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Tiro’s Cicero: A Case of Manuscript Forgery?

Thomas Hendrickson

Furman University

Various ancient sources make reference to a copy of Cicero’s speeches hand-made by his freedman, Tiro. The consensus of recent decades has been that this manuscript was in fact a forgery made in the second century. I argue that Tiro’s Cicero was not a single, purpose-made forgery, but rather that the name was applied to a whole series of spurious copies that arose accidentally. This argument has implications not just for the validity of the particular readings attested for Tiro’s Cicero, but more broadly for the existence and nature of forged or spurious manuscripts in the Roman world.

Until the 1970s, there was no question that the references to Tiro’s Cicero provided valuable witness to an authoritative text of the orator. A change came when Zetzel argued to the contrary that that the manuscript in question was actually a second-century forgery. Most scholars since then have followed Zetzel. Yet this paper does not just take its place in the narrow question of the authenticity of this particular text, but in the larger phenomenon of literary forgery. Recent studies of literary forgery have focused on pseudepigraphy: texts that are “forgeries” in the sense that their authors are not who they seem to be (e.g. Peirano, Martínez). But there is also a different kind of literary forgery: spurious manuscripts (often, though not exclusively autographs) of genuine works. Such fakes are worthy of study because of their importance both for the textual tradition of the works in question and for our understand of the role books played as high-end commodities.

I argue that the ancient references to Tiro’s Cicero do not actually refer to a single, purpose-built forgery, but rather to several manuscripts that had been more-or-less mislabeled. The references to Tiro’s Cicero are found in Fronto (Ad Caes. 1.7.4), Gellius (1.7.1, 12.10.6, 13.12.16), and a subscription to a fifteenth-century manuscript of the De Lege Agraria made by Poggio Bracciolini (Vat. Lat. 11458, 56v). These references recorded specific readings that were different in Tiro’s Cicero from what was found in the vulgate text. When Zetzel analyzed these readings, he pointed out that the Tironian readings are in almost every case worse than the vulgate, usually because they are archaic variants that would have been out of place in Cicero’s speeches. His conclusion was that Tiro’s Cicero was fabricated with an eye to the archaist tastes of second-century book-buyers. I agree that the manuscript probably was not genuine, but I argue that it was more likely the result of mistaken attribution than of purposeful deception. If someone who was copying a manuscript also copied a first-person subscription, the new copy might be perceived as an original. At some point Tiro probably did make a copy of Cicero’s speeches, and it could have spawned a legion of apparent originals.

The example of the De Lege Agraria subscription shows how this might have happened. The manuscript preserves a double subscription, which reads emendaui ad Tironem and then Statilius Maximus rursum emendaui ad Tironem. I would point out that this double subscription necessitates not two but at least four acts of subscription. First, someone checked a manuscript against Tiro. Then, Statilius Maximus copied that subscription and added his own. Third, unless we accept that Statilius’s personal copy survived over 1200 years to find Poggio, at least one other person copied both subscriptions into a manuscript. Fourth, Poggio copied the subscriptions. A reader lacking the resources of paleography and codicology could easily see Poggio’s manuscript and believe that “I, Statilius Maximus, corrected this.” We might wonder whether, around the third stage, it would be fair to say that the manuscript that copied both subscriptions became a “forged” Statilius Maximus edition.

Tiro’s Cicero is just a single case, but it is one of our best-attested cases of forged manuscripts. It suggests that perhaps fake manuscripts arose not at the stage of production, but of consumption.

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