Jennifer Ebbeler

in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199211524
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History


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In recent decades, letters, especially in their role as objects of exchange between correspondents (or, in late antiquity, entire communities), very often did more than preserve useful details for later generations of biographers, historians, and prosopographers. A distinction can be made between letter writing as a quotidian activity available to any semi-literate Roman with access to a scrap of papyrus or a wooden tablet, and the letter that is preserved, incorporated into a collection, and transmitted to posterity with the aim of advertising its author's literary talent and social network. The historically fascinating Vindolanda tablets, the many extant papyrus letters, or even the countless ephemeral letters that Pliny chose not to publish in his collection must be treated as categorically different from the letters which we know from the collections of Cicero, Horace, Seneca, and their successors. At the risk of implying that the generation of Caesar and Cicero invented the letter collection as a literary genre, it appears that the practice of collecting and publishing a selection of one's personal letters first emerged during the late Roman Republic.

Keywords: Roman Republic; letters; letter writing; Cicero; letter collection; Horace; Seneca; papyrus

Article.  6210 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Literature ; Classical History

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