Fronto’s Writing Advice to Aurelius: One Thought Should Follow Through to the Next

Fronto Laudes Fumi et Pulveris [Ambr 249 Caesari suo Fronto. [139 a.d.]]

“Many of my readers may perhaps hate my subject from the title because it is impossible for anything serious to be made of smoke and dust. But you, thanks to your outstanding intelligence, will judge whether these words are wasted or put well.

The subject does, however, seem to ask for a few things to be written about the logic of its composition, since nothing written of this kind of thing noble enough in the Roman tongue exists except for what poets touch in comedies or farces. Anyone who tests himself at writing of this kind will select a mass of ideas and put them together closely, joining them cleverly, but without including many useless and doubled words and then make sure to end each sentence with clarity and skill.

In legal speeches, however, it goes differently because we often pay special attention to sentences ending harshly and artlessly. In this matter, we must labor differently so that nothing is left rude and out of place, instead making sure that everything is interconnected as in a robe with clear borders and ornate edges. Finally, just as the final verses in epigrams should have some kind of shine to them, a sentence should be ended with some kind of a clasp or brooch.

Pleasing the audience, however, should pursued among the first goals. For this kind of address is not composed for defense in a capital trial nor to advocate for the passing of a law, nor to exhort an army, nor to enrage a mass of people, but for delights and pleasure. Nevertheless, we must speeches we do about serious and wonderful things—the small matters must be compared and equaled to great ones. And, finally, the greatest virtue in this kind of speech is the conceit of seriousness. Stories of the gods or heroes should be interwoven where they fit. At he same time, lines of poetry which pertain applicable proverbs, and even clever fictions, as long as the fiction is added by some kind of clever argument.

The chief challenge, then, is to order the materials so that their presentation has a logical connection. This is what Plato faults Lysias for in the Phaedrus, that he has combined his thoughts so carelessly that the first one could be exchanged with the last without any kind of loss. We can only escape this danger if we organize our thoughts in categories so that we do not mix them in an indiscriminate and disordered way like those mixed dishes, but instead arrange it so that the preceding idea reaches into the next one and then shares its boundary, where the second thought begins where the first one has ended, and a sequence emerges in this way, so that we seem to step rather than jump along our way.”

Plerique legentium forsan rem de titulo contemnant, nihil <enim> serium , potuisse fieri de fumo et pulvere: tu pro tuo excellenti ingenio profecto existimabis lusa sit opera4ista an locata. 2. Sed res poscere videtur de ratione scribendi pauca praefari, quod nullum huiuscemodi scriptum Romana lingua extat satis nobile, nisi quod poetae in comoediis vel atellanis adtigerunt. Qui se eiusmodi rebus scribendis exercebit, crebras sententias conquiret, easque dense conlocabit et subtiliter coniunget, Ambr. neque verba multa geminata supervacanea | in-ferciet; tum omnem sententiam breviter et scite concludet. Aliter in orationibus iudiciariis, ubi sedulo curamus ut pleraeque sententiae durius interdum et incautius1finiantur. Sed contra istic laborandum est, ne quid inconcinnum et hiulcum relinquatur, quin omnia ut in tenui veste oris detexta et revimentis sint cincta. Postremo, ut novissimos in epigrammatis versus habere oportet aliquid luminis, sententia clavo aliquo vel fibula terminanda est.

In primis autem sectanda est suavitas. Namque hoc genus orationis non capitis defendendi nec suadendae legis nec exercitus hortandi nec inflammandae contionis scribitur, sed facetiarum et voluptatis.Ubique vero ut de re ampla et magnifica loquendum, parvaeque res magnis adsimilandae comparandaeque. Summa denique in hoc genere orationis virtus est adseveratio. Fabulae deum vel heroum tempestive inserendae; item versus congruenteset proverbia accommodata et non inficete conficta mendacia, dum id mendacium argumento aliquo lepido iuvetur.

Ambr 247 4. Cum primis autem difficile est argumenta ita disponere ut sit ordo eorum rite connexus. Quod Ambr.ille | Plato Lysiam culpat in Phaedro, sententiarum ordinem ab eo ita temere permixtum, ut sine ullo detrimento prima in novissimum locum transferantur, et novissima in primum, eam culpam ita devitabimus, si divisa generatim argumenta nectemus, non sparsa nec sine discrimine aggerata, ut ea quae per saturam feruntur, sed ut praecedens sententia in sequentem laciniam aliquam porrigat et oram praetendat; ubi prior sit finita sententia, inde ut sequens ordiatur; ita enim transgredi potius videmur quam transilire.

From Roman de la Rose

Legal Strategies When You Can’t Deny Or Defend

Quintilian, Orator’s Education, 5.13 7-9

“Hence, what cannot be denied or put off must eventually be defended, whatever kind of case it is, or else just surrendered. We have demonstrated that there are two types of denial: either to say “this was not done” or to claim “what was done was not this.” Issues that cannot be defended or avoided must ultimately be denied and not only if there is some “redefinition” which might come to our aid, but also if there is nothing else but simple denial.

If there are witnesses, it is permitted to say much against them. If there is written proof, we can discredit the authenticity of the letter. Whatever the matter, there is nothing worse than a confession. The final option, when there is no room for defending or denying, is attacking the legality of the proceeding.”

Ergo quae neque negari neque transferri possunt utique defendenda sunt, qualiacumque sunt, aut causa cedendum. Negandi duplicem ostendimus formam, aut non esse factum aut non hoc esse quod factum sit. Quae neque defendi neque transferri possunt, utique neganda, nec solum si finitio potest esse pro nobis, sed etiam si nuda infitiatio superest. Testes erunt: multa in eos dicere licet; chirographum: de similitudine litterarum disserendum. Utique nihil erit peius quam confessio. Ultima est actionis controversia, cum defendendi negandive non est locus

Emotions in the Courtroom
nitial N: King James I of Aragon Overseeing a Court of Law, unknown illuminator c. 1290 – 1310. Courtesy of Getty Images

Learning to Speak and to Hear the Truth: Reading a Teacher’s Comments

From Marcus Aurelius to M. Cornelius Fronto

To my teacher,

“I received two letters from you at the same time. In one of them, you were criticizing me and you were showing that I wrote a sentence rashly; in the second, however, you were trying to approve my work with praise. Still, I swear by my mother and by my health that I got more joy from the first letter, to which I often yelled out while reading: “Lucky me!” And someone might ask whether I am happy because I have a teacher who teaches me to write a gnome with more care, precision, and concision?  No! This is not the reason I say I am lucky. Why then? Because I learn from you to speak the truth.

This lesson—speaking truly—is hard for both gods and men. There is no oracle so truthful that it is not also ambiguous or unclear or which does not have some obstacle which may catch the unwise who interprets whatever is said the way he wants to and understands this only after the moment when the affair is complete. But this is advantageous and clearly it is customary to excuse these things as sacred error or silliness.

But what you say—whether they are criticisms or rules—they show the path itself immediately and without deceit or riddling words. I ought to give you thanks since you teach me foremost to speak the truth and at the same time how to hear it too! Therefore, you should get a double reward, which you will endeavor that I will not pay. If you wish to accept nothing, how may I balance our accounts except through obedience? [some incomplete lines].

Farewell my good, my best teacher. I rejoice that we have become friends. My wife says hello.

Magistro meo.

Duas per id<em> tempus epistulas tuas excepi. Earum altera me increpabas et temere sententiam scripsisse arguebas, altera vero tueri studium meum laude nitebaris. Adiuro tamen tibi meam, meae matris, tuam salutem mihi plus gaudii in animo coortum esse illis tuis prioribus litteris; meque saepius exclamasse inter legendum O me felicem! Itane, dicet aliquis, feiicem te, si est qui te doceat quomodo γνώμην sollertius dilucidius brevius politius scribas? Non hoc est quod me felicem nuncupo. Quid est igitur?  Quod verum dicere ex te disco. Ea res—verum|dicere—prorsum deis hominibusque ardua: nullum denique tam veriloquum oraculum est, quin aliquid ancipitis in se vel obliqui vel impediti habeat, quo imprudentior inretiatur, et ad voluntatem suam dictum opinatus captionem post tempus ac negotium sentiat. Sed ista res lucrosa est, et plane mos talia tantum pio errore et vanitate ex<cus>are. At tuae seu accusationes seu lora confestim ipsam viam ostendunt sine fraude et inventis verbis. Itaque deberem etiam gratias agere tibi si verum me dicere satius simul et audire verum me doces. Duplex igitur pretium solvatur, pendere quod ne valeam <elabora>bis. Si resolvi vis nil, quomodo tibi par pari expendam nisi obsequio? Impius tamen mihi malui te nimia motum cura . . . . die<s isti quom essent> vacui, licuit me . . . . bene st<udere et multas sententias> excerpere . . . . Vale mi bone et optime <magister. Te>, optime orator, sic m<ihi in  amicitiam> venisse gaudeo. | Domina mea te salutat.

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See Sarah E. Bond’s great post on Ancient School Exercises

Great Authors Err Too!

Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 10.1.24-26

“Let the reader not be persuaded as a matter of course that everything the best authors said is perfect. For they slip at times, they give in to their burdens, and they delight in the pleasure of their own abilities. They do not always pay attention; and they often grow tired. Demosthenes seems to doze to Cicero; Homer naps for Horace. Truly, they are great, but they are still mortals and it happens that those who believe that whatever appears in these authors should be laws for speaking often imitate their lesser parts, since this is easier—and they believe they are enough like them if they emulate the faults of great authors.

Still, one must pass judgment on these men with modesty and care to avoid what often happens when people condemn what they do not understand. If it is necessary to err in either part, I would prefer readers to enjoy everything in these authors rather than dismiss much.”

Neque id statim legenti persuasum sit, omnia quae summi auctores dixerint utique esse perfecta. Nam et labuntur aliquando et oneri cedunt et indulgent ingeniorum suorum voluptati, nec semper intendunt animum, nonnumquam fatigantur, cum Ciceroni dormitare interim Demosthenes, Horatio vero etiam Homerus ipse videatur.  Summi enim sunt, homines tamen, acciditque iis qui quidquid apud illos reppererunt dicendi legem putant ut deteriora imitentur (id enim est facilius), ac se abunde similes putent si vitia magnorum consequantur. Modesto tamen et circumspecto iudicio de tantis viris pronuntiandum est, ne, quod plerisque accidit, damnent quae non intellegunt. Ac si necesse est in alteram errare partem, omnia eorum legentibus placere quam multa displicere maluerim.

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A Rather Elite Writing Group: Pliny and Tacitus

Pliny to Cornelius Tacitus, 20

“I have read your book and I have noted the passages which should be changed or removed as carefully as I was able. For I am also in the habit of speaking the truth and you hear it freely. No people are criticized as patiently as those who especially deserve praise.

Now I am expecting my book from you with your notes—what a joy, what a fine exchange! How it makes me happy to think that if posterity cares about us at all, the story will be about how we lived with harmony, directness and trust. It will seem rare and notable that two men nearly equal in age and dignity and of some fame for writing—for I am compelled to speak sparingly of you when I am talking about myself too—to have encouraged each other’s efforts.

I was a young man when you were already growing in fame and glory and I was longing to be nearest to you but “by a long distance”. There were then many really famous geniuses—but you, perhaps because our nature was similar, seemed one I could imitate, someone I should imitate. I am for this reason happy if, when there is any conversation about scholarship, we are named together or at the fact that one some speak of you my name is mentioned.

There is no lack of authors who may be preferred to us. But, it makes no difference to me which place I have if we are joined together. For my first position is the one which is nearest to you.”

Librum tuum legi et, quam diligentissime potui, adnotavi quae commutanda, quae eximenda arbitrarer. Nam et ego verum dicere adsuevi, et tu libenter audire. Neque enim ulli patientius reprehenduntur, quam qui maxime laudari merentur. Nunc a te librum meum cum adnotationibus tuis exspecto. O iucundas, o pulchras vices! Quam me delectat quod, si qua posteris cura nostri, usquequaqua narrabitur, qua concordia simplicitate fide vixerimus! Erit rarum et insigne, duos homines aetate dignitate propemodum aequales, non nullius in litteris nominis (cogor enim de te quoque parcius dicere, quia de me simul dico), alterum alterius studia fovisse.

Equidem adulescentulus, cum iam tu fama gloriaque floreres, te sequi, tibi “longo sed proximus intervallo” et esse et haberi concupiscebam. Et erant multa clarissima ingenia; sed tu mihi (ita similitudo naturae ferebat) maxime imitabilis,  maxime imitandus videbaris. Quo magis gaudeo, quod si quis de studiis sermo, una nominamur, quod de te loquentibus statim occurro. Nec desunt qui utrique nostrum praeferantur. Sed nos, nihil interest mea quo loco, iungimur; nam mihi primus, qui a te proximus.

 

 

From Tertullian.org

A Fine Poem on Friendship

Martial 12.40

“You lie, I trust you. You recite terrible poems, I praise them.
You sing, I sing. You drink, Pontilianus and I drink too.
You fart, I ignore it. You want to play a board game, I am defeated.
You do one thing without me, I’ll be quiet too.
You do no duty for me at all: You say, “when you’re dead”
I will take good care of you. I don’t want anything, but you can die.”

Mentiris: credo. recitas mala carmina: laudo.
cantas: canto. bibis, Pontiliane: bibo.
pedis: dissimulo. gemma vis ludere: vincor.
res una est sine me quam facis: et taceo.
nil tamen omnino praestas mihi. ‘mortuus’ inquis
‘accipiam bene te.’ nil volo: sed morere.

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Royal 19 C II f. 59v

Missing Deadlines Because of Chronic Illness

Fronto to Praeciilius Pompeianus          (Ambr. 312, following 313)

“You will hear from my, Pompeianus, the truth of how the matter is and I would hope that you would believe that I am speaking the truth. Nearly last year I took that oration For the Bithynians into my hand and I started to correct it. I also promised you some things concerning that oration when I was at Rome then. And, if my memory serves me correctly, when we were having a conversation about certain sections of the speech, I said and was somewhat proud that I had carefully enough examined in that speech which hinged on the crime of contract killing.

But in the meantime a bout of neuritis overcame me pretty strongly and it has remained longer and more burdensome than is typical. When my limbs are coursing with pain, I am incapable of giving any attention to things that must be written or read. I have not dared up to now to ever ask this much of myself. When those wondrous beasts, philosophers, tell us that the wise man, even if he were locked in the bull of Phalaris, would be no less blessed, I could believe it more easily that we would be a little bit happier while cooking in the brass to contemplate some introduction or write some letters.”

Fronto Praecilio Pompeiano salutem.

Verum ex me, mi Pompeiane, uti res est,  audies; velimque te mihi verum | dicenti fidem habere. Orationem istam Pro Bithynisante annum fere in manus sumpseram et corrigere institueram. Tibi etiam Romae tunc agenti nonnihil de ista oratione promiseram. Et quidem, si recte memini, quom sermo inter nos de partitionibus orationum ortus esset, dixeram et prae me tuleram, satis me diligenter in ista oratione coniecturam, quae in crimine mandatae caedis verteretur, divisisse argumentis ac refutasse. Interea nervorum dolor solito vehementior me invasit, et diutius ac molestius solito remoratus est. Nec possum ego membris cruciantibus operam ullam litteris scribendis legendisque impendere; nec umquam istuc a me postulare ausus sum. Philosophis etiam mirificis hominibus dicentibus, sapientem virum etiam in Phalaridis tauro inclusum beatum nihilominus fore, facilius crediderim beatum eum fore quam posse tantisper amburenti in aheno prohoemium meditari aut epigrammata scribere.

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Fronto’s Regrets: Neck Pain Kept Me from Your Party

Fronto To Antonius Pius, 5 (Naber, p. 167).

“I would pay more than a part of my own life to embrace you on this happiest and most anticipated anniversary of your imperial accession—a day which I consider to be the birthday of my health, dignity, and security.

But serious shoulder pain and even worse neck pain afflict me so badly that I can barely bend, straighten up, or turn because I have to keep my neck so still. But I have returned to my Lares, Penates, and Family gods and have taken up my vows and I have prayed that next year I can embrace you twice on this day, twice to kiss your chest and hands, simultaneously completing the duty of this year and next.”

| Antonino Pio Augusto Fronto.

Carius <quam> vitae meae parte adpicisci cupio ut te complecterer felicissimo et optatissimo initi imperii die, quem ego diem natalem salutis dignitatis securitatis meae existimo. Sed dolor humeri gravis, cervicis vero multo gravissimus ita me adflixit, ut adhuc usque vix inclinare me vel erigere vel convertere possim: ita immobili cervice utor. Sed apud Lares Penates deosque familiares meos et reddidi et suscepi vota, et precatus sum, uti anno insequenti bis te complecterer isto die, bis pectus tuum et manus exoscularer praeteriti simul et praesentis anni vicem perficiens.

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Antonius Pius

Martial on His Summer Sleep Schedule

Epigrams 12.68

“Morning appointment–my reason for leaving the city–
If you knew better, you would visit more ambitious homes.
I am no lawyer, no man prepared for harsh suits,
I am a lazy and aging friend of the Muses.
Sleep and leisure make me happy—the very things
Which Rome denied me. But I’ll go back if I can’t sleep here.”

Matutine cliens, urbis mihi causa relictae,
atria, si sapias, ambitiosa colas.
non sum ego causidicus nec amaris litibus aptus,
sed piger et senior Pieridumque comes;
otia me somnusque iuvant, quae magna negavit
Roma mihi: redeo, si vigilatur et hic.

12.80

“Callistratus praises everyone so he may not praise the worthy.
What good can he be when he doesn’t think anyone’s bad?

Ne laudet dignos, laudat Callistratus omnes.
cui malus est nemo, quis bonus esse potest?

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St. Mark with a lion, BL Add MS 18852 

A Poem Your [Heart?] Desires

Martial, Epigrams 12.61

“Ligurra, you fear that I might compose
Verses against you, a brief, intense poem—
Oh how you long to seem worthy of this fear.
But you fear in vain, in vain you long.
The Libyan lions growl at bulls;
They do not pester butterflies.

I will advise you—if you are in pain to be read,
Find a drunk alley poet who writes
with broken coal or dusty chalk
the poems people read while shitting.
This face of yours can’t be known by my touch.”

Versus et breve vividumque carmen
in te ne faciam times, Ligurra,
et dignus cupis hoc metu videri.
sed frustra metuis cupisque frustra.
in tauros Libyci fremunt leones,
non sunt papilionibus molesti.
quaeras censeo, si legi laboras,
nigri fornicis ebrium poetam,
qui carbone rudi putrique creta
scribit carmina quae legunt cacantes.
frons haec stigmate non meo notanda est

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Gorleston Psalter, f 61r