Week 4: Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Romans Becoming Frenchmen
One of the most fascinating stories in all of European history is the story of how Roman Spain, Roman France, and Roman England slowly began to be transformed into something new, something that had never existed before, producing in each case a new national identity, rooted in early Celtic traditions, and enlarged by Roman contributions but also something beyond the Celtic and Roman flavor – something totally new. Between 300 and 500 AD a whole new cultural entity began to emerge in Europe. In the case of France this process was most fascinating in the southwest region around Bordeaux known as Aquataine from the healthy waters of the area. Here the Roman institutions, the cities, the libraries, the villas, were impressive and because of their strength and endurance, they survived the era of invasions and lived on into the new age. The figure who most perfectly speaks for this transition from Roman Gaul to the new France is Decimus Magnus Ausonius (310-395). Ausonius was a doctor’s son born at Bordeaux in 310 AD. After an excellent Classical education in grammar and rhetoric he established a school of rhetoric (public speaking, an educational program that included politics and other subject matter). Among his many students were important figures in the Christian church such as Paulinus, Bishop of Nola as well as Roman officials. In 364, Ausonius was called to Rome by Emperor Valentinian to be the tutor to his son Gratian. When Gratian was murdered in 383, Ausonius went home to his villa outside Bordeaux. He had lived at the highest levels of Roman government, now his return to his villa outside of Bordeaux allowed him to be in touch with all aspects of the great international Roman empire. During his remaining years in Bordeaux he produced a fascinating collection of poetry that tells us about the world and the values of the late empire as the center failed to hold and the signs of collapse became more and more evident. We will provide you with copies of some of Ausonius’ poetry.
Hugh G. Evelyn-White (translator),
Harvard University Press (January 1, 1919),
One of the great treats this quarter will be a visit to the Chateau Ausone. Ausonius’s Chateau still stands and now is the location of one of the greatest vineyards in all of the Bordeaux region. The vineyard is built right into the Roman ruins and the bottles are aged in caves that have been used for two thousand years. I am hoping we can buy a bottle of wine from Chateau Ausone to share on our night when we discuss Ausonius. Such a bottle is available in our area as I write this at a cost of about $500 (yes, you read right). Chateau Ausone wine is one of the most highly valued wines in the world. So this project may not come to fruition, but we will try. Whether we get to have a taste of the wine or not, we will all get to visit the Chateau thanks to the incredible generosity of the Varthier family who now own the vineyard. They have provided us with spectacular photographs for our night on Ausonius.
You can visit the Chateau on line: Chateau Ausone