Marcus Terentius Varro

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Varro, Marcus Terentius

Varro, Marcus Terentius, 116 B.C.–27? B.C., Roman man of letters. Known as the most erudite man and the most prolific writer of his times, Varro is estimated to have written about 620 volumes. He served as Pompey's legate in Spain and fought at Pharsalus, but was reconciled with Caesar, who made him director of the proposed public library. At the time of the Second Triumvirate his villa was plundered, and he himself was proscribed. He fled, but was pardoned by Augustus. In his writing scarcely a field of contemporary learning was left untouched. Of his many works only one remains intact, De re rustica libri III [three books on farming]. This is one of the most important books of its kind extant from antiquity. Six books (V–X) out of the original 25 remain of De lingua latina [on the Latin language], and about 600 fragments from his Satirae Menippeae survive.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Varro, Marcus Terentius


(cognomen, Reatinus— derived from his birthplace, Reate, in the land of the Sabines). Born 116 B.C.; died 27 B.C. Roman writer and scholar.

During his youth Varro lived in Rome, later in Athens. As a legate of G. Pompeius, he took part in the war against Caesar in Spain. After his reconciliation with Caesar, he organized a public library in Rome on the instructions of Caesar.

Varro was an encyclopedic scholar as shown by the broadness of his interests (poetry, history of literature, rhetorics, linguistics, philosophy, history, geography, mathematics, jurisprudence, and agriculture) and the abundance of his works (about 74, the majority of which did not come down to us). His main works are Human and Divine Antiquities (only fragments have been preserved); On the Latin Language (of the 25 books, books 5—10 survive; books 5 and 6 are intact, the others in fragments; Russian translation in the collection Ancient Theories of Language and Style, 1936); Images or Hebdomades, a collection of biographies of 700 famous Romans and Greeks with their portraits, regarded as the first illustrated work in Latin literature (not preserved); Encyclopedia, a presentation of various branches of knowledge (not preserved); On Agriculture (completely preserved; Russian translation with commentaries by M. E. Sergeenko, 1963), a guide to agriculture, animal husbandry, and smaller farm livestock (breeding of domestic fowl, bees, and fish), which is interesting for its abundance of cultural details and information on life in the Italic village; and The Satires of Menippus (Russian translation of fragments from The Satires of Menippus, in I. Pomialovskii, M. Terentius Varro and the Satires of Menippus, 1869), an imitation of the satiric dialogues of the Cynic philosopher Menippus (third century B.C.), in which prose and verse alternate. In The Satires of Menippus, Varro castigates the vices of his contemporaries and praises the old customs and the simple life of the ancient Romans. (Fragments of the work survive.)


Rerum rusticarum libri tres. Leipzig, 1929.
De lingua Latina. Edited by J. Collart. Paris, 1954.


Dahlmann, H. “M. T. Varro.” In Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, suppl. vol. 6. Stuttgart, 1935. Page 1172.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
(1) Marcus Terentius Varro, De Rer Rusticum (London: Loeb Classical Library, 1934), 2:364 5.
A study of the linguistic theory of Marcus Terentius Varro (Amsterdam: Amsterdam Studies in the Theory and History of Linguistic Science, Series III: Studies in the History of the Language Sciences, 2).
Other outstanding figures of the Ciceronian period are Julius Caesar, notable for political oratory and vivid military narratives; Marcus Terentius Varro, who wrote on topics as varied as farming and the Latin language; and Sallust, who opposed Cicero's style and espoused one later imitated by Seneca, Tacitus, and Juvenal.