1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ennodius, Magnus Felix
ENNODIUS, MAGNUS FELIX (A.D. 474–521), bishop of Pavia, Latin rhetorician and poet. He was born at Arelate (Arles) and belonged to a distinguished but impecunious family. Having lost his parents at an early age, he was brought up by an aunt at Ticinum (Pavia); according to some, at Mediolanum (Milan). After her death he was received into the family of a pious and wealthy young lady, to whom he was betrothed. It is not certain whether he actually married this lady; she seems to have lost her money and retired to a convent, whereupon Ennodius entered the Church, and was ordained deacon (about 493) by Epiphanius, bishop of Pavia. From Pavia he went to Milan, where he continued to reside until his elevation to the see of Pavia about 515. During his stay at Milan he visited Rome and other places, where he gained a reputation as a teacher of rhetoric. As bishop of Pavia he played a considerable part in ecclesiastical affairs. On two occasions (in 515 and 517) he was sent to Constantinople by Theodoric on an embassy to the emperor Anastasius, to endeavour to bring about a reconciliation between the Eastern and Western churches. He died on the 17th of July 521; his epitaph still exists in the basilica of St Michael at Pavia (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, v. pt. ii. No. 6464).
Ennodius is one of the best representatives of the twofold (pagan and Christian) tendency of 5th-century literature, and of the Gallo-Roman clergy who upheld the cause of civilization and classical literature against the inroads of barbarism. But his anxiety not to fall behind his classical models—the chief of whom was Virgil—his striving after elegance and grammatical correctness, and a desire to avoid the commonplace have produced a turgid and affected style, which, aggravated by rhetorical exaggerations and popular barbarisms, makes his works difficult to understand. It has been remarked that his poetry is less unintelligible than his prose.
The numerous writings of this versatile ecclesiastic may be divided into (1) letters, (2) miscellanies, (3) discourses, (4) poems. The letters on a variety of subjects, addressed to high church and state officials, are valuable for the religious and political history of the period. Of the miscellanies, the most important are: The Panegyric of Theodoric, written to thank the Arian prince for his tolerance of Catholicism and support of Pope Symmachus (probably delivered before the king on the occasion of his entry into Ravenna or Milan); like all similar works, it is full of flattery and exaggeration, but if used with caution is a valuable authority; The Life of St Epiphanius, bishop of Pavia, the best written and perhaps the most important of all his writings, an interesting picture of the political activity and influence of the church; Eucharisticon de Vita Sua, a sort of “confessions,” after the manner of St Augustine; the description of the enfranchisement of a slave with religious formalities in the presence of a bishop; Paraenesis didascalica, an educational guide, in which the claims of grammar as a preparation for the study of rhetoric, the mother of all the sciences, are strongly insisted on. The discourses (Dictiones) are sacred, scholastic, controversial and ethical. The discourse on the anniversary of Laurentius, bishop of Milan, is the chief authority for the life of that prelate; the scholastic discourses, rhetorical exercises for the schools, contain eulogies of classical learning, distinguished professors and pupils; the controversial deal with imaginary charges, the subjects being chiefly borrowed from the Controversiae of the elder Seneca; the ethical harangues are put into the mouth of mythological personages (e.g. the speech of Thetis over the body of Achilles). Amongst the poems mention may be made of two Itineraria, descriptions of a journey from Milan to Brigantium (Briançon) and of a trip on the Po; an apology for the study of profane literature; an epithalamium, in which Love is introduced as execrating Christianity; a dozen hymns, after the manner of St Ambrose, probably intended for church use; epigrams on various subjects, some being epigrams proper—inscriptions for tombs, basilicas, baptisteries—others imitations of Martial, satiric pieces and descriptions of scenery.
There are two excellent editions of Ennodius by G. Hartel (vol. vi. of Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, Vienna, 1882) and F. Vogel (vol. vii. of Monumenta Germaniae historica, 1885, with exhaustive prolegomena). On Ennodius generally consult M. Fertig, Ennodius und seine Zeit (1855–1860); A. Dubois, La Latinité d’Ennodius (1903); F. Magani, Ennodio (Pavia, 1886); A. Ebert, Allgemeine Geschichte der Litt. des Mittelalters im Abendlande, i. (1889); M. Manitius, Geschichte der christlich-lateinischen Poesie (1891); Teuffel, Hist. of Roman Literature, § 479 (Eng. tr., 1892). French translation by the abbé S. Léglise (Paris, 1906 foll.).