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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: September 2009

Chapter 2 - ‘The obscurity of eloquence’


In the early sixth century, the monk-priest Eugippius of Lucullanum made a compendium of extracts from the work of Augustine of Hippo, thus making accessible for future generations a body of work so voluminous that, according to another early medieval handbook, only a liar could claim to have read it all. Eugippius dedicated his collection, the Excerpta Augustini, to an aristocratic lady, the virgin Proba, with the modest reflection that even if in the vast abundance of her book collection she could engage directly with Augustine's writings, she might nonetheless find pleasure in having the extracts. Scholars have long suggested that it was probably from Proba's library in Rome, near St Peter's, that Eugippius worked, since the wording of the sentence in which he contrasts the ‘complete’ works in her collection with the exiguity of his extracts implies that the extracts were made on the basis of her codices. The daughter of Quintus Aurelius Memmius Symmachus (consul in 485) and the sister-in-law of Boethius, the virgin Proba was a personage of standing, and there is every reason to believe that her library was exceptionally well-appointed, since she came from a line of women writers and literary patronesses going back nearly two centuries.

Sadly, however, Eugippius' extracts are all that remain of Proba's library. We will see below that some literary codices bearing traces of senatorial ownership do survive from early sixth-century Rome, but only a handful.