1902 Encyclopedia > Rutilius Claudius Namatianus (also known as: Rutilius)

Rutilius Claudius Namatianus
(also known as: Rutilius)
Roman poet
5th century AD)

RUTILIUS CLAUDIUS NAMATIANUS is known to us as the author of a Latin poem in elegiac metre, describ-ing a coast voyage from Rome to Gaul in 416 A.D. The literary excellence of the work and the flashes of light which it throws across a momentous but dark epoch of history combine to give it exceptional importance among the relics of late Roman literature. The poem was in two books; the exordium of the first and the greater part of the second have been lost. What remains consists of about 700 lines.

The poet's voyage took place in the late autumn of 416 (i. 135 sq.), and the verses as we have them were evi-dently written at or very near the time. The author is a native of southern Gaul, and belonged, like Sidonius, to one of the great governing families of the Gaulish pro-vinces. His father, whom he calls Lachanius, had held high offices in Italy and at the imperial court, had been governor of Etruria and Umbria (consalaris Tusciae) pro-bably in 389, when a Claudius is named in the Theodosian Code (2, 4, 5) as having held the office, then imperial treasurer {comes sacrarum largitionum), imperial recorder (quaestor), and governor of the capital itself (praefectus urbis). Eutilius boasts his career to have been no less distinguished than his father's, and particularly indicates that he had been secretary of state (magister officiorurn) and governor of the capital (i. 157, 427, 467, 561). It is probable that a certain Namatius named in the Theodosian Code (6, 27, 15) as magister officiorum of the year 412 is no other than our poet. The true literary man is apt to be inordinately proud of political distinction, and Eutilius celebrates his own praises in a style worthy of Cicero or Pliny. At all events, he had lived long in the great world of the Western empire, and knew much of the inner history of his time. After reaching manhood, he had passed through the tempestuous period that stretches between the death of Theodosius (395) and the fall of the usurper Attalus, which occurred near the date when our poem was written. He had witnessed the chequered career of Stilicho as actual, though not titular, emperor of the West; he had seen the hosts of Eadagaisus rolled back from Italy, only to sweep over the helpless provinces of Gaul and Spain, the defeats and triumphs of Alaric, the three sieges and final sack of Eome, followed by the marvellous recovery of the city, Heraclian's vast armament dissipated by a breath, and the fall of seven pretenders to the Western diadem. Undoubtedly the sympathies of Eutilius were with those who during this period dissented from, and, when they could, opposed, the general tendencies of the imperial policy. We know from himself that he was the intimate of dis-tinguished men who belonged to the circle of the great orator Symmachus,—men who had scouted Stilicho's com-pact with the Goths, and had led the Eoman senate to support the pretenders Eugenius and Attalus in the vain hope of reinstating the gods whom Julian had failed to save.

While making but few direct assertiona about historical characters or events, the poem, by its very texture and spirit and assumptions, forces on us important conclusions concerning the politics and religion of the time, which are not brought home to us with the same directness by any other authority. The attitude of the writer towards paganism is remarkable. The whole poem is intensely pagan, and is penetrated by the feeling that the world of literature and culture is and must remain pagan, that outside paganism lies a realm of barbarism. The poet wears an air of exalted superiority over the religious innovators of his day, and entertains a buoyant confidence that the future of the ancient gods of Rome will not belie their glorious past. Invective and apology he scorns alike, nor troubles himself to show, with Claudian, even a suppressed grief at the indignities put upon the old religion by the new. As a statesman, he is at pains to avoid offending those politic Christian senators over whom pride in their country had at least as great power as attachment to their new religion. Only once or twice does Rutilius speak directly of Christianity, and then only to attack the monks, whom the temporal authorities had hardly as yet recognized, and whom, indeed, only a short time before, a Christian emperor had forced by thousands into the ranks of his army. Judaism Eutilius could assail without wounding either pagans or Christians, but he intimates, not obscurely, that he hates it chiefly as the evil root whence the rank plant of Christianity had sprung.

We read in Gibbon that "Honorius excluded all persons who were adverse to the catholic church from holding any office in the state," that he "obstinately rejected the service of all those who dissented from his religion," and that "the law was applied in the utmost latitude and rigorously executed." Far different is the picture of political life impressed upon us by Rutilius. His voice is assuredly not that of a partisan of a discredited and over-borne faction. We see by the aid of his poem a senate at Rome composed of past office-holders, the majority of whom were certainly pagan still. We discern a Christian section whose Christianity was political rather than religious, who were Romans first and Christians afterwards, whom a new breeze in politics might easily have wafted back to the old religion. Between these two sections the broad old Roman toleration reigns. Some ecclesiastical historians have fondly imagined that after the sack of Rome the bishop Innocent returned to a position of practical predominance. No one who fairly reads Rutilius can cherish this idea. The air of the capital, perhaps even of Italy, was still charged with paganism. The court was far in advance of the people, and the persecuting laws were in large part incapable of execution.

Perhaps the most interesting lines in the whole poem are those in which Rutilius assails the memory of "dire Stilicho," as he names him. Stilicho, " fearing to suffer all that had caused himself to be feared," annihilated those defences of Alps and Apennines which the provident gods had interposed between the barbarians and the Eternal City, and planted the cruel Goths, his "skin-clad" minions, in the very sanctuary of the empire. His wile was wickeder than the wile of the Trojan horse, than the wile of Althaea or of Scylla. May Nero rest from all the torments of the damned, that they may seize on Stilicho, for Nero smote his own mother, but Stilicho, the mother of the world !

We shall not err in supposing that we have here (what we find nowhere else) an authentic expression of the feeling entertained by a majority of the Roman senate concerning Stilicho. He had but imitated the policy of Theodosius with regard to the barbarians; but even that great emperor had met with passive opposition from the old Roman families. The relations, however, between Alaric and Stilicho had been closer and more mysterious than those between Alaric and Theodosius, and men who had seen Stilicho surrounded by his bodyguard of Goths not unnaturally looked on the Goths who assailed Rome as Stilicho's avengers. It is noteworthy that Rutilius speaks of the crime of Stilicho in terms far different from those used by Orosius and the historians of the lower empire. They believed that Stilicho was plotting to make his son emperor, and that he called in the Goths in order to climb higher. Rutilius holds that he used the barbarians merely to save himself from impending ruin. The Christian historians assert that Stilicho designed to restore paganism. To Rutilius he is the most uncompromising foe of paganism. His crowning sin (recorded by our poet alone) was the destruction of the Sibylline books—a sin worth}"" of one who had decked his wife in the spoils of Victory, the goddess who had for centuries presided over the deliberations of the senate. This crime of Stilicho alone is sufficient in the eyes of Rutilius to account for the disasters that afterwards befell the city, just as Merobaudes, a generation or two later, traced the miseries of his own day to the overthrow of the ancient rites of "Vesta.

With regard to the form of the poem, Rutilius handles the elegiac couplet with great metrical purity and freedom, and betrays many signs of long study in the elegiac poetry of the Augustan era. The Latin is unusually clean for the times, and is generally fairly classical both in vocabulary and construction. The taste of Rutilius too is comparatively pure. If he lacks the genius of Claudian, he also lacks his overloaded gaudiness and his large exaggeration, and the directness of Rutilius shines by comparison with the laboured complexity of Ausonius. It is common to call Claudian the last of the Roman poets. That title might fairly be claimed for Rutilius, unless it be reserved for Merobaudes. At any rate in passing from Rutilius to Sidonius no reader can fail to feel that he has left the region of Latin poetry for the region of Latin verse.

Of the many interesting details of the poem we can only mention a few. At the outset we have an almost dithyrambic address to the goddess Roma, whose glory has ever shone the brighter for disaster, and who will rise once more in her might and confound her barbarian foes. The poet shows as deep a consciousness as any modern historian that the grandest achievement of Rome was the spread of law. Next we get incidental but not unimportant references to the destruction of roads and property wrought by the Goths, to the state of the havens at the mouths of the Tiber and the general decay of nearly all the old commercial ports on the coast. Most of these were as desolate then as now. Rutilius even exaggerates the desolation of the once important city of Cosa in Etruria, whose walls have scarcely changed from that day to ours. The port that served Pisse, almost alone of all those visited by Rutilius, seems to have retained its prosperity, and to have foreshadowed the subsequent greatness of that city. At one point on the coast the villagers everywhere were " soothing their wearied hearts with holy merriment," and were celebrating the festival of Osiris.

All existing MSS. of Rutilius are later than 1494, and are copies from a lost copy of an ancient MS. once at the monastery of Robio, which disappeared about 1700. The editio princeps is that by J. B. Pius (Bologna, 1520), and the princi- pal editions since have been those by Bai-th (1623), P. Burman (1731, in his edition of the minor Latin poets), Wernsdorf (1778, part of a similar collection), Zumpt (1840), and the critical edition by Lucian Miiller (Teubner, Leipsic, 1870). Miiller writes the poet's name as Claudius Rutilius Namatianus, instead of the usual Rutilius Claudius Namatianus-; but if the identification of the poet's father with the Claudius mentioned in the Theodosian Code be correct, Miiller is probably wrong. Rutilius receives more or less attention from all writers on the history or literature of the times, but a lucid chapter in Beugnot, Histoire de la Destruc- tion du Paganisme en Occident (1835), may be especially mentioned. It should be noted that in using the passage concerning Stilicho we have ventured to read the line at ii. 45 thus—lliacae cladis deteriore dolo; the change from the MSS. reading Illatae cladis liberiore dolo (preserved in all editions) seems demanded by the context, as well as by the sense. (J. S. R.)

The above article was written by: J. S. Reid, D.Litt.

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