Ancient Greek Literary Letters: Selections in Translation by Patricia A. Rosenmeyer

By Patricia A. Rosenmeyer

The 1st referenece to letter writing happens within the first textual content of western literature, Homer's Iliad. From the very starting, Greeks have been enthusiastic letter writers, and letter writing grew to become a special literary style. Letters have been integrated within the works of historians yet additionally they shaped the root of works of fiction, and the formal substructure for plenty of types of poem. Patricia Rosenmeyer, an expert at the heritage of the Greek letter, assembles during this publication a consultant collection of such 'literary letters', from Aelian and Alciphron to Philostrartus and the intended letters of Themistocles. The ebook should be precious for all scholars of Greek literature specifically these learning Greek (and Latin) letter.

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The Hellenistic selections below are from drama, epigram, and lyric poetry. Antiphanes’ comedy Sappho comes from the fourth century BCE, and survives only in fragments. We know that Antiphanes, as a practitioner of Middle Comedy (after Aristophanes and before Menander), was both prolific and successful on stage in Athens, but we rely mostly on citations in the prose compiler Athenaeus (ca. 200 CE) for our extant passages. I chose this bit not for its outward form, since it is not actually epistolary in shape at all, but for its content.

The most familiar name to most readers will be that of Lucian of Samosata—a town in Roman-ruled Syria— active in the mid-second century CE, who was a prolific author of primarily satirical prose. He did not limit himself to a single genre, but produced dialogues, novellas, rhetorical introductions ( prolalia) and showy rhetorical speeches (epideixis). He also enjoyed the literary effect of the letter form, with an epistolary essay ostensibly addressed to his friend Philo entitled How To Write History, for example, and an epistolary preface to his dialogue Nigrinus.

In the first two selections, letters reunite separated lovers whose lives have been complicated by abductions, false deaths, or love triangles, so popular in the ancient novels. In Chariton’s novel, Chaereas and Callirhoe, Chaereas’ pregnant wife Callirhoe, thinking Chaereas dead, marries Dionysius, the richest man in Miletus. Halfway through the story, Chaereas finally tracks her down and writes a letter begging her to return, but his letter is intercepted and read by none other than Dionysius himself.

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