Liberty and advocacy in Ennodius of Pavia: the significance of rhetorical education in late antique Italy

Liberty and advocacy in Ennodius of Pavia: the significance of rhetorical education in late antique Italy

By S.J.B. Barnish

Hommages a Carl Deroux, Vol.5 Christianisme et Moyen Age Néo-latin et surviance de la latinité, edited by Pol Defosse (Bruxelles: Latomus, 2002-2003)

Introduction: In two declamations composed to support his student protégés at Deuterius’ school of grammar and rhetoric at Milan, the Milanese deacon Ennodius (later bishop of Pavia) praised their master as the sustainer of ruitura libertas, of a liberty on the point of collapse. What did he mean by this?

First, let us look at the historical context. With due allowance for Ennodian hyperbole, Deuterius seems to have been partly responsible for a revival of rhetorical education in northern Italy following the devastation of the wars of 489-93 between Odoacer and Theoderic the Great. In another declamation, Ennodius saluted his achievement in transferring his school to the forum of Milan: From the lairs of wild beasts and the habitations of owls, you recall us to the fora, from which our forebears had long been all but absent.

In this, Deuterius was probably encouraged by the Ostrogothic regime of Theoderic. It was presumably Theoderic who bestowed on him the rank of spectabilis, an unusual honour for a grammarian. One of Ennodius’ poems hailed Deuterius as imperii custos, “guardian of the realm”. His title paralleled the encouragement given by the Ostrogoths to higher education in Rome, and the rhetorical establishments of the two cities fostered ties between them. Paterius, son of a senator, was his godson, as well as his pupil.

Ennodius’ correspondence suggests that a number of young gentry from the north trod a path from the school of Deuterius to those of Rome, assisted by Ennodius’ commendations to leading Roman senators and churchmen. Three at least of his protégés were among the north Italians who dominate the prosopography of Ostrogothic Italy for Romans in high office.

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