59. In Cicero's time letters were commonly written either upon wax tablets or
papyrus. Reference is made in Cic. Cat. 3.5 to a letter upon wax
tablets, and they were not infrequently used as late as the fifth century A.D.232 ;
but the introduction into Italy of papyrus, which is mentioned as early as the time of Ennius,233
gradually restricted the use of wax tablets, so that, in so far as letters were concerned, they were in general used only in
writing to a correspondent near at hand, especially when one hoped for an
immediate answer upon the tablets sent. Thus Cicero writes to Lepta:
simul atque accepi a Seleuco tuo litteras, statim quaesivi e Balbo per
codicillos quid esset in lege.234
Such occasional notes were called codicilli235
as indicated in the extract, or sometimes
pugillares. For letters, however, sent to a distance, as most of Cicero's were,
papyrus was a much more convenient substance, and probably the great majority
of his letters were written upon it.236
Parchment had not yet come into use for letter writing.237
60. The papyrus plant was grown principally in Egypt It grows in water two or
three feet deep, and the plant reaches a height of five or six feet. The
method of manufacturing writing material from it is described by Pliny.238
The stem of the plant was cut into thin strips, and these strips were laid parallel
to one another upon a smooth surface; another set of strips was laid upon
these at right angles, and the two layers were glued together by the gum which
exuded from the strips when they were moistened with waten The layers were
then hammered together into a single sheet, called a plagula, which was
exposed to the sun to dry. The sheets were from 5 to 10 inches long, and
probably one sufficed for an ordinary letter. If more space was needed, several
sheets were pasted together. The center of the papyrus industry was
61. Ink (atramentum, or atramentum librarium) was ordinarily made
from the liquid of the cuttle fish,239
or from a composition of soot and gum.240
The inkstand (atramentarium) was commonly cylindrical and often had two
compartments, one for black and one for red ink. Pens (calami) were
made of reeds grown chiefly in Egypt,241
and were kept in a case (calamarium
or theca calamaria) made usually of leather. The other articles which
completed a writing outfit were a piece of lead (plumbum) and a ruler
ruling lines, a pen-knife scalprum librarium) for sharpening the pens,
and a sponge for erasing ink.
62. The letter regularly opened and closed with certain formulae which varied
according to the relations in which the writer and recipient stood. Thus, in
writing to an intimate friend like Paetus, Cicero might open his letter thus:
or Cicero Paeto S.243
(i.e. salutem), or Cicero Paeto S. D.244
(i.e. salutem dicit); or in a little more
formal letter the praenomen or cognomen of one or of both might be added, e.g.
M. Cicero S. D. A. Caecinae245 , or Cicero S. D. M. Fadio Gallo.246
In formal letters, if either the writer or the recipient held an office,
his title was added, e.g. M. Cicero Imp. S. D. L. Paulo Cos.247 ;
still more formally, M. Tullius M. F. Cicero Procos. S. D. Cos. Pr. Tr. Pl.
(i.e. M. Tullius Marci filius Cicero pro consule salutem dicit
consulibus praetoribus tribunis plebis senatui).
In addressing the members of one's own family it was customary to add
suo (or suae), e.g. Tullius Terentiae suae S. P.249
(i.e. salutem plurimam). After this address there often appeared some formula
like Si vales, bene est, either written out in full or in the
abbreviation s.v.b.e. or s.v. b. (i.e. benest).250
Cicero himself rarely used this formula.251
In writing to the members of one's own household, apparently some closing
formula was ordinarily used. Such formulae are found at the end of all the
letters to Terentia and to Tiro. Among those used are the following: vale,
etiam atque etiam vale, vale salve, fac valeas meque diligas, cura ut valeas,
ama nos et vale.252
In writing to others than
the members of one's household, closing formulae were less frequently used.
For instance, all of the seventeen letters from Caelius253
close abruptly. The date and place of writing, if indicated at all, are usually given
at the end of the letter, the name of the place being in the ablative
(sometimes with a preposition) or the locative, e.g. d. (i.e. data,
datae or datum) a. d. III Non. Oct. Thessalonica, XVII. K. Apr. Corduba, K. Oct. de Venusino, ex Arpinati VI. Non., data XVI Kal. Sextiles Thessalonicae.
63. When a letter was ready to be sent, it was rolled up; a thread was wound
about the middle of it and sometimes passed through the papyrus itself, and a
seal was attached to the ends of the string.254
The seal was the guarantee of genuineness; so, for instance, upon one occasion, when Cicero had opened some
letters from Quintus to certain friends, on the suspicion that they contained
slanderous remarks about himself, he was not afraid of the consequences,
because Pomponia, the wife of Quintus, who was not on good terms with her
husband, had her husband's seal and would not object to sealing the letters again.255
The seal often had for its design the likeness of the owner256
or of one of his ancestors.257
Wax was commonly used to receive the impression, but sometimes Asiatic chalk.258
Upon the outside of the roll the name of the person
addressed was written in the dative, sometimes with his title and the place
where he could be found, e.g. M. Lucretio flamini Martis decurioni Pompeus.259
64. Letters were often written by secretaries from dictation, but most of
Cicero's letters to Atticus and Quintus at least were written with his own hand;
for in 59 B.C. he writes to Atticus:
numquam ante arbitror te epistulam meam legisse, nisi mea manu scriptam260 ;
and in 49 B.C.: lippitudinis meae signum tibi sit librarii manus261 ;
and in 54 B.C.
to Quintus: scribis enim te meas litteras superiores vix
legere potuisse, in quo nihil eorum, mi frater, fuit quae putas; neque enim
occupatus eram neque perturbatus nec iratus alicui, sed hoc facio semper ut,
quicumque calamus in manus meas venerit, eo sic utar tamquam bono.262
During the latter part of his life, however, especially during the years 44 and 43
B.C., even the letters to Atticus were written by a secretary.263
Cicero's principal secretary was Tiro. Mention is also made of another, Spintharus by name.264
As there was no postal system at that time, letters had to be sent by one's own
messengers (tabellarii.) or the messengers of one's friends. This made
the composition of a letter a more serious matter in Cicero's day than it is in
ours. But his letters were not always studied productions: some of them were
written while he was traveling; others between the courses at dinner265 ;
and he writes to Cassius266 :
praeposteros habes tabellarios . . . cum a me discedunt,
flagitant litteras . . . atque id ipsum facerent commodius, si mihi aliquid
spatii ad scribendum darent, sed petasati veniunt, comites ad portam exspectare
Some idea of the speed with which letters were carried may be gathered
from the following instances: letters arrived at Rome from Brundisium on the
sixth day, from Sicily on
the seventh day, from Britain on the thirty-third day, from Africa and
also from Athens on the twenty-first day, from Syria on the fiftieth day.267
A messenger in Cicero's time traveled from 40 to 50 (Roman) miles per day.268
Cicero's Correspondence and its First Publication.
65. The earliest letter (Att. 1.5) in the correspondence was written in
68 B.C.; the latest (Fam. 10.24), a letter from Plancus to
Cicero, bears the date of July 28, 43 B.C. Cicero's last extant letter
(Fam. 10.29) was written July 6, 43 B.C.
The correspondence with Atticus closes with Att. 1.6.15 in Dec. 44 B.C.
The fact that the extant correspondence stops several months before his
death is probably due to the circumstance that the attitude of Octavius changed
in the summer of 43 B.C., and Cicero's letters after that date were not
published because of the strictures they contained upon the conduct of
Octavius. The following tables indicate the extant and lost collections of letters:
|Ad M. Brutum
|Ad M. Brutum
The extant collections contain about 870 letters, of which 423 are
included in the Bks. ad Fam., 394 in the Bks. ad Att., and the
remainder is divided almost equally between the other two collections. The
correspondence contains 98 letters from 31 other persons than Cicero.
Seventy-three of these letters are found in the Bks. ad Fam.
66. The collection of letters ad Fam. seems to be made up of
three parts269 :
(i) Bk. 13, (ii) Bks.1-9 and 14-16, (iii) Bks. 10-12. The letters of Bk. 13 are all letters of recommendation, and were
probably collected and perhaps published in the summer of 44 B.C. Of
the other books, 1-9 and 14-16 contain epistles, other than letters of
recommendation, written before the summer of 44 B.C.; and Bks. 10-12
contain letters written later than that date. The date of publication of
parts ii and iii is not known. In view of the criticisms made upon Antony in
some of these letters, perhaps they were not published until after the battle
of Actium, or still later.270
The title Episitulae ad Familiares is modern.
Tiro, Cicero's secretary, was making a collection of Cicero's letters in 44 B.C.271
The collection of letters ad Fam. contains no letters from Tiro,
but many addressed to him, even by other people than Cicero. He is therefore
almost certainly the editor of this collection.
67. The collection ad Atticum contains no letter from Atticus. This
state of things, together with the well-known fact that Atticus was a
publisher, and that Cornelius Nepos says272
that such a collection of Cicero's letters, not yet published, was in the possession of Atticus, makes it almost
certain that these letters were arranged for publication by him. It is
probable that they were not published until
after his death (32 B.C.).273
Some of the men of note upon whom Cicero
had expressed unfavorable opinions were still living in 32 B.C., and the
publication of these letters would therefore have been indiscreet. The books in
the collection ad Att. stand in chronological order, and the letters
within the books are arranged chronologically, but not with accuracy.
With the Epistulae ad Quintum fratrem may be mentioned the
a document which Quintus sent to his brother
when the latter was a candidate for the consulship. The letters proper, as
well as the Epistulae ad M. Brutum, were edited by Tiro.275
There were originally nine books of the letters to Brutus, but seven of them have
been lost. Those which remain are probably Bks. 9 and 8 of the original
collection. The authenticity of the Epist ad M. Brut. has been
seriously doubted, but, with the exception perhaps of 1.16 and 17,276
they are now commonly regarded as authentic.
68. A few references to Cicero's letters during the Middle Ages are found,277
but they do not seem to have been as well known as his philosophical writings. In
the year 1389, however, Coluccio Salutato, the Florentine chancellor, obtained
from Vercelli a copy of a Ciceronian manuscript, which was found to contain the Epist ad Fam.278
This manuscript and the copy secured by Coluccio are now
in the Laurentian Library at Florence. The former belongs to the
ninth or tenth century and contains all of the Epist ad Fam. This
manuscript, in the opinion of most editors, is of paramount authority for the
text. Bks. 1-8 of this collection are also found in two manuscripts of the
twelfth century, one in the library of the British Museum and the other in the
National Library at Paris. Another manuscript of the eleventh century in the
British Museum and one of the fifteenth or sixteenth century at Rome contain Bks. 9-16.
In 1345 Petrarch discovered at Verona a manuscript containing the
Epist. ad Att., ad Q. fr., and ad M. Brutum, and, although
the original and Petrarch's copy are both lost, another copy, made for Coluccio
Salutato, survived and is preserved in the Laurentian Library at Florence. The
only other independent sources for the text of these letters are a few leaves
at Wrzburg and Munich, and a manuscript known to us only through the marginal
readings in one of the early editions, that of Cratander, published in Basel in 1528.
Language and Style.
69. For a complete and scientific study of the language and style of Cicero's
correspondence an examination of the Latinity of the thirty-one writers from
whom letters are preserved would be necessary. Some of these writers, e.g.
Caelius (Bk. 8, ad Fam.), have left us sufficient material upon which to
base a fair estimate of their individual characteristics; but such a
discussion would be too extended for our purposes. An examination, however, of
the letters reveals certain elements common to the correspondence as a whole
which differentiate epistolary Latin from the language used in more formal
writing. Epistolary Latin is one of the forms of the sermo cotidianus,
the speech used in
the familiar intercourse of everyday life, as opposed to the more formal
diction adopted in literary compositions intended for a more general audience
or body of readers.
70. Formal and informal Latin, if they may be so designated, are in their
origin independent of one another. At the moment when Latin literature began,
inasmuch as differences in culture did not exist, there was but one Latin
spoken by patrician and plebeian alike. With the appearance of literature,
Latin developed along two different lines. The poets, especially Ennius, in
adapting Latin to literary purposes, adopted certain words and forms of
expression and rejected others. On the other hand, the people, in their daily
life, were more conservative, retaining much of that which literature rejected,279
while at the same time they adopted many new forms of expression
which formal literature either did not employ at all or accepted at a later
date. In particular these literary pioneers, being steeped in Greek literature,
unconsciously sought to develop literary Latin in accordance with the genius of
the Greek language. This latter influence acted only indirectly upon
71. The cleft thus resulting continued to widen, until, in course of time,
certain distinct and interesting differences are noticeable between formal and
informal Latin. Of course important differences are found only between the
extremes of these two forms of speech. Cicero himself intimates that we may
expect to find in his letters evidences of colloquialism, for he writes to his
friend Paetus (Fam. 9.21.1) Quid tibi ego videor in epistulis? nonne plebeio sermone agere
tecum? . . . epistulas vero cotidianis verbis texere solemus.280
72. A number of factors tend to vary the character of this
sermo cotidianus as it is used in letter writing. Some
of these are the character of the person addressed and his relations to the
writer, the subject or subjects discussed, the occupation and culture of the
writer, the time and place in which the letter is written, and the other
circumstances attending the composition.
With local differences in familiar speech and with those which time effects,
the student who confines his attention to Cicero's correspondence is not
concerned, as the letters fall within a period of twenty-five years, and were
written by men who spoke Latin as it was spoken in the city of Rome. The other
factors are of interest. One cannot fail to notice the freedom and informality
with which Cicero writes to his friend Atticus or his brother Quintus, as
compared with the tone which he adopts to those less intimately related to him.
It is in the letters addressed to these two persons that we find the greatest
divergence from formal standards. The subject and purpose of a letter exert a
potent influence upon its character. The 'open letter' to Lentulus (Fam.
1.9), for example, which was to serve as a political pamphlet, takes a tone
entirely different from that of the gossipy letters to Trebatius and Paetus.
Most of Cicero's correspondents were men of some culture, and there is
consequently a uniformity of style and a nearer approximation to formal Latin
than we should find in the letters of uncultivated men, but in Pompey and
Curius, for instance, we find little suggestion of literary training, but
rather the flavor of the camp and of mercantile life. The circumstances under
which a letter is written influence perceptibly the character of its language
and style. This is especially true of Cicero's own letters, because his nature
was peculiarly sensitive to the circumstances surrounding him at the moment;
and the letters which he wrote while in exile (e.g. Att. Bk. 3.), offer,
in their laxity of style, striking illustrations of the way in which the
of his feeling was reflected, not merely in the thought expressed, but in the
form in which it found expression. Cf., for instance, note to ante oculos,
Epist. XIII. 3, and note to cuicuimodi, Epist. XIV.
73. The student of Plautus, of Terence, of Horace in his Satires, and of
Petronius, will find, as might be expected, many points of contact between the
language of these writers and the language of the Letters, with such
differences in general as result from the influences just noted. It is
interesting also to observe that many stylistic peculiarities which we
ordinarily recognize as the distinguishing characteristics of Silver Latin,
first come to the surface in Cicero's correspondence. A full discussion of the
Latinity of the correspondence is impossible here, but a few epistolary
peculiarities of more or less frequency are noted in the following paragraphs.
Further remarks upon these points and upon similar ones will be found in the commentary.
Lexicography and Orthography.
74. New Formations
In general a fairly large number of words are found
in the Letters which do not occur elsewhere in Latin, but the majority of them
were probably not new. Still, such formations as facteon, Sullaturit,
tocullio, Lentulitas, susurrator, and subrostrani, which have a
genuine Plautine ring, must have resulted from the inspiration of the moment.
Cf. note to facteon, Epist. V. 13.
75. Verbal Substantives
Of especial frequency are verbal substantives in -tio, etc., such as denuntiatio (Plancus, Fam.
10.8.4), and praevaricator (Caelius, Fam. 8.11.1).
These substantives condense an idea into a single word and thus secure the
brevity at which a letter-writer often aims.
Perhaps the most characteristic form in the Letters is the
diminutive. The diminutive ending is
added to substantives, to adjectives, to adverbs, and even to the comparative
form of the adjective and adverb, and suggests often some emotion on the part
of the writer. Cf. note to pulchellus, Epist. V. 10.
77. Words compounded with per- and sub-.
Equally common is the use with adjectives, adverbs, and verbs of the prefixes per- and
sub-, which respectively strengthen and weaken the force of the words to
which they are attached; e.g. perbenivolus (Fam. 14.4. 6),
subirascor, 'I am a trifle provoked' (Att. 9.7.7). The use of
these prefixes is not by any means unknown in formal literature, but in
epistolary Latin it gives rise to many new and strange compounds, e.g.
pervesperi (Fam. 9.2.1), subinanis (Att. 2.17.2), and
subturpiculus (Att. 4.5.1). It is in the freedom with which such
compounds were formed, and the frequency with which they were used, that
colloquial Latin was distinguished from formal Latin. These compounds had gone
so far toward supplanting the simple words in familiar speech that in some
cases they differed in no wise from them, as is shown in the phrase
quae parcius frater perscripserat (Q. Cic., Fam. 16.27.1). Cf. also
note to pertumultuose, Epist. XXXIV. 3.
78. Verbs compounded with ad-, con-, etc.
In this connection mention may be made of verbs compounded with ad-, con-, de-,
and dis-, which are used in the Letters not only with great
frequency, but often when they do not apparently differ in meaning from the
simple verbs. Compounds with dis- are especially noteworthy. Cf. note
to discupio, Epist. XLVIII. 2.
Frequentatives are used with such freedom, and so
often in the double form (e.g. ventito, Matius, Fam. 11.28.7), or
with the addition of such words as saepe or crebro, as, for
instance, ostentare crebro solebat (Dolabella, Fam. 9.9. 2),
that one is at first inclined to think that the frequentative has lost its
characteristic force in such cases; but it is more probable that in the double
frequentative, and in the expressions just noted we have an illustration of the
colloquial fondness for unduly emphasizing a fact.
A few hybrids are found in the Letters, but apparently
only in the more familiar letters to Atticus, e.g. Pseudocato, Att. 1.14.6; tocullio, Att. 2.1. 12; facteon, Att. 1.16.13.
As was remarked above, colloquial Latin was conservative in
retaining certain forms and expressions which became obsolete in formal Latin.
Instances in point are dicier, an obsolete infinitive form (Vatin.,
Fam. 5.9.1), isto = istuc (Cael., Fam. 8.15.2 et passim),
illi = illic (Cael., Fam. 8.15.2), qui (abl.)
(Fam. 2.16.2), ast = at (Att. 1.16.17; 3.15.6), and
absque = sine (Att. 1.19.1). These forms, as might be expected, are more
frequent in the letters of the less cultivated or more colloquial of Cicero's
correspondents. They are very rarely found in Cicero's own letters. Cf. note
to isto, Epist. XLVIII. 2,
and especially to mi, Epist. XCIII. 2.
82. Contracted Forms.
Of most interest in this connection is the
occurrence in the tenses of the perfect system of syncopated forms, which are
used far more freely in epistolary than in formal Latin. In fact, the
comparative frequency of such forms in a letter seems to depend upon its
informality. In the seventeen letters from Caelius (Bk. 8, ad Fam.),
which are very familiar in their tone, syncopation takes place in the
perfect tenses fifty-five times, while full forms occur but four times.
Typical examples from the Letters are consuesti (Caecina, Fam. 6.7.6),
pugnarunt (Cael.,Fam. 8.11.2), peccasse (Q. Cic., Fam. 16.26.1), and decreram (Plancus, Fam. 10.21.2). About half
of the 140 syncopated verb forms which occur in the letters addressed to Cicero
belong to the first conjugation. Cf. also notes to decesse, Epist. XIX. 2,
commorit, Epist. XLVIII. 1, and
Ravennaest, Epist. XXXI. 4.