Consolatio or "Consolation" is a lost work written by Marcus Tullius Cicero in the year 45 BC. The work had been written to soothe his grief after the death of his daughter, Tullia, which had occurred in February of the same year. Not much is known about the work, although it seems to have been inspired by the Greek philosopher Crantor's ancient work De Luctu ("On Grief"), and its structure was probably similar to a series of letter correspondences between Servius Sulpicius Rufus and Cicero.
Fragments of the work survive, having been quoted by Lactantius, and Jerome makes note of the work in a consolatory letter to Heliodorus of Altino. A popular piece of writing until its loss, the Consolatio is widely accepted as the distinct work that transmitted the earlier consolatio literary tradition to the Romans of the late Republic. In 1583, Italian scholar Carlo Sigonio claimed to have discovered a non-fragmentary version of the Consolatio, although most scholars now agree that this work was either a fraud or a hoax, with modern stylometric methods seeming to back this up.
Marcus Tullius Cicero (January 3, 106 BC – December 7, 43 BC) was an Ancient Roman philosopher and politician, famous for his oratory skills. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the Roman equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators, and one of the premier prose stylists during the Golden Age of Latin. Tullia (August 5, 79 BC or 78 BC – February 45 BC), Cicero's daughter, died in the winter of 45 BC after giving birth to her second son; this caused Cicero to go into a period of deep mourning.
Cicero decided to stay with his friend Titus Pomponius Atticus for a time, during which he perused Atticus's library, reading any and all books that dealt with overcoming grief. Unsatisfied with what he found, he relocated to his villa at Astura, where he composed the Consolatio. It was during this time that he also wrote the famed—and now lost—dialogue Hortensius. Cicero later opined that the Consolatio was written in an attempt not only to heal himself emotionally, but also to benefit others who are mourning or experiencing sadness.
A reference to the Consolatio made by the Christian theologian Jerome in a consolation letter to Heliodorus of Altino concerning the death of St. Nepotian suggests that the work was heavily based on the Greek philosopher Crantor's ancient work De Luctu ("On Grief"). Paul MacKendrick argues that the general outline for the Consolatio can be deduced based both on the structure used by Servius Sulpicius Rufus in a consolation letter sent to Cicero following Tullia's death, as well as the structure of Cicero's reply. From what little remains of the work, it would appear that the piece was addressed to Cicero himself. A novel part of the Consolatio seems to be Cicero's idea that Tullia deserves to be deified as a god. Cicero notes that, in order for his plan to work, her assent must both be recognized by the gods, as well as the Roman public. In order to win over the public, he concludes that he will build Tullia a shrine.
The only extant pieces of the Consolatio are fragments, of which seven were preserved by the early Christian author Lactantius in his work Divinarum Institutionum (The Divine Institutes). In the work, Lactantius used the excerpt from the Consolatio both to point out the futility of paganism, as well as to argue that pagans actually accept some tenets of Christianity, without them even realizing it. Lactantius criticized what Cicero wrote, but also applauded Cicero for paralleling—albeit coincidentally—what the Bible says at times. However, the quotes preserved by Lactantius have been criticized due to their lack of context. MacKendrick notes that Lactantius was using partial quotations in order to frame what Cicero wrote so that Lactantius could more easily refute his ideas. Other excerpts from the Consolatio were preserved by Cicero himself, of which two sections were quoted by him in his Tusculanae Disputationes.
Another important reference to the work can be found in the aforementioned letter by Jerome addressed to Heliodorus; Jerome noted that the Consolatio contained references to "men who showed equal fortitude in sorrow and war, and whose bereavements [Cicero] has set forth in his book".
The work was of major importance, and today the Consolatio is widely accepted as the distinct work that transmitted the earlier consolatio literary tradition to the Romans of the late Republic. The work supposedly survived well into the 15th century; St. Ambrose Traversari claimed to have discovered a copy of the text at Perugia, Italy in 1432 AD.
In 1583, Italian scholar Carlo Sigonio claimed to have discovered a non-fragmentary version of the Consolatio. While this news was met with excitement at first, scholars—after reading the work—began to argue that the manuscript was a fraud, with humanist Antonio Riccoboni being among the most vocal. However, Sigonio continued to defend the work until his death, even mentioning in two different orations his belief in the truthfulness of the text. The scholar Latino Latini, however, later claimed in a letter that Sigonio had admitted to the forgery on his deathbed. By and large, the academic community concluded that the version of the Consolatio discovered was not genuine, and the document later earned the name the Pseudo-Ciceronian Consolatio.
Despite the gradual condemnation of the work and the accusation that Sigonio had created it himself, there were some holdouts. Robinson Ellis, in 1893, argued that the Pseudo-Ciceronian Consolatio, while probably not a genuine work of Cicero's, was not a forgery by Sigonio. He reasoned that, because St. Ambrose Traversari had claimed to have found a copy of the work so close to its rediscovery by Sigonio in 1583, it was possible that Sigonio had simply found the Perugian text. He also proposed the idea that, because the Pseudo-Ciceronian Consolatio contained all of the extant fragments from Lactantius's work, the true Consolatio had been lost and replaced by a "spurious one" in the distant past that was read by Lactantius, Augustine, and Jerome, who mistakenly assumed its veracity; this false Consolatio was then rediscovered by Sigonio, who unwittingly believed it also to be genuine. Finally, Ellis argued that, because Sigonio was a man of "high character" who had spent much of his life editing the fragments of Cicero, for Sigonio to stoop to forgery would have been completely out of character.
In 1999, Richard Forsyth, David Holmes, and Emily Tse used linguistic techniques to test the veracity of the Pseudo-Ciceronian Consolatio. Forsyth, Holmes, and Tse differentiated between two types of Latin: Cicero's writing and "Ciceronianism" (a style of New Latin popular in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that sought to emulate the style of Cicero). The three scholars argued that, if the Pseudo-Ciceronian Consolatio were devoid of "Ciceronianism"—that is to say New Latin—it could be accepted as a genuine work of Cicero. Forsyth, Holmes, and Tse collected six Classical Latin authors (Cicero, Julius Caesar, Cornelius Nepos, Gaius Sallustius Crispus, Lucius Annaeus Seneca, and Publius Cornelius Tacitus), and five New Latin authors (Sigonio, Piero Vettori, Marc-Antoine Muret, Bernadino di Loredan, and Riccoboni) and compared them using stylometric methods. The three concluded that the text of the Pseudo-Ciceronian Consolatio is "extremely uncharacteristic of Cicero, and indeed that the text is much more likely to have been written during the Renaissance than in classical times." Furthermore, the study also provided evidence that the work matched more closely with the style of Sigonio, rather than any of the other New Latin writers, suggesting that he created the document.
- Rawson 1975, p. 303.
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