Macrobius, Ambrosius Theodosius

(fl. c. 400)

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Praetorian prefect of Italy in ad 430. He wrote a comparison of the Greek verb with the Latin, and a Neoplatonist commentary on Cicero's Dream of Scipio (the end of his Republic). His Saturnalia is cast in the form of dialogues on the evening before the Saturnalia (see saturnus, saturnalia) of 383(?) and during the holiday proper. The guests include the greatest pagan luminaries of the time, and the grammarian Servius, still a shy youth but praised in accordance with his later eminence as a commentator on Virgil. Macrobius himself plays no part. After a few legal and grammatical discussions the night before, the three days are devoted to serious topics in the morning, lighter ones in the afternoon and evening. Having ranged over the Saturnalia, the calendar, and famous persons' jokes, the speakers devote the second and third mornings to Virgil, represented as a master of philosophical and religious lore and praised almost without reserve in matters of rhetoric and grammar, including his use of earlier poets, Greek and Roman. The guests then turn to physiology, with special reference to eating and drinking. Sources include Gellius (constantly used and never named), Seneca the Younger's Epistles, and Plutarch's Sympotic Questions. The work expresses the nostalgia of the Christianized élite in a diminished Rome for the city's great and pagan past; the new religion is ignored. Macrobius' style is elegant without extravagance.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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