The Tutor of a Great Prince
IN the midwinter of 138 A. D., tidings reached the already bedridden Emperor Hadrian of the death of his adopted son, Lucius Ælius Verus ; and, conscious that his own end was near, the master of the world was fain to turn his thoughts to the choice of a successor. The only son of the man who had just died, another Lucius Verus, was a child of seven years. Too young, also, for the complicated and crushing cares of the Roman state was Hadrian’s latest favorite, a grave and handsome youth of seventeen, who had attracted the Emperor’s notice some years before, and who was destined to grow up, in the shadow of that reeking throne, into the man whom, of all pagans, the Christian world has most revered, “ One may live well even in a palace.” he wrote simply, at the summit of his power.
Hadrian soon made his choice, and is said even to have provided for the contingency in question during the lifetime of Ælius Verus. Convoking the Senate at his bedside, he presented to that august body, as the man whom he had selected, one Arrius Antoninus ; stipulating at the same time that the latter should adopt the two fatherless boys of whom Hadrian was so fond, — Marcus Annins Verus, who now became Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, and the little Lucius Verus.
Two years earlier, Marcus had been betrothed to the only sister of Lucius, and now a marriage was arranged between the latter and Faustina, the younger daughter of Antoninus. When Hadrian died, in the following July, these matrimonial schemes were considerably modified. Antoninus Pius, who deserved his later surname so well, may possibly have been prejudiced in favor of Marcus by their near relationship, his wife being the boy’s aunt, but more likely he discerned even then the moral superiority of the elder lad. At all events, it soon became evident that he intended Lucius to have no share in the imperial honors beyond such as would naturally fall to a younger son. He accordingly broke off the proposed marriage of his daughter Faustina, and offered her hand to Marcus, who, after some hesitation, agreed to relinquish for her sake his first betrothed. These two, Marcus and Faustina, were married a few years later, and Fabia, the jilted, sinks into obscurity until Faustina’s death, after which, we learn from Julius Capitolinus, she tried her best to induce Marcus Aurelius to make her his second wife. Had she carried her point, the family relationships would have become more wildly complicated even than now, for Lucius Verus ultimately married Lucilla, the daughter of Marcus Aurelius and Faustina ; but partly, it may be, out of compassion for posterity, the philosophic and far-seeing Emperor declined the lady’s offer.
Hadrian had himself superintended the education of Marcus, giving the utmost care to the selection of his numerous masters. A list of sixteen of these has come down to us, about the same number being provided for Lucius Verus; and among the names of those who were common to the two we find that of Marcus Cornelius Fronto, instructor in Latin rhetoric.
It is a rather striking sign of the times that the best available master in this very essential branch of Roman culture should have been a native of Cirta, in Africa. Fronto had, however, been many years in Rome, and was in high repute there for his eloquence and varied literary accomplishments even before Marcus became his pupil. A great affection grew up between them, and he is one of those guardians whose names Marcus reverentially enumerates in one of the most affecting chapters of the Thoughts, and for whose influence over his early years he gives thanks to the unknown gods.
The interesting discovery was reserved for our own century of certain portions of the correspondence of teacher and pupil, which, upon the whole, go far to corroborate the justice of this noble tribute. In Milan, in the year 1814, the indefatigable Cardinal Mai descried beneath a thick black script, consisting of minutes of the Council of Chalcedon, the fainter characters of an ancient copy of the Letters of Fronto, long believed to have perished ; and he addressed himself, with infinite patience and skill, to the task of deciphering and arranging them. Ten years later, he made a similar discovery in the Vatican library at Rome, and the consequence is that we have now, in a more or less mutilated condition, twelve books of Fronto’s letters, of which seven are devoted to the correspondence with Marcus Aurelius.
The earliest epistle of all consists merely of three exasperating fragments, which whet the curiosity strangely : —
. . . “ requested to see me, and when I had consented he sent our friend Tranquillus instead, making him his substitute even at supper. I care very little which of your dear friends likes me, except that I naturally prefer him who treats me with most respect. . . . Tranquillus found me still resisting, but more feebly. . . . I admire the diplomacy of Tranquillus, who would never have undertaken this business of his own accord, or had he not known how fond you are of me.”
This Tranquillus is no other than Suetonius, the historian, the friend of the younger Pliny, and private secretary to the Emperor Hadrian, whom Fronto did not greatly love.
During his own brief consulate, in 143, Fronto wrote to Marcus : —
“ You inquire in your last why I have not delivered my oration in the Senate. It is, of course, my duty to make public acknowledgment of his favors to my lord, your father, and I now propose to do this on the occasion of my games in the Circus. I shall begin as follows:
‘ On this day, when, by the munificence of our sovereign, I have given a spectacle most acceptable to the people and largely attended, I have thought it a fitting occasion to present my thanks,’ — and so on, with a Ciceronian conclusion. As for the oration in the Senate, I shall give it on the 13th of August. If you ask why I defer it so long, I reply, Because, in the first place, I like always to take my time about discharging any solemn public function. Moreover, feeling especially bound to be frank and straightforward with you, I will give you my inmost thought. Many a time, before a crowded Senate, I have eulogized the divine Hadrian, your grandfather, with a good will, and in carefully prepared discourses which are in everybody’s hands. But, saving your filial piety, I did it to please and propitiate Hadrian — as I might Mars Gradivus or Father Dis — rather than because I loved him. ‘ How is this ? ’ do you ask ? Because a certain degree of confidence and familiarity is essential to love; and, lacking confidence, I venerated Hadrian too profoundly to dare love him at all. But Antoninus I do, indeed, love, like the sunlight, the day, like my own life and soul; and I know that he loves me. If I failed to praise Antoninus, not by a cold panegyric, destined to be buried among the archives of the Senate, but in an oration which all men may read and handle, I should be a veritable ingrate, even toward you. They tell the story of a runaway slave, who said, ’I used to run sixty for my master. I ’ll run an hundred for myself, so only I escape.’ When I praised Hadrian I was running for my master, but to-day I am running for myself. I am writing this oration out of my very heart, and I will therefore do it at my leisure, carefully, collectedly, tranquilly.”
This letter was brought to the notice of Antoninus Pius, as Fronto had no doubt intended it should be, and both it and the oration, when delivered, were very gratifying to the Emperor. He was particularly pleased by Fronto’s maimer of alluding to the Empress Faustina, who had died a year or two before ; and we may take it for granted that mention was made, by the courtly orator, of the temple which Antoninus had dedicated to his wife’s memory iu 141. DIVÆ FAUSTINÆ the inscription is read to this day by pilgrims from the ends of the earth, where it stands upon the architrave of that stateliest edifice beside the Roman Forum ; and above, upon the frieze, in even clearer characters, appears the Emperor’s, own name, DIVO ANTONIO ET, as added twenty years later. Half buried in the mysterious débris of the ages, its cella transformed into the Christian church of San Lorenzo in Miranda, that memorial building has lasted virtually intact, until now the ten magnificent columns of the portico, each one a single shaft of cipollino fifty feet high, have been laid hare from massive base to richly carven capital, and we may mount, by fragments of the original steps, to the platform of the sacrificial altar.
In the very kindly note of acknowledgment sent by Antoninus to Fronto, after the panegyric had been spoken, he says : —
“That part of your address which you so gracefully devoted to the praise of my Faustina seemed to me even more just than it was eloquent. So it is, and I call the gods to witness that I would I were now living in exile with her, rather than without her on the Palatine.”
The delight of Marcus at the success of his favorite master was extreme. He did not hear the oration delivered, being absent with his mother Calvilla at a villa on the bay of Naples, but tidings of the event were not slow to reach him, nor he in returning congratulations. Occasionally his very Latin appears to fail him, under the stress of emotion, and he is fain to fall back on the more familiar Greek, just as an educated Russian of to-day might fly to his French. “ Oh, how happy I am to have such a master! ” he bursts forth. “ Oh, les arguments! Oh, l’ordre! Oh, the elegance ! Oh, the words ! Oh, the lucidity I Oh, the pungency ! Oh, the grace! Oh, l’éclat ! Oh, everything!”
And then Fronto, in his turn, reviews point by point the discourse, which is unfortunately lost; showing where he knew he had made a hit, and where failed to carry his audience with him. “ The fact is,” he naively observes, “I stole a good many of my jokes from Oratius Flaccus” (not even an H to Horace !), “ a poet worthy to be remembered, and no stranger to me, thanks to Maecenas and my Mæcenatian gardens.”
Did Fronto then own the famous gardens of Mæcenas ? All shrunk as they were from their original proportions, this would seem to imply an establishment quite out of keeping with the modest means to which the royal instructor so frequently alludes; and a couple of words in Julius Capitolinus lead to the conjecture that this estate may have been the property of Marcus’s mother, and merely loaned to Fronto during her stay with her son in the South.
It is to this period that some of the most charming of Marcus’s own letters belong, pensive and gay by turns, revealing between the lines bus whole ingenuous character. The first sentence of the following is missing, but its drift is quite clear: “ Allied by blood, but subject to no coercion, my lot cast in that rank of life where, as Ennius says, ‘ all men give vain counsel, and all things tend to pleasure.’ And Plautus, too, in his Flatterer, says finely, on the same subject: —
And false the praise of those who hover near a king:
The words they use to him are other than their thoughts.’
Once these obstacles were for kings only, but now, as Nævius says, there are those who ‘ fawn and cringe and grovel ’ even before the sons of kings.”
Again, he writes in a lighter vein : “ The climate of Naples is beautiful, but it is horribly ” (vehementer) “ changeable. Every hour and every fraction of an hour, it turns colder, or warmer, or windier. The early part of the night is moist and sultry, as at Laurentum. Then, till cock-crow, ’t is as chilly as Lanuvium ” (Civita Lavinia, where Antoninus was born). “ From cock-crow through dawn till sunrise it is, for all the world, like Algidum. The forenoon is clear and sunny, as at Tuseulnm ; at midday the air Scorches like that of Puteoli; but as the sun dips toward the broad ocean, the sky softens, a breeze springs up, and you might fancy yourself at Tibur.”
What a succession of pictures these words evoke ! The piney stretch of seacoast below Ostia; the outlying spurs and Romeward versants of the Alban hills; the curve of that amethystine bay which trembles before plumed Vesuvius; the dream-like splendors of the great palace at Tivoli, whose endless courts and colonnades must have echoed so often to the romping of Marcus’s boyish feet. There is always a great charm about his descriptions of natural scenery. He could feel a landscape like a modern man.
“ After I had entered the carriage and bidden you farewell,” he writes on another occasion, “ we proceeded on our journey comfortably enough, save for a few drops of rain. Before arriving at the villa, we made a detour, for the sake of visiting Anagnia.1 We went over that old, old city, — very small, in truth, but famous for the antiquities which it contains, and its many sacred buildings and ceremonies. There is not a corner without its fane, or shrine, or temple, beside a vast number of written books pertaining to matters of ritual. As we passed out of the city gate we noticed this inscription twice carven upon it: ‘ Flamen, take the samentum.’ I asked one of the people what a samentum was, and he replied that in the Hernic language it signified a bit of the skin of the sacrificial victim, which the flamen puts on his head before he enters the city.”
The dates of these letters are often very difficult to fix. Frequently they contain no allusion whatever to public events. There is a long but comparatively uninteresting series, beginning with the year 148, when Fronto was appointed by Antoninus Pius pro-consul in Asia, but was compelled to resign the office on the score of ill-health. A little later the children of Marcus Aurelius begin to figure very sweetly in the brief notes which were all he found time to pen, after his adoptive father had handed over to him a share of the government.
“ By the mercy of the gods,” he writes, evidently in haste, “ some hope of recovery is now entertained. The dysentery is checked and the febrile symptoms have subsided, hut there is extreme emaciation and a slight cough still. You understand, of course, that I write of our poor dear little Faustina, for whom we have been very anxious. Tell me, dear master, when you write, whether your own health is us I could wish.”
Whereto Fronto answers : “ Good gods, how the beginning of your letter startled me ! It was so worded that I was afraid it was your own health which was in danger. When it appeared that it was your daughter Faustina instead, who had been in so critical a condition, the nature of my alarm was completely altered. Nay, I experienced something very like relief. ‘ How so ? ’ yon exclaim. ‘ Does my daughter’s peril move you less than my own, — my Faustina’s, whom you have been wont to compare to a cloudless sky, a festal day, a hope that touches its fulfillment, an answered prayer, to joy without a drawback and honor without a stain ? ’ Ah, well: I know the thought which came to me when I read your letter, although I know not why it came. I know not, I say, why I should have been more shocked at your danger than at your child’s, unless it be that, of two equal misfortunes, that always appears the heavier of which we hear first. But you, who are so much more learned in the nature and faculties of man, will know better than I how to explain the mystery. You must remember that I was but imperfectly taught by my master and relative, Athenodotus ” (here Fronto appears to be slightly ironical), “ how to conceive and define in my mind those representative ideas, which he used to call Images. Nevertheless, I fancy that I have evolved a notion of why my fear was lightened as soon as it was transferred. I was like a man carrying a heavy load, of which the weight is not really diminished by shifting it from one shoulder to the other, but it seems so to him. And since, at the end of your letter, you really did quiet my apprehensions by the assurance that Faustina was convalescing, I see no reason why I should not be rather more expansive than usual, in speaking of m.y love for you. We always expect those to be a little fond and foolish who have been suddenly delivered from a great fright. I am made to understand, then, the nature of my own love to you, not by serious and weighty proofs alone, but by frivolous ones as well. Let me explain what I mean by frivolous. When ‘ bound,’ as the poet says, ‘ by soft and peaceful slumber,’ I see you in my dreams, I never fail to embrace and kiss you, and afterward, according to the tenor of my dream, I either burst into tears, or am transported with joy and rapture. This is the only poetic and, so to speak, moonshiny proof of love which I shall adduce from my experience. Here is another, of a sterner and ruder nature. Sometimes, en petit comité, when you were not present, I have reflected upon you pretty severely, for your inveterate habit of being too serious in society, and of skimming books in the theatre or at dinner-parties (though, to be sure, I always read at the play and at table, myself). I would speak of you as haughty and without tact; I have even been wrought up to the point of calling you odious. But if ever any one else presumed to disparage you in my hearing, I simply would not endure it. It is one thing to find fault with you myself, and quite another to hear any one else do it; just as I would rather strike my daughter Gratia than see any one else do so. I will give you yet another proof of my affection, again from my silly list. You know how, on all the tables of the money-changers, in all shops, taverns, arcades, vestibules, everywhere, likenesses of yourself are exhibited, — the greater part of them pressed or moulded out of coarse, rough clay. Now, never upon my rambles do I see one of these likenesses, however bad, but my lips take the form of a salute, and I fall into a dream.
“ But a truce to nonsense, and let us be brave again. All the more did I find a conclusive proof of my love in the fact that your daughter’s danger alarmed me less than your own, because ordinarily I desire that she may survive you, just as much as I, of course, desire that you may survive me. But do not betray me to her, I beseech you, nor allow her to suspect that you are tlie favorite, lest, when I next essay to caress her hands and feet, she, like the grave, old-fashioned little maid she is, should either withdraw them indignantly, or extend them unwillingly. Whereas the gods know I would rather press my lips to her small fingers and plump little soles than to your own royal and smiling lips ! ”
Had Marcus been other than the saint he was, he must, one would think, have become very impatient before he reached the end of this loving hut somewhat tedious and twaddling epistle ; particularly so, since we know that his fears for the poor little princess were but temporarily relieved. For, after all, the third Faustina died in infancy, and was buried in the splendid mausoleum of Hadrian, glistening in those days with tier above tier of the alternating pillars and statues which, four hundred years later, a desperate garrison sent crashing down upon the heads of the invading Goths.
Fifteen years after Faustina’s death, we get a lovely picture, from Fronto’s pen, of the imperial twins, Antoninus and Commodus: —
“ I have seen your little chicks, and it was the sweetest vision of my life, for they are as like you as never was. I consider myself well paid for my journey to Lorium, for the muddy road and the weary hills. I saw you better than face to face, for I saw you whether I turned to the right or the left. Thank Heaven, they look as rosy as you could wish, and their lungs are quite as strong. One was grasping a line white roll with the air of a young prince ; the other had a hit of black bread, equally befitting the son of a philosopher. I pray the gods to preserve both the seed and the sower, and to grant a harvest in like manner.” (It was as well, perhaps, for the peace of mind of this devoted servant of the Antonines that he could not then foresee the career of Commodus.) “ For as I listened to those baby voices, so winning and so sweet, I fancied that I could detect in the piping notes of each a resemblance to your own liquid and cultivated accents. You may expect, therefore, to find me more puffed up with pride than ever, for I have found a substitute for yourself in my affection, — one which appeals not to the eye only, but to the ear.”
“ Health to my master ! ” answers the Emperor. “ I feel that I have seen my little boys with your eyes. I saw you also, as I read your letter, and I pray you, dear master, continue to love me as you now do, and as you love my little ones. Or rather, — to sum it all up in one word,—love me as you have ever done. It is the exquisitely affectionate tone of your letter which moves me to write thus. Of its elegance, what can I say but this? — that you write Latin, and the rest of us neither Latin nor Greek? . . . Pray send a line to my brother” (Lucius Verus). “ He is very anxious that you should do so, and even asked me to request it. Pardon my importunity on his behalf, and farewell, dear master. My compliments to your grandson.”
Lucius Verus was at that time conducting the war against the Parthians, and it was probably some military exploit for which he coveted the congratulations of Fronto. A fragment has come down to us of the history of that live years’ struggle (De Bello Parthico), which Fronto appears to have been writing at the time of his death, as also a curious correspondence between him and Lucius Verus concerning the materials for his work. A single quotation from this will illustrate the very different bearing of the imperial brothers toward their old tutor. The beginning of the letter is missing, but thus it proceeds : — “ The events which followed my departure you will be able to learn from the letters written to me by the generals in command. Our friend Sallustius — now Fulvianus — will give you copies of these ; but in order that you may follow my plan of campaign, I will myself send you my own letters of instruction. If you desire any drawings, you can get them of Fulvianus. To give you the liveliest possible idea of the whole thing, I have ordered Avidius Cassius and Martins Verus to take notes for me to send to you, on the manners and customs of the people. If you wish me to append any commentary of my own, tell me of what sort, and I will follow your suggestions. I would be at any pains for the sake of having my achievements illustrated by your pen. Of course you will not overlook my discourse before the Senate and my speeches to the army. I will also send you notes of my parleys with the barbarians. These will help you very much. There is one thing which I should wish, in my capacity of pupil, rather to hint to my master than to enjoin upon him. Dwell at length on the causes and the beginnings of the war, and the mismanagement of affairs before I took the field. Work up to me slowly ; and 1 think it important that you should place in as strong a light as possible the advantage which the Parthians had secured before my arrival, so as to make it clear how much I accomplished. You will decide whether it is best to condense this preliminary matter, — as Thucydides does in his Fifty Years War, — or treat it somewhat more at length; although you would, of course, not go as much into detail as in the case of my own exploits. In short, my actions have a certain intrinsic value, but they will appear just as great as you choose to paint them.”
The Avidius Cassius to whom Lucius here alludes was the same who, in the succeeding decade, revolted, announced to the army that Marcus Aurelius was dead, and caused himself to be proclaimed Emperor. He had not, however, reckoned on the temper of the soldiers, by whom he was detested. The legions rose and dispatched him upon the spot, and his head was borne in triumph to Marcus, who proved to be in excellent health, and who showed himself merciful, as always, toward the relatives of the fallen rebel.
The letters of Fronto cease before the date of the conspiracy and death of Avidius Cassius, who figures in the correspondence merely as an able and influential citizen. A single note of congratulation to Avidius, on some piece of military success, is included in the series of Fronto’s miscellaneous letters, Ad Amicos, which, for the rest, are chiefly introductory and commendatory. By far the most interesting among them are those addressed to C. Aufidius Victorinas, who became the husband of Fronto’s beloved Gratia. He, too, had been one of Fronto’s pupils, and makes his first appearance in the correspondence in this wise, in a letter of the latter to Marcus : —
“ I return to you, by the hands of Victorinas, the verses which you sent me, having stitched the paper and sealed the ends of the thread so carefully that even that little mouse cannot possibly pry into it; for so roguish and perverse is he that he refused to repeat me one of your hexameters, averring that you always recited them so fast, and ran them together in such a manner, that he really could not remember them. So now I have given him his deserts, and not a line of these will he hear. Besides, I remember that you have often said you did not wish your verses shown to any one.”
A little later it is Marcus Aurelius who writes to Fronto: “ Aufidius is puffed up with his own conceit, and lauds to the skies the decision which he has made. He says that no more judicious man than himself ever (to put it mildly) traveled from Umbria to Rome ! Would you believe that he would rather he praised for his judgment than for his oratory ? and when I laugh at him he quite looks down on me. He says it is very easy to sit yawning at a magistrate’s side, but that to give sentence yourself is a great thing. This is a hit at me. But the matter was really well managed, and it gives me pleasure to say so.”
Next comes a facetious fragment from Fronto to Aufidius : —
“ The Greeks call it ἴερσν ὀςτοῦν, — the holy bone, — and Suetonius Tranquillus calls it the sacred spine. For my part, I would gladly remain ignorant whether of the Greek or Latin name of a member, provided I might never feel pain in the same.”
And again: —
“ The gods will preserve to us, if we are worthy, my daughter and your wife, and will increase our family by children and grandchildren, whom they will permit to resemble you. I quarrel and go to law every day either with Victorious or Fronto (Gratia’s two children). You were never wont to ask pay of anybody for conducting or pleading a case. Fronto, on the contrary, lisps no word so frequently as da” (give), “whereupon I hand him a bit of paper or a tablet, wishing to cultivate a taste for such things. Certainly he shows some signs of having inherited his grandfather’s disposition.
He is positively greedy for grapes. They were the first solid food which he swallowed, and all day long he is either licking a grape with his tongue, sucking it between his lips, or biting and squeezing it with his gums. He is equally fond of birds, and is delighted with chickens, young pigeons, and swallows. Now I have heard from my teachers and guardians that I, too, doted on these creatures from my cradle, and every one who knows me in my old age can testify to my fondness for partridges.”
A son of Aufidius and Gratia, older, probably, than either of these two, died in childhood, and Marcus Aurelius, hearing the sad news, hastened to send Fronto a few words of sympathy, to which the old man replied at length. These two letters constitute the memorial book De Nepote Amisso. We can understand better from this than from any of the rest of Fronto’s extant writings his great contemporary and posthumous reputation: —
“ Fortune has tried me all my life through by many sorrows of this kind. For, not to speak of other afflictions, I have lost live sons in a most heart-rending way, one after another, and each one, at the time of his death, an only son, so that I was live times left childless. But I bore up tire more bravely because I suffered alone. My soul faced its anguish, wrestling with it in single combat, and, as it were, with even chances. But now my distress is increased many fold by the grief of others, till I know not how to bear the burden of my misery. The sight of my son-inlaw Victorinus weeping causes my own tears to flow, till I am exhausted by emotion. Then I expostulate with the immortal gods, and bitterly accuse the Fates. Victorinus, that blameless man, eminent for piety, humanity, and veracity, foremost in every good word and work, has suffered the most terrible of bereavements. Is this just ? Is this right ? If there be a providence at the world’s helm, was this really foreseen ? If all human things are decreed by fate, ought fate to have issued such a decree? Is there to be no distinction in the fortunes of the good and the bad ? Ho the gods and the Fates, then, exercise no discrimination, that the son of such a man is snatched away ? A wicked and depraved man, for whom it were better that he had never been born, brings up his children in safety, — they survive him when he dies,—while Victorinus, the upright, who, for the good of the state, should have left many heirs like himself, is deprived of his dearest, child. What foresight ever foresaw anything so unjust ? . . . But perhaps, after all, we are the prey of some illusion. We are ignorant of the nature of things. It may be that we regard those as good which are in truth evil, while we shim as evil that which is really good. And so death, which seems grievous to all, does, in truth, bring an end to our labors and sorrows and misfortunes, delivering us from the heavy chains of the flesh, and bearing us away to some gathering of souls, where all shall be blissful, peaceful, satisfying. I could easier believe this than that humanity is ruled by an evil power or by none. If death be, indeed, a blessing, and not a curse, it would follow that the younger one is taken away, the more he should be held happy and acceptable to the gods, — early freed from the evils of the flesh, early permitted to attain the honors of a free soul! But, after all, it makes little difference to us whether or no this be true, — to us who are longing for the lost; and those who must live on without their dearest ones are hardly consoled by the doctrine of immortality. It is the bearing, the voice, the figure we seek, the atmosphere that surrounded our loved ones in life ; it is the dead face over which we mourn, the fixed eyes, the faded color, the lips forever sealed. Were the immortality of the soul proven, it would still be a theme for philosophic discussion, not a remedy for a parent’s woe. But whatever be the divine decrees, I cannot suffer long, who am so near my own end. Whether we are absorbed in the eternal ”... Here there is a break in the manuscript, and when the writer resumes it is only to repeat, in a slightly altered form, the old sad and endless arguments.
Fronto’s religious opinions appear to have been of a negative rather than a positive character, and it is certain that he entertained no very profound awe of the divinities of Olympus. In 143, when his two months’ consulship was drawing to its close, he wrote to the young Marcus, then in Naples: “ I sent my Gratia to congratulate your mother on her birthday, and I bade her stay till I came. The very minute I have sworn out of the consulship, I shall mount my carriage and fly away to you. I promised Gratia, on my honor, that she should not starve meanwhile, and your mother, I am sure, will allow her client some crumbs from what you have sent her. Neither is Gratia very greedy, as they say lawyers’ wives are apt to be ; she will be satisfied with your mother’s kisses. But what will become of me ? There is n’t a single embrace left in Rome. All my fortune and all my joy are at Naples. By the way, whence came this custom of taking an oath the day before you go out of office ? I am quite ready to swear, — to swear by as many more gods as they will let me swear, days earlier. But what does it signify to swear that I am quitting the office of consul? If they want me to take oath that I have been ready to resign at any time, for the sake of embracing Marcus Aurelius, well and good ! ”
This tone of light indifference is habitual with him. On the other hand, his bitterness toward the Christians was excessive, and though the original is lost of the famous oration against them, mentioned by Minucius Felix, yet the quotation or abstract which the latter gives of Fronto’s description of an agape sufficiently indicates its virulent character. What inspired one so amiable with this fierce and bitter prejudice we shall probably never know. We should be inclined to hold Fronto largely responsible for those deplorable persecutions of the Christians during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, which have hitherto seemed so incongruous with the Emperor’s character, were it not that their correspondence, as we possess it, contains not a single allusion to the subject.
We have, however, a full report of at least one case in which Marcus Aurelius was able to conquer a prejudice on the part of his master. Among the numerous teachers of the prince was one Herod Atticus, a man of harsh and difficult temper, with whom hardly any one, except Marcus, was able, as the phrase goes, to get on at all. The invincible sweetness of the young man’s temper was proof against all provocation, and he did his best, moreover, to make other people treat his irascible instructor with respect.
Now since Fronto was the master of Marcus in Latin, and Herod in Greek, rhetoric, it was natural that there should he a strong rivalry between these two, and in due time a case came before the Senate which seemed to promise them an opportunity for airing in public their mutual sentiments.
When Marcus Aurelius heard of the circumstances, he wrote as follows to Fronto : “ I remember your often telling me that your desire was to know how you might best please me. Now is your time ; now you have the opportunity of making me love you better then ever, if that were possible. The day of the trial approaches, on which men expect to take not only an innocent pleasure in hearing you speak, but a malign pleasure in observing your ill-humor. I perceive that no one has ventured to give you a warning on the subject; for those who are ill disposed toward you are glad that you should blunder, while those who are more friendly are afraid of seeming to side with your opponent, if they try to dissuade you from this attack. Moreover, in ease you have prepared an elegant little address, they do not wish to prevent you from delivering it. But whether you deem me a rash counselor, or a froward boy, or a partisan of your adversary, I am not to be hindered from offering yon a word in season. It is odd, to he sure, for me to talk of giving advice to yon, of whom I am always begging it, and promising at the same time to follow it implicitly. ‘ What! ’ you cry. ‘ If I am insulted, am I not to give him as good as he sends ? ’ Of course, if he began, you would be in some sort excusable for retorting ; but I have begged him not to begin, and I do not think he will. Now I am, for divers reasons, very fond of you both. I remember that Herod was educated in the house of P. Calvisius, my grandfather, and that I was educated by you, and I am most anxious that this unpleasant affair should end happily. I hope, therefore, that you will find my advice good ; my intentions you cannot doubt. I would rather err in judgment by the suggestion I offer than in friendship by keeping silence. Farewell, best friend and dearest Fronto.”
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God ! It is pleasant to see how prompt Fronto was to answer his pupil in the same fine spirit: “ It is well that I have devoted myself to you, and found the joy of my life in you and your father ! What could be more tender, frank, and friendly than your words? Strike out, I beg, the froward boy and the rash counselor. There is small danger that the advice you offer will be either hasty or crude. Believe me or not, as you will, I know that I speak the truth when I say that your wisdom surpasses that of the ancients. It is you who have acted in this matter like a grave and hoary counselor, and I like a very boy. Why should we make a scene, for the benefit either of the just or the unjust? If Herod be indeed a modest and worthy man, I ought not to abuse him. If he is a scoundrel, I should stand no chance with him. The game would not he equal. You cannot wrestle with an unclean adversary without defilement, whether or no he succeed in throwing you. But since you esteem him worthy of your protection, he probably is an honest man. . . . Farewell, Cæsar ! Love me as ever. I am so fond of the minute characters which you trace ! Pray write me with your own hand, when you can.”
Post-haste after this goes the following : “Having signed and sealed my letter, it occurs to me that the other prosecutors in this case, of whom there will probably be several, will he very likely to say something uncivil about Herod. Do you think that I, alone, shall be able to prevent it ? ”
Here again we fancy we detect, on Fronto’s part, a touch of mild sarcasm.
“ First of all, my dear Fronto,” answers Marcus Aurelius, “ let me thank you for having not merely not spurned my advice, hut taken it in good part. For the other matters on which you consult me, in your most amiable letters, my idea is that whatever pertains to the case in point ought to be set forth explicitly, while that which touches your own private feelings had better be withheld altogether. . . . Above all, say nothing which might seem unworthy of your character, nothing which could give occasion to cavil to those who are unwillingly mixed up in this affair.”
This letter is more or less mutilated, while only disconnected phrases remain of Fronto’s answer. Its drift may, however, be gathered. He promises once again to he guided by his philosophic pupil, thus turned master, but he plainly regrets a little his own vituperative eloquence, and the telling points he had been so well prepared to make against his lifelong rival.
A venerable and peaceably disposed American citizen was once heard to lament that a duel which had been arranged between two young kinsmen of his own was prevented, at the last moment. “Pity, pity!” he said, with a sigh and a gentle shake of his gray head. “As it was, there was always bad blood between them ; but if they’d been left to fight it out, they would probably have been good friends ever after.”
It is not quite certain on which side of this grave argument the case of Herod and Fronto tells. Years later, at all events, we find the latter writing,
“ Since you approve Asclepiodotus, my friend he must be ; just as Herod and I are on the best of terms to-day, though that speech exists.”
Fronto considered himself past master in the art of oratory, and as an orator he was most anxious that Marcus Aurelius should shine. He was always urging upon him this necessity, and recommending a close and minute study of the Latin language and literature as the best mental discipline to this end. Besides the many casual allusions in his letters, there has come down to us, in a fragmentary condition, a treatise, De Eloquentia, inscribed to his illustrious pupil, from which a few extracts may be made : —
“ I sometimes hear you say, ‘ But I avoid eloquence, because when I have spoken more finely than usual I am pleased with myself.’ Why not cure yourself of this fault of self-complacency, rather than give up eloquence because it ministers to your pride ? for the remedy you adopt is worse than the disease. Is it not so ? If you are pleased with yourself for having delivered a righteous judgment, will you therefore repudiate justice? If you reflect with satisfaction on your pious devotion to your father, will you therefore avoid piety ? You are pleased by the consciousness of your own eloquence ? Chastise yourself, but do not maltreat Eloquence. Mild mistress though she be, she might well lift up her voice and address you thus: ‘There is danger for thee, young man, in this precipitate flight from approbation, for the crowning ornament of the sage, the last which he lays aside, is the desire of glory. Plato, yea, even Plato, loved glory up to life’s last day. I remember also to have heard it said that wise men should hide in the counsels of their hearts many things of which they make little use, as also that they should, at times, make use of things which are condemned by the doctrines they profess. Neither do the deductions of reason always square with the needs of everyday life. . . . Try, then, O Cæsar, to attain to the wisdom of Cleanthes or of Zeno. Whatever your taste may be, it is the imperial purple you must wear, not the coarse woolen cloak of a philosopher. ... A sword you must wield, but it makes a vast difference whether that sword be rusty or bright. ... It is the duty of a Cæsar to defend, in the Senate, the interests of truth, to present many questions to a popular assembly, to resist unjust aggressions, to send frequent letters to all parts of the world, to call to account the kings of other nations, to correct by his edicts the mistakes of allies, to praise good deeds, to allay sedition, to overawe the turbulent. All these things must he do either by written or spoken words. Are you not, then, to cultivate what you see will be of such great and varied use to you later on ? Can it be that you think it will make no difference in what language you speak of matters which can be treated only in speech? You err if you think the Senate would attach equal weight to an opinion delivered in the language of a Thersites or with the eloquence of Ulysses and Menelaus, whose expression, gestures, postures, musical intonation, varied emphasis, and many oratorical effects Homer has so fully described.’ ”
This was evidently written while Marcus Aurelius was still a youth, but Fronto shows in his very latest letters the same anxiety lest the Emperor should devote himself too exclusively to philosophy. It is unfortunate that we are not able to compare his precepts in oratory with his own speeches, but these are lost, or perhaps are waiting to be discovered by other eyes as keen as those of Cardinal Mai.
The last of Fronto’s letters, as we have them, belongs to the year 166, and we may reasonably conclude that in this year he died. He had long been a great sufferer from gout and rheumatism, and he was now’ an old man.
Of the death of Lucius Verus and of subsequent events we can, therefore, learn nothing from him. We long for the light he might have thrown on the mysterious conspiracy of Avidius Cassius, and the vexed question of Faustina’s complicity in it. We wish that he had told us more of Faustina herself, the perfect feminine sweetness of whose face, in marble, seems mutely to protest, in every gallery which it adorns, against the monstrous charges which have long lain against this lady. It is at least satisfactory to know that the latest results of modern criticism tend all to her exculpation from the worst of these, and to justifying the pathetic lament of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius over her loss.
Of the fate of the different members of Fronto’s own family we learn something from other sources. “ The Emperor Commodus,” writes Dion Cassius,
“ put to death every one, so to speak, who had enjoyed any favor in his father’s reign or his own, except Pompeianus, Pertinax, and Victorinus.” And again : “ A statue was erected to Victorinus. who had been prefect of Rome. He was not the victim of any plot. One day, when many rumors were flying around, and there were whispers concerning his death, he did a bold thing. He went to Perennis (captain of the prætorian guard), and said, ‘ I understand that you wish to kill me. Why, then, hesitate or delay, since it is quite in your power to do so to-day ? ’ Notwithstanding this, Victorinus suffered no violence from any one; and though he was one of those who had received from Marcus Aurelius the greatest honor, and though no one of his time surpassed him in force of character and eloquence, he died a natural death.” (!)
Among the inscriptions found at Pisaurum — the modern Pesaro — is one which reads as follows: “ Fronto, the consul, to his dearest son, great-grandson of M. Cornelius Fronto, orator, consul, and tutor to the Emperors Lucius and Antoninus, grandson of Aufidius Victorinus, prefect of the city and twice consul.” And so the descendants of Fronto, through Gratia, disappear from history.
Of the large family of children born to Marcus Aurelius and Faustina, three daughters are known to have been living at the death of their brother Commodus, in 192. One of these was that Cornificia, of whom her father once wrote to Fronto, “ I beg that you will treat it as a command not to drive out to Lorium on account of Cornificia’s birthday.” Last and saddest allusion of all, among the fruits of Cardinal Mai’s investigations of the Vatican palimpsests, we have the following: —
“Concerning criminal sentences: Antoninus,2 having decreed the death of Cornificia, commanded, out of respect to her rank, that she should be allowed to choose the manner of her own end. She, after weeping a long time, and dwelling on the memory of her father Marcus, her grandfather Antoninus, and her brother Commodus, at last said these tilings : ‘ O unhappy little soul, prisoned in a wretched body, come forth and gain your liberty ! Convince these men, though they be loath to own it, that you are indeed the daughter of Marcus.’ Then, having laid aside all her ornaments, and herself disposed all things for her agony, she caused her own veins to be opened, and so died.”
Whether innocent or guilty of the unknown crime for which she suffered, Cornificia has at least established her claim to an imperial birthright. Her wistful words and serene self-possession carry our thoughts back to the death-bed of the Emperor Hadrian, who, confronting death, addressed his own parting spirit in those haunting lines, which have never yet been successfully translated:
Hospes, comesque corporis,
Quæ nunc abibis in loca,
Pallidula, rigida, nudula,
Nec, ut soles, dabis jocos ? ”
H. W. P. & L. D.