Chapter 1: Backgrounds and Some Dates

WE possess no certain information for the dates of Cassiodorus' birth and death. Plausible dates can be suggested for both events and more demonstrable ones for other epochs in his life, but certainty is most elusive. We cannot tell if he ever married or sired children, though his silence on this point may mean that he did not. Here as elsewhere the limitations of our knowledge are those of the sources. Apart from the works of Cassiodorus himself and incidental documents dated to his consulship, there are only three mentions of any of his family in the documents of late Roman history, namely in letters of popes Gelasius, John II, and Vigilius; on the other hand, the list of authors by whom one fails to see Cassiodorus mentioned is impressive: Ennodius, Procopius, the "Anonymus Valesianus," and especially Boethius, to cite only the most obvious. It will be helpful to bear in mind that Cassiodorus may not have been so conspicuous in the politics of sixth-century Italy to his contemporaries as he is to us.

But all of Cassiodorus' own works betray at least some hint of the circumstances in which they were composed, and biographical data are not altogether impossible to come by on their pages. In this chapter we will summarize what we know and what we do not know about the public life of Cassiodorus. For our purposes there are two chief sources.

First is the fragment published as the Anecdoton Holderi a little over a century ago.[[1]] This short text, apparently excerpted from some larger catalogue, provides indispensable information for the biographers of Boethius, his father-in-law Symmachus, and Cassiodorus himself. There is no question of the fundamental authenticity of this document; but there is no agreement on its date of composition. Furthermore, there are two textual cruces that obscure important information about both Cassiodorus and the nature of the fragment itself.

The dates suggested for the Ordo generis vary widely. The text is addressed explicitly to one Rufius Petronius Nichomachus, who is the same Flavius Rufius Petronius Nichomachus Cethegus who was ordinary consul in 504, later magister officiorum, and princeps senatus during the worst years of the Byzantine reconquest; he last appears in Sicily in 558. Significantly, he was mentioned in the same breath as Cassiodorus as present in Constantinople on the fringes of the party of Pope Vigilius in 550.[[2]] In Appendix I, below, I present a circumstantial case for assigning the work to some time between the last years of Cassiodorus' service as magister officiorum and his appointment as praetorian prefect (hence, 527-533); but it has been dated as early as 522 and as late as 538. The state of the text does not permit confident resolution of the issue.

The text's transmission to us raises perplexing questions as well. One must first attempt to deduce what sort of treatise these lines were taken from: perhaps a letter not much longer than the surviving fragment. The three entries are tersely worded and exhibit clear parallels of verbal construction among themselves; in longer notices the demands of elegant literary variation would have required the original author to diversify his technique precisely where the format of a catalogue of short notices encourages formal order. The appendix below also indicates the points that lead one to suspect that the excerptor was an associate or subordinate from the period of Cassiodorus' monastic career, provided we accept Cassiodorus' original responsibility and impute some further originality to the excerptor.[[3]] But the truth may very well be even more complex than that; we have no way of knowing.

More information than the Ordo generis provides has always been available in our second source, the Variae. Apart from the whole work's function as a record of the public acts of the Ostrogothic kingdom in which Cassiodorus was involved, several of the letters included directly concern the family of the Cassiodori.[[4]] Letters of appointment in the Variae frequently mention the ancestry, living relatives, and earlier career of the individual involved. In the case of other families, these documents help to establish a reliable prosopography of the senatorial class in sixth-century Italy.[[5]] In the case of the Cassiodori, this information is obviously privileged and vital to our study.[[6]]

The most complete catalogue of the family's past appears in the letter that notified the senate of the elevation of the father of our subject to the patriciate. Theoderic, in a script drafted by Cassiodorus, noted the fama of the foregoing generations and added that the name Cassiodorus "really belongs to this particular family, even if it is heard of in others."[[7]] Theoderic then listed the achievements of the father and grandfather of the man he was honoring; thus there are four known generations of Cassiodori, spanning a century of the history of Italy. After the mention of direct ancestors comes the clearest statement of the origins of the entire family in the eastern half of the empire: "We ourselves [sc. Theoderic] saw at Constantinople one Heliodorus, a blood relative of the Cassiodori, during his eighteen years as prefect. This is a family illustrious in both realms" (Var. 1.4.15). The mention of Heliodorus alludes to Theoderic's time in Constantinople as a hostage (c. 461-471). At that time the Codex Justinianus records a comes sacrarum largitionum named Heliodorus who may very well be the relative mentioned here (CJ 10.23.3-4). The natural and perhaps correct assumption is that the division of the family into eastern and western branches was a comparatively recent one; this would explain why the catalogue of illustrious Cassiodori of Italy goes back only four generations. Further evidence for an eastern origin of the family is in the very name; for the only other testimonies to its use come from Greek inscriptions, and its etymology refers to a deity honored near Antioch as late as the sixth century.[[8]]

The passage quoted above on this family's special right to the name Cassiodorus implies that all the members of the family of whom we know bore that name; explicit testimony is given for the first, third, and fourth members of the line of generation. The fullest version of the name of our own Cassiodorus was Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator. (The first two names are largely decorative, and they appear only occasionally.) Despite the confusion caused by an abundance of Cassiodori, modern scholars have always used that name, usually alone, for the author of the works we are studying; his contemporaries knew him simply as Senator. He so appears in the consular list of his own Chronica for the year 514, and he is thus named in the superscriptions and texts of the letters addressed to and mentioning him in the Variae; finally, the pontifical letters that mention him refer to him only as Senator.[[9]] His works are all transmitted with at least the last two elements (and works of his political career generally with more of the initial decorations); Bede and Paul the Deacon were the first writers to refer to our subject only as Cassiodorus.

If the Cassiodori were originally Syrian, they must have been Greek-speakers.[[10]] It is thus at least a coincidence that they were always associated with that part of Italy traditionally known as Magna Graecia.[[11]] The family estates at Squillace, later the site of Cassiodorus' monastic foundation, were a powerful magnet to which every generation of the family was drawn. In the Mediterranean itinerary of Aeneas, Squillace had a reputation for danger, and its modern situation, however striking, has little of the earthly paradise about it.[[12]] For Cassiodorus, however, the situation was altogether different.

Situated on the Ionian Sea just at the base of the toe of Italy's boot, Squillace (Cassiodorus says) looks toward the rising sun coming up out of the sea (Var. 12.15).[[13]] The situation of the city on a hill reminds him of a hanging cluster of grapes; its temperate climate features sunny winters and cool summers. Without walls, the city has a charming air of rusticity, situated in country that produces all three of antiquity's staples: grain, grapes, and olives.[[14]]

All four of the Cassiodori whom we know are clearly connected with Squillace. The first of the four, the great-grandfather of our subject, flourished early in the fifth century and was remembered by Theoderic for defending Sicily and Calabria from the Vandals under Genseric around 440 (Var. 1.4.14). At the time of those attacks, this Cassiodorus had already reached the rank of illustris, the highest civil rank in the Empire.

The second Cassiodorus, son of the defender of Sicily and grandfather of our subject, is described at greater length in the Variae. He was a tribune and notary under Valentinian 111 and seems to have befriended the powerful patrician Aetius (Var. 1.4.10-13). In company with Aetius' son Carpilio, this Cassiodorus undertook a sort of embassy to the court of Attila. He is reported to have been offered all manner of high rank as a reward for his services, but he turned them down to retire to Squillace.

The third Cassiodorus was our subject's father. He must have been born not much later than the middle of the fifth century and would have been well along in years by the time of the letters addressed to him in the Variae (Var. 1.3-4, 3.28). Of his career we are reasonably well-informed.

His rise was not precipitous, but rather a gradual and measured process (Var. 1.4.3). Nevertheless, his first position in government was that of comes rerum privatarum, in charge of the imperial lands; he soon moved to the post of comes sacrarum largitionum (concerned with the strictly monetary fiscal matters of the realm), where "the further he advanced in rank, the more he was praised for the decency of his character" (Var. 1.4.4). He moved on then to what are referred to as provincial governorships without specification of place or date; this summary concludes with the note that "he came to our court tested in the service of our predecessor [Odovacer] and found worthy of well-earned praise" (Var. 1.4.6). From there the story can be traced in another letter of appointment, where it appears that he held the governorship of Sicily at the time of Theoderic's entry into Italy (c. 490-493). "In the first days of our reign, when the provinces were in turmoil with the state of affairs and the newness of our rule was an excuse to sneer at an untried monarch, this faithful servant diverted the distrustful Sicilians from precipitous resistance to us, saving them from blame and sparing us the necessity of punishing them" (Var. 1.3.3-4). Governor Cassiodorus had picked the winner of the Odovacer-Theoderic contest quickly and soon accommodated himself to the new power in Italy. While this enunciation of the flexible governor's virtues does not fail to mention the remarkable absence of personal avarice with which the office was performed, what is unstated here as elsewhere is the facility of all the Cassiodori for accommodating themselves to the party in power. The first Cassiodorus opposed an invader when it was politic to do so, the second was on close personal terms with the power behind the throne, while the third sided with another invader when that course seemed (and was) the most fruitful. The later career of the fourth Cassiodorus through the Symplegades that Ostrogothic politics became will give further testimony to this aptitude for compromise with power.

At any rate, in reward for staunch service in Sicily the third Cassiodorus was granted the governorship of his home province (Var. 1.3.5). In recalling these honors and the proficiency with which the public offices were performed, Theoderic makes the transition into what he claims is the pleasant recollection of the deeds of the third Cassiodorus as praetorian prefect. The earliest possible date for this appointment as prefect is approximately 501: the candidate seems to be out of office at the time his son becomes quaestor (for none of the letters of the Variae are addressed to him in his role as prefect), but not too long out of office (for it was as his father's consiliarius that our subject made the impression on Theoderic that won him advancement).[[15]] The third Cassiodorus held no official position after 507, and his elevation to the patriciate came as he brought his career to a close and returned to Squillace.

For the last of the Cassiodori, there is no surer evidence for the dates of his birth and death than for his ancestors. There is, however, a great amount of indirect, circumstantial, and allusive evidence to weigh. It is best to begin with the dates from his career that are to some extent certain.

The central unshakable Cassiodorian date is 514, the year of his consulship. The evidence for this is clear, both in his own fasti in the Chronica and in all the other records that survive as well. The entry in the Chronica records the most significant event of that year, the end of the Laurentian schism upon the election of Pope Hormisdas: "During my consulship it was to the credit of the Gothic rulers that longed-for concord returned to the reunited clergy and people of the Roman church" (Chron., s.a. 514 A.D.). Cassiodorus was the only consul for this year, for reasons that are not known. The honor may have been achieved accidentally; while there is no explicit evidence to explain the lack of an eastern nominee, the disruptions caused at that time by the insurrection of Vitalian may well have caused the omission of the ritual appointment.[[16]] The consul's duties were to give his name to the year and to stage the most spectacular of the annual games; one reason for the occasional appointment of two men from one half of the empire was to enable the nominees to pool the expenses. But the games were not an irreplaceable element of the annual calendar, since appointment of two consuls from one half of the empire meant the omission of the games in the other half; thus incipient civil war is an easily adequate justification for omitting the appointment.

Appointment to the consulship does not itself give presumptive evidence for the age of the holder. There was a tendency in the late empire for the consulship to be a young man's privilege, usually funded by proud fathers. Thus the distinguished prefect Liberius saw his son, still of tenera aetas, consul in 507, while a primaevus was consul in 509; Boethius was told by Philosophia that he had had in his adolescence honors often denied to old men, and his own sons followed him in the consulship by only twelve years, apparently even more remarkably young than he had been.[[17]]

We know, however, that the consulship was not the young Cassiodorus' first post in public life. "He was still a very young man [adeo iuvenis] when he became consiliarius to his father, the praetorian prefect and patrician Cassiodorus, and delivered a highly eloquent oration in praise of Theoderic, king of the Goths; he was made quaestor by the king, then patrician and consul, and afterwards magister officiorum (Ordo gen., lines 27-32). This is partially confirmed by the letter of Athalaric naming Cassiodorus praetorian prefect in 533; Theoderic "took him on as quaestor while still a primaevus but soon found him conscientious and learned in the law" (Var. 9.24.3). In both cases the remarkable youth of the new quaestor was singled out. The two terms used to describe the young Cassiodorus (iuvenis, primaevus) are fatally vague for the biographer's purpose; the only direct evidence to enable us to judge their import in this place is the use by Cassiodorus, writing in the name of Theoderic's daughter Amalasuintha, of the term primaevus to describe Athalaric at the time of his death.[[18]] Athalaric's parents were married in 515, and his birth took place in 516 (according to Jordanes) or in 518 (according to Procopius), making him something between fifteen and eighteen at the time of his death.[[19]]

It would be difficult to accept that Cassiodorus could have been as young as fifteen when he became quaestor, having already served some time as consiliarius to his father (though it is to be noted that such a job might very well have been the source of much of the legal knowledge for which Athalaric later praised him) and having received an education equal to the performance manifested from the first page of the Variae. Nevertheless, the use of the term primaevus in referring to the adolescent Athalaric and the iuvenis Cassiodorus cannot be completely without meaning; even a society unobsessed with birth dates would make some broad discriminations between young men of various ages, although the terminology would not be precise--and all these terms were actually written down and transmitted to us by the pen of one man, Cassiodorus himself. It is difficult to believe in the face of this evidence that Cassiodorus could have been older than twenty-three at the time of entering his quaestorship, and he was very possibly not over twenty-one.[[20]]

Happily the date of accession to the quaestorship can be fixed with fair accuracy by an examination of the contents of the Variae. The letters of the first four books (and the last two letters in Book V, out of place for literary reasons discussed in Chapter 3, below) contain the literary remains of Cassiodorus' term as quaestor. The bulk of the letters are undatable, or datable only very loosely, and the limits within which they can be presumed to fall are determined by the letters which, by explicit mention of the date or by obvious connection with otherwise datable historical events, admit of narrower dating. Mommsen established dates of from 507 to 511 for the first four books, and they have not been convincingly shaken.[[21]] With this information in hand, we can make our closest approximation of Cassiodorus' date of birth. Recalling our earlier remarks about the significance of iuvenis and primaevus, subtracting the highest possibility from the earliest date, we arrive at a birth date of 484; but if the precocity of the young eruditus was truly astonishing and his age at appointment closer to Athalaric's at death, his birth could have been as late as 490. At any rate, the range 484-490 is close to certain and usable in later calculations.[[22]]

One important conclusion can be drawn from this calculation of the date of Cassiodorus' birth. We have already seen that his father was functioning as governor of Sicily at the time of Theoderic's entry into Italy and that he accepted the governorship of Calabria (then technically the province of "Lucania et Bruttii") not long after. Since his appointment to the prefecture was no earlier than 501 or 503, there is every likelihood that the family spent the years from the late 480's on through our Cassiodorus' childhood without straying far from native Squillace. Since the family's political (and presumably financial) standing at this time was a happy one, such a childhood in a family well enough knit to inspire Cassiodorus' later obvious loyalty, on luxurious estates overlooking the Ionian Sea, could well have been the period when the young Cassiodorus learned for himself to love the native soil that so attracted him in later life.

Beyond this pleasant speculation, however, we know nothing of Cassiodorus' early life. The question of his proficiency in the Greek language will occupy us in Chapter 6, but it is worth noting that he does not seem to have the facility of a Boethius (who probably studied for a time in the east) and that there is no evidence that he ever left Italy for any of his education; indeed, if he began acting as his father's consiliarius by his mid- or late teens, he scarcely would have had time for such formal advancement of his education. He speaks fondly in later life of Dionysius Exiguus, to whom he devotes a substantial half-chapter of the Institutiones (Inst. 1.23.2-4).[[24]]

With these dates so far established, we can now suggest that Cassiodorus was in his mid- to late twenties when he served as consul in 514. The consulship is the one securely dated event in a decade of obscurity in Cassiodorus' life; there is no evidence that he held public office apart from the consulship between 511 and 523, just during the years when he was reaching what moderns would call maturity.[[25]] The Chronica, discussed at length in the next chapter, was published in 519, specifically in honor of the consulship of Eutharic, Theoderic's son-in-law; but we can only speculate whether this was the product of an author-in-residence at court or of an ambitious young man hoping to get back into office by calling attention to himself in this way. For this, as for the next, period of obscurity in Cassiodorus' life, two possible centers of activity are probable, though the amount of time distributed between them is impossible to define: Rome and Squillace. First, Dionysius Exiguus was still in Rome, and Cassiodorus may have made or remade his acquaintance at this time. Since the consulship was still associated with the city of Rome itself, it seems likely that at least that one year was spent in the city. Furthermore, later mention of a library once held at Rome by Cassiodorus implies that at some period of his adult life he resided there normally and was surrounding himself with books (Inst. 2.5.10). But Squillace was also home to him, and as we shall see later on, there is reason to suspect that he was active there during his years out of office as well.

It is difficult to know, therefore, how much to make of this period of apparent rustication. It was in fact unusual for senatorial figures to spend as much time in public life at this time as did Cassiodorus. It was not unusual for scions of wealthy families to content themselves with the consulship and a year or two as an illustris; lower offices did not appeal to them at all.[[26]] Thus it is difficult to say whether the eleven years that Cassiodorus spent in office over three decades seemed to him at the time to be much or little.

Whatever the significance of the interlude out of office, it clearly comes to an end in the 520's. From the dates of the letters in Books V, VIII, and IX of the Variae, broad limits for his activity at court at this time of roughly 523-527 can be established; note, for example, that the earliest firmly datable letters in this series make appointments for the third indiction (A.D. 524-525) and therefore were written sometime around 1 September 524 (Var. 5.3-4, 5.40-41). We can also conclude that the bulk of his activity at this time was in the post of magister officiorum; this is attested to not only by the ordering of titles in the Ordo generis and other works, but by the explicit testimony of Athalaric's letters from 533 appointing Cassiodorus praetorian prefect (Var. 9.24-25). There we learn that he was originally appointed to the office of magister and that he was still in office when Theoderic died on 30 August 526 (Var. 9.24.6, 9.25.8). Thus he was involved in the transition of power from the old king to the regency exercised in the name of the young one.

Both of these sources make a further reference to Cassiodorus' activities at this period. The first mentions the service as magister and adds that "in office you were always available to the quaestors; for whenever they needed some specially polished prose, the matter was forthwith entrusted to your talents" (Var. 9.24.6). The second begins by noting that Athalaric came to the throne to find Cassiodorus already magister, "but he served us in the post of quaestor as well."[[27]] It would be easy to make light of these references, but the repetition seems to indicate that Cassiodorus really was filling two offices at this time. This is the solution to the infrequently posed problem of the origins of the letters contained in the Variae after the fourth book. For there is not a significant change in the content of the letters from the period of the official quaestorship to the later terms as magister and prefect. The clear import of Athalaric's words is that the literary talents of Cassiodorus were so remarkable in the Ostrogothic court that whenever he was in Ravenna some significant public documents were entrusted to him for drafting, no matter who technically exercised of quaestor. This further explains the presence in the sixth and seventh books, the collections of formulae for letters of appointment. There are no clearly datable references in these formulae, and, while Mommsen suggested that they came from 511, the collection could have been put together at any time before 534 (when the consulship, for which a formula is provided in Book VI, was last filled in the west). However, given the respect in which Cassiodorus' quaestorial products were held by the court, an earlier date would have preference over a later; the occasion of compilation might well have been the termination of either of his first two periods of service when, as he was preparing to leave Ravenna, his associates implored him to prepare the collection so that they would have something a little special for the bulk of the routine letters of appointment it fell on them to compose each year.

Two other aspects of Cassiodorus' activities at court in the 520's are attested by the sources. First, Athalaric tells us that during his time as magister under Theoderic, Cassiodorus was a favored companion of the king. "To the monarch you were a friendly judge and an honored intimate. For when he got free of his official cares he looked to your conversation for the precepts of the sages, that he might make himself a worthy equal to the great men of old. Ever curious, he wanted to hear about the courses of the stars, the tides of the sea, and legendary fountains, that his earnest study of natural science might make him seem to be a veritable philosopher in the purple" (Var. 9.24.8). A vignette of king and courtier passing the hours in learned discourse also appears in the preface at the beginning of the Variae, where mention is made of Cassiodorus' familiarity with the "exalted colloquies of kings" (Var., Praef. 8).

As if to confirm the indispensability of Cassiodorus to the royal court, Athalaric's announcement of the prefectorial appointment to the senate went on to laud Cassiodorus' activities in the first troubled days of the young monarch's own reign. "How earnestly did he not labor in the first days of our rule, when the newness of our reign required that much be set in order? He was the one man who was everywhere, issuing proclamations, assisting at our councils; what labor he undertook was spared to us .... He assisted the first steps of our rule with both sword and pen. For when we were troubled over coastal defense, he shot out of his literary sanctuary and assumed military command [ducatus] no less intrepidly than did his ancestors; he found no enemy to fight, yet triumphed by his courageous behavior" (Var. 9.25.7-9). This military action may have been a response to fears of assault from Vandal or Byzantine forces interested in influencing the succession and government. The danger passed, Athalaric makes clear a little further on, when the onset of winter made the seas an unlikely source of peril. There is no evidence that Cassiodorus held any regular military command at this time, and there is specific evidence that he returned to his official chores as magister after the military alarm was over (Var. 9.25.10). It seems obvious that he was simply acting as events demanded without color of formal appointment.

Here our special knowledge of Cassiodorus' employment at court in the 520's comes to an end. What is remarkable about the evidence is not how much it says, but how much it does not say. It is precisely this reticence that most inflames suspicions that there was something not altogether honorable about the circumstances of Cassiodorus' return to office.

For 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.

For both Boethius and his accusers fare equally well in the treatment accorded them by successive kings in the letters Cassiodorus selected to preserve. The only letters to Boethius date, of course, from Cassiodorus' first years as quaestor. They include one directive to look into charges that the Gothic troops were being cheated on their pay and two requests to provide presents (in one case a water clock and a sundial, and in the other a musician) for the warring kings in Gaul, Gundobad, and Clovis (Var. 1.10, 1.45, 2.40). Symmachus, furthermore, received three letters, two on ordinary administrative matters and one full of praise, a directive to undertake the rebuilding of a theater (Var. 2.14, 4.10, 4.51).[[28]] Three of the four books of letters from the period 507-511 end with letters or pairs of letters involving Boethius or Symmachus; as we shall see below in Chapter 3, the first and last positions in each book of the Variae were places of honor for special letters.

None of this is surprising to readers of the Ordo generis, especially if that document is interpreted to mean that Cassiodorus was claiming Boethius and Symmachus as relatives of his. But it has long aroused curiosity that no mention is made there of their deaths.[[29]]

Against the retention, in a collection published more than a decade after the events in question, of favorable mentions of executed politicians, there must also be weighed the favorable attention paid to Cyprian, the chief opponent of Boethius, and his whole rather distasteful family. Both Cyprian and his brother Opilio appear in the books of the Variae dating from the time of Cassiodorus' service as magister officiorum, appointed to high offices with praise neither more nor less enthusiastic than that for all of the other figures who are seen receiving promotions on the pages of the Variae (e.g., Var. 8.21).

There is no interpretation of Cassiodorus' actions that fully exonerates him from all suspicion of having participated in the downfall of Boethius, if only by profiting personally from promotion in Boethius' stead. And Theoderic in his last years, as best we can gather from other sources, was not the benign patron of religious toleration that he had seemed earlier in his reign; indeed, his death cut short what could well have developed into a major persecution of Catholic churches in retaliation for measures taken by Justin in Constantinople against Arians there. Sadly for Cassiodorus' reputation, it is precisely at this period that the letters quoted earlier make the most of his frequent, friendly discourses with the king; together with the utter lack of evidence for any concrete actions that Cassiodorus may have taken against the increasing harshness of Theoderic's policies, the positive evidence does Cassiodorus little credit.

The atmosphere of the court seems to have improved in the first years after Theoderic. While Theoderic's grandson Athalaric held the throne, it was the boy's mother Amalasuintha who held the power; she knew the benefits of Roman education and was determined to pass them on to her son. In this relatively happy and enlightened court, Cassiodorus seems to have completed the last year of his service as magister officiorum. It is ominous, however, that one of his immediate successors in that post was the very Cyprian who had accused Boethius. The more uncompromising faction within the Gothic camp (and their adherents among the Romans of the upper classes) was in the ascendancy once again in the early 530's, culminating in the murder of further alleged conspirators against the throne.

This last storm seems to have passed, however, when Cassiodorus returned to court for his last and most distinguished appointment, as praetorian prefect for Italy. This post was effectively the prime ministership of the Ostrogothic civil government and an honored culmination for any career. Among Cassiodorus' first activities when he arrived back in Ravenna was the writing up of his own appointment and that of the consul for 534. Athalaric died shortly afterwards in early 534, and the remainder of Cassiodorus' public career fell under storm clouds of Byzantine reconquest and dynastic intrigue among the Ostrogoths.

It is to this period that we can provisionally date Cassiodorus' activities in connection with Pope Agapetus to establish a school of Christian higher learning in Rome (Inst. 1, praef 1). Thus our image of Cassiodorus during his prefecture is a picture divided between the complaisant courtier doing his master's bidding and the private man increasingly concerned with the affairs of the church. Perhaps his concern for Christian studies specifically at Rome is evidence that he had spent some of the period between his tours of duty in Ravenna back at Rome associated with the religious and intellectual life of that city. At any rate, it is on this note that the public career Cassiodorus disappears from our view. The last letters in the Variae that admit of secure dating are from late 537 or early 538.[[30]] Moreover, the last letters written in the name of Witigis, the last of the Gothic kings whom Cassiodorus served, cannot be put much beyond the end of 536 (Var. 10.33-34). Neither of the two prefaces that Cassiodorus inserted in the Variae makes any mention of the conclusion of the author's term of office; they are open to the interpretation that they were written and the Variae published while Cassiodorus still held office as prefect. This would also indicate that the treatise De anima (mentioned in the preface to Book XI) also dates from the period of public service and is further evidence of a deepening of the statesman's involvement with religion. Nothing in the De anima itself forbids this interpretation.

On that note of uncertainty we come to the end of our knowledge of the public career of Cassiodorus. Whether he relinquished office to a duly appointed successor or whether military events led to the breakdown of the Gothic civil government, we simply do not know. There is no record of any successor being appointed for Cassiodorus by Gothic authorities; the next Roman authorities in Italy that we know of were appointed from Constantinople.

For the remainder of the history of the life of Cassiodorus as a private person we rely on his own later writings. Their evidence is arguable in the extreme, and an evaluation of his later life, intimately bound up with the assessment of those texts themselves, is a task reserved for later chapters. What we know for certain is that Cassiodorus spent some time in Constantinople, probably doing most of the work on his Psalm commentary there, but settled into the monastic life at Squillace to pursue his second career.

Go on to Chapter 2 or return to Table of Contents.