National Geographic : 1962 Dec
Cassiodorus shows guests through his monastery SCRATCH OF PEN on parchment, shuffle of sandals on stone floors, murmur of voices: This is an island of peace where scholarship survives in a sea of storm. The aged scholar Cassiodorus welcomes a bishop to his monastery at Scyllacium (the modern Squillace, on the sole of the Italian boot). Here, he explains, we copy books, Christian and pagan; here we preserve treas ures from the past. Among the first to introduce the cultiva tion of learning into the common life of a mon astery, Cassiodorus in the sixth century pro vided the model that became a tradition. After his time thousands of monks copied tens of thousands of manuscripts in hundreds of monasteries throughout Europe. Without their labor, the world might have lost many precious works of antiquity. Living beyond the age of 90, Cassiodorus himself served as a link between antiquity and the Middle Ages. Almost a century of turmoil ended in the Italian Peninsula when in 493 Theodoric the Great, the Ostrogothic king, occupied the capital city of Ravenna after a three-year siege and became master of Italy. About the year 507 Theodoric appointed as quaestor, or royal secretary, young Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus, member of a distinguished Roman family. For more than 30 years Cassiodorus held official positions of responsibility. Eventually (in 533) he became prae torian prefect, thus at NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY taining the highest civil office in the kingdom, a post his father had held. After Theodoric died, Cassiodorus served un worthy successors, but about 540, while Justin ian's armies were fighting to gain Italy, he retreated to his family estate at Scyllacium. There he founded a monastery and a hermitage. The mon astery he called Vivar ium, from the fishpools, gardens, and game pre serves all around it. For some three decades Cassiodorus guided his monks, fighting "against the devil's illicit tempta Ezra the scribe, Biblical prophet, appears in ecclesi astical garb in an illumina tion from the Codex Amiati nus. This work, by an Eng lish copyist of the early eighth century, rests in the Biblio teca Laurenziana at Flor ence, Italy. Some scholars be lieve the painting reproduces one done about 150 years earlier by the monks of Cassi odorus for his Codex Grand ior, which has disappeared. Bookcase served as a model for the one in the painting.