BMCR 2020.11.14

Adressat und Adressant in antiken Briefen

, , , Adressat und Adressant in antiken Briefen: Rollenkonfigurationen und kommunikative Strategien in griechischer und römischer Epistolographie. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, Band 382. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2019. Pp. viii, 558. ISBN 9783110676204 €109,95.

Table of Contents

The volume presents the findings of a conference held in Eichstätt in 2016. It offers an insight into epistolary literature – Greek and Latin, pagan and Christian, prose and poetry – and encourages scholars not to look only at the individual epistolographer but to take the extensive field of this special genre into account as a whole. The book covers passages from Archimedes of Syracuse, Apollonios of Perge, Epicurus, Diogenes (to Antipatros), Caesar, Sallust, Cicero, Horace, Seneca, Paul, Ps. Paul (Epistle to the Colossians), the Apocalypse of John, Statius, Pliny the Younger, Cyprian, Libanios, Symmachus, Hieronymus, Faustus of Riez, Ruricius of Limoges, Alcimus Avitus. – Thankfully, all passages have been translated.

The volume is divided into an introduction and nine sections with 18 chapters, followed by a name and verse index. Each of the exemplarily covered topics could fill a whole conference: “Philosophy and the transfer of knowledge in ancient letters”, “Communicative strategies in Cicero’s letters”, “The function of letters in the historiography of the Late Roman Republic”, “Letters in the literature of early imperial Rome: The construction of poetic persona and addressee in Horace and Statius”, “Communicative structures and role configuration in Pliny the Younger and Lucian”, “the Biblical use of letters”, “Early Christianity and Church Fathers: The aims of epistolary communication”, “Late Antique letters between educational discourse and orientation towards the past”, and “Forms and functions of epistolary communication in post-Roman Gaul”.

Since the volume covers a wide range of authors and literary works, the reader is grateful for the introductions about the authors, with whom they might not always be familiar, as well as the historical backgrounds of the passages. Sometimes the editors should have trimmed the text to bring out the central topic. Furthermore, references towards the most recent research literature would have sufficed in some cases. Also, more cross-references between contributions would have been helpful, for instance between Hafner and Schenk or Witetschek and Taschl-Erber.

A concise introduction (p.1-24) presents the state of research on ancient letters. While many recent contributions focused on the ‘self-fashioning’ or ‘self-presentation’ of the epistolographer within his communicative network, this book will (also) attend increasingly to the addressee, i. e. to the question on how the author ‘shapes’ the addressee and interacts with him.

Jan Erik Heßler (p.27-48) shows how Epicurus’ letters reunite friends and thus keep the community of philosophers alive even from a distance. The private letters are addressed to distinct addressees and show (apart from discussing tenets of Epicurus’ philosophical positions) Epicurus as the master who is living an exemplary life. In contrast to this, the didactic letters convey basic knowledge about leading a fearless and undisturbed life, addressing the public as reader.

Vincenzo Damiani (p.49-68) is interested in texts which impart mathematical and philosophical knowledge. Out of the wide range of possible examples, he selects letters of dedication or proems to letters by four very different authors: Archimedes of Syracuse, Apollonios of Perge, Seneca’s epistle 95 and Diogenes’ letter to Antipatros; the section about Seneca, especially the selected passage, is a bit surprising in this quartet. The prefaces make clear how different the relationships between teacher and pupil or colleagues seem to be among the four selections.

Sabine Retsch (p.71-93) takes the example of Q. fr. 1,3 to show that even in exile, Cicero is using the letters to his brother to ask him to plead his cause in Rome. It is obvious how much the brother’s role is being used as a “reason”. The comparison with the letter Att. 3,9, written in the same period and addressing partly the same matters, shows once again how strongly Ciceroʹs reasoning is adapted to the respective addressee.

Tobias Dänzer (p.95-119) examines Cicero’s letters to C. Scribonius Curio (fam. 2,1-7). Cicero tries to use his letters from Rome to the governor of Asia (1-6) as a political instrument in order to bind him to the traditional idea of the res publica. Cicero pursues the same goal in the 7th letter, this time writing from a far-away province to Curio, tribune of the plebs in Rome. According to the different places and official positions, Cicero presents himself in distinctly different roles.

Martin Stöckinger (p.123-155) focuses on the function of letters in Caesar (BG 2,1-2; BC 3,57) and Sallust (Cat. 34 f.; Jug. 24). He demonstrates how the content of the letters supports the narrative by overlapping the voices of narrator and addressor. Caesar’s narrator uses the letters to show that those who did not respond to Caesar’s writings are the ones who bear responsibility for the events. Letters in Sallust also display a complicity between the narrator and Adherbal’s letter. Catilinas’ letters reveal his deceiving intentions all the more.

Johannes Zenk (p.159-180) demonstrates how Horace does not use the “Ars poetica” (particularly verses 119-152) only to teach the addressee, but also to proof to the secondary addressees that he himself is able to meet the poetological demands. The epistolary form enables the conjunction of both functions. In his double role as both poetologist and poet, Horace presents the topic of unity in an associative manner of composition which is a central feature of epistolarity.

Gregor Bitto (p.181-203) examines the Prosa-Praefationes of Statius’ Silvae: The Praefationes to books 1-4 do not address the general public, but rather the dedicatee of the book to whom also one of the poems is dedicated. Thus, the distance to all the other readers increases: They were not present at the original occasions at which the poeme were recited (and they don’t belong to this society) and they are addressed neither in the single poems nor in the prefaces. Bitto concludes that the Praefationes do not represent the paved ‘threshold’ to the poems, but they allow an orchestrated glance through the door.

Thorsten Fögen (p.207-231) analyses the topic of epistolary brevity in Pliny’s letters. The addressor sees long letters as a special symbol of friendship with the addressee. Furthermore, Fögen illustrates how Pliny experiments with letters as a text type, so that, by including elements of other genres, they become a super-genre. There is a chart on the length of the letters (books 1-9) attached as an appendix.

Margot Neger (p.233-252) analyses how Pliny presents his addressees, namely, not only as addressees but as acting persons who are being referred to in other letters. Therefore, in some cases the reader will already be familiar with the acting persons before they become the addressees themselves. Examples are Spurinna, Mauricus and Iulius Genitor. For instance, the exiled Mauricus and his expected return are mentioned several times (from 1,15 onwards) until his words are being cited (in 4,22) and, at the end of this cycle, Pliny accepts an invitation to Mauricus’ country estate in a letter to him (6,14).

Markus Hafner (p.253-275) turns to the satirist Lucian (lib. 31, 36, 41, 42, 51, 55, 59, 64, 65). Having a wide understanding of epistolarity, he talks about letters having ‘façades’ in order to examine epistolary strategies, including texts where someone is being addressed as ‘You’, without specific epistolary salutations to mark them as letters. Communicative strategies that allocate groups of educated and uneducated people are central for Lucian: Sometimes the addressee teams up with the addressor against a third person, sometimes addressor and third persons disagree with the addressee, sometimes the addressor has to defend himself. (For comparison refer to the contribution by Schenk).

Andrea Taschl-Erber (p.279-328) shows how in the Ps.-Pauline epistle “To the holy ones in Colossae”, the addressor’s character ‘Paul’ borrows the authority of the apostle to justify himself. The faith in Christ and the ritual of christening – which makes possible the participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection – is the only reason to include the addressor into the ‘We’ in view of competing positions. The epistolary topos of physical absence but spiritual presence is used, so that Paul can appear as the teacher in this conflict.

Stephan Witetschek (p.329-355) highlights the typical features of letters in the Pauline epistles, to then examine which characteristics are present in The Revelation of St. John. He opposes the dichotomy “letter or no letter”, rather there is a “text in epistolary form” that, despite isolated epistolary elements, shows little interest in communication; it informs and expects approval. The addressees are not integrated into the revelation but they gain access to it via the conveyance through the medium of the letters.

Eva Baumkamp (p.359-379) examines the letter 67 by bishop Cyprian of Carthage and the functions of letters in intra-congregational disputes. She shows on what levels a letter serves as an argument: The addressee of the letter is an argument, since it can be decisive in a conflict which person is being contacted. Baukamp discusses the importance of biblical quotations in the Bishop’s prose and emphasizes the strategies he uses to enforce his influence on other ecclesiastical office holders.

Marie Revellio (p.381-405) shows to what extent Hieronymus’ use of quotations from Vergilʹs Aeneid is adapted to the addressees. Analyzing his citation praxis, she proves that Hieronymus does not differentiate whether the addressees are living in the East or West or whether they are male or female. However, letters addressed to women include slightly more quotations. She concludes, based on this analysis, that for Hieronymus and his circle, you could both be Christian and Ciceronian (or Vergilian), that is, that Christians don’t have to give up their literary education (in contrast to the dream Hieronymus describes in epist. 22,30).

Christian Fron (p.409-428) demonstrates how Libanios talks in his letters as teacher to his pupils’ fathers (among others) about their progress. He primarily examines letters which concern the admission of new pupils, including subsequent reports on progress. Fron underlines the composition of recurring topics, e. g. Libanios emphasis on the cooperation of the participants: the fathers are responsible for the abilities of their sons, the teacher for the refining these existing abilities.

Tabea L. Meurer (p.429-450) offers in her contribution on Symmachus a summary of key findings from her dissertation “Vergangenes verhandeln. Spätantike Statusdiskurse senatorischer Eliten in Gallien und Italien” (translation: “Negotiating the past: Discussions of status of senatorial elites in Gaul and Italy in late antiquity”) (Berlin 2019): Connections to the past are deployed in different ways, depending on whether the addressee belongs to the entourage of the imperial court, to the urban Roman nobilitas or to the military elite. Therefore, either the similarities of the environment are emphasised (as with aristocrat Nicomachus Flavianus) or the cultural differences are alluded to (as with Magistri militum).

Gernot Michael Müller (p.453-496) introduces the correspondence of Faustus of Riez and Ruricius of Limoges. The letters offer an insight into the development of their relationship. First, Ruricius writes as an educated man who asks the bishop for help with his conversion to a (more) ascetic lifestyle. Ruricius uses his epistolary competence to ask the spiritual authority for support before God. When Ruricius himself is bishop, the changed roles enable a correspondence at eye level. Ruricius even becomes an advisor to others.

Johanna Schenk (p.497-517) interprets Alcimus Avitus’ epistle 57P. The bishop of Vienne reacts to the rumour his addressee (a rhetor and presumably fellow bishop) has spread: Alcimus has mispronounced a syllable in a speech for the consecration of a church, a sign of poor education (“barbarism”). After a brief introduction on the importance of distinction through education, Schenk illustrates how Avitus uses the reproach to boast about his own education, e.g. he proves that the error lies in Vergil, not in him.

This volume inspires the creation of follow-up projects and you wish you could have participated in the multifaceted conference. The publishers have to be thanked for a new and convincing perspective on epistolary literature.

[My sincere thanks go to my translator Constanze Braun.]