Q. Asco'nius Pedia'nus
Q. Asconius Pedianus, who holds the first place among the ancient commentators of Cicero, seems to have been born a year or two before the commencement of the Christian era, and there is some reason to believe that he was a native of Padua.
It appears from a casual expression in his notes on the speech for Scaurus, that these were written after the consulship of Largus Caecina and Claudius, that is, after A. D. 42. We learn from the Eusebian chronicle that he became blind in his seventy-third year, during the reign of Vespasian, and that he attained to the age of eighty-five.
The supposition that there were two Asconii, the one the companion of Virgil and the expounder of Cicero, the other an historian who flourished at a later epoch, is in opposition to the clear testimony of antiquity, which recognises one only.
He wrote a work, now lost, on the life of Sallust; and another, which has likewise perished, against the censurers of Virgil, of which Donatus and other grammarians have availed themselves in their illustrations of that poet; but there is no ground for ascribing to him the tract entitled Origo gentis Romanae
, more commonly, but with as little foundation, assigned to Aurelius Victor.
Commentary on the speeches of Cicero
But far more important and valuable than the above was his work on the speeches of Cicero; and fragments of commentaries, bearing his name, are still extant, on the Divinatio
, the first two speeches against Verres and a portion of the third, the speeches for Cornelius (i. ii.)
, the speech In toga candida
, for Scaurus
, against Piso
, and for Milo
The remarks which were drawn up for the instruction of his sons (Comm. in Milon.
14) are conveyed in very pure language, and refer chiefly to points of history and antiquities, great pains being bestowed on the illustration of those constitutional forms of the senate, the popular assemblies, and the courts of justice, which were fast falling into oblivion under the empire.
This character, however, does not apply to the notes on the Verrine orations, which are of a much more grammatical cast, and exhibit not unfrequently traces of a declining Latinity. Hence, after a very rigid and minute examination, the most able modern critics have decided that these last are not from the pen of Asconius, but must be attributed to some grammarian of a much later date, one who may have been the contemporary or successor of Servius or Donatus.
It is impossible here to analyse the reasoning by which this conclusion has been satisfactorily established, but those who wish for full information will find everything they can desire in the excellent treatise of Madvig. (De Asconii Pediani, &c. Commentariis, Hafiniae, 1828, 8vo.)
The history of the preservation of the book is curious. Poggio Bracciolini, the renowned Florentine, when attending the council of Constance in the year 1416, discovered a manuscript of Asconius in the monastery of St. Gall. This MS. was transcribed by him, and about the same time by Bartolomeo di Montepulciano, and by Sozomen, a canon of Pistoia. Thus three copies were taken, and these are still in existence, but the original has long since disappeared. All the MSS. employed by the editors of Asconius seem to have been derived from the transcript of Poggio exclasively, and their discrepancies arise solely from the conjectural emendations which have been introduced from time to time for the purpose of correcting the numerous corruptions and supplying the frequently recurring blanks. Poggio has left no description of the archetype, but it evidently must have been in bad order, from the number of small gaps occasioned probably by edges or corners having been torn off, or words rendered illegible by damp. Indeed the account given of the place where the monks had deposited their literary treasures is sufficient to account fully for such imperfections, for it is represented to have been " a most foul and dark dungeon at the bottom of a tower, into which not even criminals convicted of capital offences would have been thrust down."
The first edition of Asconius was taken directly from the transcript of Poggio, and was published at Venice in 1477, along with sundry essays and dissertations on the speeches of Cicero
The work was frequently reprinted in the early part of the sixteenth century, and numerous editions have appeared from time to time, either separately or attached to the orations themselves; but, notwithstanding the labours of many excellent scholars, the text is usually exhibited in a very corrupt and interpolated form. By far the best is that which is to be found in the fifth volume of Cicero's works as edited by Orelli and Baiter
; but many improvements might yet be made if the three original transcripts were to be carefully collated, instead of reproducing mere copies of copies which have been disfigured by the carelessness or presumption of successive scribes.