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date: 02 March 2021

Tullius Cicero, Marcus, lettersfree

, the famous orator Cicero
  • Jonathan G. F. Powell

Cicero's surviving correspondence is an invaluable collection of evidence for his biography, for the history of the time, and for Roman social life. The sixteen books Ad familiares were published after Cicero's death by his freedman M. Tullius Tiro. Cicero's letters to T. Pomponius Atticus were preserved (without the replies) by the latter and seen by Cornelius Nepos (Nep. Att. 16. 2–4, referring to a collection in 11 books). They were in circulation in the reign of Nero and later, but the silence of Asconius suggests that they were not available to him. Our present collection Ad Atticum consists of sixteen books, probably an augmented version of the collection known to Nepos. We also have the smaller collections Ad Quintum fratrem (including the Commentariolum petitionis) and Ad Brutum. Further collections of Cicero's letters apparently existed in antiquity. The Ad familiares collection contains, in addition to Cicero's own, letters from a variety of correspondents to him.

The letters were not in any sense written for publication; as far as is known, it was not until 44 bce that Cicero thought of publishing a selection of them (Att. 16. 5. 5; cf. Fam. 16. 17. 1), and it is not clear that this idea was ever put into practice in that form. They vary greatly in their level of formality. At the one extreme they include official dispatches and letters of a semi-public nature on matters of political importance, whose style is similar to that of the public speeches; at the other may be found casual notes to members of the family and informal exchanges with Atticus, often highly allusive and colloquial. See letters, latin.

Bibliography

  • Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, s.v. “Tullius 29.”
  • Edition: D. R. Shackleton Bailey, Cicero's Letters to Atticus (1965–70).
  • Ad Familiares (1977).
  • Epistolae ad Quintum fratrem et M. Brutum (1980).
  • G. Hutchinson, Cicero's Correspondence: a Literary Study (1998).