(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

It is unclear to which late, imperial Macrobius (ma-KROH-bee-uhs) the three literary works surviving under this name should be attributed. The author, however, appears to have been an aristocrat and public official during the first half of the fifth century c.e. who was well acquainted with the leading men of his day. A work that compares Greek and Latin verbs survives in part. Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius’s only complete work to survive, Comentarii in Somnium Scipionis (n.d.; Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, 1952), is a commentary on Cicero’s Somnium Scipionis (“Dream of Scipio”), part of De Republica (n.d.; English translation, 1948), which is an important source for the history of Neoplatonic thought. Macrobius’s most important work is the Saturnalia (n.d.; English translation, 1969), antiquity’s last surviving example of “sympotic” literature. The work presents (fictitious) conversations conducted by leading pagan figures on the evening before, as well as during the days of, Rome’s great pagan festival, the Saturnalia. The first evening’s discussion is devoted to law and grammar. Morning and evening sessions on subsequent days are devoted to set topics, including such fare as pagan religion (Christianity is ignored), the calendar, jokes, eating, and drinking as well as history, philosophy, and literature.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Macrobius was not widely read during the Middle Ages, received much greater attention during the Renaissance, and in modern times attracts attention mainly for his preservation of fragments from earlier authors.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Cameron, A. “The Date and Identity of Macrobius.” Journal of Roman Studies 56 (1966): 25-38.

Davies, P. V. The Saturnalia. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.

Stahl, W. H. Commentary on the Dream of Scipio. New York: Columbia University Press, 1952.