CORRESPONDENCE OF M. AURELIUS ANTONINUS AND M. CORNELIUS FRONTO' M. CORNELIUS FRONTO(1) was a Roman by descent, but of provincial birth, being native to Cirta, in Numidia. Thence he migrated to Rome in the reign of Hadrian, and became the most famous rhetorician of his day. As a pleader and orator he was counted by his contemporaries hardly inferior to Tully himself, and as a teacher his aid was sought for the noblest youths of Rome. To him was entrusted the education of M.
Aurelius and of his colleague L. Verus in their boyhood; and he was rewarded for his efforts by a seat in the Senate and the consular rank (A. D. 143). By the exercise of his profession he became wealthy; and if he speaks of his means as not great, (2) he must be comparing his wealth with the grandees of Rome, not with the ordinary citizen.
Before the present century nothing was known of the works of Fronto, except a grammatical treatise; but in 1815 Cardinal Mai published a number of letters and some short essays of Fronto, which he had discovered in a palimpsest at Milan. Other parts of the same MS. he found later in the Vatican, the whole being collected
1 References are made to the edition of Naber, Leipzig
2 Ad Verum imp. Aur. Caes. , ii, 7. and edited in the year
We now possess parts of his correspondence with Antoninus Pius, with M. Aurelius, with L. Verus, and with certain of his friends, and also several rhetorical and historical fragments. Though none of the more ambitious works of Fronto have survived, there are enough to give proof of his powers. Never was a great literary reputation less deserved. It would be hard to conceive of anything more vapid than the style and conception of these letters; clearly the man was a pedant without imagination or taste. Such indeed was the age he lived in, and it is no marvel that he was like to his age. But there must have been more in him than mere pedantry; there was indeed a heart in the man, which Marcus found, and he found also a tongue which could speak the truth. Fronto's letters are by no means free from exaggeration and laudation, but they do not show that loathsome flattery which filled the Roman court. He really admires what he praises, and his way of saying so is not unlike what often passes for criticism at the present day. He is not afraid to reprove what he thinks amiss; and the astonishment of Marcus at this will prove, if proof were needed, that he was not used to plain dealing. “How happy I am, ” he writes, “that my friend Marcus Cornelius, so distinguished as an orator and so noble as a man, thinks me worth praising and blaming. ”(1) In another place he deems himself blest because Pronto had taught him to speak the truth(2) although the context shows him to be speaking of expression, it is still a point in favour of Pronto. A sincere heart is better than literary taste; and if Fronto had not done his duty by the young prince, it is not easy to understand the friendship which remained between them up to the last.
1 Ad M. Caes iii. 17
2 Ad M. Caes iii. 12
An example of the frankness which was between them is given by a difference they had over the case of Herodes Atticus. Herodes was a Greek rhetorician who had a school at Rome, and Marcus Aurelius was among his pupils. Both Marcus and the Emperor Antoninus had a high opinion of Herodes; and all we know goes to prove he was a man of high character and princely generosity. When quite young he was made administrator of the free cities in Asia, nor is it surprising to find that he made bitter enemies there; indeed, a just ruler was sure to make enemies. The end of it was that an Athenian deputation, headed by the orators Theodotus and Demostratus, made serious accusations against his honour. There is no need to discuss the merits of the case here; suffice it to say, Herodes succeeded in defending himself to the satisfaction of the emperor. Pronto appears to have taken the delegates' part, and to have accepted a brief for the prosecution, urged to some extent by personal considerations; and in this cause Marcus Aurelius writes to Fronto as follows 'AURELIUS CAESAR to his friend FRONTO, greeting. (1) 'I know you have often told me you were anxious to find how you might best please me. Now is the time; now you can increase my love towards you, if it can be increased. A trial is at hand, in which people seem likely not only to hear your speech with pleasure, but to see your indignation with impatience. I see no one who dares give you a hint in the matter; for those who are less friendly, prefer to see you act with some inconsistency; and those who are more friendly, fear to seem too friendly to your opponent if they should dissuade you from your accusation; then again, in case you have prepared something neat for the occasion, they cannot endure to rob you of your harangue by silencing you. Therefore, whether you think me a rash counsellor, or a bold boy, or too kind to your opponent, not because I think it better, I will offer my counsel with some caution. But why have I said, offer my counsel? No, I demand it from you; I demand it boldly, and if I succeed, I promise to remain under your obligation. What? you will say if I am attackt, shall I not pay tit for tat? Ah, but you will get greater glory, if even when attackt you answer nothing. Indeed, if he begins it, answer as you will and you will have fair excuse; but I have demanded of him that he shall not begin, and I think I have succeeded. I love each of you according to your merits and I know that lie was educated in the house of P. Calvisius, my grandfather, and that I was educated by you; therefore I am full of anxiety that this most disagreeable business shall be managed as honourably as possible. I trust you may approve my advice, for my intention you will approve. At least I prefer to write unwisely rather than to be silent unkindly. '
1 Ad M. Caes ii. , 2.
Fronto replied, thanking the prince for his advice, and promising that he will confine himself to the facts of the case. But he points out that the charges brought against Herodes were such, that they can hardly be made agreeable; amongst them being spoliation, violence, and murder. However, he is willing even to let some of these drop if it be the prince's pleasure. To this Marcus returned the following answer:— (1) 'This one thing, my dearest Fronto, is enough to make me truly grateful to you, that so far from rejecting my counsel, you have even approved it. As to the question you raise in your kind letter, my opinion is this: all that concerns the case which you are supporting must be clearly brought forward; what concerns your own feelings, though you may have had just provocation, should be left unsaid. ' The story does credit to both. Fronto shows no loss of temper at the interference, nor shrinks from stating his case with frankness; and Marcus, with forbearance remarkable in a prince, does not command that his friend be left unmolested, but merely stipulates for a fair trial on the merits of the case.
Another example may be given from a letter of Fronto's (2) Here is something else quarrelsome and querulous. I have sometimes found fault with you in your absence somewhat seriously in the company of a few of my most intimate friends: at times, for example, when you mixt in society with a more solemn look than was fitting, or would read books in the theatre or in a banquet; nor did I absent myself from theatre or banquet when you did (3). Then I used to call you a hard man, no good company, even disagreeable, sometimes, when anger got the better of me. But did any one else in the same banquet speak against you, I could not endure to hear it with equanimity. Thus it was easier for me to say something to your disadvantage myself, than to hear others do it; just as I could more easily bear to chastise my daughter Gratia, than to see her chastised by another. '
1. Ad. M. Caes. , iii. 5.
2. iv. 12.
3 The text is obscure
The affection between them is clear from every page of the correspondence. A few instances are now given, which were written at different periods To MY MASTER. (1) 'This is how I have past the last few days. My sister was suddenly seized with an internal pain, so violent that I was horrified at her looks; my mother in her trepidation on that account accidentally bruised her side on a corner of the wall; she and we were greatly troubled about that blow. For myself; on going to rest I found a scorpion in my bed; but I did not lie down upon him, I killed him first. If you are getting on better, that is a consolation. My mother is easier now, thanks be to God. Good-bye, best and sweetest master. My lady sends you greeting. '
(2)'What words can I find to fit my had luck, or how shall I upbraid as it deserves the hard constraint which is laid upon me? It ties me fast here, troubled my heart is, and beset by such anxiety; nor does it allow me to make haste to my Fronto, my life and delight, to be near him at such a moment of ill-health in particular, to hold his hands, to chafe gently that identical foot, so far as may be done without discomfort, to attend him in the bath, to support his steps with my arm. '
(3)'This morning I did not write to you, because I heard you were better, and because I was myself engaged in other business, and I cannot ever endure to write anything to you unless with mind at ease and untroubled and free. So if we are all right, let me know: what I desire, you know, and how properly I desire it, I know. Farewell, my master, always in every chance first in my mind, as you deserve to be. My master, see I am not asleep, and I compel myself to sleep, that you may not be angry with me. You gather I am writing this late at night. '
1 Ad M. Caes. , v. 8.
2 i. 2.
3 iii. 21.
(1)'What spirit do you suppose is in me, when I remember how long it is since I have seen you, and why I have not seen you 1 and it may be I shall not see you for a few days yet, while you are strengthening yourself; as you must. So while you lie on the sick-bed, my spirit also will lie low anti, whenas, (2) by God's mercy you shall stand upright, my spirit too will stand firm, which is now burning with the strongest desire for you. Farewell, soul of your prince, your (3)O my dear Fronto, most distinguished Consul! I yield, you have conquered: all who have ever loved before, you have conquered out and out in love's contest. Receive the victor's wreath; and the herald shall proclaim your victory aloud before your own tribunal: “M. Cornelius Fronto, Consul, wins, and is crowned victor in the Open International Love-race. ”(4) But beaten though I may be, I shall neither slacken nor relax my own zeal. Well, you shall love me more than any man loves any other man; but I, who possess a faculty of loving less strong, shall love you more than any one else loves you; more indeed than you love yourself. Gratia and I will have to fight for it; I doubt I shall not get the better of her. For, as Plautus says, her love is like rain, whose big drops not only penetrate the dress, but drench to the very marrow. '
Marcus Aurelius seems to have been about eighteen years of age when the correspondence begins, Fronto being some thirty years older. (5) The systematic education of the young prince seems to have been finisht, and Pronto now acts more as his adviser than his tutor. He recommends the prince to use simplicity in his public speeches, and to avoid affectation. (6) Marcus devotes his attention to the old authors who then had a great vogue at Rome: Ennius, Plautus, Nawius, and such orators as Cato and Gracchus. (7) Pronto urges on him the study of Cicero, whose letters, he says, are all worth reading.
1 Ad M. Caes. , iii. 19.
2 The writer sometimes uses archaisms such as quom, which I
3 Ad M. Caes. , ii. 2.
4 The writer parodies the proclamation at the Greek games; the
words also are Greek.
5 From internal evidence: the letters are not arranged in order
of time. See Naher's Prolegomena, p. xx. foil.
6 Ad M. Caes. , iii. x.
7 Ad M. Caes ii. 10, ; iii. 18, ; ii. 4.
When he wishes to compliment Marcus he declares one or other of his letters has the true Tullian ring. Marcus gives his nights to reading when he ought to be sleeping. He exercises himself in verse composition and on rhetorical themes.
'It is very nice of you, ' he writes to Fronto, (1) 'to ask for my hexameters; I would have sent them at once if I had them by me. The fact is my secretary, Anicetus-you know who I mean-did not pack up any of my compositions for me to take away with me. He knows my weakness; he was afraid that if I got hold of them I might, as usual, make smoke of them. However, there was no fear for the hexameters. I must confess the truth to my master: I love them. I study at night, since the day is taken up with the theatre. I am weary of an evening, and sleepy in the daylight, and so I don't do much. Yet I have made extracts from sixty books, five volumes of them, in these latter days. But when you read remember that the “sixty” includes plays of Novius, and farces, and some little speeches of Scipio; don't be too much startled at the number. You remember your Polemon; but I pray you do not remember Horace, who has died with Pollio as far as I am concerned. (2) Farewell, my dearest and most affectionate friend, most distinguished consul and my beloved master, whom I have not seen these two years. Those who say two months, count the days. Shall I ever see you again? '
Sometimes Fronto sends him a theme to work up, as thus: 'M. Lucilius tribune of the people violently throws into prison a free Roman citizen, against the opinion of his colleagues who demand his release. For this act he is branded by the censor. Analyse the case, and then take both sides in turn, attacking and defending. '(3) Or again: 'A Roman consul, doffing his state robe, dons the gauntlet and kills a lion amongst the young men at the Quinquatrus in full view of the people of Rome. Denunciation before the censors. '(4) The prince has a fair knowledge of Greek, and quotes from Homer, Plato, Euripides, but for some reason Fronto dissuaded him from this study. (5) His Meditations are written in Greek. He continued his literary studies throughout his life, and after he became emperor we still find him asking his adviser for copies of Cicero's Letters, by which he hopes to improve his vocabulary. (6) Pronto Helps him with a supply of similes, which, it seems, he did not think of readily. It is to be feared that the fount of Marcus's eloquence was pumped up by artificial means.
1 Ad M. Caes. , ii. 10.
2 He implies, as in i. 6, that he has ceased to study Horace.
3 Pollio was a grammarian, who taught Marcus.
4 Ad M. Caes. , v. 27, ; V. 22.
5 Ep. Gracae, 6.
6 Ad Anton. Imp. , II. 4.
Some idea of his literary style may be gathered from the letter which follows:(1) 'I heard Polemo declaim the other day, to say something of things sublunary. If you ask what I thought of him, listen. He seems to me an industrious farmer, endowed with the greatest skill, who has cultivated a large estate for corn and vines only, and indeed with a rich return of fine crops. But yet in that land of his there is no Pompeian fig or Arician vegetable, no Tarentine rose, or pleasing coppice, or thick grove, or shady plane tree; all is for use rather than for pleasure, such as one ought rather to commend, but cares not to love.
A pretty bold idea, is it not, and rash judgment, to pass censure on a man of such reputation? But whenas I remember that I am writing to you, I think I am less bold than you would have me.
'In that point I am wholly undecided.
'There's an unpremeditated hendecasyllable for you. So before I begin to poetize, i'll take an easy with you. Farewell, my heart's desire, your Verus's best beloved, most distinguisht consul, master most sweet. Farewell I ever pray, sweetest soul.
What a letter do you think you have written me I could make bold to say, that never did she who bore me and nurst me, write anything SO delightful, so honey-sweet. And this does not come of your fine style and eloquence: otherwise not my mother only, but all who breathe. '
1 Ad M. Caes, ii. 5.
To the pupil, never was anything on earth so fine as his master's eloquence; on this theme Marcus fairly bubbles over with enthusiasm.
(1)'Well, if the ancient Greeks ever wrote anything like this, let those who know decide it: for me, if I dare say so, I never read any invective of Cato's so fine as...