Magister and Amicus to the Imperial Brothers, but also to put on record his views on oratorical and literary style, in fact his whole theory of rhetoric, which there is no reason to think he ever formulated in any special treatise.
The letters are valuable not only for what they tell us of Fronto and the light they shed on the literary tendencies of the age, but also for their picture of the young Marcus, whose character and rule will always have an interest for mankind. As Pater has said, these letters recall for us “the long buried fragrance of a famous friendship of the ancient world.” We find here a young man and an older one, with a genuine affection for one another, exchanging kindly thoughts on their children, their health, the art of rhetoric, and the ancient writers of their country, while here and there we get a glimpse into the penetralia of the imperial court, or read a page from country life at Lorium or a visit to the seaside.1
- 1For some interesting and attractive items, see pp. 58–66, 150, 174–184, the De Fer. Als., the De Nepote Amisso. etc.
- 2Pref. to ed. of 1823, p. xviii.
- 3For various views on the chronology, see Mommsen in Herm. viii. pp. 198 ff.; Brakman in Frontoniana, ii. pp. 24–42; Pauly-Wissowa under “Fronto”; Naber, Proleg. xx.–xxxi.
Almost all that we know of Fronto is drawn from the book before us. The probable date of his birth is 100 a.d., and in any case before 113 a.d. He was born at Cirta, now Constantine, in Numidia. This was a Roman colony, and his name being Cornelius, he was doubtless of Roman descent, though he jestingly calls himself “a Libyan of the nomad Libyans.” His brother, who is mentioned several times in the Letters, was named Quadratus.1 Of his youth we are told nothing, but he no doubt studied at Alexandria, for at a later time he had numerous friends there. He mentions as his parens and magister the philosopher Athenodotus, but it was not philosophy, which he disliked, that he learnt from him, but an inordinate fondness for similes, or as he calls them, εἰκόνες.2 Another master named by him is Dionysius the rhetor, whose fable on The Vine and the Holm-Oak he quotes. He tells us that he took late to the study of Latin literature, in which he afterwards came to be such an adept.