful owner. It is a new kind of ostentation to claim the services
of such an one, the sight of whom shocks you, and to call that man a
slave, to whom you ought rather to minister with divine compassion.

He adds also that all claims of this nature have been already judged
invalid after careful examination by Count Pythias, a man celebrated for
the correctness of his judgments. But now overwhelmed by the weight of
his calamity, he cannot assert his freedom by his own right hand, which
in the strong man is the most effectual advocate of his claims. We,
however, whose peculiar property it is to administer justice
indifferently, whether between men of equal or unequal condition, do by
this present mandate decree, that if, in the judgment of the aforesaid
Pythias, Ocer have proved himself free-born, you shall at once remove
those who are harassing him with their claims, nor shall they dare any
longer to mock at the calamities of others: these people who once
convicted ought to have been covered with shame for their wicked
designs.





Next: The Arian League

Previous: Civilitas



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