Classics Marcus Cornelius Fronto
Caillan Davenport
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0301


Marcus Cornelius Fronto was a prominent lawyer and orator of the Antonine age and tutor in Latin rhetoric to the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. He was originally from Cirta in North Africa, but traveled to Rome to pursue his education. Fronto entered the senate and held political office, but his chief claim to fame was as a legal advocate in the courts. His high reputation resulted in the emperor Antoninus Pius appointing him as a tutor to his adopted son Marcus Aurelius c. 138; Fronto was made suffect consul in 142 in recognition for his efforts. After Marcus became emperor in 161, Fronto remained a close confidant until his own death, which occurred sometime after 166. Fronto’s correspondence was first discovered on a palimpsest under the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon in libraries in Milan and in the Vatican in the early 19th century. Much of the manuscript was (and remains) illegible, not only due to the circumstances of its preservation, but also as a result of chemicals used to read Fronto’s original work beneath the council’s proceedings. Around two hundred letters survive today, either written by Fronto himself, or one his correspondents, including the Antonine emperors. There are five books of letters to Marcus as Caesar, four as Augustus, two to Lucius Verus as Augustus, and one to Antoninus Pius. In addition, there are two books of letters to his friends, and a series of treatises or extended letters on rhetorical, philosophical, and historical subjects. Fronto’s celebrated speeches only survive in fragments. Although Fronto was held in high esteem by his contemporaries and later generations, the initial scholarly reaction to his oeuvre was disappointment. Recent evaluations have been more sympathetic, highlighting Fronto’s skill as a teacher of rhetoric, his depth of knowledge of Latin and Greek literature, and the deft way in which he negotiated the politics of the imperial court. The letters are also a valuable source of information for social history, shedding light on Fronto’s relationship with his wife, daughter, and wide circle of friends. The most controversial element of the correspondence is the emotional and amatory language of the early letters between Fronto and Marcus Aurelius, which has prompted speculation about the true nature of their relationship.

Texts, Translations, and Commentaries

There are a number of editions and translations of Fronto’s letters available to students and scholars. The definitive scholarly edition of the Latin and Greek text is van den Hout 1988. His monumental commentary (van den Hout 1999) is keyed to this edition. Haines 1919–1920 is the only complete English translation of all the letters, but it uses an outdated text (as it was produced well before van den Hout 1988). Richlin 2006 translates and comments on the early letters between Marcus Aurelius and Fronto, with an emphasis on their amatory content. Davenport and Manley 2014 is aimed at undergraduate students, with translation of, and historical commentary on, important letters drawn from throughout Fronto’s life. Fleury and Demougin 2003 is a French translation (but excludes letters not written by Fronto himself), Portalupi 1997 an Italian translation, and Palacios Martín 1992 one in Spanish.

  • Davenport, C., and J. Manley, eds. 2014. Fronto: Selected letters. London: Bloomsbury.

    An English translation and historical commentary on fifty-four letters written by Fronto, Marcus Aurelius, and his other correspondents spanning the course of Fronto’s life. The letters are arranged into eight chronological and thematic sections. The primary audience is undergraduate students in English-speaking countries.

  • Fleury, P., and S. Demougin, eds. 2003. Fronton: Correspondance. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

    Latin and Greek text of Fronto’s letters with French translation and notes. This does not include the letters of Fronto’s correspondents.

  • Haines, C. R., ed. 1919–1920. Fronto: Correspondence. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    This is the only complete translation of Fronto’s letters into English, and it therefore remains an essential work. However, the translation is based on an outdated text and it is therefore sometimes an unreliable guide both to the arrangement of the letters and to their contents.

  • Palacios Martín, Á, ed. 1992. Frontón: Epistolario. Madrid: Gredos.

    A Spanish translation of the letters, accompanied by introduction and notes.

  • Portalupi, F., ed. 1997. Marco Cornelio Frontone: Opere. 2d ed. Turin, Italy: Unione Tipografico.

    Italian edition and translation of Fronto’s correspondence.

  • Richlin, A., ed. 2006. Marcus Aurelius in love: The letters of Marcus and Fronto. Chicago: Chicago Univ. Press.

    A modern and accessible English translation of forty-six early letters between Fronto and Marcus Aurelius, accompanied by an introduction and notes, focusing particularly on the amorous content of the letters.

  • van den Hout, M. P. J., ed. 1988. M. Cornelii Frontonis Epistulae. Leipzig: Teubner.

    The standard edition of the Latin and Greek text of Fronto now used by all scholars, including the letters and fragments of speeches. This edition is necessary in order to follow the commentary in van den Hout 1999. The text supersedes an earlier edition published by van den Hout in 1954.

  • van den Hout, M. P. J., ed. 1999. A commentary on the letters of M. Cornelius Fronto. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    The most extensive commentary on the literary, linguistic, and historical content of Fronto’s works. It is essential reading for all scholars of Fronto. The commentary is arranged with reference to the page and line numbers of van den Hout 1988.

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