The sparse notices that survive about Cornelius Labeo make him a mysterious author of uncertain dating: some scholars place him in the 1st or 2nd c. AD, while others - more realistically - propose the 3rd c. AD. In the latter case, he would be treated as a member of the Neo-Platonic school, which flourished in the second half of the 3rd c. AD. This is potentially confirmed by similarities (e.g. in theme and matters of doctrine) that are shared by Cornelius Labeo and Porphyry, a pupil of Plotinus who lived at Rome from 263-305 AD.
Although Labeo must have composed many works, only four can be named with certainty: 1) De fastorum libris. This work must have demonstrated antiquarian interests, aiming to preserve details of Roman religion from the fierce attacks of Christian apologetics. 2) De disciplina etrusca. In this treatise, Labeo tried to adapt Etruscan divinatory texts to a changed historical and social context, emphasizing in particular divination and chresmology. 3) De diis animalibus. Here Labeo sought to yoke traditional Roman religion to eastern cultural elements, with the goal of bolstering older pagan cult by renewing its ideas. 4) De oraculo Apollonis Clarii. This work may have offered an elaborate theological and philosophical commentary on a collection of oracles from the famous sanctuary at Klaros that showed traces of a monotheistic and syncretic outlook. Its contents are perhaps related to Porphyry’s Philosophy from Oracles, but it shares many points of contact with Labeo’s other extant compositions on astrology and Etruscan divination. Among other things, it has been maintained that the De oraculo aimed at introducing the god of the Jews - renamed ‘Iao’ - to the Olympian system.
In his compositions, Labeo undertook a salvage operation of antiquarian material from the authors of the Roman tradition (e.g. Cato, Varro, Verrius Flaccus) who would later be used by Macrobius, Servius, and John Lydus. It has now been argued that the Orphic verses reported by Macrobius in the first book of the Saturnalia might go back to Labeo; some scholars have thus hypothesized that Labeo served as an intermediary source between Porphyry and Arnobius, but others have suggested - more prudently - that the Christian author relied on Labeo only for a few points of doctrine. There is no doubt, however, that Arnobius - like Saint Augustine and the Fathers of the Church more generally - criticized Labeo for supporting paganism [G. Vanotti; tr. C. L. Caterine].