6th-century Roman senator and scholar

Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (c. 485585) was a Roman statesman and writer. He acted as magister officiorum to Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths, and praetorian prefect to several of his successors, but retired to one of his own monastic foundations to devote the rest of his life to prayer and the dissemination of learning.




Poverty is the mother of crime.

Latin quotations are cited from online texts of Cassiodorus at The Latin Library. Unless otherwise stated, English quotations are cited from S. J. B. Barnish (trans.) The Variae of Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator {Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1992), to which page-numbers also refer.

  • Haec enim quae appellatur arithmetica inter ambigua mundi certissima ratione consistit, quam cum caelestibus aequaliter novimus: evidens ordo, pulchra dispositio, cognitio simplex, immobilis scientia, quae et superna continet et terrena custodit. quid est enim quod aut mensuram non habeat aut pondus excedat? omnia complectitur, cuncta moderatur et universa hinc pulchritudinem capiunt, quia sub modo ipsius esse noscuntur.
    • For, among the world's incertitudes, this thing called arithmetic is established by a sure reasoning that we comprehend as we do the heavenly bodies. It is an intelligible pattern, a beautiful system, that both binds the heavens and preserves the earth. For is there anything that lacks measure, or transcends weight? It includes all, it rules all, and all things have their beauty because they are perceived under its standard.
    • Bk. 1, no. 10; p. 12.
  • Mores autem graves in spectaculis quis requirat? ad circum nesciunt convenire Catones. quicquid illic a gaudenti populo dicitur, iniuria non putatur. locus est qui defendit excessum. quorum garrulitas si patienter accipitur, ipsos quoque principes ornare monstratur.
    • But who looks for serious conduct at the public shows? A Cato never goes to the circus. Anything said there by the people as they celebrate should be deemed no injury. It is a place that protects excesses. Patient acceptance of their chatter is a proven glory of princes themselves.
    • Bk. 1, no. 27; p. 19.
  • Quid enim illa praestantius, quae caeli machinam sonora dulcedine modulatur et naturae convenientiam ubique dispersam virtutis suae gratia comprehendit?
    • For what is more glorious than music, which modulates the heavenly system with its sonorous sweetness, and binds together with its virtue the concord of nature which is scattered everywhere?
    • Bk. 2, no. 40; p. 38.
  • Paucos enim ratio capit, raros probabilis oblectat intentio: ad illud potius turba ducitur, quod ad remissionem curarum constat inventum. nam quicquid aestimat voluptuosum, hoe et ad beatitudinem temporum iudicat applicandum. quapropter largiamur expensas, non semper ex iudicio demus. expedit interdum desipere, ut populi possimus desiderata gaudia continere.
  • Few men are controlled by reason, and few are pleased by a right purpose. The mob, rather, is led to what was plainly invented for oblivion of its cares. For it supposes that whatever serves its pleasure must also be linked to the happiness of the age. Therefore, let us grant the expenses, and not be forever giving from rational considerations. Sometimes it is useful to play the fool, and so control the joys the people long for.
    • Bk. 3, no. 51; pp. 70-71.
  • Mater criminum necessitas tollitur.
    • Poverty is the mother of crime.
    • Bk. 9, no. 13; translation from S. Giora Shoham and Gill Sher (eds.) The Many Faces of Crime and Deviance (White Plains, N.Y.: Sheridan House, 1983) p. 32.
  • Prima enim grammaticorum schola est fundamentum pulcherrimum litterarum, mater gloriosa facundiae.
    • For the school of grammar has primacy: it is the fairest foundation of learning, the glorious mother of eloquence.
    • Bk. 9, no. 21; p. 122.
  • Grammatica magistra verborum, ornatrix humani generis, quae per exercitationem pulcherrimae lectionis antiquorum nos cognoscitur iuvare consiliis. hac non utuntur barbari reges: apud legales dominos manere cognoscitur singularis. arma enim et reliqua gentes habent: sola reperitur eloquentia, quae Romanorum dominis obsecundat.
    • Grammar is the mistress of words, the embellisher of the human race; through the practice of the noble reading of ancient authors, she helps us, we know, by her counsels. The barbarian kings do not use her; as is well known, she remains unique to lawful rulers. For the tribes possess arms and the rest; rhetoric is found in sole obedience to the lords of the Romans.
    • Bk. 9, no. 21; p. 122.

Quotes about Cassiodorus

  • The great merit of Cassiodorus, that which shows his deep insight into the needs of his age and entitles him to the eternal gratitude of Europe, was his determination to utilise the vast leisure of the convent for the preservation of Divine and human learning and for its transmission to after ages.
    • Thomas Hodgkin The Letters of Cassiodorus (London: H. Frowde, 1886) p. 57
  • That long-lived ex-Quaestor of Theodoric the Ostrogoth – he died in 583 – if a supple and servile politician, was the greatest single contributor to the preservation of learning in the barbarized West…But for him and the learned turn he gave to Benedictine labours it is possible that no Latin classic, save Virgil, would have reached us complete.
    • C. W. Previté-Orton The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953) vol. 1, pp. 286-7.
  • The men who ushered in the Dark Ages were men like Theodoric and Cassiodorus, who were intent on restoring the cities, preserving the statues, and transcribing the classics. Their adoration of the ancient world was matched only by their inability to understand it, for by the time that they were born, classical culture was already dead. They were the first of the great medievals and began to build a new civilization in an attempt to restore the old.
    • R. H. C. Davis A History of Medieval Europe from Constantine to Saint Louis (London: Longman, 1970) p. 53.
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