Cassiodori Senatoris Institutiones Edited from the Manuscripts by R.A.B. Mynors, Oxford 1937
– Italian translation: M. Donnini, Roma 2001
– Inglish translation: L. W. Jones, An Introduction to Divine and Human Readings by Cassiodorus Senator, New York 1946
– Inglish translation: J.W. Halporn e B. Halporn, faculty.georgetown.edu/jod/inst-trans.html
Cassiodorus’ Institutiones (c. 560-580 AD) is among the hardest ancient texts to publish owing to the fact that its second book has come down to us in three redactions: first, the author’s preparatory material was compiled in a manuscript; then, after completing a draft of the work around 460, he continued editing it until his death about twenty years later; lastly, scribes at Vivarium incorporated further material and introduced contaminations to the text that have made it practically impossible to reconstruct Cassiodorus’ editorial intention with any certainty. Mynors’ edition is thankfully the result of impeccable philology: this has furnished us with grounds on which to determine what the author composed during the decades he was working on this text, what was added by the first readers of the work at Vivarium following the author’s death, and what entered the text in the centuries between these first two phases and the Carolignian tradition that furnishes our oldest codices. The studies of Courcelle, Holtz, and Orlandi also contribute to our reconstruction of these events, but even they are only somewhat helpful in deciding the complex choices that an editor of this text must inevitably make.
The two volumes comprising this work contain a detailed manual (virtually an encyclopedia-in-miniature) whose professed goal is to set forth all the knowledge necessary in theology (Book 1) and the studies of the trivium and quadrivium, which are cast as indispensible preliminaries for the basic education (Book 2). What makes this work so valuable to us is the inclusion of a bibliography among its table of contents: this includes short summaries and judgments of individual works, as well as indications of where they can be found in Vivarium’s library or notices about its absence from that collection together with instructions for the monks to do whatever possible to secure a copy. This gives us fairly precise knowledge about the collection of books that the monks were able to consult and the make-up of individual manuscripts; more than this, we can also use the testimonia that have come down to us to investigate which ones could have derived from Vivarian copies for their organization of material and which ones could have derived from an exemplar of the same branch.
The first book contains twenty-three chapters dedicated to Sacred Scripture and to the various commentaries that were available at Vivarium, followed by another ten chapters containing instructions to the monks engaged in different secular disciplines and work activities, ranging from geography to agriculture, from orthography (for the work of scribes) to medicine; the authors cited most often in this book are Varro, Columella, the elder Pliny, and ‘technical’ writers on agriculture, husbandry, epistolography, and other professions. The second book includes seven chapters on the liberal arts: those of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) and those of the quadrivium, which together comprise mathematics (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy). Dialectic is central: it is linked to the trivium through its focus on words, phrases, and topics - sharing the last of these with rhetoric - which are all areas of inquiry concerned with change, i.e. those things that do not have a single, fixed definition; on the other hand, it is linked to the quadrivium through its concern with formal logic and absolute, unchangeable truth. Moreover, just as Donatus serves as the torchbearer of grammar and Cicero as that of rhetoric, Aristotle and the Organon are said to play this role for dialectic. Also interesting is the text’s explicit claim that while the quadrivium comprises purely theoretical disciplines, i.e. those without any possible practical application, the arts of the trivium participate in both theory and practice, since numerous useful and profitable professions are based on knowledge of both grammar and rhetoric.
The Institutiones enjoyed great popularity in the Middle Ages, and many libraries were founded and organized according to the plan of Vivarium’s that was outlined in this text. Many courses of study also adopted the general plan that Cassiodorus advocated, though they were only rarely as attentive as he was to presenting disciplines critically rather than in a normative way; this is especially true in regard to studies of the subject and his continued invitation to acquire material beyond what was already available at hand. [G. Polara; tr. C. L. Caterine].