Marcus Aurelius in Love

Marcus Aurelius in Love

Marcus Aurelius in Love

Marcus Aurelius in Love

Synopsis

In 1815 a manuscript containing one of the long-lost treasures of antiquity was discovered- the letters of Marcus Cornelius Fronto, reputed to have been one of the greatest Roman orators. But this find disappointed many nineteenth-century readers, who had hoped for the letters to convey all of the political drama of Cicero's. That the collection included passionate love letters between Fronto and the future emperor Marcus Aurelius was politely ignored- or concealed. And for almost two hundred years these letters have lain hidden in plain sight.

Marcus Aurelius in Love rescues these letters from obscurity and returns them to the public eye. The story of Marcus and Fronto began in 139 CE when Fronto was selected to instruct Marcus in rhetoric. Marcus was eighteen then and by all appearances the pupil and teacher fell in love. Spanning the years in which the relationship flowered and died, these are the only love letters to survive from antiquity- homoerotic or otherwise. With a translation that reproduces the effusive, slangy style of the young prince and the rhetorical flourishes of his master, the letters between Marcus and Fronto will rightfully be reconsidered as key documents in the study of the history of sexuality and classics.

Excerpt

In 1815 Angelo Mai found a long-lost treasure of the classical world in the Ambrosian Library in Milan: a palimpsest codex containing, among other works, many of the letters of Marcus Cornelius Fronto and his correspondents, who included the emperor Marcus Aurelius. News of the discovery was greeted with joy, for Fronto was then known only by his ancient reputation as an orator in a class with Cicero, and Marcus Aurelius was the revered author of the book now known as the Meditations. Mai was a great palimpsest hunter, and, by an amazing coincidence, when he was transferred to the Vatican Library in 1818, he found there part of the same codex, containing another large section of the Fronto letters. A codex is just a book—the Latin term was coined in antiquity to distinguish texts in this form from those in the earlier format, the book roll. A palimpsest is a parchment page that has been recycled—written on once, washed and reused for a second text, and then, as here, bound into a new codex. The trick is to read past the overlying text to the precious, more ancient text below it.

Mai duly did so, but when he published the first text in 1815 and the combined results in 1823, the cries of joy turned to howls of dismay. The long-awaited Fronto was not at all what his nineteenthcentury audience had expected, and his reputation immediately sank to a low that has persisted for almost two hundred years and kept most scholars from paying any attention to him at all. The letters are widely supposed to be extremely boring and badly written . . .

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