Marcus Terentius Varro Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Marcus Terentius Varro’s (MAHR-kuhs tuh-REHN-shee-uhsVAR-oh) political career took him to the praetorship. He followed the cause of Pompey the Great in the civil war with Julius Caesar. Following the war, Caesar asked him to found the first public library in Rome, but subsequent events intervened to prevent its founding. Proscribed by Marc Antony in 42 b.c.e. but protected by Octavian (later Augustus), he devoted the rest of his life to scholarship.

Varro’s literary output was extraordinary and covered a wide-ranging field of interests, including history, rhetoric, language, agriculture, music, philosophy, law, and religion, to name only a few. He was instrumental in developing Menippean satire. Most of his more than seventy compositions are no longer extant; the only complete the work is that on agriculture, De re rustica (36 b.c.e.; On Agriculture, 1912). He wrote this work when he was eighty years old as a practical handbook for his wife. Rhetorician Quintilian considered him the “most intelligent man among Romans.”


Varro’s work on agriculture influenced all subsequent Roman writers on the subject, and Saint Augustine frequently consulted his work on “The Antiquity of Human and Divine Affairs.” His date for the founding of Rome (April 21) became the official birth date, still observed.

Further Reading:

Duff, J. Wight. A...

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