Marcus Aurelius in Love
In 1815 a manuscript containing one of the long-lost treasures of antiquity was discovered—the letters of Marcus Cornelius Fronto, reputed to have been one of the greatest Roman orators. But this find disappointed many nineteenth-century readers, who had hoped for the letters to convey all of the political drama of Cicero’s. That the collection included passionate love letters between Fronto and the future emperor Marcus Aurelius was politely ignored—or concealed. And for almost two hundred years these letters have lain hidden in plain sight.
Marcus Aurelius in Love rescues these letters from obscurity and returns them to the public eye. The story of Marcus and Fronto began in 139 CE, when Fronto was selected to instruct Marcus in rhetoric. Marcus was eighteen then and by all appearances the pupil and teacher fell in love. Spanning the years in which the relationship flowered and died, these are the only love letters to survive from antiquity—homoerotic or otherwise. With a translation that reproduces the effusive, slangy style of the young prince and the rhetorical flourishes of his master, the letters between Marcus and Fronto will rightfully be reconsidered as key documents in the study of the history of sexuality and classics.
“Marcus Aurelius in Love is an important text, the significance of which Amy Richlin is the first to fully appreciate. She has discovered something that was lying right out in the open, for anyone who chose to cast a glance in a certain out-of-the-way corner. The neglected letters that survived between the young Marcus Aurelius, the future emperor of Rome, and his tutor in rhetoric, the great orator Marcus Cornelius Fronto, are a record of the passionate affection they felt for each other. Richlin’s fine literal translation and eloquent introduction make this collection essential for any scholar of the history of sexuality or classics.”
“Whether one interprets them as evidence of a genuine student-teacher romance, over-elaborated rhetoric of friendship, or the precocious young prince playing the manipulative tease, the letters of Marcus Aurelius and Fronto are sure to fascinate. This neglected correspondence deserves an important place in any future discussion of Roman sexuality. It destabilizes traditional assumptions about the systematic interrelation of age difference, sexual desire, and political power. Amy Richlin has now made these letters available to us in a lively and modern translation with a helpful introduction and notes aimed at the student or nonspecialist.”