Rutilius Claudius Namatianus (fl. 5th century) was a Roman Imperial poet, notable as the author of a Latin poem, De Reditu Suo, in elegiac metre, describing a coastal voyage from Rome to Gaul in 416. The solid literary quality of the work, and the flashes of light it throws across a momentous but dark epoch of history, combine to give it exceptional importance among the relics of late Roman literature. The poem was in two books; the exordium of the first and the greater part of the second have been lost. What remains consists of about seven hundred lines.
Whether Rutilius had converted to Christianity, which was well established as the state church of the Roman Empire by his time, has been a matter of scholarly debate. In the early 21st century, editors of his work concluded that he had not, and Alan Cameron, a leading scholar of Late Antiquity, agrees that he "probably" remained unconverted from Rome's traditional religious practices, but that his hostility was not to Christianity as it was practiced by the vast majority of citizens of the Empire, but rather against the total renunciation of public life advocated by the ascetics.
The author is a native of southern Gaul (Toulouse or perhaps Poitiers), and belonged, like Sidonius Apollinaris, to one of the great governing families of the Gallic provinces. His father, whom he calls Lachanius, had held high offices in Italy and at the imperial court, had been governor of Tuscia (Etruria and Umbria), vicar of Britain, then imperial treasurer (comes sacrarum largitionum), imperial recorder (quaestor), and governor of the capital itself (praefectus urbi) in 414.
Rutilius boasts his career to have been no less distinguished than his father's, and particularly indicates that he had been secretary of state (magister officiorum) and governor of the capital (praefectus urbi). After reaching manhood, he passed through the tempestuous period between the death of Theodosius I (395), and the fall of the usurper Priscus Attalus near the date when his poem was written. He witnessed the chequered career of Stilicho as de facto, though not in title, emperor of the West; he saw the hosts of Radagaisus rolled back from Italy, only to sweep over Gaul and Spain; the defeats and triumphs of Alaric I; the three sieges and final sack of Rome, followed by the miraculous recovery of the city; Herodian's vast armament dissipated; and the fall of seven pretenders to the Western throne.
It is clear that the sympathies of Rutilius were with those who, during this period, dissented from, and when they could, opposed the general tendencies of imperial policy. He himself indicates that he was intimately acquainted with the circle of the great orator Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, who scouted Stilicho's compact with the Goths, and who led the Roman senate to support the pretenders Eugenius and Attalus, in the hope of reinstating the gods whom Emperor Julian had failed to save.
While making few direct assertions about historical characters or events, Rutilius' poem compels some important conclusions about the politics and religion of the time. The attitude of the writer towards Paganism is remarkable: the whole poem is intensely Pagan, and is penetrated by the feeling that the world of literature and culture is, and must remain, pagan; that outside of Paganism lies a realm of barbarism. The poet wears an air of exalted superiority over the religious innovators of his day, and entertains a buoyant confidence that the future of the ancient gods of Rome will not belie their glorious past. He scorns invective and apology, and does not hesitate to reveal, with Claudian, a suppressed grief at the indignities put upon the old religion by the new. As a statesman, he is at pains to avoid offending those politic Christian senators over whom pride in their country had at least as great a power as attachment to their new religion. Only once or twice does Rutilius speak directly of Christianity, and then only to attack the monks, whom the secular authorities had hardly as yet recognized, and whom, indeed, only a short time before, a Christian emperor had conscripted by the thousands into the ranks of his army. Judaism could be assailed by Rutilius without wounding either pagans or Christians, but he clearly intimates that he hates it chiefly as the evil root from which the rank plant of Christianity had sprung.
Edward Gibbon writes that Honorius excluded all persons who were adverse to the Catholic Church from holding any office in the state, that he obstinately rejected the service of all those who dissented from his religion, and that the law was applied in the utmost latitude and rigorously executed. Far different is the picture of political life painted by Rutilius. His voice is certainly not that of a partisan of a discredited faction. His poem portrays a senate at Rome composed of past office-holders, the majority of whom were certainly still pagans. We may discern a Christian party whose Christianity was more political than religious, who were Romans first and Christians second, whom a new breeze in politics might easily have wafted back to the old religion. Between these two sectors, the broad Roman toleration reigns. Some ecclesiastical historians have fondly imagined that after the sack of Rome, the bishop Innocent returned to a position of predominance. No one who accepts Rutilius' observations can entertain this idea. The atmosphere of the capital, perhaps even of all Italy, was still charged with paganism. The court was far in advance of the people, and the persecuting laws were in large part incapable of execution.
Perhaps the most interesting lines in the whole poem are those where Rutilius assails the memory of "dire Stilicho", as he names him. In Rutilius' view, Stilicho, fearing to suffer all that had caused himself to be feared, removed the defences of the Alps and Apennines that the provident gods had interposed between the barbarians and the Eternal City, and planted the cruel Goths, his skinclad minions, in the very sanctuary of the empire: "he plunged an armed foe in the naked vitals of the land, his craft being freer from risk than that of openly inflicted disaster ... May Nero rest from all the torments of the damned, that they may seize on Stilicho; for Nero smote his own mother, but Stilicho the mother of the world!"
This appears to be a uniquely authentic expression of the feelings of perhaps a majority of the Roman senate against Stilicho. He had merely imitated the policy of Theodosius with regard to the barbarians; but even that great emperor had met with a passive opposition from the old Roman families. The relations between Alaric and Stilicho had been closer and more mysterious than those between Alaric and Theodosius, however, and men who had seen Stilicho surrounded by his Goth bodyguards, naturally looked on the Goths who assailed Rome as Stilicho's avengers. It is noteworthy that Rutilius speaks of the crime of Stilicho in terms far different from those used by Paulus Orosius and the historians of the later empire. They believed that Stilicho was plotting to make his son emperor, and that he called in the Goths in order to climb higher. Rutilius' poem holds that he used the barbarians merely to save himself from impending ruin. The Christian historians even asserted that Stilicho (a staunch Arian) had designed to restore paganism. To Rutilius, he is the most uncompromising foe of paganism. His crowning sin, recorded by this poet alone, was the destruction of the Sibylline books. This crime of Stilicho alone is sufficient, in the eyes of Rutilius, to account for the disasters that afterwards befell the city, just as Flavius Merobaudes, a generation or two later, traced the miseries of his own day to the overthrow of the ancient rites of Vesta. (For a sharply different view of Stilicho, see Claudian.)
With regard to the form of the poem, Rutilius handles the elegiac couplet with great metrical purity and freedom, and betrays many signs of long study in the elegiac poetry of the Augustan era. The Latin is unusually clean for the times, and is generally classical, both in vocabulary and construction. Rutilius may lack the genius of Claudian, but also lacks his overloaded gaudiness and his large exaggeration; and the directness of Rutilius shines in comparison with the labored complexity of Ausonius. It is common to call Claudian "the last of the Roman poets". That title might fairly be claimed for Rutilius, unless it be reserved for Merobaudes. At any rate, in passing from Rutilius to Sidonius, one might feel as if he has left the realm of Latin poetry, for the realm of Latin verse.
Of the many interesting details of the poem, a few may be mentioned here. At the outset, there is an almost dithyrambic address to the goddess Roma, "whose glory has ever shone the brighter for disaster, and who will rise once more in her might and confound her barbarian foes". The poet shows as deep a realization as any modern historian that the greatest achievement of Rome was the spread of law. Next, we get incidental but not unimportant references to the destruction of roads and property wrought by the Goths, to the state of the havens at the mouths of the Tiber, and the general decay of nearly all the old commercial ports on the coast. Most of these were as desolate then as now. Rutilius even exaggerates the desolation of the once important city of Cosa in Etruria, whose walls have scarcely changed since his time. The port that served Pisa, almost alone of all those visited by Rutilius, seems to have retained its prosperity, and to have foreshadowed the subsequent greatness of that city. At one point on the coast, the villagers everywhere were soothing their wearied hearts with holy merriment in celebration of the festival of Osiris.
History of De Reditu Suo and its editions
The majority of the existing manuscripts of Rutilius come from an ancient manuscript found at the monastery of Bobbio by Giorgio Galbiato in 1493, which has not been seen since a French general took the manuscript in 1706. For centuries, scholars have had to depend primarily on the three best witnesses to this lost manuscript: a copy made in 1501 by Jacopo Sannazaro (identified by the siglum V, for Vienna); another copy made by Ioannes Andreas (identified by the siglum R, for Rome); and the editio princeps of Johannes Baptista Pius (Bologna, 1520). However, in the early 1970s Mirella Ferrari found a fragment of the poem, written in either the 7th or 8th century, that preserves the final of 39 lines, and has forced a re-evaluation not only of the text but of its transmission.
The principal editions since have been those by Kaspar von Barth (1623), P Bunyan (1731, in his edition of the minor Latin poets), Ernst Friedrich Wernsdorf (1778, part of a similar collection), August Wilhelm Zumpt (1840), and the critical edition by Lucian Müller (Teubner, Leipzig, 1870), and another by Jules Vessereau (1904); also an annotated edition by Keene, containing a translation by George Francis Savage-Armstrong (1906). The poem also appears under the title Iter in Pieter Burman's 1731 edition of minor Latin poets.
There is some variation of Namatianus' name in the manuscripts. Rutilius Claudius Namatianus comes from R, while V has Rutilius Claudius Numantianus. According to Keene Namatianus is used in Codex Theodosianus as the name "of a magister officiorum in 412 AD", probably to be identified with the author and therefore has the weight of evidence. Other variants date from a later time and have no authority: Numantinus, Munatianus. Müller writes the poet's name as "Claudius Rutilius Namatianus", instead of the usual Rutilius Claudius Namatianus; but if the identification of the poet's father with the Claudius mentioned in the Codex Theodosianus is correct, Müller is probably wrong.
The latest and fullest edition of Namatianus is by E. Doblhofer. Harold Isbell includes a translation in his anthology, The Last Poets of Imperial Rome.
A movie was produced in 2004, based on Namatianus's work.