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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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The Letter's the Thing (in Pliny, Book 7)

The Letter's the Thing (in Pliny, Book 7)

(p.191) 8 The Letter's the Thing (in Pliny, Book 7)
Ancient Letters

William Fitzgerald

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines Pliny's Letter found in Book 7, with particular reference to its status and some of the ways in which the letter was seen as the thing itself, as well as a symbol for the relation between the first and last letters of the book. The question of the status of Pliny's Letters in his project of self-immortalization is not unrelated to the status of the Letter itself, which always raises, in some form or other, the question of whether it is the thing itself or an adjunct, substitute, or signpost. On one account, the letter is a pis aller, the substitute for a conversation, a dinner, or some other kind of social intercourse that is prevented by the separation of the participants; it may refer back to some social event, or even anticipate it, but it is not the thing itself. Alternatively, the letter is the distillation of the self in the presence of the other, its words and gestures unaffected by chance, distraction, misunderstanding and all the mishaps that interfere with communication, causing intentions to go astray and meanings to be imperfectly conveyed. It is the thing itself and not a substitute.

Keywords:   Pliny, ancient letters, posterity, studia, gloria, Book 7

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