Varro, Terentius in Harpers Dictionary

M. Terentius Varro Reatīnus, a celebrated writer, whose vast and varied erudition in almost every department of literature earned for him the title of the "most learned of the Romans" (Quint.x. i. 95; Dionys. ii. 21; C. D. vi. 2). He was born at Reaté B.C. 116, and was trained under L. Aelius Stilo Praeconinus, and afterwards by Antiochus, a philosopher of the Academy. Varro held a high naval command in the wars against the pirates and Mithridates, and afterwards served as the legatus of Pompeius in Spain in the Civil War, but was compelled to surrender his forces to Caesar (Flor. ii. 13, 29; B.C. i. 38, ii. 17-20). He then passed over into Greece, and shared the fortunes of the Pompeian party till after the battle of Pharsalia, when he obtained the forgiveness of Caesar, who employed him in superintending the collection and arrangement of the great library designed for public use (Iul. 44; Orig. vi. 5). For some years after this period Varro remained in literary seclusion, passing his time chiefly at his country seats near Cumae and Tusculum, occupied with study and composition. Caesar had forced Antony to restore to Varro an estate which he had seized (Cic. Phil. ii. 40, 103), and, perhaps in consequence, upon the formation of the Second Triumvirate his name appeared upon the list of the proscribed; but he succeeded in making his escape, and, after having remained for some time concealed, he obtained the protection of Octavian. His life is said to have been saved by Fufius Calenus (B. C. iv. 47), and it is probable that he recovered a great portion of his estates; but most of his magnificent library had been destroyed (Gell. iii. 10). The remainder of his career was passed in tranquillity, and he continued to labour in his favourite studies. His death took place B.C. 28, when he was in his eighty-ninth year. Not only was Varro the most learned of Roman scholars, but he was likewise the most voluminous of Roman authors. Gellius (l. c.) states that Varro claimed to have written 490 books before he was seventy-seven: Ausonius gives in round numbers 600 as the total number of books written by Varro (Prof. Burd. xx. 10); and this agrees with a list given by St. Jerome which makes out the writings of Varro to consist of seventy-four different works, containing altogether 620 books. (Cf. also Augustin. De Civ. Dei, vi. 2; and Acad. i. 9.) Hence it would appear that 130 of the books were written in the last twelve years of his life. Of these works only two have survived: Extant works of Varro De Re Rustica Libri III, still extant, written when the author was eighty years old, and the most important of all the treatises upon ancient agriculture now extant, being far superior to the more voluminous production of Columella, with which alone it can be compared. It is edited by Keil (Halle, 1884 foll.), and in the Scriptores Rei Rusticae Veteres Latini, by Schneider (Leipzig, 1764-1797). De Lingua Latina, a grammatical treatise which extended to twenty-four books; but six only (v.-x.) have been preserved, and these in a mutilated condition. The remains of this treatise are particularly valuable, since they have been the means of preserving many terms and forms which would otherwise have been altogether lost, and much curious information is here treasured up connected with the ancient usages, both civil and religious, of the Romans. Editions by Spengel (Berlin, 1826, reedited 1885); in Didot's collection (Paris, 1875); and by O. Müller (last ed. Leipzig, 1883). The remains of Varro's other grammatical treatises are discussed by Wilmanns (1864). The work entitled Antiquitatum Libri was divided into two sections: Antiquitates Rerum Humanarum, in twenty-five books, and Antiquitates Rerum Divinarum, in sixteen books. It described the political and religious institutions of Rome, and was Varro's greatest work, upon which chiefly his reputation for profound learning was based; but unfortunately only a few fragments of it have come down to us, printed in Merkel's edition of Ovid's Fasti, pp. cvi.-ccxlvii. (1841). With the second section of the work we are, comparatively speaking, familiar, since St. Augustine drew very largely from this source in his De Civitate Dei. Varro wrote also a collection of biographies called Imagines or Hebdomades in fifteen books, which contain 700 lives or sketches of famous Greeks and Romans, arranged in groups of seven. It is said to have been illustrated with portraits and afterwards to have appeared in a cheaper edition without pictures. Another work, Disciplinae, in nine books, described the "liberal arts," viz., grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, geometry, arithmetic, astrology, music, medicine, and architecture (see Liberales Artes); and he wrote other works on philosophy (Logistorici in seventy-six books), geography, and law. Among his poetical works were the Saturae, which were composed in a variety of metres and with an admixture of prose. Varro in these pieces copied to a certain extent the productions of Menippus the Gadarene (see Menippus), and hence designated them as Saturae Menippeae s. Cynicae. They appear to have been a series of disquisitions on a vast variety of subjects, frequently, if not uniformly, couched in the shape of dialogue, the object proposed being the inculcation of moral lessons and serious truths in a familiar, playful, and even jocular style. The best editions of the fragments of these Saturae are by Riese (Leipzig, 1865), and Bücheler (with Petronius) (Berlin, 1882). The Sententiae Varronis, a collection of pithy sayings, may possibly have been gathered from the writings of Varro Reatinus, but this is wholly uncertain. They are edited by Devit (Padua, 1843). See Boissier, Études sur M. T. Varron (Paris, 1861); and Ritschl, Die Schriftstellerei des Varro in his Opuscula, iii. 419-505; id. Parerga, pp. 70 foll.

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