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.

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