The Editing of the Collection
What sort of literary artifact do we confront when we read the letters of Cicero in a standard edition of his works? Certainly they have much in common with other Latin texts we read. A given letter, whether by Cicero or one of his correspondents, is a composition that a writer shaped and released and that subsequently fell prey to the distortions of transcribers, booksellers, and annotators and to lesions in the manuscripts which transmitted it. Readers of classical texts expect to take account of such vagaries. But Cicero’s letters differ from most other Latin texts and from all his other extant works in two respects. Cicero probably did not arrange for the mass of his correspondence to be published, and, when it was published anyway, whoever took responsibility acquired a significant role in shaping what we read.1
The first of these points cannot be proved. In fact, it has not been found unthinkable that Cicero did arrange for his correspondence to be published. The latest letters that can be dated were written in midsummer of 43, when Cicero’s public role had completely unraveled.2 By that time, his erstwhile protégé Octavian had taken full charge of his own career and begun negotiations with rival army leaders that would lead to the proscription and death of Cicero in December. Virtually nothing is known about Cicero’s activities during the last four or five months of his life. But if he discerned what was coming, he might have dropped out of sight to put his affairs in order and to gather letters and papers he wished to have published after his death. Papers reserved for posthumous publication are a recurrent phenomenon of Roman literary life.3
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: Cicero in Letters: Epistolary Relations of the Late Republic. Contributors: Peter White - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2010. Page number: 31.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.