saec. IV-V (magister officiorum sub Theodosio)
Marcellus Empiricus or Burdigalensis is a writer of Gallic origin who lived at the turn of the 4th and 5th cc. AD: the cognomen Empiricus is attributed to him by Janus Cornarius (Johannes Haynpul), the humanist who prepared the editio princeps of the work in 1536 and who wished to demonstrate this author’s participation in the empirical school, basing this judgment on the lexical recurrence of terms of the family EXPER- (a full 96).
Our first information related to the life of Marcellus can be drawn from his solitary work, the De medicamentis liber: in its prefatory letter, which precedes a section entitled Epistulae diversorum de qualitate et observatione medicinae, the author describes himself as vir inlustris ex magistro officiorum Theodosii senioris, that is as an officer of the emperor’s staff. From the Codex Theodosianus we gather that the author of the De medicamentis served as magister officiorum from 394-5, and that he was the tutor of the emperor Arcadius. This is also emphasized in the Suda, where Marcellus is defined as μάγιστρος Ἀρκαδίου τοῦ βασιλέως. Other laws of the Codex Theodosianus show that Marcellus was no longer serving as magister officiorum already at the start of 396, since from 18 January Hosius is reported in this office.
According to the notices that we have at hand, Marcellus would therefore have been magister officiorum from the summer of 394 until the last months of 395, and we may inquire into the reason why this post was held for so limited a period of time. Matthews, albeit in absence of objective facts, maintains that Marcellus was a favorite of Rufinus, and was therefore stripped of his post from the moment the latter was killed on 27 November 395.
Another piece of evidence useful for reconstructing Marcellus’ biography concerns his provenance: everyone identifies him as an author of Gallic origin, but not every scholar is in agreement about the identification of his place of birth. Marcellus’ Gallic origin is secured by the prefatory letter (praefatio 2): when he cites the authors he has taken as his models, he names, among others, Siburius, Eutropius, and Ausonius, describing them as cives ac maiores nostri and identifying them in this way as his compatriots. Although we do not have many notices about Siburius and Eutropius, we are nevertheless certain that, like Ausonius, they were originally from Gaul.
There are some problems, however, concerning the city of origin: Marcellus is usually called Burdigalensis (that is a native of Burdigala, modern Bordeaux), but some scholars, such as Matthews, do not exclude the possibility that his city of origin was Narbo [Narbonne], if one wishes to identify the vir quidam Narbonensis, to whom Orosius refers (Historiarum adversus paganos libri 7.43.3), as the author of the De medicamentis. This identification is compatible with the reference to his compatriots in the prefatory letter (cited above) and the explicit mention of the divina misericordia (praefatio 3); these, together with the other invocations of Christian flavor present in the work, are in harmony with Orosius’ definition of Marcellus as a religiosus man. [V. Rinaldi; tr. C. L. Caterine].