Cicero in Letters: Epistolary Relations of the Late Republic

By Peter White | Go to book overview

3
Frames of the Letter

That the Romans often compared the letter to a live exchange, as noted in chapter 1, reveals much about the value they placed on face-to-face interaction but little about their epistolary practice. The differences between an exchange of letters and a conversation are more consequential than the resemblances.1 In the first place, a correspondence is a delayed exchange between parties who occupy separate and often distant positions in space and in time. Each therefore communicates in a social void, beginning and concluding without interruption, challenge, or reaction from the other side. In the second place, a letter is an exclusively written form of communication. Even a dictated letter is produced more slowly and usually more circumspectly than talk. Letter writers, moreover, are unable to exploit the bodily signals—intonation, facial expression, gesture, and other modes of body language—that help to convey meaning in conversation. For that matter, they draw on a more limited range of speech than speakers do. A scrupulous transcript of any conversation will contain more discourse particles, expletives, nonword sounds, and breaks than a letter will. That a letter is itself the transcript of a discourse is a further consequence of writing. Every letter writer by that act creates and entrusts to someone else a material record of a sort that is rarely obtained for conversations, even in our era when sound recordings are technically possible. A third way in which an exchange of letters differs from a conversation is that participation is typically more restricted. In a strict sense, of course, only one party to a correspondence is active at any moment, as already noted. But even if the time delay is disregarded, most correspondence consists of two-party communication only. Finally, letters tend to be more goal-oriented than conversations. A conversation can come about by accident and proceed in directions that the participants did

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Cicero in Letters: Epistolary Relations of the Late Republic
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • D · M · D · R · S · B v
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xiii
  • I - Reading the Letters from the outside in 1
  • 1 - Constraints and Biases in Roman Letter Writing 3
  • 2 - The Editing of the Collection 31
  • 3 - Frames of the Letter 63
  • II - Epistolary Preoccupations 87
  • 4 - The Letters and Literature 89
  • 5 - Giving and Getting Advice by Letter 117
  • 6 - Letter Writing and Leadership 137
  • Afterword - The Collection in Hindsight 167
  • Appendix 1- quantifying the Letter Corpus 171
  • Appendix 2- Contemporary Works Mentioned in the Letters 177
  • Notes 181
  • Bibliography 223
  • Index of Persons 231
  • Index of Passages 233
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