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date: 18 June 2018

Macrobius, Ambrosius Theodosius

(1) De verborum Graeci et Latini differentiis vel societatibus, (2) Commentarii in Somnium Scipionis, (3) Saturnalia; in MSS of (2) and (3) styled vir clarissimus et illustris (the highest grade of senator); in the dedications of (1) and of Avianus' fables simply ‘Theodosius’ (the correct short form) and hence identical with Theodosius, praetorian prefect of Italy in ce 430 (Cameron, see bibliog. below), rather than with Macrobius, proconsul of Africa in 410 (Flamant); father of Fl. Macrobius Plotinus Eustathius, city prefect c.461, dedicatee of (2) and (3); grandfather of Macrobius Plotinus Eudoxius, who corrected a text of (2).

  1. (1)De differentiis. This treatise, addressed to a Symmachus (? the orator Symmachus(2)'s grandson, consul 446), comparing the Greek verb with the Latin, survives in extracts made at Bobbio and more extensively by Eriugena; it uses Apollonius (13) Dyscolus and may have been used by Priscian. Another Bobbio fragment (De verbo), addressed to a scholar called Severus, comparing the Latin verb with the Greek, is not Macrobius' work, though possibly based on it.

  2. (2)Commentarii. Having discussed how Cicero'sRepublic differs from Plato(1)'s, and what dreams are, Macrobius expounds the Somnium philosophically, discoursing on number-mysticism, oracles, moral virtue, astronomy, music, geography, and the soul (vindicating Plato against Aristotle); he praises P. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus for uniting all the virtues, and the Somnium for uniting all the branches of philosophy. The main source is Porphyry, in particular his commentary on Timaeus; but direct knowledge of Plotinus has been established. Despite frequent inconsistencies and misapprehensions, the work was a principal transmitter of ancient science and Neoplatonic thought to the western Middle Ages. See Neoplatonism.

  3. (3)Saturnalia. This work is cast in the form of dialogues on the evening before the Saturnalia (16 December, see Saturnus, Saturnalia) of ce 383 (?) and during the holiday proper. The guests include the greatest pagan luminaries of the time (Praetextatus, Symmachus, Nicomachus (4) Flavianus), Avienus (variously identified with a son of Avienus the Aratea poet and with Avianus the fabulist, if in fact called Avienus), and the grammarian Servius, still a shy youth but praised in accordance with his later eminence; other names seem taken from Symmachus' letters (Dysarius the doctor, Horus the philosopher, Euangelus the boor). 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, including food and drink, 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), L. Annaeus Seneca(2)'s Epistulae, Plutarch'sQuaestiones convivales, Aelius Donatus, and [Alexander(14) of Aphrodisias], Physical Problems; they are adapted to Macrobius' own purposes, as when matter from Gellius is used in a preface professing orderly exposition. 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 the extravagance of a Sidonius Apollinaris or a Martianus Capella. Though much exploited by John of Salisbury, the Saturnalia was less read in the Middle Ages than the Commentarii, but returned to favour in the Renaissance.


Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, s.v. “Macrobius 7.”Find this resource:


(1) P. De Paolis (ed.), Macrobii Theodosii De verborum Graeci et Latini differentiis vel societatibus excerpta (1990).Find this resource:

(2) M. Armisen-Marchetti (ed. and trans.), Commentaire au Songe de Scipion (Budé, 2001–2003).Find this resource:

(3) R. A. Kaster, Macrobii Ambrosii Theodosii Saturnalia (Oxford Classical Texts, 2011).Find this resource:

De verbo:

M. Passalacqua, Tre testi grammaticali bobbiesi (1984).Find this resource:


(2) W. H. Stahl (trans.), Commentary on the Dream of Scipio (1952).Find this resource:

(3) P. V. Davies (trans.), The Saturnalia (1969).Find this resource:


A. Cameron, Journal of Roman Studies 1966, 25–38.Find this resource:

A. Cameron, The Last Pagans of Rome (2010), ch. 7.Find this resource:

P. L. Schmidt, Rivista di filologia e di istruzione classica 136, 2008, 45–83.Find this resource:

J. Flamant, Macrobe et le néo-platonisme latin (1977).Find this resource:

M. Armisen-Marchetti, Pallas 69 (2005), 207–18, 436.Find this resource:


P. De Paolis, Lustrum, 1986–7, 107–84.Find this resource:

J. R. Martindale (ed.), Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire 2 (1980), 1102 f.Find this resource:

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