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
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.