FRONTO, M. CORNE'LIUS,
who is generally styled The Orator
by the writers of the third and fourth centuries, and whom his contemporaries regarded as inferior in eloquence only to Cicero himself, was by descent an Italian, but a native of Cirta, a Roman colony in Numidia, where, during the dictatorship of Caesar, a large body of the followers of P. Sittius had received allotments of land.
He was in all probability born under Domitian, and in early life devoted but little attention to literature, since, although a pupil of Dionysius, surnamed the subtle
), and of Athenodotus, he had scarcely commenced the study of the ancient authors at the age of twenty-two. Upon repairing, however, to Rome, in the reign of Hadrian, he soon attained to such celebrity as a pleader and a teacher of rhetoric, that not only were his instructions and society eagerly sought by youths of the highest rank, but he attracted the attention of the court, and gradually assumed much the same position as that occupied by the younger Pliny in the time of Trajan. To his charge was committed the child, M. Annius Verus, known in history as the emperor M. Aurelius; subsequently he was selected as the preceptor of L. Commodus, who, when he assumed the purple, took the name of L. Verus, and he discharged his duties towards both pupils so much to the satisfaction of all concerned, that he was admitted into the senate, was nominated consul for the months of July and August A. D. 143, and five years afterwards was appointed proconsul of Asia, a distinction which he declined, on the plea of infirm health. Nor were his rewards confined to mere unsubstantial honours. From the gains of a lucrative profession, and the liberality of his royal patrons, he amassed considerable wealth, became proprietor of the celebrated gardens of Maecenas, acquired villas in different parts of Italy, and expended a large sum upon the erection of splendid baths.
It is true that he speaks of himself as poor, but this must be regarded as the mock humility of one who compared his own ample means with the overgrown fortunes of the great nobility.
In old age he was severely afflicted with gout, and during the frequent attacks of the malady his house was the resort of the most eminent men of the metropolis, who were in the habit of assembling round his couch, and listening with delight to his conversation. So great was his fame as a speaker, that a sect of rhetoricians arose who were denominated Frontoniani.
Following the example of their founder, they scrupulously avoided the poetical diction and pompous exaggeration of the Greek school; and while they made it their aim to adhere in all things to the severe simplicity of nature, bestowed especial care on the purity of their language, rejecting all words and expressions not stamped with the authority of the most approved ancient models.
Fronto, whose disposition, as far as we can judge from his correspondence, must have been singularly gentle and amiable, was throughout life regarded with the warmest esteem by his imperial disciples, and the letters of Marcus in particular, who sought permission from the senate to raise a statue to his master, breathe a spirit of the strongest affection. Of his parents and ancestors we know nothing whatsoever, for the story that he was descended by the mother's side from Plutarch is a mere modern fabrication; but we read of a brother with whom he lived on the most cordial terms, and who rose to high office under Antoninus Pius.
By his wife, Gratia or Cratia, who died when he was far advanced in life, he had an only daughter, who married Aufidius Victorinus, by whom she had three sons, one of whom was M. Aufidius Fronto, consul A. D. 199, the individual who erected a monument at Pesaro, the inscription on which is given in the article below.
The precise date of Fronto's death is not recorded, but the latest of his epistles belongs to the year A. D. 166.
Up to a recent period no work of Fronto was known to be in existence, with the exception of a corrupt and worthless tract entitled De Differentiis Vocabulorum
, and a few very short fragments scattered over the pages of Aulus Gellius and other Latin grammarians.
But about the year 1814 Angelo Mai found that the sheets of a palimpsest, in the Ambrosian library, which had formerly belonged to the famous monastery of St. Columba at Bobbio, containing a translation of a portion of the acts of the first council of Chalcedon, had been made up from ancient MSS. of Symmachus, of an old commentator on Cicero, of Pliny the younger, and especially of Fronto; and that the original writing was still partially legible.
In this manner a considerable number of letters which had passed between the orator, Antoninus Pius, M. Aurelius, L. Verus, and various friends, together with some short essays, were recovered and published at Milan in 1815, in a disordered and mutilated condition indeed, as was to be expected under the circumstances of the case [see CICERO, p. 728] ; but still sufficiently perfect to convey a very clear idea of the nature and value of the pieces when entire.
But the discovery did not end here, for upon the removal of Mai to Rome, he detected in the Vatican another portion of the acts of the same council of Chalcedon; also a palimpsest, breaking off very nearly at the point where the codex mentioned above commenced, evidently written at the same period by the same hand, and proved to have been once the property of the same monastery, thus unquestionably forming the first part or volume of that very MS. of which the Ambrosian library possessed the second, and in part consisting of leaves of parchment which had, in the first instance, exhibited the epistles of Fronto. From this source upwards of a hundred new letters were obtained, and these too in better order than the first.
An improved edition, containing these important additions and alterations, appeared at Rome in 1823.
The announcement that a lost treasure, such as the works of Fronto were supposed to be, had been regained, excited intense interest among scholars; but their anticipations were miserably disappointed.
The compositions in question are so inconceivably tame and vapid in style, and relate to matters so trivial (we may almost say childish), that it would be impossible to point out any production of classical antiquity, of equal extent, front which so little that is agreeable or instructive can be gleaned. We find a series of short communications pleasing indeed, in so far as they show the kindly connection which subsisted throughout life between an amiable preceptor and his imperial pupils, but relating almost exclusively to the most ordinary domestic occurrences, totally destitute of attraction either in form or substance.
The contents of the Roman edition of 1823 are as follows : --
Epistolarum ad Marcum Caesarem Libri V.
, addressed to M. Aurelius before his accession, comprising in all 122 letters, of which 65 are from the Caesar to Fronto, 54 from Fronto to the Caesar, two in Greek from Fronto to Domitia Calvilla, mother of the Caesar, one (a fragment) in Greek to some unknown personage, and one piece in Greek which must be considered rather in the light of an essay in imitation of Lysias and Plato than as a letter, properly speaking.
The fifth book consists of mere notes, 59 in number, many of them not exceeding one or two lines, such as, "To my Lord,--If you love me at all, sleep during these nights, that you may come into the senate with a good colour, and read with energy." Reply : " To my Master,--I shall never love you enough. I will
Epistolarum ad Antoninum Imperatorem Libri II.,
addressed to M. Aurelius, now emperor, comprising in all eighteen letters, eight from the emperor to Fronto, ten from Fronto to the emperor.
Epistolae ad Verum.
Two letters to Verus, the person addressed being probably M. Aurelius, who, at the period of his adoption, was known as M. Antoninus Verus.
Epistolarum ad Verum Imperatorem Liber,
comprising in all thirteen letters, six from Verus to Fronto, seven from Fronto to Verus.
De Bello Parthico,
a short fragment of a history of this disastrous campaign, drawn up at the earnest request of Verus.
De Feriis Alsiensibus.
Four epistles, two from M. Aurelius, now emperor, to Fronto; two from Fronto to M. Aurelius, containing some allusions to certain festivities at Alsium.
De Nepote Amisso.
A short note of condolence from M. Aurelius to Fronto on the loss of a grandson, the child of his daughter and Aufidius Victorinus, with a reply at some length by Fronto.
Apparently a brief rhetorical exercise upon this legend.
A fragment addressed to M. Caesar.
in two letters, addressed " Antonino Augusto."
Epistolae ad Antoninum Pium,
comprising in all nine letters, one from Pius to Fronto, four from Fronto to Pius, one from Fronto to M. Caesar, one from M. Caesar to Fronto; together with two of which the addresses are doubtful.
Epistolarum ad Amicos Libri II.,
comprising in all thirty-seven letters, the whole written by Fronto, with the exception of one from Appian the historian, which, as well as the reply of Fronto, is in Greek.
A mutilated fragment.
Laudes Fumi et Pulveris,
and 15. Laudes Negligentiae.
Two dull scraps of paradoxical pleasantry, on the former of which at least the author seems to have prided himself (De Feriis Als.
collected from various sources.
lang="la">De Differentiis Vocabulorum.
De Differentiis Vocabulorum
: Discussed above.
The De Differentiis Vocabulorum was first printed in the "Grammatici Illustres XII." fol. Paris, 1516
; and will be found in the " Auctores Linguae Latinae" of Dionysius Gothofredus, 4to. Genev. 1595, 1602, 1622
; and in the "Grammaticae Latinae Auctores Antiqui " of Putschius, 4to. Hanov. 1605, p. 2191
Allusions are contained in the above and in the Latin grammarians to several works by Fronto, of which no trace remains.
A catalogue of these, as well as of the works erroneously ascribed to this Fronto, will be found in the edition of Niebuhr noticed below.
The Editio Princeps of the newly found remains was printed at Milan in two volumes, 8vo. 1815
; was reprinted verbatim at Frankfort in 1816
; and with important improvements and commentaries by Niebuhr, Ph. Buttmann, and Heindorf, 8vo. Berol. 1816
. Of the Roman edition of 1823
we have spoken above; the new pieces that appeared in that edition were republished (Cellis, 1832,)
as a supplemental volume to the Milan, Frankfort, and Berlin editions. A translation of the latter, by Armand Cassan, with the Latin text " en regard " appeared at Paris, 2 vols. 8vo., 1830
The ancient authorities with regard to Fronto have been carefully collected in the dissertations prefixed to the editions by Mai and Niebuhr.
In the Roman edition of 1823 is given for the first time a distinct account of the palimpsests of Milan and the Vatican.