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Ancient LettersClassical and Late Antique Epistolography$
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Ruth Morello and A. D. Morrison

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199203956

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199203956.001.0001

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Introduction: Introduction: What is a Letter?

Introduction: Introduction: What is a Letter?

Chapter:
(p.1) Introduction: What is a Letter?
Source:
Ancient Letters
Author(s):

Roy K. Gibson

A. D. Morrison

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199203956.003.0001

This introduction ponders the question of what defines a letter as used by some authors over other types of document. One way of deciding where the boundary between letters and other forms of text lies, and whether this is a worthwhile question to pose, is to consider borderline cases. Two such cases — the history of the classification as letters of various Greek poems, more recently thought not to qualify as letters, and Cicero's De Officiis — are examined. It is asserted that the epistolary character of an individual text is often guaranteed by its place within a larger group of epistolary texts, such as in a letter-collection whose function is to guide the reader as to the need to read its constituent texts as letters. It is concluded that the only way to achieve a full appreciation of letter-collections is to take seriously their claims to epistolarity, and by remembering that the letter is not a type of text devoid of formal, structural, and thematic connections with other types of text.

Keywords:   letters, letter-collection, Greek verse epistles, Cicero, literature, poems, thought-experiments

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