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The Correspondence of Marcus Cornelius Fronto/Volume 2/Miscellaneous Letters of Marcus Aurelius

MISCELLANEOUS LETTERS OF

MARCUS AURELIUS

 

INTRODUCTION

Marcus as Letter-writer

Perhaps the more interesting part of the Fronto correspondence is that which contains the letters of Marcus and Pius. But we cannot fairly judge of their epistolary style from these alone. Philostratus says[1] that "in his opinion the best letter writers for style were . . . . of kings the deified Marcus in the letters he wrote himself, for the firmness (τὸ ἑδραῖον) of his character was reflected in his writing by his choice of language; and of orators Herodes the Athenian, though by his over-atticism and prolixity[2] he often oversteps the bounds proper to the epistolary style."

Marcus was a prolific letter-writer. According to Capitolinus[3] he defended himself against calumny by letters. To his friends he sometimes, as we see below, wrote three times in one day. On one occasion he tells us that he had dictated thirty letters,[4] but these were probably official correspondence. Nearly 200 of his imperial rescripts are extant, which though interesting would be out of place here. Many are in the form of letters.[5] They contain characteristic sayings such as "No one has a right to let his own negligence prejudice others";[6] "Let those who have charge of our interests know that the cause of liberty is to be set before any pecuniary advantage to ourselves";[7] "It would not be consistent with humanity to delay the enfranchisement of a slave for the sake of pecuniary gain";[8] "It would seem beyond measure unfair that a husband should insist upon a chastity from his wife which he does not practise himself";[9] "Nothing must be done contrary to local custom."

In answer to Ulpius Eurycles,[10] curator of Ephesus, asking what should be done with old decayed statues of preceding emperors in the Ephesian senate house, we find the interesting pronouncement, "There must be no re-working of the material into likenesses of us. For as we are not in other respects solicitous of honours for ourselves, much less should we permit those of others to be transferred to us. As many of the statues as are in good preservation should be kept under their original names, but with respect to those that are too battered to be identified, perhaps their titles can be recovered from inscriptions on their bases or from records that may exist in the possession of the Council, so that our progenitors may rather receive a renewal of their honour than its extinction through the melting down of their images."

There are, besides, two or three inscriptions and one papyrus, all much mutilated,[11] recording letters or rescripts of Marcus, one in 163 to Pontius Laelianus, consul of that year. It contains a rare word γλωσσόκομον rejected by Phrynichus.[12]

Besides the above there are extant only two letters or parts of letters that are certainly genuine. Following these are two letters from Christian sources, the letter to Euxenianus Publio with respect to Abercius, bishop of Hieropolis, and the letter to the Senate purporting to give a report of the "Miraculous Victory" over the Quadi. The fact of the victory with the unexpected salvation of the Roman army is certain, but the heathen writers attribute it to the prayers of the emperor or the incantations of an Egyptian magician.

After these two letters come ten short epistles, or parts of such, which would be of considerable interest if their authenticity were established. Till comparatively lately they were accepted unquestioningly, and afforded material for charges against Marcus. They are all found in the Scriptores Historiae Augustae, a late compilation of the fourth Century, intended as a supplement to Suetonius's Lives of the Caesars, and attributed to various authors.

But in spite of Renan and Waddington and Naber and others, who have quoted them as evidence, they cannot be regarded as genuine. They contain several later words, and their style is rhetorical and unworthy of the subjects treated. The puerile playing upon words, Avidius . . . avidus, etc. betrays their artificial character. Writing of Cassius, the general who conducted the Parthian war to a successful conclusion and afterwards in 175 rebelled against Marcus, the latter is represented as quoting γνῶμαι from Suetonius instead of giving his own opinions. Moreover facts mentioned in the letters are at variance with what is known from other sources. For instance, Marcus was not in or near Rome in 175, as required by the Faustina correspondence; nor was Pompeianus, his son-law, consul in 176; nor was Lucius ever spoken of as grandson of Pius, but always as his son and the brother of Marcus; nor could Fadilla in 175 be alluded to as puella virgo, for by that time she would have been twenty-five and almost certainly married.

It is also incredible that Avidius Cassius should have contemplated revolt, and so openly as to arouse definite suspicions in the mind of Verus, so long before the actual outbreak. We know from Fronto's letters[13] that Verus and Cassius were on excellent terms as late as 165, and Fronto's own letter[14] to him shews the estimation in which he was then held. When Cassius revolted, Marcus felt it deeply as the defection of a friend.[15] Equally rhetorical and fictitious is a letter said to be from Cassius to his son-in-law:[16] "Marcus is assuredly an excellent man, but while he covets a reputation for clemency, he lets those live whose lives he does not approve. Where is Lucius Cassius, whose name I bear in vain? Where the great Marcus Cato the Censor? Where all the discipline of our ancestors? Marcus Antoninus philosophizes and enquires about first principles and about the soul and about what is honourable and just, and has no thought for the State[17] . . . . . You have heard of the praefectus praetorio[18] of our philosopher, who was a beggarly pauper three days before he was appointed, but has suddenly become rich—whence, pray, if not from the vitals of the State and the property of the provincials?[19] Well, let them be rich, let them be opulent: they will serve to fill the public treasury." By a commonplace of the rhetorical schools Cassius in another passage is made to liken himself to Catiline and Marcus to the dialogista (Cicero).[20]

However there are some touches in the correspondence which are true to character, such as the words attributed to Lucius, "I do not hate the man," which are in keeping with his well-known bonitas, and the "Perish my children" of Marcus, which he might well have said. But he is not likely to have quoted Suetonius or Horace, to the latter of whom he took a dislike[21] in his younger days. The fabricator of the letters was perhaps Aemilius Parthenianus, a writer of the third or fourth century.

 

MISCELLANEOUS LETTERS OF MARCUS AURELIUS

Marcus to the Guild of Dionysus Briseus at Smyrna[22]

March 28, 147 A.D.

Marcus Aurelius Caesar, son of the Emperor Caesar Titus Aelius Adrianus Augustus, Father of his country, invested with Tribunitian Power, Consul for the second time, to the Synod of the Guild of Dionysus Briseus, greeting:

Your good will which you shewed in congratulating me on the birth of a son,[23] even though the issue belied our hopes, was none the less manifest.

T. Atilius Maximus, the most honourable proconsul and our friend, inscribed the decree.

I wish you farewell: from Lorium, the 28th March.

The inscription was made by M. Antonius Artemas, Sulpicius Rufinus being honorary treasurer.


Marcus and Herodes Atticus

176 A.D.

After the events in Pannonia[24] Herodes lived in Attica in his favourite denies of Marathon and Cephisia,[25] attended by young men from every quarter, who travelled to Athens from a desire to hear his oratory.

Wishing to make trial whether Marcus was angry with him owing to what had occurred at the trial,[26] he sent him a letter not containing excuses but a complaint, for he said that "he wondered for what reason Marcus no longer wrote to him, though in times past he wrote so often that on one occasion three letter-carriers reached him on a single day, one treading on the heels of another."

And the Emperor at greater length and on greater subjects, and putting a wonderful amount of character into the letter, sent an answer to Herodes, from which I will extract what bears upon my present subject and quote it. The letter opened with the words "Hail, my dear Herodes"; and after speaking of his winter quarters after the war, in which he was at the time, and lamenting the wife whom he had lately lost,[27] and saying something also about his bodily weakness, he went on as follows: "But for you I pray that you may have good health, and may think of me as your well-wisher and not consider yourself wronged because, detecting some of your household in wrong-doings, I punished them in the mildest way possible. Be not angry with me on this account, but, if I have done you, or am doing you, any injury, ask satisfaction of me in the temple of Athena-in-the-City[28] during the Mysteries. For I vowed, when the war[29] was at its hottest, that I would be initiated, and I hope you will be my sponsor on the occasion."

Such was Marcus's plea for himself, at once so kindly and so manly.


Marcus to Euxenianus Publio

? 163–164 A.D.

The Emperor Antoninus Augustus to Euxenianus Publio, greeting:

Having had experience of your sagacity in your works themselves, and especially in those which you carried out by order of our authority in respect to Smyrna in alleviating the calamity that befell the Smyrniotes owing to the earthquake[30] there, I have been pleased, as was natural, and praise you for your diligence in carrying out these duties. For I have been apprized of everything exactly as if I had been present. For everything has been clearly recounted to me by the report sent from you, and by him who presented it, and by Caecilius the procurator. But with respect to the present matter, it has come to the knowledge of our power that a certain Abercius,[31] bishop of Hieropolis, is living in your jurisdiction, a man of such sanctity among the Christians as both to cure those who are possessed by demons[32] and easily heal all other diseases. Having imperative need of him we have sent Valerius and Bassianus representatives of our officials for sacred things, to bring the man to us with all reverence and honour. Accordingly we bid you with your usual firmness to persuade him to come to us with all speed, and you know that this, too, will gain for you no little praise from us. Farewell.


The Letter[33] of the Emperor Marcus to the Senate in which he testifies that the Christians were the Cause of the Victory of the Romans

? 174 A.D.

1. The Emperor Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Germanicus Parthicus Sarmaticus[34] to the People of the Romans and the Sacred Senate, greeting:

I made known[35] to you the greatness of my enterprize, and what things I did in Germany after the critical occasion of my being hemmed in on the frontier, in dire distress and suffering, when I was surprised in Cotinum by seventy-four regiments from nine miles away. Our scouts informed us when they had come near us, and Pompeianus, our commander, shewed us what we also saw for ourselves—for I had been suddenly surrounded by a huge and savage multitude while having with me a composite and moderate force drawn from the First legion and the Tenth (both the Twin and the Fretensian)—that there were masses of men in a miscellaneous host numbering 977,000.

2. When, therefore, I compared myself and my numbers with the immense hordes of the barbarian enemy, I took refuge in prayer to the Gods of our fathers. But being disregarded by them, and looking at the straits to which my force was reduced, I called upon those whom we name Christians—and by enquiry I found out the greatness of their numbers—going so far as to inveigh against them, which I ought not to have done, for I afterwards learnt their power.

3. They then starting with this (bethought them of) no equipment of missiles or arms or trumpets, since this is hateful to them by reason of the God that they bear in their conscience. It is likely, then, that they whom we suppose to be godless have a self-acting God entrenched in their conscience. For casting themselves on the ground they prayed, not for me alone, but also for the whole army, that He would relieve our present drought and famine. For we had taken no water for five days, as there was none to be had, for we were in the very heart of Germany and far within their frontiers. As soon as they had cast themselves on the ground, and prayed to a God whom I knew not, straightway there came water from heaven, the coolest of rain upon us, but upon the enemies of Rome fiery hail. So straightway was revealed to us at once, as they prayed, the presence of their God, as of one omnipotent and everlasting.

4. From this moment, therefore, let us allow such persons to be Christians, lest by praying they obtain such weapons against us. And I propose that no such person be accused on the ground of his being a Christian. But, if anyone be found accusing the Christian for being a Christian, I wish it to be made clear that the Christian who is brought to trial should be (acquitted), if he confesses himself to be a Christian, and no other charge is brought against him except that he is a Christian, but that his accuser shall be burnt alive;[36] and the Governor who is set over the province must not force to recant or deprive of his liberty the Christian who confesses that he is one, and is credited.

5. My will is that this should be ratified by a decree of the Senate, and I direct that this my edict be published in Trajan's Forum, that it-may be o^pen to all to read it. The prefect Vitrasius Pollio[37] will see to it that it is sent throughout the provinces. Anyone who wishes to appeal to it and to have it by him must not be prevented from obtaining a copy from the official gazette of our decrees.

 

Letter of Marcus to his Praefectus[38] (praetorio)

? 162–163 A.D.

I have put Avidius Cassius in command of the Syrian army which is dissolved in luxury and living in the moral atmosphere of Daphne.[39] Caesonius Vectilianus described them as indulging wholesale in hot baths. And I think I have done right, for you too must have noted Cassius, a man of the old Cassian severity and discipline. Nor indeed can soldiers be ruled except by the ancient discipline. For you know that line of an excellent poet, which is in the mouths of all:

Rome on her ancient ways and men unshakably standeth..[40]

You have only to see that the troops are plentifully provided . with supplies. If I know anything of Cassius[41] I am certain they will not be wasted.


Answer of the Praefect

? 162–163 A.D.

You have taken a wise step, my Lord, in setting Cassius over the Syrian army. There is nothing so salutary for grecianized soldiers as a man of unusual strictness. Be sure that he will "knock off" all these hot baths for the soldiers, these flowers from their heads and necks and breasts. The soldiers' corn-supply is all provided, and nothing is wanting with a good general in command, for his requirements and his expenses are equally moderate.


From a Letter of Verus to Marcus

? 166 A.D.

Avidius Cassius, if my judgment counts for anything, is avid for empire, as was already patent under my grandfather,[42] your father. I would have you keep a watchful eye upon him. He dislikes our whole regime; he is gathering great wealth; he ridicules our letters; he calls you a philosophizing old woman, me a profligate simpleton. See what had better be done. Personally I do not dislike the man; but you must consider whether you are acting fairly by yourself and your children in keeping ready equipped for action such a leader as the soldiers gladly listen to, gladly see.


Answer of Marcus about Avidius Cassius

? 166 A.D.

I have read your letter, which savours more of the alarmist than the Imperator, and is out of keeping with the times. For if the empire is destined by heaven for Cassius we shall not be able to put him to death, however much we may desire it. You know your great-grandfather's saying, No one ever killed his own successor.[43] But if the empire is not so destined, he will himself of his own accord, without any harsh measures on our part, be caught in the toils of Fate, let alone the fact that we cannot treat as a criminal a man whom no one impeaches and, as you say, the soldiers love. Besides, in cases of high treason, it is inevitable that even those who are proved guilty should seem to be victims of oppression. For you know yourself what your grandfather Hadrian said: Wretched indeed is the lot of princes, who only by being slain can persuade the world that they have been conspired against![44] I have preferred to father the remark on him rather than Domitian, who is said to have made it first, for in the mouths of tyrants even fine sayings do not carry as much weight as they ought.

Let Cassius then go his own way, more especially as he is an excellent general, strict and brave and indispensable to the State. For as to what you say that the interests of my children should be safe-guarded by his death, frankly, may my children perish, if Avidius deserves to be loved more than they, and if it be better for the State that Cassius should survive than the children of Marcus.


Marcus Aurelius Antoninus to his Praefects,[45] Greeting

169–172 A.D.

To Albinus,[46] of the family of the Ceionii, an African indeed but with not much of the African in him, the son-in-law of Plautillus, I have given the command of two cavalry cohorts. He is a man who has seen service, is of austere life and serious character. I think that his appointment will be of advantage to the army; that it will not be disadvantageous, I am sure. I have granted him double allowances, a simple military robe, but four times the pay of his rank. Exhort him to shew himself a pattern to the State for he is assured a reward equal to his tleserts.


From a Letter about Albinus written by Marcus during the Rebellion of Avidius Cassius

175–176 A.D.

The loyalty of Albinus is worthy of all praise in that he kept to their allegiance troops that were seriously disaffected, when they were ready to go over to Cassius. And had he not been on the spot, the defection would have been general. In him then we have a man worthy of the consulship, and I will appoint him in the room of Cassius Papirius, who, as I have just been told, is dying. But I would rather not have this appointment made public at present, that it may not get to the ears of Papirius himself or his relations, lest we seem to have elected a consul to take the place of one who is still alive.


Marcus Antoninus to Cornelius Balbus

Circa 178 (?) A.D.

You praise Pescennius[47]1 to me. I am not surprised, for your predecessor also spoke of him as energetic in action, serious in character, and even then more than a mere soldier. And so I have sent a letter to be read to the troops, in which I have given him the command of three hundred Armenians and a hundred Sarmatians and a thousand regulars. It is your part to shew that the man has reached this rank, which my grandfather Hadrian and my great-grandfather Trajan reserved for the most tried soldiers, not by partiality, which is abhorrent to our principles, but by merit.


Marcus to Faustina

175 A.D.

Verus was verity itself when he wrote to me of Cassius that he coveted the empire. For I suppose you have heard what news messengers brought of him yesterday. So come to Albanum[48] that by the Gods' goodwill we may deal with the situation, and do not be alarmed.


Faustina to Marcus

175 A.D.

I will come myself as you suggest to Albanum to-morrow. But in the meantime I urge you, as you love your children, take the severest measures against these rebels. For the morale of generals and soldiers is thoroughly bad, and unless you crush them they will crush us.

 
My mother Faustina exhorted your father Pius, on the revolt of [the same] Celsus, that he should shew loyalty in the first place to his own family and then to others. For an Emperor cannot be called Pius who does not think of wife and children. You see how young our Commodus is: Pompeianus, our son-in-law,[49] is both aged and a provincial. See how you deal with Avidius Cassius and his accomplices. Spare not men who have not spared you, and would have spared neither me nor your children, had they succeeded. I will myself soon follow you on your journey. As our Fadilla[50] was ill, I could not come to the Formian Villa.[51] But if I cannot find you at Formiae, I will go on to Capua, a place which is likely to benefit my health and our childrens'. I beseech you send Soteridas the physician to the Formian Villa. I have no faith in Pisitheus, who does not know how to cure our little maid.[52] Calpurnius gave me the sealed letter to which I will send an answer. If I fail to get it off at once, by Caecilius the old eunuch, a man, as you know, to be relied on, I will entrust him with an oral message of what the wife of Avidius Cassius and his children and son-in-law are reported to say about you.


Answer of Marcus to Faustina

175 A.D.

The anxiety which you shew for your husband and our children, my Faustina, is natural. For I have read your letter again in the Formian Villa, in which you urge me to take vengeance on the accomplices of Cassius. But I intend to spare his children and son-in-law and wife,[53] and I shall write to the Senate not to permit any severer persecution or harsher penalty being inflicted on them. For there is nothing that can commend an emperor to the world more than clemency. It was clemency that made Caesar into a God, that deified Augustus, that honoured your father with the distinctive title of Pius.[54] Finally, if my wishes had been followed in respect to the war, not even Cassius would have been slain. So do not be troubled:

The Gods protect me, to the Gods my loyalty is dear.[55]

I have named our Pompeianus[56] consul for the ensuing year.

 

FootnotesEdit

  1. Epistles, p. 364, Kayser.
  2. We have only one letter of his, and it certainly is not prolix, for it consists of but one word, ἐμάνης, addressed to Avidius Cassius when he revolted.
  3. Vit. Mar. xxii. 6; xxix. 6; cp. xxiii. 7, 9.
  4. See i. p. 185.
  5. e.g. those which are addressed to "My dearest Piso," "My dearest Saxa," etc. Digest, xlviii. 18, 1, §27; ibid. xxix. 5, 3, etc.
  6. Digest, ii. 16, 3.
  7. Just. Inst. iii. 11.
  8. Digest, xl. 5, 37.
  9. Augustine, de Adult. ii. 8.
  10. An inscription found at Ephesus dated 164 A.D. See Oesterr. Archäol. Instit. 1913, ii. 121.
  11. Boeckh, Inscr. Graec. i. 1319; Kaibel, ibid. iii. 39a; iv. 363; v. 446. Aegypt. Urkunden. i. 74; Griech. Urkunden (Fayum) i. 74.
  12. Kaibel, Greek Insc. iv. 1534, Phrynichus 98, AB 32.
  13. Ad Ver. ii. 3.
  14. Ad Amicos, i. 6.
  15. Dio, lxxi. 24.
  16. Vulcatius Gallicanus, Vit. Avid. Cass. 14.
  17. Contrary to fact; see Herodian, i. 4, § 2, and Dio, quoted above.
  18. Bassaeus Rufus is meant. He was praef. praet. 168–177.
  19. But see Dio, lxxi. 3. 3.
  20. For the whole question of the authenticity of these letters see Czwalina, De Epistularum quae a scriptoribus historiae Augustaeae proferuntur fide.
  21. See i. p. 139.
  22. This inscription is on a stone, found at Smyrna, recording the minutes of a guild-meeting of the mystae (initiated), who met in the temple of Dionysus Briseus at Smyrna.
  23. Titus Aelius Antoninus, to whom there is an inscription in the Exhedra of Herodes at Olympia; see Dessau, ii. 8803. There is a difficulty about the birth of this son, as Capit. Vit. Marci, vi. 6, says that Marcus received the Trib. Pot. on the birth of a daughter, and yet we know he received it in 147. The daughter was born in 146.
  24. For these see Marcus Antoninus in the Loeb series, pp. 366 ff.
  25. See Aul. Gellius. i. 2; xviii. 10.
  26. See reference in note 3, p. 295.
  27. At Halalae in Asia Minor, during the winter of 175–6.
  28. At Athens.
  29. With Cassius, or more likely perhaps the Marcomannic war He may be referring to the so-called "miraculous victory" in 174.
  30. The great earthquake, when Marcus practically rebuilt the city, was probably in 178 A.D. See Aristides, Μονωδία ἐπὶ Σμύρνη and Παλινωδία ἐπι Σ.
  31. The Acta of Abercius (Migne's Patrol. Graec. cxv. p. 1211) state that the bishop reached Rome while Marcus was away fighting the barbarians. He was taken to the Praefectus Cornelianus and to Faustina, and cured Lucilla, who was then sixteen (which would be in 164 A.D.), by casting out a devil from her. As a reward he asked for a bath to be made for the hot-springs at Hieropolis, and that 3,000 bushels of corn should be given yearly to that his native city. The epitaph of the bishop has been recovered, and states that he visited Rome and saw βασιλῆα[ν] καὶ βασίλισσαν. He is said to have cured Publio's mother of blindness.
  32. Marcus in his Thoughts professes disbelief in exorcism (i. 6). This is only one proof out of many that this letter is a Christian forgery. Christian tradition was strongly in favour of Marcus. Baronius early in the seventeenth century had in his possession a letter purporting to be from Abercius to M. Aurelius, which he intended to publish, but lost.
  33. Found at the end of Justin's second Apology.
  34. This title does not seem to have been assumed till 175. The "miraculous victory" took place, as generally held, in 174.
  35. Though this letter is certainly spurious, yet there must have been a report to the senate by Marcus on the remarkable victory gained over the Quadi, of which both Christian and heathen writers make mention. The latter attributed the victory to the prayers or merits of the emperor, the Christians to the intercessions of the soldiers of their religion in the Legio fulminata, called from their success fulminatrix. It is curious, however, that this legion (twelfth) is not mentioned here. The commander was probably Pertinax (see Chronicon Paschale), not Pompeianus, the son-in-law of Marcus. The word δράκοντες (serpents, i.e. standards of cohorts) is also used by Lucian, Quom. Hist. 29. It here stands for the name of the barbarian regiments or divisions (Drungi).
  36. An impossible, because illegal, enactment for Marcus.
  37. He married Annia Faustina, a cousin of Marcus, and was Consul n. in 176. If praef. praet. at all, he must have succeeded Macrinus Vindex, who fell in battle in 172.
  38. Furius Viotorinus must be meant. He was praef. praet. 159–167.
  39. A suburb of Antioch, the resort of the idle and dissolute.
  40. From the Annals of Ennius.
  41. He was not governor of Syria before the end of 164.
  42. Lucius, like Marcus, was officially and by adoption son, not grandson, of Pius, though he was also son-in-law of Marcus.
  43. See Suet. Tit. 92.
  44. Suet. Dom. 20.
  45. Marcus had two praef. praet. at once only between 169 and 172, viz. M. Bassaeus Rufus and Macrinius Vindex.
  46. After the death of Commodus in 193, Albinus, then governor of Britain, became a competitor for the empire, but was defeated by Severus and slain.
  47. Pescennius Niger, like Albinus, became a claimant for empire, but was defeated and slain by Severus.
  48. The villa of Domitian on the Alban hills. This afterwards became the town of Albanum.
  49. He married Lucilla, the daughter of Marcus and widow of Lucius Verus. He was Consul II. in 173.
  50. Born about 150. She married Claud. Severus.
  51. We know of no imperial villa here.
  52. An inscription (Corp. Inscr. Graec. 1124 b) found at Tibur was dedicated to Artemis ὑπὲρ σωτηρίας Μάρκου καὶ Φαδίλλας.
  53. See Vit. Avid. Cass. 12.
  54. The name Pius was given him either because of his benevolent and gracious disposition (as here and Capit. Vit. Hadr. ii. 7) or because of his dutiful loyalty to Hadrian. Pietas meant a conscientious sense of duty or loyalty to the Gods or country or relations or mankind in general.
  55. Hor. Od. i. 17, 13.
  56. Claud. Pompeianus Quintianus, not the son-in-law of Marcus, was consul suffectus in 176.