Marcus Terentius Varro

Marcus Terentius Varro

Overview
Marcus Terentius Varro (116 BC – 27 BC) was an ancient Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 scholar and writer. He is sometimes called Varro Reatinus to distinguish him from his younger contemporary Varro Atacinus
Varro Atacinus
Publius Terentius Varro Atacinus was an early Roman poet, more polished than the more famous and learned Varro Reatinus, his contemporary, and more widely read by the Augustans, who apparently dared not mention the other Varro's name...

.

Varro was born in or near Reate (now Rieti
Rieti
Rieti is a city and comune in Lazio, central Italy, with a population of c. 47,700. It is the capital of province of Rieti.The town centre rests on a small hilltop, commanding a wide plain at the southern edge of an ancient lake. The area is now the fertile basin of the Velino River...

) to a family thought to be of equestrian
Equestrian (Roman)
The Roman equestrian order constituted the lower of the two aristocratic classes of ancient Rome, ranking below the patricians , a hereditary caste that monopolised political power during the regal era and during the early Republic . A member of the equestrian order was known as an eques...

 rank, and always remained close to his roots in the area, owning a large farm in the Reatine plain, probably near Lago di Ripa Sottile, till his old age.
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Encyclopedia
Marcus Terentius Varro (116 BC – 27 BC) was an ancient Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 scholar and writer. He is sometimes called Varro Reatinus to distinguish him from his younger contemporary Varro Atacinus
Varro Atacinus
Publius Terentius Varro Atacinus was an early Roman poet, more polished than the more famous and learned Varro Reatinus, his contemporary, and more widely read by the Augustans, who apparently dared not mention the other Varro's name...

.

Biography


Varro was born in or near Reate (now Rieti
Rieti
Rieti is a city and comune in Lazio, central Italy, with a population of c. 47,700. It is the capital of province of Rieti.The town centre rests on a small hilltop, commanding a wide plain at the southern edge of an ancient lake. The area is now the fertile basin of the Velino River...

) to a family thought to be of equestrian
Equestrian (Roman)
The Roman equestrian order constituted the lower of the two aristocratic classes of ancient Rome, ranking below the patricians , a hereditary caste that monopolised political power during the regal era and during the early Republic . A member of the equestrian order was known as an eques...

 rank, and always remained close to his roots in the area, owning a large farm in the Reatine plain, probably near Lago di Ripa Sottile, till his old age.

Politically, he supported Pompey
Pompey
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey or Pompey the Great , was a military and political leader of the late Roman Republic...

, reaching the office of praetor
Praetor
Praetor was a title granted by the government of Ancient Rome to men acting in one of two official capacities: the commander of an army, usually in the field, or the named commander before mustering the army; and an elected magistratus assigned varied duties...

, after having been tribune
Tribune
Tribune was a title shared by elected officials in the Roman Republic. Tribunes had the power to convene the Plebeian Council and to act as its president, which also gave them the right to propose legislation before it. They were sacrosanct, in the sense that any assault on their person was...

 of the people, quaestor
Quaestor
A Quaestor was a type of public official in the "Cursus honorum" system who supervised financial affairs. In the Roman Republic a quaestor was an elected official whereas, with the autocratic government of the Roman Empire, quaestors were simply appointed....

and curule aedile. He was one of the commission of twenty that carried out the great agrarian scheme of Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 for the resettlement of Capua
Capua
Capua is a city and comune in the province of Caserta, Campania, southern Italy, situated 25 km north of Naples, on the northeastern edge of the Campanian plain. Ancient Capua was situated where Santa Maria Capua Vetere is now...

 and Campania
Campania
Campania is a region in southern Italy. The region has a population of around 5.8 million people, making it the second-most-populous region of Italy; its total area of 13,590 km² makes it the most densely populated region in the country...

 (59 BC).

During the civil war
Caesar's civil war
The Great Roman Civil War , also known as Caesar's Civil War, was one of the last politico-military conflicts in the Roman Republic before the establishment of the Roman Empire...

 he commanded one of Pompey's armies in the Ilerda campaign
Battle of Ilerda
The Battle of Ilerda took place in June 49 BC between the forces of Julius Caesar and the Spanish army of Pompey the Great, led by his legates Lucius Afranius and Marcus Petreius...

. He escaped the penalties of being on the losing side in the civil war through two pardons granted by Julius Caesar, before and after the Battle of Pharsalus
Battle of Pharsalus
The Battle of Pharsalus was a decisive battle of Caesar's Civil War. On 9 August 48 BC at Pharsalus in central Greece, Gaius Julius Caesar and his allies formed up opposite the army of the republic under the command of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus...

. Caesar later appointed him to oversee the public library
Library
In a traditional sense, a library is a large collection of books, and can refer to the place in which the collection is housed. Today, the term can refer to any collection, including digital sources, resources, and services...

 of Rome in 47 BC, but following Caesar's death Mark Antony
Mark Antony
Marcus Antonius , known in English as Mark Antony, was a Roman politician and general. As a military commander and administrator, he was an important supporter and loyal friend of his mother's cousin Julius Caesar...

 proscribed
Proscription
Proscription is a term used for the public identification and official condemnation of enemies of the state. It is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a "decree of condemnation to death or banishment" and is a heavily politically charged word, frequently used to refer to state-approved...

 him, resulting in the loss of much of his property, including his library. As the Republic gave way to Empire, Varro gained the favour of Augustus
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

, under whose protection he found the security and quiet to devote himself to study and writing.

He studied under the Roman philologist Lucius Aelius Stilo
Lucius Aelius Stilo Praeconinus
Lucius Aelius Stilo Praeconinus , of Lanuvium, is the earliest philologist of the Roman Republic. He came from a distinguished family and belonged to the equestrian order....

, and later at Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 under the Academic
Academy
An academy is an institution of higher learning, research, or honorary membership.The name traces back to Plato's school of philosophy, founded approximately 385 BC at Akademia, a sanctuary of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and skill, north of Athens, Greece. In the western world academia is the...

 philosopher Antiochus of Ascalon
Antiochus of Ascalon
Antiochus , of Ascalon, , was an Academic philosopher. He was a pupil of Philo of Larissa at the Academy, but he diverged from the Academic skepticism of Philo and his predecessors...

. Varro proved to be a highly productive writer and turned out more than 74 Latin works on a variety of topics.

Among his many works, two stand out for historians; Nine Books of Disciplines and his compilation of the Varronian chronology. His "Nine Books of Disciplines" became a model for later encyclopedists, especially Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

. The most noteworthy portion of the Nine Books of Disciplines is its use of the liberal arts
Liberal arts
The term liberal arts refers to those subjects which in classical antiquity were considered essential for a free citizen to study. Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic were the core liberal arts. In medieval times these subjects were extended to include mathematics, geometry, music and astronomy...

 as organizing principles. Varro decided to focus on identifying nine of these arts: grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, musical theory, medicine, and architecture. Using Varro's list, subsequent writers defined the seven classical "liberal arts of the medieval schools".

Calendars



The compilation of the Varronian chronology was an attempt to determine an exact year-by-year timeline of Roman history up to his time. It is based on the traditional sequence of the consul
Consul
Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...

s of the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

, eked out, where that did not fit, by inserting dictatorial and anarchic years. It has been demonstrated to be somewhat erroneous but has become the widely accepted standard chronology, in large part because it was inscribed on the arch of Augustus
Arch of Augustus, Rome
The Arch of Augustus was the triumphal arch of Augustus in the Roman Forum. Dedicated in 29 BC, it commemorates the great battle of Actium against Antony and Cleopatra...

 in Rome; though that arch no longer stands, a large portion of the chronology has survived under the name of Fasti Capitolini.

Works


Varro's literary output was very large; Ritschl
Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl
Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl was a German scholar best known as a student of Plautus.-Biography:He was born in Großvargula, Thuringia. His family, in which culture and poverty were hereditary, were Protestants who had migrated several generations earlier from Bohemia...

 estimated it at 74 works in some 620 books, of which only one work survives complete, although we possess many fragments of the others, mostly in Gellius' Noctes Atticae.

Called "the most learned of the Romans" by Quintilian
Quintilian
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was a Roman rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing...

 (Inst. Or. X.1.95), Varro was recognized as an important source by many other ancient authors, among them Cicero
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

, Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

, Vergil in the Georgics, Columella
Columella
Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella is the most important writer on agriculture of the Roman empire. Little is known of his life. He was probably born in Gades , possibly of Roman parents. After a career in the army , he took up farming...

, Aulus Gellius
Aulus Gellius
Aulus Gellius , was a Latin author and grammarian, who was probably born and certainly brought up in Rome. He was educated in Athens, after which he returned to Rome, where he held a judicial office...

, Augustine
Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo , also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius . He was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province...

, and Vitruvius
Vitruvius
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was a Roman writer, architect and engineer, active in the 1st century BC. He is best known as the author of the multi-volume work De Architectura ....

, who credits him (VII.Intr.14) with a book on architecture.

From a modern perspective, one noteworthy aspect of Varro's work is his anticipation of microbiology and epidemiology. Varro warned his contemporaries to avoid swamps and marshland, since such areas "breed certain minute creatures which cannot be seen by the eyes, but which float in the air and enter the body through the mouth and nose and cause serious diseases." (R.R. I.12.2)

Extant works

  • De lingua latina libri XXV (or On the Latin Language in 25 Books; of which six (V-X, survive, partly mutilated)
  • Rerum rusticarum libri III (or Agricultural Topics in Three Books)

Known lost works

  • Saturarum Menippearum libri CL or Menippean Satires in 150 books
  • Antiquitates rerum humanarum et divinarum libri XLI
  • Logistoricon libri LXXVI
  • Hebdomades vel de imaginibus
  • Disciplinarum libri IX (An encyclopedia on the liberal arts, of which the first book dealt with grammar)
  • De rebus urbanis libri III
  • De gente populi Romani libri IIII (cf. Augustine, 'De civitate dei' xxi. 8.)
  • De sua vita libri III
  • De familiis troianis
  • De Antiquitate Litterarum libri II (addressed to the tragic poet Lucius Accius
    Lucius Accius
    Lucius Accius , or Lucius Attius, was a Roman tragic poet and literary scholar. The son of a freedman, Accius was born at Pisaurum in Umbria, in 170 BC...

    ; it's therefore one of his earliest writings)
  • De Origine Linguae Latinae libri III (addressed to Pompey
    Pompey
    Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey or Pompey the Great , was a military and political leader of the late Roman Republic...

    ; cf. Augustine, 'De civitate dei' xxii. 28.)
  • Περί Χαρακτήρων (in at least three books, on the formation of words)
  • Quaestiones Plautinae libri V (containing interpretations of rare words found in the comedies of Plautus)
  • De Similitudine Verborum libri III (on regularity in forms and words)
  • De Utilitate Sermonis libri IIII (on the principle of anomaly or irregularity)
  • De Sermone Latino libri V (?) (addressed to Marcellus
    Marcellus
    -In Christianity:* Marcellus of Ancyra , bishop* Pope Marcellus I, saint* Pope Marcellus II, Italian pope* Marcellus of Tangier , martyr* Pseudo-Marcellus, author of the Passio sanctorum Petri et Pauli...

    , on orthography and the metres of poetry)
  • De philosophia (cf. Augustine, 'De civitate dei' xix. 1.)


Most of the extant fragments of these works (mostly the grammatical works) can be found in the Goetz-Schoell edition of De Lingua Latina, p.199-242; in the collection of Wilmanns, p.170-223; and in that of Funaioli, p.179-371.

Varro's own writings

  • de Re Rustica (Latin and English at LacusCurtius
    LacusCurtius
    LacusCurtius is a website specializing in ancient Rome, currently hosted on a server at the University of Chicago. It went online on August 26, 1997; in January 2008 it had "2786 pages, 690 photos, 675 drawings & engravings, 118 plans, 66 maps." The site is the...

    )
  • de Re Rustica (Latin)

Secondary material