Robinson Ellis.

The correspondence of Fronto and M. Aurelius. A lecture delivered in the Hall of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, December 3, 1903 online

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Online LibraryRobinson EllisThe correspondence of Fronto and M. Aurelius. A lecture delivered in the Hall of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, December 3, 1903 → online text (page 1 of 3)
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PA25 Ellis-

C68 The correspond-
v74 enoe of Pronto
and M. Aurelius.












AT the beginning of the nineteenth century all that sur-
vived of the once famous orator M. Cornelius Fronto was a
few short fragments quoted in Charisius, in Servius' Com-
mentary on Vergil, and 'in the short treatise de Abstrusis
Sermonibus of Fulgentius Planciades. Yet his greatness as
a speaker had been attested not only by the fact of his being
selected to train the young Caesars M. Aurelius and L. Verus
in rhetoric,but by the united verdict of the Panegyrist Eume-
nius and the poet Ausonius, the former of whom comparing
him with Cicero had pronounced Fronto the second, but not
inferior, glory of Roman eloquence, while Ausonius, contrast-
ing his own elevation to the Consulship with Fronto's two
months' tenure of the same office, deprecates any rivalry
with Fronto's acknowledged eloquence, but prefers his own
Emperor Gratianus to Fronto's patron M. Aurelius. It
was remembered too that M. Aurelius, in the very first
chapter of his Reflexions, had ascribed to Fronto his percep-
tion of the jealousy, artifice, and insincerity which mark
tyrants, as well as the want of natural affection often found
in the so-called aristocracy. These were recommendations
of no slight kind to that ' great age ' in which the French
Revolution was still new, and the monarchs of Europe had
one after another been dispossessed by Napoleon. Great,
therefore, was the curiosity which greeted the announce-
ment in 1815 that an Italian scholar, the now famous Mai,
had discovered in the Ambrosian Library at Milan a palim-
psest containing on 282 pages of double columns, 24 lines
in each column, part of the correspondence between Fronto
and his pupil M. Aurelius. Later, when Mai removed to
Rome as librarian of the Vatican, he found there another
part of the same palimpsest, containing further letters of

B 2



Fronto in 106 pages. Over the original writing had been
superscribed a Latin account of the Acts of the Council
of Chalcedon. On the antiquity of the original writing
various opinions have been formed ; Mai considered it
to be very old, indeed not later than the fourth century ;
Mebuhr referred it to the beginning of the seventh,
arguing from the shape of the letters, which are not
unlike those of the Pandects in the famous MS. at Florence.
Naber assigns it to the beginning of the sixth century,
and considers it to approximate most nearly to the
Vienna MS. of Livy. This view he conceives to be further
supported by the form and character of the Greek letters
(the MS. contains several epistles of and to Fronto in Greek)
and the absence of accents and marks of aspiration. There
are few contractions, q' for que, B' for bus, IMP. for irti-
perator. The facsimile given by Mai at the end of his Milan
edition, 1815, has in some cases a large comma written above
the line, apparently to divide words from each other, or
show when sentences end ; but it is hard to speak confi-
dently, as in a short letter of thirty-six words and five
sentences, the comma is introduced five times, but in two
of the five after words which do not end a sentence, and
one which does not even end a clause. The text of Fronto
in the MS. was emended at an early period by a person
whose name Caecilius was formerly legible at the end of
the third book of Epistles, though it has now been obliterated.
He has written in the margin sometimes words, sometimes
sentences, now transposed and altered, now in imperfect ex-
cerpts, now in full. His notes are more numerous towards
the end. There are a few various readings. All this is
reproduced in Naber's edition of Fronto (1867). After the
publication of the Ambrosian part by Mai, it was again
edited by Niebuhr, Buttmann, and Heindorf conjointly.
Mai, on the discovery of the Vatican portion, re-edited the
whole in 1823, since which time nothing of much impor-
tance was done till 1858 J , when Naber's friend, Du Rieu,

1 Sec Du Rieu'a Schedae Vaticancu, Praef., p. a, published in 1860.

again examined the MS. very carefully, and rearranged the
whole. Instead however of publishing his results himself,
he entrusted them to Naber, whose edition of 1867 still
remains the only adequate form in which the text of the
Letters can be studied. In 1874 Klussmann published hisi
excellent Emendationes Frontoniariae with an Epistula
Critica by Studemund, and in 1902 the Dutch scholar
Brakman in his Frontoniana contributed the results of
a new examination of both palimpsests, which must be
considered valuable. From a short conversation with
Dr. Hauler of Vienna in 1897 I learnt that he was then
meditating a new edition.

The literary interest of this correspondence is consider-
able. It comprises 8 books ad M. Caesarem et inuicem, i.e.
between Fronto and M. Aurelius, still Caesar, 2 to M. Aure-
lius as Imperator, 2 Ad Verum Imperatorem, to Aurelius'
colleague Verus, i to Marcus Antoninus de eloquentia,
i to the same de oTationibus, i to Antoninus Pius, 2 Ad
Amicos et inuicem. Besides these, there are six short and
imperfect treatises: (i) Principia Historiae, (2) Laudes
Fumi et Pulueris, (3) Laudes Negligentiae, (4) De Bella
Parthico, (5) De Feriis Alsiensibus, (6") De Nepote Amisso t
(7) Arion. There is finally a short book of Greek letters,
in which two Latin letters are included. We have thus,
numerically, a tolerably large body of remains from which
to estimate the literary merits and position of Fronto,
among the writers of African Latin the most conspicuous
figure that has survived to modern times with the single
exception of Apuleius. It is true that nothing remains of
his speeches, and it was on his speeches that his chief title
to distinction rested. In this respect he is at a disad-
vantage as compared with another but later writer who
happens to be included in the same palimpsest with himself,
the famous supporter of Paganism in its last days, the
object of the Christian poet Prudentius' attack, the episto-
lographer and orator Symmachus, of whose oratory at least
some fragments survive. This is the more regrettable as
Fronto is selected by no less a critic than Macrobius

(Sat v. i) in the passage where he describes the four styles
of oratory, the copious, the concise, the colourless, the
florid, as the best type of the colourless or dry style
(siccus), and is contrasted -with the younger Pliny and
Syminachus, who represented the fourth or florid genus.

M. Cornelius Pronto was born in the Berber town Cirta
(modern Constantine), it is not known in what year, but
perhaps, as Monceaux thinks, in the principate of Nerva or
the first years of Trajan. Nor are we informed when he
left his native country for Rome, where, seemingly under
the training of the philosopher Athenodotus and the
rhetorician Dionysius, he gave himself to the study of
eloquence and rose under Hadrian (109-138 A.D.) to be the
first orator of his time. As such he is mentioned by Dion
Cassius among the chief ornaments of Hadrian's reign (Ixix.
18). Hadrian himself he never liked and seems to have
avoided close contact with him; 'I approached him,' he
confesses in a letter to M. Aurelius, p. 25 N., ' as a kind of
Mars Gradivus, or Dis Pater, whom I wished to soothe
rather than loved,' This was not inconsistent with fre-
quent laudation of Hadrian in the senate ; and these
orations were, Fronto tells us, in every one's hands.

An Algerian inscription, Renier 2717, gives a list of the
offices he held before his appointment to the Consulship :
triumvir capitalis, quaestor of the province of Sicily,
plebeian aedile, praetor. It was not till the sixth year of
Antoninus Pius, 143 A.D., that he was made consul suffectus
for the months of July and August. Before this he had
been appointed tutor in rhetoric to the young M. Aurelius,
and later to L. Verus, the future joint-rulers of the Roman
Empire, whom Antoninus Pius had adopted, in conformity
with the wish of Hadrian, as the condition of his own
succession to the principate (Feb. 25, A.D. 138).

From this time to the end of his life Fronto continued
in high favour with the reigning emperors, his reputation
increasing steadily with his years. He was offered the pro-
consulate of Asia, but declined it on grounds of health.
' I had made every preparation for starting, and had even.

arranged with a Mauritanian soldier-friend of tried ex-
perience to provide means for hunting out and coercing
the banditti. It was my hope by spare diet and drinking
water to alleviate, if not keep off, the malady from which
I Buffer. But an attack supervened of such violence as to
convince me that all hope of accepting the post was impos-
sible' (p. 169). He remained at Rome, too confirmed an
invalid to be very happy, too much courted and caressed
to be quite miserable. Capitolinus tells us (M. Aurel. 2),
that M. Aurelius had a statue erected to him, and he was
doubtless included in the series of golden effigies which the
Emperor placed in his Lararium in honour of his various
preceptors (ib. 3). Though he affected no state, he was rich ;
owned villas in different parts of Italy, was proprietor of
the famous horti Maecenatiani (p. 23), and is introduced by
A. Gellius (xix. 10) as surrounded by architects who ex-
hibited to him plans of costly baths, one requiring an
outlay of 350,000 sesterces. It is not wonderful therefore
that he is mentioned in the inscription above quoted as
patronus of the African town of Calama, and seems to have
been solicited to assume the same function in his native
Cirta (p. 200).

In the loss of all Fronto's orations, it will suffice to
mention the titles of those by which he gained most
applause. The Panegyrist Eumenius (Pan. Constantii XIV),
from whom I have cited the words Fronto Romanae elo-
quentiae non secundum sed alterum decus, quotes a passage
from the eulogium which he addressed to Antoninus Pius on
his successful consummation, though not personally present,
of the war in Britain. Another famous display was his
invective against Herodes Atticus, his rival in oratory and
the instructor of M. Aurelius in Greek, as Fronto in Latin,
rhetoric. On this occasion M. Aurelius interceded with
Fronto in behalf of Herodes ; and the orator seems to have
modified the violence of his invective, at the same time
that he maintained a stern and dignified attitude towards
an undoubted offender. In his speech de hereditate
Matidiae he supported M. Aurelius and his wife Faustina

against Matidia's legatees. But the crowning effort of
his oratory was his speech against Pelops, probably, as
Niebuhr suggested, the celebrated physician mentioned by
Aelius Aristides and Galen ; in this he surpassed himself,
as we are expressly told by Apollinaris Sidonius (Epp.
vii. 10).

Deplorable as is the loss of even one specimen of Fronto's
oratory instructive as it would have been to compare
him with his great rival, Cicero, or his senior contem-
porary, Pliny, particularly where both had to deal with
the same materials, the laudation of really great and
admirable emperors we have enough left us in the
palimpsest remains discovered by Mai to form an adequate
idea not only of the man but of the epoch in which he
lived and which was moulded considerably by him. A
circumstance there is which heightens or even doubles the
attractiveness of Fronto's correspondence. The letters
with their replies are addressed to and answered by a
youth who became later one of the greatest and certainly
one of the best men of the Koman world. When the
correspondence with his tutor began, M. Aurelius was quite
young, audax puerulus, as he calls himself (p. 41), perhaps,
as Naber thought, nineteen years old. Such indeed is
the tone of these letters between master and pupil as to
suggest an even earlier age. They may fairly be said to over-
flow with affection, and this a reciprocal passion in which
the fondness of the master is more than equalled by the
ardour of the pupil. It may well be that the feeling of
fondness which Fronto would naturally conceive for Marcus
as a young boy extended itself to his adolescence and even
to his mature youth ; in fact he tells us so in one of the
first passages of the letters (p. 102). ' Schoolmasters, as
we know, have more affection for their pupils while they
are still learning the tasks of boyhood and paying their
fee. Speaking for myself, the moment I entered upon the
work of tending and cultivating your intellect, my hopes
anticipated that you would be what you are : I strained
the eyes of my affection to reach into this your reign.

Your boyhood was already bright with native excellence,
your adolescence still brighter ; yet only with the dawning
and imperfect light of a day without cloud. Now at last
the brilliant orb of your perfect excellence has risen and
dispersed its rays over the world ; and yet you would
recall ine to the ancient measure of a love still in its dawn,
and would have the dim light of morning shine at midday.'
Again (p. 51), 'In receiving the letters you sent me every
day, I felt all the pangs of a lover who sees his love hurry-
ing to him along a rugged and perilous road. His joy at
meeting again alternates with his alarm at the danger.'
Again (p. 74), ' If, when slumber's chain has bound me, to
speak with the poet, I see you in my sleep, I never fail to
embrace and kiss you ; then, according as each sleep varies
its scene, I either weep profusely or feel my heart beat
with an ineffable joy.' Again (p. 155), * I confess and it is
a fact that I tell you that one thing, and one only, can
occur to make my love for you halt to any considerable
degree your neglecting oratory.'

On his side Marcus was equally warm (p. 26).

' To my dear Fronto. I give in, you have conquered ; all
lovers that ever were you have conquered in loving. Take
the crown : and besides this let the herald declare openly
in front of your tribunal this your victory. Marcus Cor-
nelius Fronton Consul a la victoire ; il revolt la couronne
des grandes luttes d'amour. For my part, defeated as
I am, I am not likely to withdraw from my devotion or
prove untrue. Leaving it then to yourself to love me more
than man ever loved man, I, who own an inferior power in
loving, shall love you more than any human being loves
you, nay more than you love yourself. Henceforth Gratia
and I are rivals : and yet I feel I shall not be able to go
beyond her. For her passion, as Plautus says, is a rain
whose large drops have not only drenched her robe, but
actually course through her vitals.' Again (p. 56), ' What
do you think are my feelings, when I reflect how long it is
since I have seen you, and why it is I have not seen you ?
Possibly indeed I may not see you during the few days



which you are compelled to take for recovering your
strength. So as long as you lie by, my own spirits must
droop ; when with heaven's help you stand on your feet again,
my own spirits will resume their composure : at this moment
they burn with the intensest longing to see you. Farewell,
thou soul of thy own Caesar, thy friend, thy pupil.' And in
another letter he even more closely anticipates the language
of Shakespeare's Sonnets (p. 4) : ' Where my mind has be-
taken itself, I do not know, except that I know this, it is
on its way to that unknown somewhere, you. ... If you
think of any waters as a cure, write and restore to my
breast its soul.'

Similar, but perhaps a little less high-flown,' is the ex-
pression of Fronto's feeling for his younger pupil, Lucius
Verus. ' How often,' he writes (p. 1 36), ' have you supported
me in your hands, raised me when I had difficulty in
standing up, or almost carried me when bodily weakness
made it difficult to move ! With what a joyous and benign
look did you always greet me : how gladly converse and
how long 1 how unwillingly break off the conversation ! '

The infirmities of which Fronto here speaks extended to
every part of his body and fill his whole correspondence.
He was a perpetual sufferer from gout, and is called ' Fronto
the gouty ' by Artemidorus (de Somniis, iv. 24), and twice
described by Gellius (ii. 26, xix. 10) as pedibus aeger, and
pedes tune grauiter aeger. He describes himself as suffer-
ing successively in the arm, the elbow, the knee, the neck,
the groin, the left foot, the sole, the stomach, the right
hand, the chest, the windpipe, the shoulders, the peritoneum
(if Klussmann's conjecture is right, p. 72), the eyes. The
whole of the fifth book of the correspondence with Aurelius
is an alternation of Fronto's varying ailments and Marcus'
sympathizing replies : a fact, I believe, without any other
example in Greek or Roman literature. But he knew how
to turn his pains to good purpose ; they excused his at-
tendance at court, and gave him a real plea for absenting
himself from visits of ceremony which to a man so much
employed as a pleader must too often have been a waste of


time. Nor does it seem that such absences were resented
or that they caused any coldness between the Caesar and
his master.

As might be expected from the intimacy of their relations,
the letters of Fronto and Marcus range over a wide list of
subjects and admit us to many different phases of Italian
life in the second century A. D. The most prominent place
must be given to literature, under which I include oratory
and the study of words. At that time Rome was filled
with grammarians, and most of them acknowledged a leader
in Fronto. The Attic Nights of A. Gellius are perhaps the
most faithful exhibition of the literary tendencies of the
epoch, Gellius introduces us no less than five times to scenes
in which Fronto is the central figure. Once it is a discus-
sion with Favorinus on colours and the words which express
them (ii. 26) ; then a defence of Claudius Quadrigarius'
cum multis mortalibus against a caviller who could feel no
difference between this and cum multis hominibus (xiii. 29) ;
in a third (xix. 8) the question is asked, Have harena,
triticum, caelum plurals 1 has quadrigae a singular. ? and
Fronto quotes the Dictator Caesar's de Analogia and a
passage of Ennius : in a fourth praeter propter, alleged
to be a low word used by artisans, is defended and shown
to be good Latin (xix. 10) : in the fifth a grammatical
quartett, Gellius, Apollinaris Sulpicius, Festus Postumius,
and Fronto, canvass in the vestibule of the Palace the
respective claims of nanus and pumilio ; and Fronto's dis-
paraging opinion of 'nanus is shown by Apollinaris to be
inconsistent with its being genuine Greek, and by Postumius
with its authorization by a poet as learned and famous as
Helvius Cinna.

This side of Fronto's activity is well represented in the
letters. He has the most pronounced judgements on Roman
oratory, and it is clear that with him oratory depended for
its success almost wholly on the choice of words. ' Few
writers,' he says (p. 62), ' have addressed themselves to the
laborious and hazardous study of carefully looking for words.
Among orators Cato above all others and his constant

B 4


imitator Sallust ; among poets Plautus especially, and most
especially Ennius with his studious imitator L. Caelius : again,
Naevius, Lucretius, Accius, Caecilius, and Laberius. Reserv-
ing these, there are some writers whom you may observe to
be choice in special lines ; Novius, Pomponius,and their com-
peers, in words of country life or of jesting and farce : Atta
in words used by women, Sisenna in love-scenes, Lucilius in
the words appropriate to each profession or business. You
may perhaps ask impatiently where I place Cicero, the
so-called fount and spring-head of Roman eloquence. I
consider him to have used invariably the finest words and
to have excelled all other orators in the splendour with
which he adorns everything he wished to set off with dis-
tinction. I hold him, however, to have been far removed
from any minute search for language, either because he was
too high-minded or shunned the labour, or felt assured
that without any search he would find ready to his hand
words which would hardly occur to others with it. And
so I believe I have made out for I have been a careful
reader of everything he wrote that while he has handled
all other classes of words with rare fullness and richness,
words proper or metaphorical, simple or compound, in-
cluding those choice, and often quite beautiful dictions
which shed a lustre over all his writings still throughout
his speeches any one of those sudden surprises of language
which only study, attention, vigilance and extensive
memory of old poetry are able to discover, is very rare in-
deed. By sudden surprises of language I mean what comes
upon the hearer or reader unexpectedly and unawares,
such that if it is withdrawn and the reader is ordered to
search himself for the right word, he will either find none
at all or no other as well fitted to indicate the meaning.'

He illustrates what I have here translated by the various
uses of luere and its compounds. To rinse the mouth is
os colluere, to scour a pavement is pelluere, to wash off
sweat abluere, to wash out a stain eluere, to mix a draught
of mulse diluere, to rinse the throat proluere, to bathe an
animal's hoof sulluere. To wash a dress is lauare, to


drench the cheeks with tears is lauere, to scour away dirt
that clings is elauere, a word affected by Plautus.

A similar characterization of Roman orators and historians
is found (p. 113). 'Among poets, as every one knows, Lucilius
is a type of the meagre, Albucius of the lifeless style,
Lucretius is lofty, Pacuvius neither high nor low, Accius
unequal, Ennius various. Again, history has been written
by Sallust in a set periodic style, by Pictor roughly, by
Antias with sprightliness, by Sisenna tediously, by Cato with
words in long teams, by Caelius in single words. Again,
in public harangues Cato is fierce, Gracchus noisy, Cicero
copious : in judicial speeches Cato is furious, Cicero exultant,
Gracchus vehement, Calvus quarrelsome.' Nor must we
suppose that Fronto contented himself with merely lauding
these antiquated worthies ; he got copies to be made of
them and dispatched them to his imperial pupil ; the Sota
of Ennius, we learn from Marcus himself, was thus sent
off to him written on cleaner paper, in a more attractive
volume and finer writing ; whether it was read, or if read
thought much of, we are not told ; but the next sentence
informs us that a speech or speeches of Gracchus which
Pronto wished also to send, might as well wait, as there
was no hurry. It would seem that the great literary epoch
of Domitian and Trajan, the epoch of Statius, Juvenal,
Martial, Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny, was too recent in men's
memories to give way without a struggle to a new creed
which reversed their pretensions and returned by preference
to the older, mostly pre-Ciceronian models, now long out of
date and only to be revived by an effort. Fronto, however,
was too wise to attack these great names ; his scoffs are
aimed at an earlier generation, the writers of Nero's reign,
specially the younger Seneca and Lucan.

This is his verdict on Seneca (p. 156) : 'I well know the
fellow to be copious and exuberant in philosophic aphorisms
(sententiis) ; but I observe that his trotting sentences no-
where hold on at a quick galloping pace, nowhere join issue,
nowhere aim at a grandiose effect ; he is like Laberius, full
of witty sallies, or perhaps I should say witticisms, rather


than of smartly turned dicta. Do you really think
you will find weightier judgements, I mean on the same
matter, in your Seneca than in Sergius ? But then
Sergius' sentences are not so well modulated ; true ; nor so
lively in movement ; no : nor so resonant : granted. Well,
suppose the same breakfast served up to both, one of the
two fingering the olives set before him, putting them to his
mouth, chewing them in the authorized manner of mastica-

1 3

Online LibraryRobinson EllisThe correspondence of Fronto and M. Aurelius. A lecture delivered in the Hall of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, December 3, 1903 → online text (page 1 of 3)