slavery

Cicero and Tiro.

1a. Slave collar with tag, origin unknown (4th-5th c. CE). National Museum of Rome, Baths of Diocletian. Image: Lisl Walsh on twitter, who notes a problem with the English didactic at the museum.

1b. Sandra Joshel, Slavery in the Roman World (2010), p119-120:

‘Troublesome slaves were marked on their faces with brands or, more likely, tattoos to identify them and the “crimes” for which they had been marked. When caught, some slaves had metal collars riveted around their necks: the collar had an engraving that identified the slave as a fugitive, and often requested his return to his owner. The tag on the [p120] collar from Rome reads: “I have run away: hold on to me. When you return me to my master Zoninus, you will get a gold solidus” (Selected Latin Inscriptions 8731). The use of these collars was common enough that the message could be abbreviated “TMQF” (tene me quia fugio) — Hold on to me since I flee (Selected Latin Inscriptions 9454).’

1c. Jerry Toner, The Roman Guide to Slave Management (2014), p76:

‘There is plenty of evidence for the sexual abuse of slaves. A combination of the powerful position that the master had over his slaves and their lack of basic rights means that this should not come as a surprise. The fact that the philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius was proud of himself for resisting the temptations posed by two beautiful slaves suggests that this was not a course that most masters would have taken. There was little stigma attached in masters having sex with boys and adolescent males: all slaves were there for the master to take advantage of if he so wished, whatever their sex or age. Many masters would have been classified as paedophiles in the modern world. Unwanted slave pregnancies were sufficiently common to joke about. There is a hint of the resentment sexual abuse could cause in Petronius’ Satyricon (ch. 57), when a freedman notes that, “I bought freedom for the slave woman who had shared my bed, so that no one could wipe his filthy hands on her breast.” In the same work (ch. 75), Trimalchio says that he had as a boy become his master’s favourite for fourteen years, but defends it by saying, “I mean, what’s wrong with doing what your master wants?”‘

1d. Thomas Habinek, ‘Slavery and Class,’ in S. Harrison (ed.) A Companion to Latin Literature (2005), p385:

‘Slaves made Latin literature possible. In a broad sense, the productive energies of slaves and other dependent labourers generated the surplus that sustained the leisure, or otium, necessary (in the Roman view) for the production and consumption of literary texts. In a narrower sense, slaves and ex-slaves, functioning as readers, researchers, amanuenses, tutors, librarians, copyists, referees and critics were integral to the creation and circulation of texts and to the transmission of the various kinds of knowledge that informed them. Indeed, for all we know, a Roman author was no more responsible for the literary works attributed to him than a modern fashion designer can be said to have ‘made’ the clothing sold under his or her label. The Roman ego was expandable, not limited by the boundaries of a single body. Just as the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘you’ could signify ‘my slaves and I’ or ‘you and your slaves’, so in practice a slave performed as a prosthesis of his master, even when that master was an esteemed writer.’

2. Cicero, Letter to Quintus (3.1.19), 54 BCE. Translated by Shackleton Bailey.

After I had written these last lines which are in my own hand, your son came over to us for dinner, as Pomponia was dining out. He gave me your letter to read, which he had received shortly before — a charming, serious letter upon my word, in the manner of Aristophanes. I was quite delighted with it. He also gave me the other letter, in which you tell him to stick close to me and regard me as his teacher. How pleased these letters made him, and me likewise! He is the most charming boy, and no one could be fonder of me. I dictated the above to Tiro at dinner, in case the different handwriting may surprise you.

3. Quintus Cicero, Letter to Marcus (Fam. 16.16.1), 53 BCE. Translated by Shackleton Bailey.

My dear Marcus, as I hope to see you again and my boy and my Tulliola and your son, I am truly delighted with what you have done about Tiro, in judging his former condition to be below his deserts and preferring us to have him as a friend rather than a slave. Believe me, I jumped for joy when I read your letter and his. Thank you, and congratulations! If Statius’ loyalty gives me so much pleasure, how highly you must value the same qualities in Tiro, with the addition of literary accomplishments and conversation and culture, gifts worth even more than they! I have all manner of great reasons to love you, but this is a reason — the very fact that you so properly announced the event to me is a reason. I saw all that is you in your letter.

4a. Cicero, Letter to Tiro (Fam. 16.4.1, 4), 50 BCE. Translated by Shackleton Bailey.

You say the doctor has a good reputation, and so I hear myself; but frankly, I don’t think much of his treatments. You ought not to have been given soup with a weak stomach… [4] Take my word for it, dear Tiro, that nobody cares for me who does not care for you. Your recovery is most important to you and me, but many others are concerned about it. In the past you have never been able to recruit yourself properly, because you wanted to give me of your best at every turn. Now there is nothing to stand in your way. Put everything else aside, think only of your bodily well-being (corpori serui). 

4b. Quintus Cicero, Letter to Tiro (Fam. 16.26). Uncertain place and date, although often dated to 44 BCE. Translated by Shackleton Bailey.

A second packet has reached me with no letter from you, and my thoughts have drubbed you (uerberaui te) with reproaches, though I say nothing. You cannot hope to escape punishment for this offence if you conduct your own case. You must call Marcus in and see whether he can prove you innocent with a speech long pondered in the watches of many a night. I really do beg of you — I remember how our mother in the old days used to seal up empty bottles, so that bottles drained on the sly could not be included with the empties—so you likewise write, even though you have nothing to write about, so that you are not suspected of having scraped an excuse to cover your idleness. Your letters always tell me things most true and agreeable. Love us and good-bye.

4c. Sandra Joshel, Slavery in the Roman World (2010), p11-12:

‘Letters to Tiro from Cicero, his brother Quintus, and his son Marcus testify to the family’s concern, care, and affection for Tiro. Congratulating his brother when he freed Tiro, [p12] Quintus remarks that Cicero preferred that Tiro be the family’s friend, not its slave (Fam. 16.16.1). Yet as the classicist Mary Beard points out, the brothers continue to play on the language of service and slavery in their letters to the free Tiro (2002). Encouraging Tiro to recover from an illness, Cicero orders him “to be a slave to his body,” meaning that he should put his body before everything else and take care of his health (16.4.4). In 44 BCE, Quintus makes a joke about flogging: he has, he tells the former slave, flogged Tiro in his mind for not writing him (16.26.1). Twenty-first-century readers may find it difficult to see the humor in a joke about whipping addressed to a former slave. About Tiro’s point of view, nothing is known.’

5. Pliny the Younger, Ep. 7.4.3-6. On Cicero and Tiro. Translated by Betty Radice.

While I was staying in my house at Laurentum I had Asinius Gallus’s works read aloud to me, in which he draws a comparison between his father and Cicero and quotes an epigram of Cicero’s on his favourite Tiro (in Tironem suum). Then, when I had retired for my siesta (it was summer) and was unable to sleep, I began to reflect upon the fact that all the greatest orators had amused themselves with this kind of writing and had seen merit in doing so. I set my mind to it, and, to my surprise, in spite of being long out of practice, I had soon expressed the very thought which had inspired me to write. This was the result:

Reading the works of Gallus, where he ventures
To hand the palm of glory to his father,
I found that Cicero could unbend his talent
To play with polished wit on lighter theme.
He showed how well the minds of mighty men
Enjoyed the pleasure of much varied charms:
Tiro, he says, defrauds and cheats his lover;
Kisses—not many—promised for a dinner
Are afterwards denied when night-time comes.
Why then conceal my blushes, fear to publish
My Tiro’s wiles and coy endearing favours
Whereby he heaps the fuel on my passion?

6. Beware the ‘happy slave’ narrative!! William C. McDermott, “M. Cicero and M. Tiro,” Historia (1972), p262-263:

‘In summary, we see in the evidence of the letters unique tribute to an admirable relationship between M. Cicero and M. Tiro. The essential nobility of Cicero’s character is well illustrated, and a picture of Tiro emerges – a very model of industry, learning, and devotion.’

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