Monday, November 01, 2010

Durham Conference on Letters and Communities (July 2011)

Configuring Communities: The Socio-Political Dimensions of Ancient Epistolography

An international conference, jointly organised by the departments of Classics & Ancient History and Theology & Religion (Durham), 14-16 July 2011.

A provisional list of speakers includes John Barclay (Durham); Pierre Briant (Paris); Hannah Cotton (Jerusalem); Anya Dolganov (Princeton); Catharine Edwards (London); Roy Gibson (Manchester); Ulrich Gotter (Konstanz); Sebastian Grätz (Mainz); Peter Head (Cambridge); Manuela Mari (Cassino); Judith Lieu (Cambridge); Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr (Jena); Robin Osborne (Cambridge).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Symposium in Sydney on Epistolary Conversations

Letters are among our most important types of sources for understanding ancient societies, and one that can seem to offer a rare immediacy, catching individuals dealing with specific issues of business or friendship in particular moments of time. Letters offer us access to a level of daily life and language missing from more forensic literary genres or more monumental artefacts. But letters are also amongst the most heterogenous of ancient sources. The modern printed edition may inadvertently conceal vast differences in form: texts preserved as monumental inscriptions on city walls, in multiple medieval manuscripts, or as unique originals on the workaday materials of papyri and wood or deluxe ivory – all may be ‘letters.’ The content of letters is no less Protean: we are used to thinking of letters in manuscript collections as ‘literary’ and those on original materials as ‘documentary,’ but papyri originals may demonstrate the same rhetorical conceits as those in manuscript, while among the most numerous letters bequeathed by the manuscript tradition are thousands of governmental memoranda repackaged as the great Roman imperial law codes. Letters were ephemera – but both the careful archiving of original papyri documents and the gathering of letter-collections consciously overrode that transience. Letters were cultural markers of classical Greek and Roman societies – but the vast bulk of extant originals come from Egypt, carrying forward both Hellenistic and Near Eastern epistolary traditions. The Augustan age produced the great models that shaped later epistolary practice, of the aristocratic érudites Cicero, Pliny, and Horace – as well as St. Paul and others later canonised in the New Testament – but the largest and most numerous letter-collections are overwhelmingly those of Late Antiquity, especially the often data-rich letter-collections of Christian bishops. Letters were the written products of highly literate societies – but often depended on a human bearer to deliver an oral message constituting the essential communiqué. Letters chart for us physical and social networks throughout ancient societies – but only occasionally do we have before us two sides of any conversation. Letters could be intimate and personal – but with personae constructed from venerable literary topoi.

Please join a symposium of historians, papyrologists and linguists for a day of discussing these and other issues shaping our understanding of the ancient letter.

Speakers include: Professor Pauline Allen, Dr Malcolm Choat, Dr Geoffrey Dunn, Dr Trevor Evans, Assoc. Prof. Andrew Gillett, Dr Stephen Lake and Dr Bronwen Neil.

Date: Monday 15 November 2010. 9.30am to 5.30pm

Venue: Macquarie University Ancient History Documentary Research Centre, Building W6A, Floor 3, Western End.

All welcome. There is no charge for attendance, but please RSVP for catering purposes.

Enquiries and RSVP to:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Letter Carriers in the Correspondence of Cicero

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC) was not only a great rhetorician he was also a great letter writer (general orientation and on-line literature). He wrote so many letters (more than 800), and refers so often to letter-carriers that it is a bit tricky deciding how to organise a presentation of his statements and assumptions on the subject. One place to begin is when the delivery by letter carrier goes amiss. Consider the following from Cicero's reply to Servius Sulpicius Rufus (in 49 BC)

‘I received your letter on the 28th of April, while at my Cuman villa. As soon as I had read it I perceived that Philotimus, considering that he had, as you say, received verbal instructions from you on every point, had made a great mistake in not having come to me personally, but sending your letter, which I understood to have been shorter because you had imagined that he would deliver it.’

This is an interesting statement of assumptions (in Cicero's circle at least) of the role of letter carriers (which emerges with more clarity precisely when those assumptions are not met):
  1. the letter carrier is assumed to be present during the composition/writing of the letter
  2. a letter can be brief if an authorised letter carrier is present to expand on its contents
  3. the author gave verbal instructions to the letter carrier (so that they could be communicated in person to the recipient)
  4. the letter carrier is supposed to help the recipient receive/understand the letter.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Quintus Aurelius Symmachus (c. 345-402 CE) was a Roman senator and orator, and a leading pagan critic of Christian emperors (see further in Wikipedia). He was also a noted letter writer, and after his death a collection of around 900 of his letters was edited by his son, Q. Fabius Memmius Symmachus, in nine books of private letters and a tenth book of imperial correspondence (following the pattern of Pliny).[1] Quite a few of Symmachus' letters are quite brief, very often the letter carrier would bring the real news:
Although written as private correspondence to specific individuals, each of Symmachus' letters, when received, was read aloud to the members of the household and to friends; typically, the confidential bits of information or controversial views on public affairs would be conveyed by the letter carrier in private, oral conversation.[2]

Salzman adds in a note: 'Symmachus mentions information being delivered orally by letter carriers often; see for example, Ep. 1.11, 1.46, 1.87.2, 1.90.1, 2.11, 2.21, 3.30, 4.44, 6.13, 8.31, 9.37. Ep. 6.18, notes that Symmachus gave oral information about a grain shortage to his letter carrier, so that the recipient of the letter will learn more by listening than by reading.' [3]

[1] J.F. Matthews, ‘The Letters of Symmachus’ in Latin Literature of the Fourth Century (ed. J.W. Binns; London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974), 58–99.
[2] M. R. Salzman, ‘Travel and Communication in The Letters of Symmachus’, in Travel, Communication and Geography in Late Antiquity: Sacred and Profane (eds: L. Ellis & F. L. Kidner; Aldershot & Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2004), 81-94 (citation from p. 81).
[3] Salzman, ‘Travel and Communication in The Letters of Symmachus’, n. 1, pp. 81-82.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Christian Askeland, over at ETC, drew my attention to this classic post-card (from A.G. Grenfell to his brother, B.P. Grenfell who was leaving to collect papyri at Oxyrhynchus [image from the Oxy web site]):

It is a good example of a letter where we have to reconstruct preceding conversation and decode the style of communication.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Co-authors as letter carriers?
William G. Doty thought that the mention of co-workers as co-authors (at the outset of a Pauline letter) had a two-fold reason: ‘first, he wanted to establish that what he wrote derived not from his own fantasy but from the developing Christian communities; second, the persons mentioned by name were often the trusted persons who were transmitting the letters and whose authority the addressesses were to acknowledge. A very common feature in Hellenistic letters, mention of the carrier established the carrier’s relationship to the writer, and guaranteed that what he had to say in interpreting the letter was authorized by the writer. The feature was especially important in Hellenistic letters where the actual information to be conveyed was trusted (only) to the messenger.’
W.G. Doty, Letters in Primitive Christianity(Guides to Biblical Scholarship; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1973), 30.
This association between co-author and letter carrier seems to me basically wrong. A list of co-authors is: 1 Cor 1.1: Paul and Sosthenes; 2 Cor 1.1: Paul and Timothy; Gal 1.1: Paul and ‘all the brothers with me’; Phil 1.1: Paul and Timothy; Col 1.1: Paul and Timothy; 1 Thess 1.1: Paul, Silvanus and Timothy; 2 Thess 1.1: Paul, Silvanus and Timothy; Phile: Paul and Timothy. For Paul alone as author: Rom 1.1; Eph 1.1; 1 Tim 1.1; 2 Tim 1.1; Tit 1.1. None of these named figures are obviously letter carriers, and others (Phoebe, Rom 16; Epaphroditus, Phil 2; Tychicus, Col 4) clearly seem to be better candidates. Only in the case of Galatians is it likely that one of 'all the brothers with me' may also have carried the letter. (Doty refers to Galatians and may simply have wrongly extrapolated from the rather exceptional Gal 1.1)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Paul's Letters as official letters.

It is interesting that Chapa (see previous post) supports Stirewalt's view, that Paul's letters were 'official letters in a loose sense' (pp. 651-2). He makes a number of points on this:
  1. although occasional, Paul's letters are not private, but are rather public: 'a kind of public document'
  2. Paul has an 'authoritative position in relation to the recipients'
  3. The mention of co-authors and so-senders bestows an official character.
  4. The letters would probably have been received as official letters.

Friday, June 25, 2010

J. Chapa, ‘The Living Letters of Paul’ The Incarnate Word 2.7 (2009), 643-678.

This is an interesting general study, reflecting papyrological background and manuscript transmission. Definitely worth reading - you can download the entire issue from the link above. May pick up some issues from this in coming days.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

There are clearly many points of interest raised in the previous cited letter (II AD). Three in particular concern interesting aspects of epistolary communication:
a) The letter is addressed to Ptolemaios' mother and sister (who it is clear have sent other letters to Ptolemaios), and yet they are apparently illiterate and Ptolemaios calls upon someone (anyone!) to read and translate this letter to/for them. He is able to presume that this would happen, although I don't see this as performed by the letter carrier, who is nowhere named or mentioned here.
b) Twice Ptolemaios refers to other letters, but both times he associates letters with personal messengers: 'You blame me through letters and through people as if I had done wrong ...' (DIA GRAMMATWN KAI DIA ANQRWPWN, lines 7-8), and 'I blame you because you enquired about me neither by words nor by letters' (OUTE DIA LOGWN OUTE DIA GRAMMATWN, lines 18-19). (Yes, he does get a bit defensive here!)
c) Ptolemaios refers to a specific previous letter that they had sent, which he claims not to have received. He realises that such a claim - I never received your previous letter - is such a commonplace, so he adds a further denial: 'No, I did not tear it up'!:
Concerning the letter which you sent to me, [I,] as [I] did [not] receive it, said: "No, by Sarapis, I did not tear it up; for I am not stupid. (lines 52-57)

For Greek text and photos: A. Bulow-Jacobsen & V.P. McCarren, ‘P. Haun. 14, P. Mich. 679, and P. Haun 15 – a re-edition’ ZPE 58 (1985), 71-79.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

An interesting letter (P. Haun 14-15 + P. Mich 679; ET from APIS here)
Sarapis! You, whoever you are, who are reading the letter, make a small effort and translate to the women what is written in this letter and tell them.
Ptolemaios to his mother Zosime and his sister Rhodous, greetings.
You blame me through letters and through people as if I had done wrong, so I swear by all the gods that I have done nothing of what has been said, except only about the donkey of Karas. But you seemed to be lying in wait for me. And if you are angry because I did not send anything though I had heard, the reason is that I was kicked by a horse and was in danger of losing my foot [or even] my life. I blame you because you enquired about me neither by words nor by letters. The gods willing it would be well; ... [ca. 20 lines lost] ... but also I detained him and he enjoyed himself for four days, night and day. On the next day, when there was not even a bit to drink, he stood up saying to me: "Do you want a mina of meat bought for you?" I said: "Yes." At once I gave him two four-obol pieces for the mina of meat. Although he took the two four-obol pieces, he did not bring either the meat or the money nor has he been seen by me up to now. I write to you not for the sake of the money but in regard to his state of mind about my sister. On account of the respect for all of you I had forbidden her to speak to him about the money which he owed her. By the gods ... I was distressed when I heard [where he ended up] because of a bit [of money]. I felt bad that you, Rhodous ... did not come up for the twenty-fifth of the god. I entreat you to come for the seventieth of the god, to come to me as to your own home. The same affection remains. Entreat also the old woman to come. Concerning the letter which you sent to me, [I,] as [I] did [not] receive it, said: "No, by Sarapis, I did not tear it up; for I am not stupid. " ... [6 lines very damaged; 1 or more lines missing] ... though she ... and took into account (?) that, at once, I might form an opinion. She is completely inconsiderate. Since you were away from me, I was in distress for four days lest she was sick or had experienced some other trouble, and I sent my sister, using Karas as a pretext. In learning about her health I revealed the entire matter. Her brother, Ammonios, {told ? PMH} my sister that she was away. When I heard that she was away, it made me happy that she was not ill and no evil had befallen on her, but I am angry because she did not bid me good-bye, but went away without me. But there is nothing unusual in their lack of consideration. For I wanted to send you everything.
I pray that you are good health. Greet Tapsois and her mother, Isarous.

Monday, February 08, 2010

'Letter Carriers in the Ancient Jewish Epistolary Material'

The book in which my chapter on 'Letter Carriers in the Ancient Jewish Epistolary Material' appears has arrived today in the mail (Jewish and Christian Scripture as Artifact and Canon). If you are interested here is the conclusion:
Given the variety of material considered it is important to note that any generalizations will be a little dangerous. It is clear that the letter carriers do sometimes have an important role in the communication process (esp. when named, where it is generally assumed that they will have a larger role). An important place is given to specifically ambassadorial language in connection with the role of envoys/embassies in the delivery of official and royal letters. This can be both real/historical and redactionally introduced (e.g. in Maccabean literature and Josephus). From the notes of the Bar Kokhba revolt through to the royal letters of Jewish kings we do find letter carriers involved in reinforcing and supplementing the message of the written letter and thus facilitating the communication process envisaged by the author and sender of the letter.

You can buy the book (see also the link on the side panel), or drop me an email if you want an offprint of my chapter.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Robin Osborne, 'The letter: a diplomatic history'

A summary of Osborne's presentation at the Ancient History Seminar in London last week is provided by Charlotte Tupman over at Current Epigraphy. Very interesting to read. It is mostly about very early letters and focuses on generic features of letters (esp. over against decrees), such as the relationship which exists and which the letter fosters between sender and recipient.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Douglas Campbell and Phoebe
In Douglas Campbell's new reading of Romans (in The Deliverance of God) he assigns a significant role to Phoebe in communicating the "speech in character" aspect of large parts of Romans 1-3. This was mentioned by DC in the Q&A at SBL (audio recording here - about 75% through); but comes up only once in the book, and there without any discussion:
"it seems fair to suggest that Romans 1:18-32 could have been performed as speech-in-character. (And had Paul composed this passage in this way, he presumably would have given Phoebe explicit instructions in how to perform it.)" (p. 532)
It is surprising that considering the importance of this performative possibility in DC's reading, his presumption is not explained or defended in any way. It is worth noting that there is less evidence for letter carriers involvement in reading/performing the letter which they are carrying than Campbell presumes here (for the documentary papyri see my JSNT article).