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Fronto and the Rhetoric of Friendship

Ryan Wei
p. 67-93

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Index de mots-clés :

Fronton, amitié, épistolaire, recommandation
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I Introduction : The Rhetoric of Epistolography

  • 1 W. Dominik & J. Hall (eds), A Companion to Roman Rhetoric, Oxford, Blackwell, 2007.
  • 2 The editors of the 2007 volume have done a commendable job in assembling a wide array of essays tha (...)

1The volume published in 2007 on Roman rhetoric serves as the starting piece for the present collection of papers1, a collection that, rather than attempting to displace its predecessor, seeks to continue the conversation, to improve upon what is already a very impressive contribution to the field2. As such, the purpose of my study is to discuss an aspect of Roman rhetoric that our predecessor has curiously overlooked, a feature I consider to be an exemplary expression thereof : epistolography.

  • 3 The entries on Cicero in the index is indicative of this (W. Dominik & J. Hall (eds.), op. cit., p. (...)
  • 4 W. Dominik, « Tacitus and Pliny on Oratory », in W. Dominik & J. Hall (eds), op. cit., p. 334-337.
  • 5 E. Champlin, Fronto and Antonine Rome, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1980, is one notable ex (...)
  • 6 G. Anderson, « Rhetoric and the Second Sophistic », in W. Dominik & J. Hall (eds), op. cit., p. 345 (...)
  • 7 G. Anderson, op. cit., p. 346.

2To be fair, the major epistolographers in the Roman world do receive some attention in this volume, with special emphasis placed, naturally, on Cicero, but such attention is rarely, if ever, given in the context of their epistolographical efforts. The letters of Cicero are mined for his sentiments on rhetoric, but never studied in their own right as rhetorical pieces3. The paper by W. Dominik does examine in some detail the epistles of Pliny the Younger, but rather than engaging with the rhetorical force of Pliny’s correspondence, W. Dominik merely lists out the occasions in which courtroom rhetoric and oratory are mentioned4. Poor Fronto, as is typical in modern scholarship5, receives the worst treatment, being offered less than two pages worth of actual discussion, this primarily in a paper that focuses on the Second Sophistic and mentions Fronto only in passing (along with Lucian)6. In his brief comments on Fronto, however, G. Anderson curiously acknowledges that the exchanges between our epistler and Appian « could easily have formed the basis of yet another couple of controuersiae proper »7, which, to my mind, is a recognition of at least the rhetorical potential of epistles, yet this set of correspondence between the two manages to garner no more interest than a portion of a single paragraph.

  • 8 The fact that there is no entry for epistle, epistolography, letter, letter-writing, etc. in the in (...)
  • 9 J. O. Ward, « Roman Rhetoric and Its Afterlife », in W. Dominik & J. Hall (eds), op. cit., p. 355.

3Why the editors of the 2007 volume neglected to include epistolography as a form of rhetoric in the Roman world is not something I can explain8. Given that J. O. Ward’s contribution to the Companion, a paper on the later development and reception of Roman rhetoric, does mention letter-writing (ars epistolandi) as a point of interest for medieval litterateurs, that entire treatises from the Middle Ages were devoted to this form of persuasive writing, and that this interest stemmed from a « classical rhetorical legacy »9, the exclusion of episolography from the Companion seems even more inexplicable. That these medieval treatises on epistles have an antecedent in Pseudo-Demetrius’ On Style (223-235), which includes a generous section on how to compose letters, further demonstrates the rhetoric involved in this genre of literary composition.

  • 10 W. Dominik & J. Hall, « Confronting Roman Rhetoric », in W. Dominik & J. Hall (eds), op. cit., p. 3 (...)
  • 11 W. Dominik & J. Hall, op. cit., p. 3.
  • 12 Though according to Pseudo-Demetrius, On Style 223, « a letter is like one side of a dialogue ».
  • 13 W. Dominik & J. Hall, op. cit., p. 3.

4It may be argued that the editors of the Companion were not so much concerned with the rhetoric of composition in any specific literary genre, but their interest lies instead in how rhetorical these different genres of Roman literature could be, and how infused with rhetorical techniques and language these writings were10. Even here, though, the editors have done themselves a disservice in neglecting epistolography as an area of focus, because, as I alluded to above, epistles have an inherent rhetorical force. If one of the basic definition of rhetoric is, as W. Dominik and J. Hall themselves suggest, « the art of persuasive speech »11, then, the speech aspect notwithstanding12, epistles must be included in the categorization, for persuasive techniques can be found in every form of human interaction. Of course, as W. Dominik and J. Hall also point out, such a general formulation of rhetoric does not get us very far in understanding its significance and cultural impact on Roman society13.

  • 14 B. Radice, « The Letters of Pliny », in T. A. Dorey (ed.), Empire and Aftermath : Silver Latin II, (...)
  • 15 J.-A. Shelton, « Pliny’s Letters III, 11 : Rhetoric and Autobiography », C&M 38 (1987), p. 121-146  (...)
  • 16 A. N. Sherwin-White, The Letters of Pliny : A Historical and Social Commentary, Oxford, Clarendon P (...)
  • 17 R. Morello & A. D. Morrison (eds), op. cit, p. vi-vii.

5However, the premise that letters are inherently persuasive and rhetorical, more so than the basic definition of rhetoric accounts for, still stands, something which Pliny the Younger utilized to great effect in his corpus of epistles. The scholarship on Pliny the Younger is vast and extensive, and there is neither the need, nor the space, to review it in much detail here. Rather, the crux of the discussion on Pliny and his use of rhetoric in the Letters, though for some reason rarely studied in these terms, is in the way he went about constructing his personal identity14. Whether it was to display his supposed hatred of Domitian, or to minimize his involvement in said tyrant’s regime, or to cover up his inferiority complex, or to promote friendly interaction in a highly competitive social setting, or to forestall any number of political and social anxieties15, the Letters of Pliny the Younger is a masterful composition that employs a series of rhetorical techniques for the promotion of his interests and the exploration of his agendas16. But more than this, as R. Morello and D. A. Morrison explain, because the audience of letters as a genre is given the impression of eavesdroppers, flies on the wall as it were, which in turn generates the pretext that we as viewers are being offered more truthful accounts, a sense of « frankness and openness »17, the letter-form was itself chosen by Pliny specifically for its rhetorical potential, and served as the ideal medium for delivering his rhetorically constructed image.

  • 18 The nature of the tenth book of this collection, which contains the exchanges between Pliny and Tra (...)
  • 19 The Correspondence of Marcus Aurelius Fronto, text edited and translated by C. R. Haines, London, H (...)
  • 20 A. de Pretis « “ Insincerity ”, “ Facts ”, and “ Epistolarity ” : Approaches to Pliny’s Epistles to (...)
  • 21 G. Henderson, op. cit., p. 117.

6The bulk of the Letters of Pliny, as has been persuasively demonstrated by scholarship, was published by Pliny during his lifetime18. As such, it could well be contended that the rhetorical force of this corpus is unique because of the special attention given to it by Pliny himself, who was primarily concerned with the reception of his public persona, both in his immediate circle and to posterity. What then of the letters that were not in the first instance meant for public consumption ? When the epistler is not necessarily interested in creating this type of public image, is it still possible to regard epistles as inherently rhetorical ? Can the collected letters of Fronto, for instance, published not by Fronto himself but by his descendants (probably) and indeed never intended (probably) for the eyes of anyone besides their addressed recipients19, contribute to the discussion on Roman rhetoric ? The answer, of course, is a resounding yes. For to perceive only the letters that were composed with the public in mind as rhetorical is to miss the fact that all letters have an intended audience20, whether that audience be the highly educated Roman aristocracy, the emperor, a pupil, a son-in-law, a close friend, or merely an acquaintance. Every correspondence is written with a reader in mind, a projected audience, and therefore at every instance there is the need for the construction of identity21. And whenever this occurs, rhetoric is at work.

  • 22 A. Freisenbruch, « Back to Fronto : Doctor and Patient in his Correspondence with an Emperor », in (...)
  • 23 A. Freisenbruch, op. cit., p. 237-240.
  • 24 A. Freisenbruch, Ibid., p. 238 ; 254-255.
  • 25 A. Freisenbruch, Ibid., p. 247.

7To give a specific example, A. Freisenbruch, in a study of Fronto’s seemingly hypochondriac tendencies, argues that « the narrative of sickness and health » between Fronto and his imperial correspondents, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, was a literary technique used to explore their complicated relationship22. Rather than accepting Fronto here as simply conforming to the second-century trend of engaging in medical talk, or indeed that Fronto was really a neurotic hypochondriac23, A. Freisenbruch concentrates on the « epistolary significance » of such exchanges, concluding that through a masterful manipulation of this « diseased dialogue », Fronto was attempting not only to reinforce and to dramatize their respective roles as magister and discipuli, but also to create an intimate circle to which only these specific correspondents would be privy24. Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus very readily took up the challenge, writing in response to fulfill their part in this « game »25. To put this in the present context, the language of health and sickness is used by all three epistlers as a rhetorical device, as a way to construct their relationships, and their identities therein. The rhetorical force of epistles is thus clearly illustrated.

II Rhetoric and Friendship

8To be sure, it is not the purpose of this paper simply to expound on the rhetorical nature of the letter-form, even if it is a topic deserving of further attention, as I hope to have shown in my rather lengthy introduction. Rather, this paper is an examination of a particular rhetorical technique, a feature that is embedded in the very heart of epistolary rhetoric in general — that is, the articulation and language of friendship.

  • 26 R. Saller, Personal Patronage under the Early Empire, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1982 ; (...)
  • 27 De amicitia ; De officiis ; Epistulae morales IX and XXXV ; De beneficiis. Cf. J. Powell, « Friends (...)
  • 28 R. Saller, Personal Patronage under the Early Empire, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1982, (...)
  • 29 R. Saller, Ibid., p. 9-15.
  • 30 R. A. LaFleur, « Amicitia and the Unity of Juvenal’s First Book », ICS 4 (1979), p. 158 ; B. K. Gol (...)
  • 31 H. Cotton, « The Concept of indulgentia under Trajan », Chiron 14 (1984), p. 266, makes this positi (...)

9Admittedly, this is not an original area of study, as friendship and expressions of amicitia have been the focus of many scholarly writings, at the centre of which stands the debate about the role of friendship in Roman society. Basically, the issue comes down to a question of whether affection and human emotion have any part to play in the highly rigid and hierarchical society in which the Roman world was structured, and to which the Romans strictly adhered. This debate is most often presented as the opposition between patronage and friendship26, and the problem faced by scholars interested in this topic is how to navigate between, on the one hand, the ideals of amicitia, expressed by such writers as Cicero and Seneca27, and, on the other, the highly pragmatic approach adopted by the same authors to utilize friendship as a relationship of convenience28. Because interpersonal relationships in Roman literature are almost always expressed in terms of friendship, even though, as some scholars have argued, the characteristics that underlie these associations reflect much more those of patronage29, especially amongst individuals whose ranks and class were asymmetrical, to what extent can we trust the sincerity regarding their statements on amicitia ? Was the pronouncement of friendship only a means for the Roman aristocracy to obscure the harsh realities of their social stratification30 ? In other words, was « friendship » merely rhetorical31 ?

  • 32 S. E. Hoffer, op. cit., p. 10.
  • 33 The zero-sum game nature of Roman politics is clearly laid out by S. E. Hoffer, Ibid., p. 10-11.
  • 34 It may be that they were simply removed in the publication process. Cf. A. A. Bell jr., « A Note on (...)

10A further complication to this comes from the way amicitia is most often articulated in the Roman world — through the exchange of epistles. However, as S. E. Hoffer explains in his study of Pliny’s corpus of correspondence, « (...) letters are above all an ideal record of friendship »32. They serve to preserve, as well as to present, both to the correspondents and to the wider audience, the semblance of sociability, affability and openness, even as they mask the apprehensions this circle of like-minded and highly competitive individuals must have faced when associating with each other33. Here, we are once again reminded of the rhetorical force of the letter-form, chosen specifically by Pliny, and perhaps other epistolary writers of the Roman world, if we can extrapolate from S. E. Hoffer’s premise, in order to communicate this idealized (re)imagining of contemporary society. Therefore, the issue of sincerity once again surfaces. If candid friendliness is itself a convention of epistolography, can we believe uncritically the accounts of purported friendships between the epistlers ? How do we interpret the letters that are laden (sometimes excessively) with the discourse of affection ? Is this simply a product of the genre ? After all, hardly ever do these letters preserve instances of inimicitia ; can it be true that, in the Roman world, enemies did not write letters to each other34 ? Was amicitia then, to ask the question again, merely rhetorical ?

  • 35 Cf. P. Brunt, op. cit. ; D. Konstan, op. cit. n. 27, ch. 4 ; P. Fleury, op. cit., p. 25.

11The answer to the question of sincerity, I think, depends largely on perspective. Since sincerity is notoriously difficult to prove, or to disprove for that matter, and since the same evidence can be employed to argue both points of view35, the question itself becomes moot. But the claim that amicitia was merely a rhetorical device, used to divert attention away from social realities, is something that can be addressed in more detail. By focusing on the letters of Fronto, on the way he professed amicitia, and on the language of friendship in his correspondence in general, we can get a better sense of exactly how Romans conceptualized the rhetoric of friendship, and in so doing will perhaps shed light on the larger issue of friendship in Roman society.

III The Rhetoric of amicitia in Letters of Recommendation

12

  • 36 I am deliberately making a distinction between them and the imperial correspondents.
  • 37 Cf. H. Cotton, Letters of Recommendation : Cicero-Fronto, diss. University of Oxford, 1977 ; H. Cot (...)
  • 38 For instance, the ab epistulis of the emperors were almost always people with a literary background
  • 39 Cf. R. Saller, op. cit n. 28.

13A good place to begin our investigation, where the rhetoric of friendship is most obviously displayed and utilized to achieve an end, is with letters of recommendation. Furthermore, since it is these types of letters that constitute the majority of the exchanges between Fronto and his amici36, it is worthwhile to briefly examine the nature of such letters before considering how the concept of amicitia and Fronto’s own collection fit into the pattern. Once again, a long tradition of scholarship exists that discuss the topic of commendation letters in the Roman world, and there is no need to review the literature in much detail here37. Suffice it to say that, contrary to modern practice, where proper qualifications and experience in a candidate are paramount, for the Romans it was the personal relationships shared between the individuals involved — the referee, the referred, and to a certain extent the recipient — that mattered. Suitable experience was without doubt still a desirable trait, increasingly so as Roman administration became more and more bureaucratic38, but the reliance on the strength of personal connections was of greater importance. In addition, as an avenue for the distribution of patronage39, and as an exercise in amicitia, letters of recommendation served a valuable social function.

  • 40 This paper uses the Loeb edition of Fronto’s text, edited and translated by C. R. Haines, op. cit., (...)
  • 41 I, 1, 1 : laudationis munus.
  • 42 This section of the epistle is fragmentary, so it is unclear how much attention Fronto gave to this
  • 43 « but he hopes that our faithful friendship (?) (…) whatever I ask, that one word from me will seem (...)

14As to be expected then, the primary purpose of these letters is to affirm to the recipient the type of association shared between the author and the person commended. Because the aim of the referee was precisely to portray as close a relationship as possible, this being the primary condition upon which success or failure depended, expressions of friendship are often used as a rhetorical motif in order to convey a sense of close familiarity and intimacy. We can see this in action through many of the letters of Fronto, written on behalf of his junior colleagues and associates. For instance, when Fronto was writing to Claudius Severus on behalf of Sulpicius Cornelianus (Ad amicos I, 1)40, the latter of whom was to face a trial presided over by the former, he begins the epistle by reminding Severus of the value of friendship, as well as the obligations thereof, namely, in bringing amici together through the composition of commendation letters. And the purpose of his specific letter, Fronto goes on to explain, is to serve as a testimonial of the character of Sulpicius41. After an exposition on the positive traits of the young man42, Fronto returns to the familiar theme of friendship. He claims to have spent much time with Sulpicius, has shared with him in every joy and pain, and they confide in each other as loyal amici should ; as such Fronto can vouch for the intimacy of their relationship. To finish off, Fronto mentions to Severus, seemingly in passing, the importance of their own friendship, and trusts that Severus would willingly oblige the requests of a friend : sed fidum amorem nostri spondet (…) quid postulem, orationem uobis unum meum uerbum uisum iri (I, 1, 4)43.

  • 44 I, 1, 4 : (…) tantum quaeso ut carissimo mihi homini in causa faueas (…) : « (…) I ask only that yo (...)
  • 45 H. Cotton, Documentary Letters of Recommendation in Latin from the Roman Empire, Königstein, Hain, (...)
  • 46 If the identification of Severus as Cn. Claudius Severus Arabianus is correct (M. P. J. van den Hou (...)

15The rhetoric of amicitia is clearly demonstrated in this epistle. By initially drawing Severus’ attention to the obligations of friendship, through an appeal of amicitia, Fronto justifies sending the letter in the first place : not to distort the implementation of justice, even though he does later ask Cornelianus to give a favourable hearing to Sulpicius44, but to look after the interests of his friend. Furthermore, Fronto employs the argument of the close amicitia he shared with the accused as proof of his honourable character. If a person as upright and virtuous as Fronto can befriend Sulpicius, and not only befriend but associate intimately with, then how is it plausible for Sulpicius to be guilty of anything ? Indeed, as H. Cotton points out, the fact that Fronto is claiming his friend’s innocence should be proof enough that Sulpicius must be innocent45. Lastly, in drawing attention to the friendship between Fronto and Severus, not only does he remind Severus of the obligations of friendship, the seeds of which he has already planted in the beginning of the epistle, but also that he, just like Sulpicius, is a friend of Fronto. And so if Sulpicius has flaws in his character, even as Fronto’s amicus, what does this say about Severus46 ?

  • 47 He points out that Julianus will find nothing lacking in the abilities of Faustianius, from his eru (...)
  • 48 Interestingly enough, as is evident from the epistle itself, a position to serve under Julianus has (...)

16Other instances of letters of commendation can be examined to reveal a similar emphasis on amicitia. In Ad amicos I, 9, where Fronto is introducing Sardius Saturninus to Caelius Optatus, this brief letter mentions nothing meaningful about the commended except the fact that he and Fronto shared a bond, artissima familiaritas, through his sons, who were also pupils of his. Such a letter would be completely inadequate by modern standards, but in Fronto’s eyes, a plea made in the context of friendship is sufficient grounds for a successful recommendation. Ad amicos I, 5 serves as another example. Much more comprehensive this time around, Fronto in this epistle does actually spend some time discussing the merits of the young man, Faustianius, he is recommending to the recipient, Claudius Julianus47. The focus of the letter, however, still comes down to a matter of interpersonal relationships, and this is once again expressed in terms of amicitia. Fronto begins by establishing his own close relationship with the addressee, Julianus, first through an intimate form of address (he calls him by a nickname, Naucellius), and then by asserting that should Fronto have had male children, Julianus would gladly oblige his friend as a matter of course. But Fronto is not done. Once it is recognized that Julianus would do this for Fronto’s children, he then conveys the idea that Faustianus is practically like his own son (I, 5 : quam si ex me genitus esset), thereby ensuring that Julianus has no excuse to turn down his request48. And if this is still not enough, Fronto concludes the letter by singing the praises of Faustianus’ father, Statianus, whom, Fronto claims, he loves as much as the son. All of these are expressions of friendship, a rhetorical topos which Fronto employs to secure the goodwill of Julianus. By using amicitia as a motif, Fronto creates a sense of intimacy, a chain of association, as it were, between him, Faustianus, Julianus, as well as Statianus, the father of the young man, linking the interests of Julianus to everyone else in this succession.

  • 49 A third letter, Ad amicos II, 8, is done on the same premise, and this time for a woman !
  • 50 I, 7 : Quod tu dicas, Audistine eum declamitantem ? Non mediusfidius ipse audiui (...) Ego uero eti (...)
  • 51 II, 6 : Igitur, si me amas, tantum Volumnio tribue honoris facultatisque amicitiae tuae amplectenda (...)

17It is easy to see from these examples why Fronto was recognized as the leading orator of his day. His commendation letters, meticulously constructed to elicit a positive response from his correspondents, are proof of this. So too his expert use of the rhetoric of amicitia, which operates as the foundation for his appeals, serves well the conventions of the genre in portraying a close relationship. Even when such intimacy did not originally exist, Fronto nonetheless manages to make it work, once again by utilizing the theme of friendship. In Ad amicos I, 7, and again in II, 6, Fronto attempts to endorse certain individuals who were not previously acquainted with Fronto himself, and yet have been brought to his attention for further promotion by their mutual friends49. Fronto candidly admits to his addressees that he has had no personal relationship with the commended, going so far as to confess that he has never even heard Antonius Aquila, the subject of I, 7, declaim in person, even though he is lauded as a learned and eloquent man. In other words, he has no personal grounds for making these assertions50. However, what Fronto is relying on in both instances is friendship, a trust in the guarantees of his carissimi and familiares. And the theme of amicitia here is made to serve two rhetorical functions. The first is as we have seen, to establish the connection between himself and the commended, even if the connections are rather stretched and somewhat removed from Fronto personally. Nonetheless, they are still enough on which to base Fronto’s request, as he trusts that the addressees will gratify him, just as he has gratified his own friends51. On the other hand, by clarifying that these commendations came ultimately from other friends, Fronto uses this separation to distance himself from potential misjudgement in the characters of the commended. Should something be amiss, the responsibility ought not to rest with him — a disclaimer of sorts. So we see that even a less than positive claim of friendship can be employed to Fronto’s benefit, and that this rhetoric can be exploited in many ways.

  • 52 I, 8 : Aemilius Pius cum studiorum elegantia tum morum eximia probitate mihi carus est (…) Nouit en (...)
  • 53 Nec ignoro nullum adhuc inter nos mutuo scriptitantium usum fuisse (…). Sed nullum pulchrius amicit (...)
  • 54 C. R. Haines, op. cit. n. 19, II, p. 191, suggests that Rufus might have been the consul of 149 and (...)
  • 55 And Fronto has not forgotten about Pius, even in his request for Rufus’ friendship : Ama eum, oro t (...)

18To drive home this point, one further letter of recommendation can be considered. This is Ad amicos I, 8, in which Fronto presents Aemilius Pius to Passienus Rufus. Aside from the customary appeal based on the friendly association between himself and the commended, as well as a brief exposition on the merits of Pius52, though both of which, it must be said, seem more like asides than the focal point, what is unique about this epistle is that Fronto is clearly using this opportunity to strike up a conversation with Rufus53. In fact, it appears that the letter is not so much about bringing Pius to the attention of Rufus, as about the amicitia that could arise between the two correspondents should Rufus agree to Fronto’s request. The exact nature of the relationship between Fronto and Pius is unclear, whether they were intimates or whether Fronto was taking advantage of both Pius and the situation. If we wish to be more forgiving, we could say that in composing the recommendation in this fashion, by inviting Rufus to join in his friendship54, Fronto was giving Pius the best odds for success55, in which case, the rhetoric of friendship is employed to great effect. By proposing friendship as bait, dangling it in front of Rufus, Fronto makes Rufus an offer he cannot refuse. So too, if we wish to view Fronto as being self-serving and that he was primarily concerned with becoming acquainted with Rufus, the interests of Pius being only secondary, the way Fronto manipulates the conventions of friendship is evidence of its rhetorical potential. Fronto supposedly acts in the interest of amicitia, which in turn allows him to make the approach.

IV The Rhetoric of amicitia in Imperial Correspondence

  • 56 CIL III 5174 ; 5181 ; XVI 176.
  • 57 E. Champlin, op. cit. n. 5, p. 100-102 ; M. P. J. van den Hout, op. cit. n. 5, p. 386.

19The majority of the collection of Fronto’s correspondence consists of the exchanges between himself and the family of the Antonine emperors, and it is these letters that have understandably generated the most scholarly attention on Fronto. For our purposes, not only does the rhetoric of friendship occur regularly in the imperial epistles, but it is employed by Fronto to serve a number of different functions. Some of these are brilliantly illustrated in the series of correspondence that deal with Censorius Niger, the protagonist of Ad Pium 3, 4 and 7. The situation, so far as can be reconstructed, is as follows : Niger, who was once the procurator Augusti in several provinces and who enjoyed some claim to fame and renown56, for some reason had a falling out with Antoninus Pius and his praetorian prefect, Gavius Maximus ; upon his death, Niger left a sizeable inheritance to Fronto in his will, along with some severe words about Gavius57. Fronto found himself caught in this delicate situation, and was forced to maneuver carefully so as to not jeopardize his own standing in the Antonine court. He did this through the language of friendship, and through an appeal to amicitia.

  • 58 In Ad Pium 4, Fronto describes Niger as behaving inclementius, and that he disapproved of his frien (...)
  • 59 Ad Pium 4 : Haec ego te, ut mea omnia cetera, scire uolui, conatus mehercules ad te quoque de eadem (...)
  • 60 Ad Pium 3, 4 : Haud sciam an quis dicat debuisse me amicitiam cum eo desinere, postquam cognoueram (...)
  • 61 These individuals were Marcius Turbo, the praetorian prefect under Hadrian, and Erucius Clarus, con (...)
  • 62 Ad Pium 3, 4 : Numquam ita animatus fui, Imp., ut coeptas in rebus prosperis amicitias, siquid adue (...)
  • 63 Ad Pium 4 : et tamen amici atque heredis officium, ut par erat, retinere cupiebam : « And still I w (...)
  • 64 Pliny also praises Trajan for his appreciation for the obligations of friendship (Panegyricus 42, 1 (...)

20In the first instance, Fronto writes to Antoninus Pius in order to defend the character of his friend, and to remind the emperor of Niger’s past services (Ad Pium 3). Of course, Fronto is prudent enough not to condone the fact that Niger was improper in his criticism of Gavius, which Fronto labels impos et minus consideratus58. But Fronto nevertheless remains steadfast in his friendship, begging Antoninus Pius not to judge the entirety of the man by his last, misguided, words. In one sense, this may be regarded as Fronto’s desperate plea for Antoninus Pius to excuse his close relationship with Niger, which is evidenced by Niger’s consideration for Fronto in his will. That Fronto was obviously distraught over the state of affairs can also be gleaned in a quick letter to his imperial pupil, Marcus Aurelius, ostensibly to inform him of the situation, yet tacitly hinting that he should intervene on Fronto’s behalf59. But rather than cave to imperial pressure, which he admits is what would be expected of him60, Fronto pushes forward with the defense of his friend by displaying to Antoninus Pius the strength of his amicitia, which is used in turn to argue for the integrity of Niger’s character. Similarly, Fronto raises the point that Niger was respected as an amicus by other prominent members of the Roman aristocracy, the implication being that Niger could not have masked his deviousness from so many influential people, and that Fronto was not the only one to have loved him intimately61. Moreover, Fronto is betting on the idea that the emperor would appreciate Fronto’s loyalty in his friendships, even if that specific friendship may have proven somewhat detrimental62. In so doing, not only does Fronto display his own virtues and adherence to the obligations of friendship63, but it also functions as praise for Antoninus Pius himself, that the emperor is of such quality as to not arbitrarily punish an individual for his friendships64. It is therefore no coincidence that this letter is full of expressions of amicitia ; and Fronto’s gamble seems to have paid off, as we hear of no further repercussions.

  • 65 Ad Pium 7 : Postremo neque ego Nigrum propter te amare coeperam, ut propter te eundem amare desiner (...)
  • 66 Ad Pium 7: Quam ob rem tecum quaeso, ne quid obsit amicitia nobis, quae nihil profuit : « Therefore (...)

21But Fronto had another wrinkle to smooth over, in the figure of Gavius Maximus (Ad Pium 7). With him, too, Fronto employs the argument of friendship. On the one hand, Fronto defends his association with Niger (but still not his actions) through the loyalty and obligations expected in amicitia, as well as making the claim that since their relationship had little to do with Gavius, Gavius in turn should not take offense that Fronto continues to honour the memory of his friend65. On the other hand, Fronto offers Gavius an olive branch in the form of his own friendship, assuring him that he will henceforth enjoy the same loyalty and sincerity from Fronto66. And so, using once more the topos of friendship, Fronto attempts to get in the good graces of the influential Gavius. By setting up the dependability of his friendship in the first half of the letter with respect to Niger, Fronto demonstrates the concrete value of his amicitia. As with the letter to Antoninus Pius, this also serves as an excuse for his steadfastness. Then, by presenting the same friendship to Gavius, it becomes something that Gavius cannot decline without insult, in which case Fronto would not be liable for any lingering hostility. He has effectively trapped Gavius with his rhetoric of friendship.

  • 67 For instance, see Ad Pium 5, where Fronto apologizes for not being able to attend in person the cel (...)
  • 68 Fronto does describe his love for Antoninus Pius in a letter to Marcus Aurelius (Ad Marcum Caesarem(...)
  • 69 Dulcissime seems Fronto’s vocative adjective of choice. On more than one occasion Fronto operates o (...)
  • 70 See Ad Marcum Caesarem I, 2, 3 ; 4 ; 7 ; 8 ; II, 2, 6 ; III, 7, 9 ; 13 ; IV, 6, 9 ; 11 ; 12 ; V, 1  (...)
  • 71 Respectively, E. Champlin, op. cit. n. 5, p. 1-2 ; S. Swain, « Bilingualism and Biculturalism in An (...)

22Besides these three letters, the language and articulation of friendship find expression throughout the imperial correspondence of Fronto. These are too numerous to explore in detail, although some general observations can still be made. For one thing, even though affectionate language and a sense of informality can be detected in the exchanges between Antoninus Pius and Fronto67, the articulation of friendship is noticeably lacking. In the episode regarding Niger, for instance, nowhere does Fronto characterize his relationship with the emperor as friendly68. With his imperial pupils, however, the situation is very different. Their correspondence, admittedly more so with Marcus Aurelius than with Lucius Verus, are full of indications of friendship, whether this comes in the highly informal forms of address69, descriptions of their intimate relationships, or declarations of love for each other70. Interpretation for this overabundance of affection has ranged from genuine friendship, a rhetorical code, to potential pederasty71, but we need not be concerned with the underlying meaning of such displays here. Rather, what is of interest to us is the rhetorical purpose of such affirmations of amicitia.

  • 72 R. Morello « Confidence, Inuidia, and Pliny’s Epistolary Curriculum », in R. Morello & A. D. Morris (...)
  • 73 The sense of a dialogue is important, as the expressions of friendship must be reciprocal in order (...)
  • 74 Marcus Aurelius deliberately strays away from using the typical label of magister for Fronto, and e (...)
  • 75 Ad Marcum Caesarem III, 2 : Sed quid dixi consulam ? qui id a te postulo et magno opere postulo et (...)

23In one sense, they must function, just as the « diseased dialogue » alluded to by A. Freisenbruch, as a way to create a circle of intimates. As a rhetorical feature, the language and articulation of amicitia serves to foster « a community of addressees »72, whose inclusion in the immediate circle of friendships is indicated by the repeated confirmation of affection73. In the hands of the imperial family, this can be a powerful tool. Thus when Fronto comes into conflict with Herodes Atticus over the matter of a court case, Marcus Aurelius writes to Fronto for the assurance that the former would not engage in personal hostility against the latter (Ad Marcum Caesarem III, 2 and 5). He states that both men are extremely dear to him, and that he would hate to see his friends at each other’s throats74. By subtlely reminding Fronto that Herodes Atticus is considered a member of the imperial circle, the knowledge of which Fronto surprisingly claims to be ignorant (Ad Marcum Caesarem III, 3), Marcus Aurelius hopes to head off the personal attacks he knows was part of Fronto’s courtroom repertoire. Fronto, in his reply, takes the hint and agrees to comply with his pupil’s advice. Interestingly, Marcus Aurelius, although he initially offers consultum to Fronto on this issue, quickly changes tactics to base his pleas on the obligations of friendship instead, thereby engaging with the conventions of letters of recommendation75, but the rhetoric here is already clear to Fronto, who understands very well, in spite of the expressions of amicitia, the difference in power and status.

  • 76 See De nepote amisso 1 ; Ad Marcum Caesarem IV, 8 and De bello Parthico 10.
  • 77 « Be well, Caesar, and love me, as you do, to the utmost. I dearly love even the characters of your (...)

24Conversely, when such confirmation is not readily supplied, it suggests a deliberate exclusion, as a way to delimit the very circle of intimates the language of friendship was meant to foster. In the same Herodes Atticus episode, it appears that Marcus Aurelius, contrary to his custom76, did not compose by hand the initial letter he sent to Fronto. As E. Champlin notes, « That Marcus had not written in his own hand is taken as a sign of regal displeasure », and is read by Fronto as Marcus Aurelius withdrawing his friendship. This prompts Fronto to add hastily at the end of his letter of compliance, Vale, Caesar, et me ut facis ama plurimum. Ego uero etiam literulas tuas disamo : quare cupiam, ubi quid ad me sribes, tua manu scribas (Ad Marcum Caesarem III, 3)77. The rhetoric of friendship is thus a way for Marcus Aurelius to signal to his associates who was included in his immediate circle, and indeed even to dictate the type of congenial behaviour he expects therein.

  • 78 A. Wallace-Hadrill, « Ciuilis Principis : Between Citizen and King », JRS 72 (1982), p. 40-41.
  • 79 A. Wallace-Hadrill, Ibid., p. 48.
  • 80 Fronto allegorizes the situation, comparing his imperial pupil to Orpheus, who was able to bring hi (...)

25Marcus Aurelius’ intercession in the Herodes Atticus incident is undoubtedly an instance of the Caesar flexing his imperial muscle, but the way he constantly engages with the rhetoric of amicitia may be interpreted as a form of condescension. An idea developed by A. Wallace-Hadrill, the « ritual of condescension » is a process whereby an emperor purposely refuses to adorn himself with the trappings of an autocrat and behaves like an ordinary citizen, to become what A. Wallace-Hadrill terms a « citizen-emperor »78. One way to achieve this is precisely by communicating in the language of friendship. For their part, Roman aristocrats also preferred to respond in kind, so that they could participate in this « charade » for the purposes of political and social expedience79. This construction clearly pertains to the case of Fronto versus Herodes Atticus, where, even though the will of imperial authority is impossible to deny, Marcus Aurelius still makes a semblance of respecting Fronto and the principles of friendship, and Fronto, even though he is perfectly aware he has no choice in the matter, agrees to play along80. Another example can be found in Ad Marcum Caesarem V, 36, the only instance, as far as I am aware, of a letter of recommendation from an imperial figure. There is no need to go through the details of this letter, except to point out that it follows every convention one would expect from such a correspondence, including an appeal for the obligations of amicitia. The question is, can Fronto possibly turn this down ? In facilitating this « ritual of condescension », then, the rhetoric of friendship is clearly exploited.

V Conclusion : Rhetoric and Friendship Revisited

26Letters are always composed with an audience in mind, and, from the examples that I have drawn from Fronto, it is evident that many are also composed with a purpose in mind, whether that purpose is to secure a favour for a friend, or to preserve the memory of a loved one, or to ensure geniality amongst amici. As such, it seems imprudent to deny the rhetorical nature inherent in the art of epistolography. And one way for ancient epistlers to actualize the potential of the letter-form is through the rhetoric of friendship, through a presentation and manipulation of the conventions of amicitia. However, while it is undoubtedly true that the language and articulation of friendship can be viewed as a rhetorical device, and indeed even a profession of friendship can itself be rhetorical, to reduce amicitia to this is to undervalue the relationship in a way that would be incongruous to Roman practice and mentality. If friendship was regarded merely as rhetorical and had little impact on social and historical realities, it would actually fail even as a rhetorical device.

  • 81 H. Cotton, op. cit. n. 45, p. 53.
  • 82 H. Cotton, Ibid., p. 50-51.
  • 83 Cf. R. Rees, op. cit. n. 37, p. 168.

27In the case of commendation letters, arguably the most rhetorical of epistles, with their « crystallized formulae and set phrases », along with the general practice of embellishment81, even these must have contained some genuine attitudes regarding friendship. As H. Cotton points out, the functionality of the system rests on decorum, a trust that the referee would not proffer an unsuitable candidate or blatantly lie about their association, because it is the referee who is under scrutiny, and the relationship to be jeopardized is that of the referee and his correspondent82. This functions as insurance against an over-exaggeration of the qualities of the candidate, or of the supposed friendship between the referee and the commended. To cheapen the process would destroy the entire basis of the practice83. The letters Fronto wrote at the behest of his amici for individuals he was not acquainted with is good indication of this ; when compared to his other letters of recommendation, the distinction between acting for the best interests of a friend and acting on the request of friends is keenly laid out. Why do so if amicitia is merely rhetorical ? So while the rhetoric of friendship is employed to achieve favourable results, something more profound must have motivated his relationships.

  • 84 A. Freisenbruch, op. citn. 22, p. 243-246, calls this « role-playing ». There is, of course, pote (...)

28The language of friendship in the imperial correspondence, when it comes from the hands of the emperors, must have served the purposes of condescension. It acts as a rhetorical tool to conceal the large disparity in power between the emperor and his subjects. When Fronto replies in kind, he is declaring both his gratitude at being included in the imperial circle, people with whom the emperors cared enough to bother with this charade, as well as his own acknowledgement of its conceptual importance. In the Herodes Atticus episode, the rhetoric of friendship is used to moderate the full force of imperial authority, and Fronto had no choice but to bow to the will of his pupil. But is that all there is ? How should we interpret the many letters in which Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus exercise little of their imperial authority, but which are full of declarations of love and affection instead ? What rhetorical functions would these have served ? The creation and confirmation of imperial circles, to be sure, but these do not preclude the actual relationship of friendship. Therefore, rather than seeing the articulation of amicitia as merely rhetorical, can we not regard it as an attempt to actively bridge the gap in power, to remind Fronto and indeed themselves that even with imperial figures friendship is entirely possible ? In this sense, one might see the rhetoric of friendship as a way for all parties involved to construct their identity, an admission that they exist to each other not only as teacher, pupil, emperor and subject, but as friends as well84.

  • 85 De nepote amisso 2, 8 : liberaliter, amice, fideliter, and constanter.

29Nowhere is the idea that amicitia functions merely as a rhetorical topos with no semblance to reality better disproved than in the episode with Censorius Niger. While it is true that, as this paper has demonstrated, friendship does serve many rhetorical purposes in these epistles, for them to work as persuasive arguments there must have been a genuine social and cultural appreciation for the ideals of friendship. Otherwise, Fronto would have had no grounds for making a case based on the values of amicitia. To put it another way, was Fronto really that imprudent to risk his good standing with Antoninus Pius for only a portion of Niger’s property ? Why maintain his amicitia with Niger in the face of such dangers if not for the amicitia itself ? As Fronto exclaims, reflecting on his life at the occasion of his grandson’s passing, he has always lived generously, faithfully, loyally, and in observance of friendship85.

  • 86 I would like to express my gratitude to Pascale Fleury for her helpful comments. I am also immensel (...)

30The role of amicitia in Roman society remains a hotly debated issue, and more work remains to be done not only to determine (or in some cases to re-evaluate) the nature of the relationship, but also how the conceptualization of friendship influenced the hierarchical world of Rome, as well as how it interacted with other interpersonal relationships such as patronage and slavery. In all of this, rhetoric plays a role. This paper has analyzed some of the ways the rhetoric of amicitia can present itself, but, due to the limitations of time and space, it serves really only as an introductory piece to a larger topic. Even within Fronto’s collection itself, much more could be said regarding his various friendships, and the way he approached the amicitia as a rhetorical topos. Similar considerations can be made for other epistolary writers, such as Pliny and the later church fathers, the results of which can be used to explore the evolution of friendship in a changing world, or indeed other bodies of evidence, including the epigraphic tradition. The field deserves more attention than it has received, if for no other reason than the special emphasis placed on friendship by the Romans themselves86.

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Notes

1 W. Dominik & J. Hall (eds), A Companion to Roman Rhetoric, Oxford, Blackwell, 2007.

2 The editors of the 2007 volume have done a commendable job in assembling a wide array of essays that engage with the topic of Roman rhetoric, as well as in synthesizing the many different approaches available. Mention should also be made regarding the clear and coherent manner in which the volume is presented, rendering the subject of Roman rhetoric, something that has generally been viewed as dense and unwieldy, both accessible and approachable. It is no surprise then to find that this Companion has quickly become the essential book of reference on the topic. What has especially captured my interest are the essays (Parts IV and V) that catalogue and discuss the rhetoricians operating in the Roman world, and the overwhelming presence of rhetoric within the different genres of Latin.

3 The entries on Cicero in the index is indicative of this (W. Dominik & J. Hall (eds.), op. cit., p. 505-506).

4 W. Dominik, « Tacitus and Pliny on Oratory », in W. Dominik & J. Hall (eds), op. cit., p. 334-337.

5 E. Champlin, Fronto and Antonine Rome, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1980, is one notable exception, and the recent publication by P. Fleury, Lectures de Fronton, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 2006, goes a long way to alleviate the draught of academic attention on Fronto. The commentary by M. P. J. van den Hout, A Commentary of the Letters of M. Cornelius Fronto, Leiden, Brill, 1999, is unfortunately too unwieldy to be of much benefit.

6 G. Anderson, « Rhetoric and the Second Sophistic », in W. Dominik & J. Hall (eds), op. cit., p. 345-347.

7 G. Anderson, op. cit., p. 346.

8 The fact that there is no entry for epistle, epistolography, letter, letter-writing, etc. in the index is indicative of the (lack of) interest in this category of Roman literature on the part of the editors.

9 J. O. Ward, « Roman Rhetoric and Its Afterlife », in W. Dominik & J. Hall (eds), op. cit., p. 355.

10 W. Dominik & J. Hall, « Confronting Roman Rhetoric », in W. Dominik & J. Hall (eds), op. cit., p. 3 : « Rhetoric dominated the education of the elite, played a crucial role in the construction of social and gender identity, and shaped in significant ways the development of Roman literature ».

11 W. Dominik & J. Hall, op. cit., p. 3.

12 Though according to Pseudo-Demetrius, On Style 223, « a letter is like one side of a dialogue ».

13 W. Dominik & J. Hall, op. cit., p. 3.

14 B. Radice, « The Letters of Pliny », in T. A. Dorey (ed.), Empire and Aftermath : Silver Latin II, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975, p. 119-141 ; E. W. Leach, « The Politics of Self-Presentation : Pliny’s Letters and Roman Portrait Sculpture », ClAnt 9 (1990), p. 15-39 ; J. Henderson, Pliny’s Statue : The Letters, Self-Portraiture and Classical Art, Exeter, University of Exeter Press, 2002.

15 J.-A. Shelton, « Pliny’s Letters III, 11 : Rhetoric and Autobiography », C&M 38 (1987), p. 121-146 ; S. E. Hoffer, The Anxieties of Pliny the Younger, Atlanta, Scholars Press, 1999 ; M. Griffin, « Seneca and Pliny », in C. Rowe & M. Schofield (eds), The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Political Thought, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 171-177.

16 A. N. Sherwin-White, The Letters of Pliny : A Historical and Social Commentary, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1960, p. 6-9 ; R. Morello, « Pliny and the Art of Saying Nothing », Arethusa 36 (2003), p. 187-209 ; W. Fitzgerald, « The Letter’s the Thing (in Pliny, Book VII) », in R. Morello & A. D. Morrison (eds), Ancient Letters : Classical and Late Antique Epistolography, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 191-210.

17 R. Morello & A. D. Morrison (eds), op. cit, p. vi-vii.

18 The nature of the tenth book of this collection, which contains the exchanges between Pliny and Trajan, is harder to establish. Cf. A. N. Sherwin-White, op. cit., p. 533-535 ; W. Williams (ed.), Pliny : Correspondence with Trajan from Bythinia (Epistles X), Warminster, Aris & Phillips, 1990, p. 3-5.

19 The Correspondence of Marcus Aurelius Fronto, text edited and translated by C. R. Haines, London, Heinemann, 1928-1929, p. xviii-xxi ; E. Champlin, op. cit., p. 157-157 ; M. Cornelii Frontonis Epistulae, text edited by M. P. J. van den Hout, Leipzig, Teubner, 1988, p. lx ; A. Richlin, Marcus Aurelius in Love : Marcus Aurelius and Marcus Cornelius Fronto, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2006, p. 22. Conversely, cf. T. Mommsen, « Die Chronologie Der Briefe Frontos », Hermes 8 (1874), p. 201 ; J. E. G. Whitehorn, « Ad Amicos I, 5 and 6 and the Date of Fronto’s Death », in C. Deroux (ed.), Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History, I, Bruxelles, Latomus, 1979, p. 478.

20 A. de Pretis « “ Insincerity ”, “ Facts ”, and “ Epistolarity ” : Approaches to Pliny’s Epistles to Calpurnia », Arethusa 36 (2003), p. 127-134 ; 142.

21 G. Henderson, op. cit., p. 117.

22 A. Freisenbruch, « Back to Fronto : Doctor and Patient in his Correspondence with an Emperor », in R. Morello & A. D. Morrison (eds), op. cit., p. 235-255.

23 A. Freisenbruch, op. cit., p. 237-240.

24 A. Freisenbruch, Ibid., p. 238 ; 254-255.

25 A. Freisenbruch, Ibid., p. 247.

26 R. Saller, Personal Patronage under the Early Empire, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1982 ; R. Saller, « Patronage and Friendship in Early Imperial Rome : Drawing the Distinction », in A. Wallace-Hadrill (ed.), Patronage in Ancient Society, London, Routledge, 1989, p. 49-62 ; K. Verboven, The Economy of Friends : Economic Aspects of Amicitia and Patronage in the Late Republic, Brussels, Latomus, 2002, ch. 1.

27 De amicitia ; De officiis ; Epistulae morales IX and XXXV ; De beneficiis. Cf. J. Powell, « Friendship and Its Problems in Greek and Roman Thought », in D. Innes. & alii (eds), Ethics and Rhetoric : Classical Essays for Donald Russell on his Seventy-Fifth Birthday, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1995, p. 37-38 ; D. Konstan, Friendship in the Classical World, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 130-131 ; M. Griffin, « De Beneficiis and Roman Society », JRS 93 (2003), p. 92-113.

28 R. Saller, Personal Patronage under the Early Empire, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1982, p. 14 ; P. L. Bowditch, Horace and the Gift Economy of Patronage, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2001, p. 19-20.

29 R. Saller, Ibid., p. 9-15.

30 R. A. LaFleur, « Amicitia and the Unity of Juvenal’s First Book », ICS 4 (1979), p. 158 ; B. K. Gold, Literary Patronage in Greece and Rome, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1987, p. 8 ; R. Saller, « Patronage and Friendship in Early Imperial Rome : Drawing the Distinction », in A. Wallace-Hadrill (ed.), Patronage in Ancient Society, London, Routledge, 1989, p. 49-62 ; A. Wallace-Hadrill, « Patronage in Roman Society : From Republic to Empire », in A. Wallace-Hadrill (ed.), op. cit., p. 77 ; T. Engberg-Pedersen, « Plutarch to Prince Philopappus on How to Tell a Flatter from a Friend », in J. T. Fitzgerald (ed.), Friendship, Flattery, and Frankness : Studies on Friendship in the New Testament World, Leiden, Brill, 1996, p. 76-79 ; P. L. Bowditch, op. cit., p. 22-24. Against this, cf. P. Brunt, The Fall of the Roman Republic and Related Essays, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1988, p. 415 ; D. Konstan, « Patrons and Friends », CP 90 (1995), p. 328-342 ; D. Konstan, « Review : Aspects of Friendship in the Graeco-Roman World », BMCR (2002) http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2002/2002-04-29.html ; P. J. Burton, « Clientela or Amicitia ? Modeling Roman International Behavior in the Middle Republic (264-146 B. C.) », Klio 85 (2003), p. 333-369 ; P. J. Burton, « Amicitia in Plautus : A Study of Roman Friendship Processes », AJPH 125 (2004), p. 209-243.

31 H. Cotton, « The Concept of indulgentia under Trajan », Chiron 14 (1984), p. 266, makes this position abundantly clear, when she characterizes the supposed friendship between Pliny and Trajan as « futile, empty rhetorical conceits ».

32 S. E. Hoffer, op. cit., p. 10.

33 The zero-sum game nature of Roman politics is clearly laid out by S. E. Hoffer, Ibid., p. 10-11.

34 It may be that they were simply removed in the publication process. Cf. A. A. Bell jr., « A Note on Revision and Authenticity in Pliny’s Letters », AJPh 110 (1989), p. 460-466.

35 Cf. P. Brunt, op. cit. ; D. Konstan, op. cit. n. 27, ch. 4 ; P. Fleury, op. cit., p. 25.

36 I am deliberately making a distinction between them and the imperial correspondents.

37 Cf. H. Cotton, Letters of Recommendation : Cicero-Fronto, diss. University of Oxford, 1977 ; H. Cotton, Documentary Letters of Recommendation in Latin from the Roman Empire, Königstein, Hain, 1981 ; R. Rees, « Letters of Recommendation and the Rhetoric of Praise », in R. Morello & A. D. Morrison (eds), op. cit. n. 16, p. 149-168.

38 For instance, the ab epistulis of the emperors were almost always people with a literary background.

39 Cf. R. Saller, op. cit n. 28.

40 This paper uses the Loeb edition of Fronto’s text, edited and translated by C. R. Haines, op. cit., though the 1988 Teubner edition by M. P. J. van den Hout has been consulted for inconsistencies. Similarly, translations given are adapted from the Loeb edition.

41 I, 1, 1 : laudationis munus.

42 This section of the epistle is fragmentary, so it is unclear how much attention Fronto gave to this.

43 « but he hopes that our faithful friendship (?) (…) whatever I ask, that one word from me will seem a whole oration to you. »

44 I, 1, 4 : (…) tantum quaeso ut carissimo mihi homini in causa faueas (…) : « (…) I ask only that you support this most dear friend of mine in the case (…) ». Fronto was clever not to mention any specifics.

45 H. Cotton, Documentary Letters of Recommendation in Latin from the Roman Empire, Königstein, Hain, 1981, p. 6-7.

46 If the identification of Severus as Cn. Claudius Severus Arabianus is correct (M. P. J. van den Hout, op. cit. n. 5, p. 399-400), then this teacher of Marcus Aurelius is also described as a man who had a « readiness to do others a kindness, and eager generosity, and optimism, and confidence in the love of friends » (Meditations I, 14, trad. Haines). Fronto knew exactly which buttons to push to elicit a favourable response.

47 He points out that Julianus will find nothing lacking in the abilities of Faustianius, from his erudition, to his administrative skills, even to his military training.

48 Interestingly enough, as is evident from the epistle itself, a position to serve under Julianus has already been secured. Fronto merely wishes for Julianus to look after the young man.

49 A third letter, Ad amicos II, 8, is done on the same premise, and this time for a woman !

50 I, 7 : Quod tu dicas, Audistine eum declamitantem ? Non mediusfidius ipse audiui (...) Ego uero etiam nomini faueo, ut, sit ῥητόρων ἄριστος, quoniam quidem Aquila appellatur : « But you may ask, have you heard him declaim ? No, actually, I have not heard him myself (...) I however have faith even in his name, that he is an excellent orator, since he is called Aquila ».

51 II, 6 : Igitur, si me amas, tantum Volumnio tribue honoris facultatisque amicitiae tuae amplectendae, οἱ γὰρ φίλτατοι ἄνδρες conciliauerunt eum mihi : « Therefore, if you love me, show to Volumnius much respect and the opportunity to gain your friendship, for many dear men have won me over ».

52 I, 8 : Aemilius Pius cum studiorum elegantia tum morum eximia probitate mihi carus est (…) Nouit enim Pius nostra omnia : « Aemilius Pius is endeared to me as much by virtue of his elegance as by the absolute integrity of his character (…) for Pius knows all my heart ».

53 Nec ignoro nullum adhuc inter nos mutuo scriptitantium usum fuisse (…). Sed nullum pulchrius amicitiae copulandae <tempus> reperire potui quam adulescentis optimi conciliandi tibi occasionem : « Nor am I unaware that until now there has been no exchange of letters between us (…). But I could find no better time to establish a friendship with you than the occasion of presenting this most excellent young man ».

54 C. R. Haines, op. cit. n. 19, II, p. 191, suggests that Rufus might have been the consul of 149 and a proconsul in 164, whereas M. P. J. van den Hout, op. cit. n. 5, p. 413, offers the tribunus militum of CIL VIII, 26580. The context of the letter suggests that Rufus was a relatively influential figure in Roman politics, which supports C. R. Haines’ identification, but what benefit would he have gained from Fronto’s friendship ? More cynically, perhaps it is Fronto who was eager for Rufus’ friendship. E. Champlin, op. cit. n. 5, p. 38, places a shared interest in literary pursuits as the emphasis of this epistle, which may help in our assessment of the situation.

55 And Fronto has not forgotten about Pius, even in his request for Rufus’ friendship : Ama eum, oro te. Cum ipsius causa hoc peto, tum mea quoque. Nam me etiam magis amabis si cum Pio familiarius egeris : « love him, I beseech you. Although I ask this for his sake, I ask it for mine too. For you will love me all the more if you become more intimate with Pius ».

56 CIL III 5174 ; 5181 ; XVI 176.

57 E. Champlin, op. cit. n. 5, p. 100-102 ; M. P. J. van den Hout, op. cit. n. 5, p. 386.

58 In Ad Pium 4, Fronto describes Niger as behaving inclementius, and that he disapproved of his friend’s actions.

59 Ad Pium 4 : Haec ego te, ut mea omnia cetera, scire uolui, conatus mehercules ad te quoque de eadem re prolixiores litteras scribere : sed recordanti cuncta mihi melius uisum non obtundere te neque a potioribus auocare : « I wanted you to know this, as with all my other affairs, and I even tried, by the gods, to write a longer letter to you about the incident, but it seemed best to me, after some consideration, not to detain you, nor to keep you from more important things ».

60 Ad Pium 3, 4 : Haud sciam an quis dicat debuisse me amicitiam cum eo desinere, postquam cognoueram gratiam eius apud animum tuum imminutam : « I was unsure whether anyone would say that I ought to have ceased in my friendship with him, after I recognized that your opinion of him had changed ».

61 These individuals were Marcius Turbo, the praetorian prefect under Hadrian, and Erucius Clarus, consul for the second time in 146, cf. M. P. J. van den Hout, op. cit. n. 5, p. 387.

62 Ad Pium 3, 4 : Numquam ita animatus fui, Imp., ut coeptas in rebus prosperis amicitias, siquid aduersi increpuisset, desererem : « Nonetheless, I have never been of such a mind, Imperator, to cease in a friendship formed in prosperity as soon as a rumour of adversity is heard ».

63 Ad Pium 4 : et tamen amici atque heredis officium, ut par erat, retinere cupiebam : « And still I wished to carry out the duty of a friend and an heir, as is right ».

64 Pliny also praises Trajan for his appreciation for the obligations of friendship (Panegyricus 42, 1-3).

65 Ad Pium 7 : Postremo neque ego Nigrum propter te amare coeperam, ut propter te eundem amare desinerem : « Lastly, I did not begin to love Niger because of you, and so I would not cease to love him on account of you ».

66 Ad Pium 7: Quam ob rem tecum quaeso, ne quid obsit amicitia nobis, quae nihil profuit : « Therefore I ask you, do not let a friendship that has not benefitted us now be a hindrance to us ».

67 For instance, see Ad Pium 5, where Fronto apologizes for not being able to attend in person the celebration of the emperor’s accession, and Ad Pium 6, in which the emperor responds by imagining in vivid detail Fronto’s devotion.

68 Fronto does describe his love for Antoninus Pius in a letter to Marcus Aurelius (Ad Marcum Caesarem II, 1, 1 [II, 4, 1 in the Teubner edition]), but such affection is not forthcoming in their actual exchanges.

69 Dulcissime seems Fronto’s vocative adjective of choice. On more than one occasion Fronto operates on a first name basis with Marcus Aurelius (Ad Antoninum Imperatorem I, 2, 1 ; De feriis Alsiensibus III, 12 ; De bello Parthico 9 ; De orationibus 12, and De nepote amisso 2, 10), and once with Lucius Verus (Ad Verum Imperatorem II, 1). For their part, the emperors regularly address Fronto as magister, but this is also accompanied by a plethora of other adjectives denoting affection (Ad Marcum Caesarem II, 3, 5 ; 6, 4 ; III, 7, 17 and 18 ; V, 11, 13 ; 14 ; 15 ; 16 ; Ad Antoninum Imperatorem I, 1, 4 ; II, 3, 4 and 7 ; Ad Verum Imperatorem I, 3, 5 ; II, 4, 6).

70 See Ad Marcum Caesarem I, 2, 3 ; 4 ; 7 ; 8 ; II, 2, 6 ; III, 7, 9 ; 13 ; IV, 6, 9 ; 11 ; 12 ; V, 1 ; 2 ; 40 ; 51 ; 59 ; Ad Antoninum Imperatorem I, 1, 4 ; De nepote amisso 1 ; Ad Verum Imperatorem I, 3 ; II, 8 ; 9 ; 10.

71 Respectively, E. Champlin, op. cit. n. 5, p. 1-2 ; S. Swain, « Bilingualism and Biculturalism in Antonine Rome : Apuleius, Fronto, and Gellius », in L. Holford-Strevens & A. Vardi (eds), The Worlds of Aulus Gellius, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 19 ; A. Richlin, op. cit. n. 19, p. 6

72 R. Morello « Confidence, Inuidia, and Pliny’s Epistolary Curriculum », in R. Morello & A. D. Morrison (eds), op. cit. n. 16, p. 170, with regards to Pliny’s Letters, however.

73 The sense of a dialogue is important, as the expressions of friendship must be reciprocal in order to form an enclosed circle.

74 Marcus Aurelius deliberately strays away from using the typical label of magister for Fronto, and employs a more overt amicissimus instead.

75 Ad Marcum Caesarem III, 2 : Sed quid dixi consulam ? qui id a te postulo et magno opere postulo et me, si impetro, obligari tibi repromitto : « But why did I call it advice, when it is I who ask it from you ? And I ask it very earnestly, and, if you agree, I promise to be obligated to you in return ».

76 See De nepote amisso 1 ; Ad Marcum Caesarem IV, 8 and De bello Parthico 10.

77 « Be well, Caesar, and love me, as you do, to the utmost. I dearly love even the characters of your letters. As such, I wish, whenever you write something to me, you write in your own hand. »

78 A. Wallace-Hadrill, « Ciuilis Principis : Between Citizen and King », JRS 72 (1982), p. 40-41.

79 A. Wallace-Hadrill, Ibid., p. 48.

80 Fronto allegorizes the situation, comparing his imperial pupil to Orpheus, who was able to bring his friends together through their love for him, apparently making peace with the Caesar’s decision. Marcus Aurelius in turn replies that he is delighted Fronto has agreed to conduct himself in a friendly fashion with Herodes Atticus (Ad Marcum Caesarem IV, 1 ; IV, 2, 2).

81 H. Cotton, op. cit. n. 45, p. 53.

82 H. Cotton, Ibid., p. 50-51.

83 Cf. R. Rees, op. cit. n. 37, p. 168.

84 A. Freisenbruch, op. citn. 22, p. 243-246, calls this « role-playing ». There is, of course, potentially more at play here, cf. supra n. 71.

85 De nepote amisso 2, 8 : liberaliter, amice, fideliter, and constanter.

86 I would like to express my gratitude to Pascale Fleury for her helpful comments. I am also immensely grateful for the suggestions and attention to detail offered by the anonymous readers. Last but not least, I must also thank Simon Price, Katherine Clarke, David Konstan, Miriam Griffin, Susan Treggiari and Peter Derow for their patience and guidance.

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Ryan Wei, « Fronto and the Rhetoric of Friendship », Cahiers des études anciennes, L | 2013, 67-93.

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Ryan Wei, « Fronto and the Rhetoric of Friendship », Cahiers des études anciennes [En ligne], L | 2013, mis en ligne le 19 août 2013, consulté le 16 octobre 2017. URL : http://etudesanciennes.revues.org/558

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Ryan Wei

York University

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