Letter Home Of A Roman

Ancient Rome

Letter Home of a Roman "University" Student, 44 BCE

Gary Edward Forsythe: Assistant Professor of Classical Languages and Literatures, University of Chicago. Author of The Historian L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi and the Roman Annalistic Tradition. Robert A. Guisepi: Author of Ancient Voices

(Re-printed by permission)

"Remember, Roman, that it is for thee to rule the nations. This shall be thy task, to impose the ways of peace, to spare the vanquished, and to tame the proud by war."

[Tappan Introduction] No Roman youth was thought to have completed his education until he had studied with some of the famous Greek teachers, and young men went to Greece as those of today go to a university. The following extract is a translation of a letter written by the son of Cicero while a student in Athens in 44 B.C. to Tiro, his father's man of business.

AFTER I had been anxiously expecting letter-carriers day after day, at length they arrived forty-six days after they left you. Their arrival was most welcome to me: for while I took the greatest possible pleasure in the letter of the kindest and most beloved of fathers, still your most delightful letter put a finishing stroke to my joy. So I no longer repent of having suspended writing for a time, but am rather rejoiced at it; for I have reaped a great reward in your kindness from my pen having been silent. I am therefore exceedingly glad that you have unhesitatingly accepted my excuse. I am sure, dearest Tiro, that the reports about me which reach you answer your best wishes and hopes. I will make them good and will do my best that this belief in me, which day by day be comes more and more in evidence, shall be doubled. Wherefore you may with confidence and assurance fulfill your promise of being the trumpeter of my reputation.

For the errors of my youth have caused me so much remorse and suffering, that not only does my heart shrink from what I did, my very ears abhor the mention of it. And for this anguish and sorrow I know and am assured that you have taken your share. And I don't wonder at it! for while you wished me all success for my sake, you did so also for your own; for I have ever meant you to be my partner in all mygood fortunes. Since, therefore, you have suffered sorrow through me, I will now take care that through me your joy shall be doubled. Let me assure you that my very close attachment to Cratippus is that of a son rather than a pupil: for though I enjoy his lectures, I am also specially charmed with his delightful manners. I spend whole days with him, and often part of the night: for I induce him to dine with me as often as possible. This intimacy having been established, he often drops in upon us unexpectedly while we are at dinner, and laying aside the stiff airs of a philosopher joins in our jests with the greatest possible freedom. He is such a man---so delightful, so distinguished---that you should take pains to make his acquaintance at the earliest possible opportunity. I need hardly mention Bruttius, whom I never allow to leave my side. He is a man of a strict and moral life, as well as being the most delightful company. For in him fun is not divorced from literature and the daily philosophical inquiries which we make in common. I have hired a residence next door to him, and as far as I can with my poor pittance I subsidize his narrow means. Furthermore, I have begun practicing declamation in Greek with Cassius; in Latin I like having my practice with Bruttius. My intimate friends and daily companions are those whom Cratippus brought with him from Mitylene---good scholars, of whom he has the highest opinion. I also see a great deal of Epicrates, the leading man at Athens, and Leonides, and other men of that sort. So now you know how I am going on.

You remark in your letter on the character of Gorgias. The fact is, I found him very useful in my daily practice of declamation; but I subordinated everything to obeying my father's injunctions, for he had written ordering me to give him up at once. I would not shilly-shally about the business, for fear my making a fuss should cause my father to harbor some suspicion. Moreover, it occurred to me that it would be offensive for me to express an opinion on a decision of my father's. However, your interest and advice are welcome and acceptable. Your apology for lack of time I quite accept; for I know how busy you always are. I am very glad that you have bought an estate, and you have my best wishes for the success of your purchase. Don't be surprised at my congratulations coming in at this point in my letter, for it was at the corresponding point in yours that you told me of your purchase. You are a man of property! You must drop your city manners: you have become a Roman country gentleman. How clearly I have your dearest face before my eyes at this moment! For I seem to see you buying things for the farm, talking to your bailiff, saving the seeds at dessert in the corner of your cloak. But as to the matter of money, I am as sorry as you that I was not on the spot to help you. But do not doubt, my dear Tiro, of my assisting you in the future, if fortune does but stand by me; especially as I know that this estate has been purchased for our joint advantage.

As to my commissions about which you are taking trouble---many thanks! But I beg you to send me a secretary at the earliest opportunity---if possible a Greek; for he will save me a great deal of trouble in copying out notes. Above all, take care of your health, that we may have some literary talk together hereafter. I commend Anteros to you.


From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, 14 Vols., (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. IV: Greece and Rome, pp. 402-405

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