The composition of letters ostensibly written by some well-known figure of legend or history was a standard exercise in the rhetorical schools of the Augustan period and onwards, essentially parallel to the suasoriae of which the elder Seneca has left us examples; e.g. Cicero deliberates whether to beg Antony’s pardon, Agamemnon deliberates whether to sacrifice Iphigenia. Other specimens are the two spurious letters of Brutus to Cicero and Atticus (Letters to Brutus 25 and 26), the pseudo-Sallustian letters to Caesar, and, except in form, the spurious speeches of Cicero against Sallust and Sallust against Cicero (Invectivae). Whatever the intentions of the ‘forgers,’ contemporaries and posterity were sometimes deceived.
The pseudo-Ciceronian Letter to Octavian is in this sorry genre. The actual date of composition is uncertain, but the third or fourth century a.d. is probable.1 The purported date falls within the last few weeks of Cicero’s life, between the end of October 43 (allusion to the lex Pedia in §. 8) and the arrival of the Triumvirs in Rome on 27 November. The writer draws largely on Cicero’s phraseology, mainly in the Philippics, but style and content rule out any question of Cicero’s authorship.