In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Asconius

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Translations
  • Commentaries
  • Sources
  • In Cornelianam: Asconius’s Commentary on Cicero’s Pro Cornelio of 65 bce
  • In Pisonianam: Asconius’s Commentary on Cicero’s In Pisonem of 55 bce
  • In Scaurianam: Asconius’s Commentary on Cicero’s Pro Scauro of 54 bce
  • In Milonianam: Asconius’s Commentary on Cicero’s Pro Milone of 52 bce
  • Historical/Prosopographical Topics

Classics Asconius
John T. Ramsey
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0408


Quintus Asconius Pedianus was born c. 4 CE, most likely at Patavium (Padua), the hometown of Livy. At the age of seventy-two, he went blind and lived for another twelve years. As a young man, Asconius moved in the highest echelons of society, for instance, attending a banquet in 28 as the guest of a consul. In the age of Nero, in the years c. 53 CE to 57, Asconius composed commentaries on perhaps as many as thirty of Cicero’s speeches, five of which survive thanks to having been preserved in a heavily damaged, 9th-century manuscript that is no longer extant. Asconius conducted meticulous research and is noted for his reliability. He consulted primary sources such as the official state archives (Acta) and other writings produced in the age of Cicero. He often cites his sources and occasionally even confesses that his research proved fruitless on a particular topic. The historian on whom Asconius appears to have relied most heavily is the 1st-century annalist Fenestella. Asconius’s comments on the speeches are highly selective and are confined mostly to historical and proposographical matters. By comparison, later scholia on Cicero’s speeches tend to comment on mundane matters of grammar, vocabulary, and rhetoric. Each of Asconius’s commentaries begins with a statement of the year in which the speech was delivered. Background information is presented under the heading Argumentum and ranges from several paragraphs to as many as twelve pages. There follow lemmata from the Ciceronian speeches themselves to which Asconius appends his comments. Frequent cross references, all backward looking, show that the collection was arranged chronologically, by the delivery dates of the speeches, and there is no evidence that the extant commentaries have been abridged. The work is written in a plain, transparent style and appears to have been dedicated to Asconius’s sons. Given the painstaking nature of Asconius’s research and the broad range of speeches included in his collection—not just the “popular” ones read in schools teaching rhetoric—his aim was to produce an enduring work of scholarship. His accomplishment earned him a place, alongside Livy and Sallust, in Suetonius’s De historicis, a collection of biographies commemorating Rome’s leading historians. The only other work, no longer extant, that can be securely attributed to Asconius is a treatise refuting Virgil’s critics. Very uncertain is evidence that Asconius may have written a biography of the historian Sallust and an essay on longevity.

General Overviews

Prior to the demonstration by Madvig 1828 (in Latin) that Asconius’s genuine commentaries on six speeches of Cicero (Pro Cornelio I and II; In toga candida; In Pisonem; Pro Scauro; Pro Milone) are of an entirely different nature and a far superior quality to commentaries on several of the Verrine orations with which Asconius’s work happened to be transmitted in the archetype of all our manuscripts, it was impossible to form a proper appreciation of Asconius as a historian of the first rank. Keeline 2023 and Chrustaljow 2020 (in German) provide the best introductions to the life and writings of Asconius on Cicero. The author’s life and the dating of his commentaries are treated summarily in Benario 1973 and Bispham-Cornell 2013; Weische 2010 offers a sound analysis of Asconius’s language and style. Bishop 2015 and La Bua 2019 put Asconius’s commentaries in the context of education in Rome of the 1st century CE. Zetzel 2018 assigns Asconius his place in the scholarly tradition before and after his time of writing.

  • Benario, H. 1973. Asconiana. Historia 22:64–71.

    Demonstrates that the notice in Jerome (Chron. p. 188e Helm) under the year 76 CE was intended to signify the approximate year in which Asconius lost his sight in his seventy-third year and so estimates 3 CE as the year of his birth. Argues that Asconius wrote his commentaries to educate his sons and points out that the 5th-century scholia on the Verrines (Ps-Asc.) possess some merit as an historical source.

  • Bispham, E. H., and T. J. Cornell. 2013. Asconius. In The fragments of the Roman historians. Vol. 1. Edited by T. J. Cornell, 48–49. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Briefly summarizes what is known about the life, writings, sources, and contribution of Asconius. Incorrectly reports that the notice in Jerome (Chron. p. 188e Helm) under the year 76 CE attests “that Asconius went blind in his eighty-fifth year.” What Jerome states is that Asconius went blind in his seventy-third year and lived for another twelve years.

  • Bishop, C. 2015. Roman Plato or Roman Demosthenes? The bifurcation of Cicero in ancient scholarship. In Brill’s companion to the reception of Cicero. Edited by W. H. F. Altman, 283–306. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    Assesses Asconius’s aims and motives for writing his commentaries. The theory that Asconius sought to revive the study of Cicero’s orations after a period of neglect needs to be weighed against evidence suggesting that Cicero’s popularity did not wane to the extent Bishop presumes. Highly plausible is the supposition that commentaries of the Greek writer Didymus Chalcenterus (c. 63 BCE– 10 CE) on the speeches of Demosthenes provided a model and inspiration.

  • Chrustaljow, W. K. 2020. Was für ein Buch hat Asconius eigentlich geschrieben? Zur Frage nach den Zielen und Methoden des antiken Kommentars zu Ciceros Reden. Hyperboreus 26:137–156.

    Discusses the life of Asconius (pp. 137–142); the aims of his work, including how this relates to its dedication to his sons (pp. 142–148); and finally, his methods (how the work is structured; its selectivity in coverage; the treatment of sources) and the regard Asconius had for Cicero as an orator and statesman (pp. 148–153).

  • Keeline, T. 2023. The working methods of Asconius. In The scholia on Cicero’s speeches: Contexts and perspectives. Edited by D. Pausch and C. Pieper, 41–68. Mnemosyne Supplement 476. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004516441_004

    Biographical assumptions concerning Asconius are shown to be based on extremely slender evidence (pp. 42–49); also covered are the format of the commentaries and their scope (p. 50), the typology of the commentaries as illustrated by what Asconius chose to discuss on the In Pisonem of 55 and the Pro Milone of 52 (pp. 51–60), and Asconius’s working methods and his intended audience (pp. 60–66).

  • La Bua, G. 2019. Cicero and Roman education: The reception of the speeches in ancient scholarship. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781107705999

    Describes the scope and content of Asconius’s commentaries (pp. 77–78), which are said to be “visibly embedded in the Roman educational system” (p. 85); claims that Asconius created a positive image of Cicero as an historical figure (pp. 166–167), resorting to textual criticism only to resolve historical questions (pp. 172–173); discusses Asconius’s Argumenta (pp. 191–193).

  • Madvig, J. N. 1828. De Q. Asconii Pediani et aliorum veterum interpretum in Ciceronis orationes commentariis Disputatio Critica. Copenhagen: Typis H. F. Poppii.

    I (pp. 3–23) date of Asconius’s birth, events in his life, date of composition; II (pp. 23–26) discovery of the archetype of our manuscripts and later history of the text; III (pp. 57–84) Asconius’s motive for writing; historical content and accuracy; IV (pp. 84–142) the nature of the pseudo-Asconian Verrine scholia; V (pp. 142–52) later Ciceronian scholia.

  • Weische, A. 2010. Nachklassik vs. Klassik: zu Sprache und Stil von Seneca Rhetor und Asconius. In Latin linguistics today: Akten des 15. Internationalen Kolloquiums zur Lateinischen Linguistik, Innsbruck, 4.-9. April 2009. Edited by P. Anreiter and M. Kienpointner, 651–659. Innsbruck, Austria: Institut für Sprachen und Literaturen der Universität Innsbruck.

    Calls attention to similarities in the Latinity of Seneca and Asconius, both authors writing to educate a youthful audience by employing language that is artless and transparent.

  • Zetzel, J. 2018. Critics, compilers, and commentators: An introduction to Roman philology, 200 BCE-800 CE. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Date of composition of Asconius’s commentaries, their content and extent, Asconius’s working methods, and lost works (pp. 67–68); linkage of lemmata in his commentary to a complete text of the orations (pp. 127–128); later scholia on Cicero’s orations (pp. 143–144, 147–148).

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