Atticus, Titus Pomponius


Atticus, Titus Pomponius

▪ Roman author
born 110 BC, Rome
died 32 BC

      wealthy but nonpolitical Roman, famous for his correspondence with the important Roman statesman and writer Cicero.

      Atticus was born into a family of the equestrian order, wealthy Romans who did not run for political office. He inherited the fortune of an uncle, Quintus Caecilius. He was the boyhood friend of Marcus Cicero (Cicero, Marcus Tullius), and his sister married Cicero's brother. In 85 he sold his holdings in Italy and moved to Athens because he feared that violence would erupt when Sulla and his army returned from fighting the Parthian king Mithradates II. Atticus (meaning “inhabitant of Attica”) remained in Athens until the mid-60s. While there, he cultivated his own artistic, literary, philosophical, and antiquarian interests; for the rest of his life, he spent time in Epirus in northern Greece, as well as in Italy and Athens.

      Modern knowledge of his life comes from his immense correspondence with Cicero—the Letters to Atticus (Epistulae ad Atticum)—and from a brief biography in De viris illustribus (Lives of Illustrious Men), by his Roman friend the writer Cornelius Nepos. Both sources portray Atticus as a man endowed with gifts of moderation and diplomacy; he managed to maintain relationships with the major political figures of the time, from Gaius Marius to Octavian (the future Augustus), without ever actually participating in the rough-and-tumble of Roman politics. His professed adherence to Epicureanism, a philosophy that encouraged its disciples to maintain a distance from active politics, may have played a role in his stance. Cicero, however, felt that his friend was not an orthodox Epicurean; in De finibus (“On Goals”), Cicero interrupts an anti-Epicurean polemic to praise Atticus as a connoisseur of Roman memorabilia.

      Atticus himself wrote Liber annalis (“Yearly Accounts”), published in 47 BC, which presented a list of important dates in world history, concentrating on events and magistrates from the origins of Rome to his own time. Atticus had other historical interests, writing works on the Roman calendar and on important Roman families (including his own, which was supposed to have included the second Roman king, Numa Pompilius). All of Atticus's works, however, have been lost. Atticus also advised Cicero on his writing and used his own educated slaves to copy and distribute several of Cicero's philosophical and oratorical works.

      Although the triumvirs, which included Octavian, had condemned Cicero to death in 43 BC, Atticus became good friends with Octavian's friend and adviser Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (Agrippa, Marcus Vipsanius) and gave his daughter to him in marriage. In 32 BC Atticus became incurably ill and committed suicide.

Additional Reading
Nicholas Horsfall (ed. and trans.), Cornelius Nepos: A Selection, Including the Lives of Cato and Atticus (1989); Cicero, Letters to Atticus, ed. and trans. by D.R. Shackleton Bailey (1999).

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Universalium. 2010.

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