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Marcus Terentius Varro

Updated on November 24, 2009

Marcus Terentius Reatinus Varro was Roman scholar and author. Born in Reate, 116 B.C. He received a liberal education, held a high office in the navy in the wars against the pirates and against Mithridates, and at the commencement of the civil war was serving in Spain as legate of Pompey. When Caesar marched into that country after the reduction of Italy, Varro was obliged to surrender his forces; but still adhering to the aristocratic party joined Pompey in Greece.

His villa at Casinum was plundered by Antony, but Caesar employed him to superintend the collection and arrangement of the works in the library at Rome designed for the public use. From this time Varro lived in retirement, chiefly at his residences near Cumae and Tusculum. During the second triumvirate he was put by Antony on the list of proscribed, but by the aid of friends his life was saved, though his libraries were destroyed. He gained the favor of Augustus, who appointed him superintendent of the library founded by Asinius Pollio. Varro was called by Quintilian 'the most learned of the Romans', and according to his own statement he had written 490 books by 39 B.C.

A list by Saint Jerome gives 74 works, containing 620 books. He wrote historical, antiquarian, biographical, critical, philosophical and geographical treatises, besides others of miscellaneous topics. Some of his works perished with his library, and only one has come down to our time entire, the treatise 'De Re Rustica', written when he was 80, and the best work on ancient agriculture extant. The best edition is that in the 'Scriptores Rei Rusticae Veteres Latini', of J. G. Schneider (1794-97, English translation by Owen 1803). Of a grammatical treatise entitled 'De Lingua Latina', six books (V-X) out of the original 24 are extant, though mutilated; the best edition is that of Miiller (last ed., 1883). Consult Boissier, 'Etudes sur M. T. Varro' (1861).

Varro died in 27 B.C.

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