A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

was born at Rome, B. C. 109, three years before Cicero, and was descended from one of the most ancient equestrian families in the state. His proper name after his adoption by Q. Caecilius, the brother of his mother, was Q. Caecilius Q. F. Pomponianus Atticus, by which name Cicero addressed him when he congratulated him on his accession to the inheritance of his uncle. (Ad Att. 3.20.) His surname, Atticus, was probably given him on account of his long residence in Athens and his intimate acquaintance with the Greek language and literature.

His father, T. Pomponius, was a man of cultivated mind; and as he possessed considerable property, he gave his son a liberal education. He was educated along with L. Torquatus, the younger C. Marius, and M. Cicero, and was distinguished above all his school-fellows by the rapid progress which he made in his studies. His father died when he was still young; and shortly after his father's death the first civil war broke out. Atticus was connected by ties both of affinity and friendship with the Marian party; for his cousin Anicia had married the brother of the tribune, P. Sulpicius Rufus, one of the chief opponents of Sulla, and Atticus himself was a personal friend of his old school-fellow, the younger Marius. He resolved, however, to take no part in the contest, and accordingly withdrew to Athens in B. C. 85, with the greater part of his moveable property, under the pretext of prosecuting his studies. The determination which he came to on this occasion, he steadily adhered to for the rest of his life. Contented with his equestrian rank, he abstained from suing for public honours, and would not mix himself up with any of the political parties into which all classes were divided for the next fifty years. But notwithstanding this, he lived on the most intimate terms with the most distinguished men of all parties; and there seems to have been a certain charm in his manners and conversation which captivated all who had intercourse with him. Though he had assisted the younger Marius with money in his flight, Sulla was so much pleased with him on his visit to Athens in B. C. 84, after the Mithridatic war, that he wished to take him with him to Rome; and on Atticus desiring to remain in Athens, Sulla presented him with all the presents he had received during his stay in that city. Atticus enjoyed also the friendship of Caesar and Pompey, Brutus and Cassius, Antony and Octavianus. But the most intimate of all his friends was Cicero, whose correspondence with him, beginning in the year B. C. 68 and continned down to Cicero's death, supplies us with various particulars respecting the life of Atticus, the most important of which are given in the article CICERO. Atticus did not return to Rome till B. C. 65, when political affairs had become more settled; and the day of his departure was one of general mourning among the Athenians, whom he had assisted with loans of money, and benefited in various ways. During his residence at Athens, he purchased an estate at Buthrotum in Epeirus, in which place, as well as at Athens and afterwards at Rome, he spent the greater part of his time, engaged in literary pursuits and commercial undertakings. He died in B. C. 32, at the age of 77, of

voluntary starvation, when he found that he was attacked by an incurable illness. His wife Pilia, to whom he was married on the 12th of February, B. C. 56, when he was fifty-three years of age, bore him only one child, a daughter, Pomponia or Caecilia, whom Cicero sometimes calls Attica and Atticula. (Ad Att. 6.5, 12.1, 13.5, &c.) Through the influence of Antony, Pomponia was married in the life-time of her father, probably in B. C. 36, to M. Vipsanius Agrippa, the minister of Augustus; and the issue of this marriage, Vipsania Agrippina, was married to Tiberius, afterwards emperor, by whom she became the mother of Drusus. The sister of Atticus, Pomponia, was married to Q. Cicero, the brother of the orator; but the marriage was not a happy one, and the quarrels of Pomponia and her husband gave considerable trouble and vexation to Atticus and M. Cicero.

The life of Atticus by Cornelius Nepos, of which the greater part was composed while Atticus was still alive (Nepos, 19), is to be regarded rather as a panegyric upon an intimate friend (Nepos, 13, &c.; comp. Cic. Att. 16.5, 14), than strictly speaking a biography. According to Nepos, the personal character of Atticus was faultless; and though we cannot trust implicitly to the partial statements of his panegyrist, yet Atticus could not have gained and preserved the affection of so many of his contemporaries without possessing amiable qualities of no ordinary kind.

In philosophy Atticus belonged to the Epicurean sect, and had studied it under Phaedrus, Zenon, and Patron, in Athens, and Saufeius, in Rome. His studies, however, were by no means confined to philosophy. He was thoroughly acquainted with the whole circle of Greek and Roman literature ; he spoke and wrote Greek like a native, and was a thorough master of his own language. So high an opinion was entertained of his taste and critical acumen, that many of his friends, especially Cicero, were accustomed to send him their works for revision and correction, and were most anxious to secure his approbation and favour. It is therefore the more to be regretted that none of his own writings have come down to us. Of these the most important was one in a single book, entitled Annalis, which contained an epitome of Roman history from the earliest period to his own time, arranged according to years. (Cic. Att. 12.23, Orat. 34; Ascon. in Pison. p. 13, in Cornel. p. 76, ed. Orelli; Nepos, Hannib. 13, Attic. 8.) This work was particularly valuable for the history of the ancient Roman families; and he had such an intimate acquaintance with this subject, that he was requested by many of his contemporaries to draw up genealogical tables of their families, specifying with dates the various public offices which each had held. He accordingly drew up such tables for the Junii, Marcelli, Fabii, Aemilii, and others; and he also wrote inscriptions in verse to be placed under the statues of distinguished men, in which he happily described in four or five lines their achievements and public offices. In addition to these, we have frequent mention of his letters, and of a history of Cicero's consulship, in Greek, written in a plain and inartificial style. (Cic. ad Att. 2.1.)

Atticus was very wealthy. His father left him two millions of sesterces, and his uncle Caecilius about ten (Nepos, 5, 14); and this property he greatly increased by his mercantile speculations. Being a member of the equestrian order, he was able to invest large sums of money in the various corporations which farmed the public revenues; and he also derived great profits from advancing his money upon interest. In addition to this, he was economical in all his habits; his monthly expenditure was small, and his slaves brought him in a considerable sum of money. He had a large number carefully educated in his own house, whom he employed in transcribing books. He was thus enabled to procure a library for himself at a comparatively small cost, and to supply the public with books at a profit. Atticus, in fact, neglected no means of making money. We read, for instance, of his purchasing a set of gladiators, in order to let them out to magistrates and others who wished to exhibit games. (Cic. Att. 4.4, b.)

(Hüllemann, Diatribe in T. Pomponium Atticum, Traj. ad Rhen. 1838; Drumann's Rom, vol. v.)