In 1815 a manuscript containing one of the long-lost treasures of antiquity was discovered—the letters of Marcus Cornelius Fronto, reputed to have been one of the greatest Roman orators. But this find disappointed many nineteenth-century readers, who had hoped for the letters to convey all of the political drama of Cicero’s. That the collection included passionate love letters between Fronto and the future ...

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Marcus Aurelius in Love

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In 1815 a manuscript containing one of the long-lost treasures of antiquity was discovered—the letters of Marcus Cornelius Fronto, reputed to have been one of the greatest Roman orators. But this find disappointed many nineteenth-century readers, who had hoped for the letters to convey all of the political drama of Cicero’s. That the collection included passionate love letters between Fronto and the future emperor Marcus Aurelius was politely ignored—or concealed. And for almost two hundred years these letters have lain hidden in plain sight.

Marcus Aurelius in Love rescues these letters from obscurity and returns them to the public eye. The story of Marcus and Fronto began in 139 CE when Fronto was selected to instruct Marcus in rhetoric. Marcus was eighteen then and by all appearances the pupil and teacher fell in love. Spanning the years in which the relationship flowered and died, these are the only love letters to survive from antiquity—homoerotic or otherwise. With a translation that reproduces the effusive, slangy style of the young prince and the rhetorical flourishes of his master, the letters between Marcus and Fronto will rightfully be reconsidered as key documents in the study of the history of sexuality and classics.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226713021
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/2008
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 176
  • File size: 224 KB

Meet the Author

Amy Richlin is professor of classics at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the author of The Garden of Priapus: Sexuality and Aggression in Roman Humor, translator of Rome and the Mysterious Orient: Three Plays by Plautus, editor of Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome, and coeditor of Feminist Theory and the Classics.

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Marcus Aurelius in Love

By Marcus Aurelius Marcus Cornelius Fronto
The University of Chicago Press
Copyright © 2006

The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-71300-7

Chapter One LETTERS

* * *

Letter 1


Hi, my very best teacher,

If you get some sleep after the all-nighters you've been moaning about, please write and tell me; and please, first of all, take care of your health. Then-that bridge you keep threatening to burn-get rid of the matches and put them away somewhere, and don't you let go of your plans to go to court. Or, if you do, everybody else should shut their mouth too.

You say you've hammered together something or other in Greek that pleases you like few things you've written. Aren't you the one who was just setting me straight about "to what end was I writing in Greek"? So now I really have to write something in Greek more than ever. Want to know why? I want to take a risk and see if what I didn't learn will fall in line for me more easily, because what I did learn has deserted me. But if you loved me, you would have sent me this brand-new thing you say you like. Still, I'm reading you here whether you want me to or not, and really that's the one thing I live and survive by.

Gory homework you sent me! I haven't read the passage from Coelius you sent yet, and I won't read it before I've tracked down the ideas for myself. But the Caesar speech holds me down in its crooked claws. I finally understand now how much work it is to turn three or four lines out on my lathe and write a thing day after day.

Good-bye, breath of my life. Should I not burn with love of you when you've written this to me? What should I do? I can't stop. Funny how at this same place and at this same time last year it was my lot in life to burn up with longing for my mother. This year it's you-you set this same longing alight in me. My Lady says hello.

Letter 2


O dear Boy, I send you this Epistle, the third upon the same Topick: the first by way of Lysias the Son of Cephalus, the second by way of Plato the Philosopher, and the third by way of this foreign Man, whose Speech is little short of barbarick, but whose Sentiment is not altogether unintelligible, as I believe. I now write touching on nothing written hitherto, lest you should slight this Discourse as discursive. 5 If it shall seem to you that this Epistle is longer than those hitherto sent by way of Lysias and Plato, let the Fact that I lack not for Reasons be a Token to you that my Claims are rational. Do you apply your Wits, to know if there be not Method in my Madness.

You seem likely, dear Boy, to want to understand, before the compleat Discourse begins, why, pray, I who am not in love strive so eagerly to gain the same Things that Lovers do. So will I tell you first how that may be. By Zeus, that Fellow who is so very a Suitor was not born with a sharper Pair of Eyes than I who am no Lover, yet I in fact am sensible of your Beauty no less than the rest; I might say, more acutely so than your Suitor. As happens, we see, the same to Men in Fevers as to Men who have stripp'd for Exercise at Wrestling, the same Event follows from Causes not the same. For both feel the Pains of Thirst-the one from his Malady, the other from his naked Exertions; and me as well to suffer some such [two pages lost]

But me you approach not at your Peril, nor at the Cost of any Harm will you keep Company with me; nay, 'twill do you every Good. Indeed, Beauties are help'd and benefitted more by those who love them not, as green Shoots are help'd by the Waters. For Springs and Rivers love not green Shoots, yet in their going near and their flowing past do they make them to flower and to bloom. Money giv'n by me you may rightly call a Gift-the Money he gives you, a Fee. And the Children of the Prophets say that, even to the Gods, sweeter are Thank-offerings than Prayer-offerings, because the first are giv'n by the Fortunate toward the Preservation and Keeping of their Goods, while the second are giv'n by those who fare poorly, to ward off Evil. So much for the Advantages and Benefits for you and for this Fellow.

But if he is therefore worthy to gain your Comfort ... you supported this yourself ... for him you devis'd this Love and made Thes by your Art ... you are in love ... blameless ... of someone because of his insa ... except if you have been seen doing wrong. [This passage of around eleven lines is only partly legible in the manuscript.]

And be not ignorant that you yourself are wrong'd and defil'd by no middling Sort of Defilement already, in that all the World knows it and openly talks of it, that this Man is your Suitor; before doing any thing of that Sort, you bear the Name of doing it. Indeed most of your Countrymen call you his He-Sweetheart. I, on the other Hand, will guard and keep your Name pure and undefil'd. For my part you will be call'd a Beauty, but no He-Sweetheart. But if he use this Word as proper, because his Desire is greater, let him know that his Desire is not greater but more reckless. Flies and Musquitoes we most shoo from us and repel as they do fly at us most shamelessly and recklessly. Likewise wild Beasts do flee from Trackers with Hounds most of all, and Fowls from Sportsmen. Indeed all Creatures most avoid those who most lie up in wait for them and chase after them.

But if someone suppose that Beauty is in higher Repute and more highly honour'd because of Suitors, he is entirely mistaken. Indeed you Beauties run the Risk of Belief in your Beauty from such as listen to your Lovers, while you will get a more steadfast Glory through us others. At least, if anyone who had never seen you should ask what you might be like to look at, he would believe me when I praise you, knowing that I am not in love with you. But he would not believe the other Fellow, as praising you not truthfully but erotickally. So such as are somehow maim'd in Body, somehow ugly and ill-form'd, would likely wish to have Suitors for themselves; for they would be woo'd by no-one but those coming to them out of erotick Frenzy and Compulsion. But you, with Beauty like that, can glean nothing more at the Hands of a Lover; for those who are not in love with you need you no less. Suitors are useless to those who are really Beauties, no less than Flatterers to those who are justly prais'd. In the Case of the Sea, Virtue and Credit, Honour and Gain and Ornament inhere in Sailors and Steersmen, Navy Captains and Merchants and all Voyagers-not, by Zeus, in Dolphins, who cannot live but in the Sea; for Beauties, these Benefits inhere in us who praise and salute you gratis, not in Suitors, who would not be able to survive if depriv'd of Boy-Favourites. You would find, if you look'd, that these Suitors are indeed the Cause of the greatest Dishonour; yet everyone who is right-minded must run away from Dishonour, especially young Men, whom Evil will oppress for a longer Time when it attacks at the beginning of a long Life.

Just as in Worship and Offerings, so also in Life, it is most fitting for Men commencing any of these their good Name.... [most of a page missing] ... Things to the most utter Disgrace ... but to these honest Suitors it is allowed, if ... five and ... Money to Suitors ... and indeed Lovers by Ornaments of such a Sort do not honour them, but play the Braggart and make a Shew, and as it were make a Dance of a Love, that should be a solemn Mystery. Moreover, as all the World says, your Suitor does write down certain erotick Writings about you, so as to entice you best by this Bait and lead you to him and grab you; yet these are but a Shame and a Reproach and a licentious Cry shot out under the Sting of Lust, as wild Beasts or Cattle do roar because of Love, or snort or bellow or howl. These Noises are like to the Songs of Lovers. In Truth were you to turn yourself over to your Suitor to be us'd wherever and whenever he wish'd, then, not waiting for the right and proper Time or Place or for Quiet or Privacy, but in the Manner of Beasts, at the Command of Lust, he would rush right to you and would want to have at you without any Regard for Decency.

I will bring my Discourse to an End, only adding this one Thing more: that of all the Gifts and Works of the Gods, such as have come to the Use and Pleasure and Benefit of Mortals, some of these are divine altogether and everywhere-I mean Earth and Heaven, Sun and Sea-and we are born to sing of these and marvel at them, but not to be in love with them. But certain beautiful Things that are more trifling and find a less honourable Lot in Life, these Things are touch'd by Envy and erotick Love and Rivalry and Longing. And some men love Profit, others in turn love Victuals, others again love Wine. Into these Ranks, into this sort of Class, is Beauty put by Lovers, with Profit and Victuals and Drink. But by us who marvel at it, though we are not in love with it, is Beauty put with Sun and Heaven, Earth and Sea; such things are stronger and higher than any sort of Love.

One Thing will I tell you more, that you in turn may say to other Boys and bear a Name for Sagacity. It seems likely that you are not unacquainted with a Story, whether from your Mother or those who have nurtur'd you, that among the Flowers is one that loves the Sun and suffers as Lovers do, rising up when the Sun rises, and turning itself round as the Sun travels the Sky, then drooping as the Sun sinks. But the Flower gains no more Profit from this, nor finds the Sun kinder because of its Love. Indeed it is the least well-regarded of green Shoots and Flowers, pick'd for neither the Feasts of Holiday-makers nor Garlands of the Gods or of Men. You seem likely, Boy, to want to see this Flower; but I will shew it to you myself, we should take the Air together the City-Walls by the Illyssus....

Letter 3


Hi, my very best teacher,

Go ahead, as much as you like, threaten me, accuse me, with whole clumps of arguments, but you will never put off your Suitor-I mean me. Nor will I proclaim it any less that I love Fronto, or will I be less in love, because you've proven, and with such strange and strong and elegant expressions, that those who love less should be helped out and lavished with more. God, no, I am dying so for love of you, and I'm not scared off by this doctrine of yours, and if you're going to be more ripe and ready for others who don't love you, I will still love you as long as I live and breathe.

But about the crowd of ideas, about the cleverness of your literary imagination, about the brilliance of your imitation, I don't even want to say that you've outdone those oh so self-satisfied and teasing Atticists-though I can't help but say it. It's because I love you, and I move that at least this really should be granted to lovers, that they take more pleasure in the victories of their He-Sweethearts. We've won, then, we've won, I'm telling you. You don't think, do you, that [two lines missing here] discussion go on more outstandingly under a paneled ceiling than under the plane trees, inside the city limits than outside the walls, without a sweetie than with herself sticking very close . I can't get my lasso around which thing I need to watch out for more-the doctrine the orator of our time pronounced about or what my teacher said about Plato.

But this I'll personally swear to, no fear: If that Phaedrus guy of yours ever really existed, if he was ever away from Socrates, Socrates didn't burn more with desire for Phaedrus than I've burned during these days-did I say days? I mean months-for the sight of you. Your letter fixed it so a person wouldn't have to be Dion to love you so much-if he isn't immediately seized with love of you. Goodbye, my biggest thing under heaven, my pride and joy. It's enough for me to have had such a teacher. My lady mother says hello.

Letter 4


To my teacher,

When you rest and when you do what's needed for your health, then you make me get better, too. Take it easy and at your own speed. So, I decree: you did the right thing when you took care of your arm. I didn't do so badly myself today in bed, from one o'clock on, because I got almost all the way through ten similes. I pick you as my sidekick and sergeant on the ninth one, because it wasn't so successful at succumbing to me. It's the one where "on the island of Aenaria there is a lake: in that lake there is another island, and it, too, is inhabited. Allons, faisons-nous une comparaison comme ça." Good-bye, my sweetest soul. My Lady says hello.

Letter 5


Hi, my very best teacher,

I know that on each man's birthday his friends offer good wishes for the man whose birthday it is; but because I love you next to my own self, I want to make a wish for myself on this day, your birthday. So all the gods who provide their present and ready strength for people anywhere in the world, who have the power to help us either by dreams or mysteries or medicine or oracles in any way, each and every one of these gods I summon by my wishes, and I take my stand-depending on what kind of wish it is-in the place where the god in charge of each of them might hear me most easily.

And so before all I climb the citadel of Pergamum and pray to Aesculapius to steer the health of my teacher straight and watch over it awfully well. From here I go down to Athens, and on bended knee I beseech and beg Minerva that whatever I may ever learn about letters should above all journey from Fronto's mouth to my heart. Now I return to Rome, and I call on the gods of roads and voyages with wishes that every trip I take may be with you beside me, and that I may not be worn out so frequently by such ferocious longing. In the end I ask all the guardian gods of all the nations, and Jupiter himself, who thunders over the Capitol Hill, to grant us that I should celebrate this day, on which you were born for me, along with you, and a happy, strong you.

Good-bye, my sweetest and dearest teacher. Please take care of your body so that when I come I'll see you. My Lady says hello.

Letter 6


To my Lord,

Everything is fine with us when you are praying for us,1 and of course no one is more worthy than you to get whatever he asks from the gods-unless that, when I pray for you, no one else is more worthy than you to have things gotten for him. Good-bye, my sweetest Lord. Say hello to your Lady.

Letter 7


Hi, my very best teacher,

How can I study when you're in pain, especially when you're in pain on account of me? Shouldn't I want to beat myself up and subject myself to all kinds of unpleasant experiences? God, I deserve it. After all, who else gave you that pain in your knee, which you write got worse last night, who else brought it on, if not Centumcellae, if not me? So what am I supposed to do, when I don't see you and I'm tormented by such anguish? On top of this, even if I felt like studying, the court cases keep me from it, which, as people say who ought to know, eat up whole days. Still I've sent you today's slogan and the day before yesterday's theme. Yesterday we wore away the whole day on the road. Today it's hard to get anything done besides the evening slogan. You're saying, "Sleep'st thou so long a night?" I certainly can sleep, because I'm a big sleeper; but it's so cold in my bedroom that I can hardly put my hands outside the covers. But in fact this is what's driven my mind most away from studying-that because I love letters too much I was a pain to you at the Port, as this thing proves. So good riddance to all the Catos and Ciceros and Sallusts just as long as you're good and I see you strong again, even without our books. Good-bye, my number one delight, my sweetest teacher. My Lady says hello. Send me three slogans and some themes.

Letter 8


Aurelius Caesar to his Fronto, hello,

I know you've often said to me that you want to know what you could do to please me most. The time is now here; now you can add to my love for you, if it can be added to. The trial is coming up, and it seems that people are not going to be listening to your speech only with goodwill; they'll be watching your display of indignation with hostility. And I don't see anybody who would dare to warn you about this, because people who are less friendly to you actually like to see you acting more erratically; people who are more friendly are afraid they might seem to be better friends with your opponent if they distract you from your independent prosecution of him. And then if you've been mulling over some fancy turn of phrase for the case, they can't bear you to be deprived of your style through a deliberate silence. So, though you might think I have a lot of nerve to advise you or that I'm a brash little boy or too nice to your adversary, that won't make me drag my heels more in advising you to do what's right in my judgment. But why am I saying "advise"? I claim it from you and claim it earnestly and promise in return that, if I get what I ask for, I'll be obligated to you. But you'll say, "What? If I'm attacked, won't I pay him back in similar language?" But you'll gain more praise for yourself out of this if you don't make any response even if you are attacked. Of course if he does it first, people will be able to forgive you for responding however you want; but I've claimed it from him, too, not to start up, and I believe I've gotten what I ask. I really cherish both of you, each for his own merits, and I'm conscious that he was trained in the home of my grandfather Publius Calvisius, but that I've been trained by you. As a result I have the greatest concern in my heart that this extremely hateful business should be transacted in the most extremely honorable way it can be. I wish you'd approve of my strategy, for you'll be approving what I want. I've definitely chosen to not play it smart and write more, rather than be less of a friend and keep my mouth shut. Good-bye, my Fronto, dearest and most loving.


Excerpted from Marcus Aurelius in Love by Marcus Aurelius Marcus Cornelius Fronto Copyright © 2006 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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