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On the Nature of Ancient Letter Collections*

  • Roy Gibson (a1)


There exists a strong link in modern thinking between letter collections and biographical or historical narration. Many ancient letter collections have been rearranged by modern editors along chronological lines, apparently with the aim of realizing the biographical and historiographical potential of these ancient collections. In their original format, however, non-fictional Greco-Roman letter collections were arranged predominantly by addressee or by theme (often without the preservation of chronology within addressee or thematic groupings), or they might be arranged on the principle of artful variety and significant juxtaposition. Consequently, some purpose or purposes other than biographical or historical narration must be attributed to ancient letter collections. This paper asks what those purposes might be.


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Sincere thanks for help, opportunities and advice are owed to Irene Peirano, Ornella Rossi, and Steve Rigby, also Annelise Freisenbruch, Kirk Freudenberg, John Henderson, Niklas Holzberg, Andrew Morrison, Sigrid Mratschek, Chris Pelling, Alison Sharrock, Michael Trapp, John Weisweiler, Chris Whitton, Greg Woolf and the JRS Editorial Committee, also audiences in Anaheim, St Andrews, Liverpool, Charlottesville, Trinity College Dublin, and the Petronian Society in Munich.



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1 White, P., Cicero in Letters: Epistolary Relations of the Late Republic (2010), 3.

2 My inspiration has been Mary Beard's investigation of the ancient structuring (and modern dismemberment) of the Ciceronian letter collections: Ciceronian correspondences: making a book out of letters’, in Wiseman, T. P. (ed.), Classics in Progress (2002), 103–44.

3 Relevant here is a distinction between modern interests in character development versus the insistence of ancient literary theory that the letter is a privileged arena for the display of character per se (ps. Demetr., Eloc. 227). For an investigation of the ‘failure’ of ancient biographers to display much of an interest in character development, see Pelling, C., Characterization and Individuality in Greek Literature (1990), 224–44, also 253–9 (on Plutarch).

4 Bailey, D. R. Shackleton, Cicero's Letters to Atticus, Volume I (1965), 6972.

5 On the highly controversial issue of the general availability of the ad Atticum collection, see Shackleton Bailey, op. cit. (n. 4), 60–8, 72–3; Beard, op. cit., (n. 2), 116–19; White, op. cit. (n. 1), 32–3, 174–5.

6 cf. Beard, op. cit. (n. 2), 113–15 on the editors of Cicero's letters. The impetus behind modern editors' re-ordering of letter collections, while a fascinating subject in itself, is formally separate from the topics considered by this paper. I treat it elsewhere in ‘Letters in autobiography’, forthcoming in F. Montanari and A. Rengakos (eds), Generic Interfaces.

7 cf. especially F. X. Schönberger, M.T. Ciceronis Epistolae … temporis ordine dispositae (1813–14), v: ‘hanc Ciceronis epistolarum editionem ita instituendam putavimus, ut … epistolas omnes, ceu chronica temporum memoria dignissimorum lectori proponeremus’, and the quotations from the prefaces to the important editions of C. M. Wieland, M.T. Cicero's Sämmtliche Briefe (1808–21) and C. G. Schütz, M.T. Ciceronis Epistolae … temporis ordine dispositae (1809–12) analysed by Beard, op. cit. (n. 2), 113, 115; cf. below Section III on these editions. Note also, for example, the significant on-line paratext provided in 2011 by Oxford University Press for J. L. Baird, The Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen: Selected Letters (2006): ‘Freed from the organizational restraints of the Latin edition of the letters, [Baird] has arranged them in roughly chronological order … As a result, this fascinating collection serves as a kind of life in letters …’ (emphasis added).

8 On, for example, the ancient arrangement of the Pauline epistles of the ‘New Testament’ (the most widely disseminated letter collection of all), see Trobisch, D., Paul's Letter Collection: Tracing the Origins (2001); on the non-chronological arrangement of the (highly influential) Platonic epistles, see A. D. Morrison, ‘Narrative and epistolarity in the “Platonic” epistles’, forthcoming in E. Bracke, O. Hodkinson and P. A. Rosenmeyer (eds), Epistolary Narratives in Ancient Greek Literature. On an altogether larger scale, note the vast letter collection of Libanius, where the central tranche of letters (Epp. 19–607) appears to represent six separate batches of Libanius' archive files nevertheless arranged (probably by their author) so that the first batch (19–96), covering the years a.d. 358–359/60 comes well before the sixth (494–607), covering the years a.d. 356–7; see further Norman, A. F., Libanius: Autobiography and Selected Letters, Volume I (1992), 3543.

9 This paper focuses on non-fictional letter collections. The main body of exceptions to the rule of non-chronological arrangement within letter collections is in fact provided by Greek spurious or fictional letter collections. On the chronological arrangements of, for example, the Letters of Chion of Heraclea, the Letters of Themistocles, and the Letters of Euripides, see Holzberg, N. (ed.), Der griechische Briefroman: Gattungstypologie und Textanalyse (1994); Rosenmeyer, P. A., Ancient Epistolary Fictions (2001), 4855; Hanink, J., ‘The life of the author in the letters of “Euripides”’, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 50 (2010), 537–64. Why it should be that fictional letter collections are chronologically arranged, while their non-fictional counterparts often avoid this layout, deserves further study.

10 For an analysis of such characteristics, see Trapp, M., Greek and Latin Letters: an Anthology (2003), 1; for the application of the Wittgensteinian idea of the ‘family-resemblance concept’ to letter collections, see , R. K. Gibson and Morrison, A. D., ‘What is a letter?’, in Morello, R. and Morrison, A. D. (eds), Ancient Letters (2007), 116.

11 Another seventeen letters attributed to Ambrose are transmitted outside his ten-book collection (epistulae extra collectionem).

12 See Inwood, B., Seneca: Selected Philosophical Letters (2007), xiii.

13 Zelzer, M., Sancti Ambrosii opera: epistularum libri 1–10, vol. 2 (1990), xviixxxvii; Liebeschuetz, J. H. W. G., Ambrose of Milan: Political Letters and Speeches (2005), 31–2.

14 See Gibson, R. K., ‘Pliny and the letters of Sidonius’, in Gibson, B. J. and Rees, R. D. (eds), Pliny in Late Antiquity, Arethusa 46.2 (2013). Poignantly, Sidonius cannot provide a tenth book of correspondence with an emperor, since by the end of his ninth book around the early a.d. 480s there was no longer an emperor to whom he might write.

15 On these passages and their contexts, see Shackleton Bailey, op. cit. (n. 4), 59–60.

16 For various views on the identity of the editor(s) and the date(s) of publication, see Bailey, D. R. Shackleton, Cicero, Epistulae ad Familiares, Volume I (1977), 23–4; Beard, op. cit. (n. 2), 118–19 with nn. 46–8, 130; White, op. cit. (n. 1), 31–4, 174–5.

17 See Beard, op. cit. (n. 2), 117–18. On the difficulties of using ‘publish’ in the context of book circulation in the ancient world, see Beard, op. cit. (n. 2), 116 n. 40.

18 For the thirty-nine or more ‘lost’ books of Cicero's correspondence with other ‘familiares’, see Nicholson, J., ‘The survival of Cicero's Letters’, Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History 9 (1998), 63105, at 76–87; White, op. cit. (n. 1), 171.

19 Champlin, E., ‘The chronology of Fronto’, Journal of Roman Studies 64 (1974), 136–59, at 157.

20 For these and other views, see Cameron, A., The Last Pagans of Rome (2011), 366–83, also Matthews, J. F., ‘The letters of Symmachus’, in Binns, J. W. (ed.), Latin Literature of the Fourth Century (1974), 5899; Salzman, M. R, ‘Travel and communication in the Letters of Symmachus’, in Ellis, L. and Kidner, F. L. (eds), Travel, Communication and Geography in Late Antiquity: Sacred and Profane (2004), 8194; Sogno, C., Q. Aurelius Symmachus: a Political Biography (2006), 32–4, 5963; G. Kelly, ‘Pliny and Symmachus’, in Gibson and Rees, op. cit. (n. 14). On the status of Book 10, see below n. 58.

21 See the authoritative account given by Cain, A., The Letters of Jerome (2009), 223–7; cf. the Appendix below.

22 See Conybeare, C., Paulinus Noster (2000), 1215, 161–5.

23 See Ebbeler, J., Disciplining Christians: Correction and Community in Augustine's Letters (2012), ch. 1, summarizing earlier work.

24 See the comprehensive analysis of O. Rossi, Letters from Far Away: Ancient Epistolary Travel Writing and the Case of Cicero's Correspondence (dissertation Yale, 2010), 34–122, also White, op. cit. (n. 1), 75–6. Perhaps many of our letter writers did provide dates for letters in the original autograph (cf. Cic., Att. 3.23.1); but such chronological material is highly vulnerable to removal in the process of editing and (particularly) transmission: see White, op. cit. (n. 1), 202 n. 52. Among documentary papyri surviving from Egypt, official or contractual letters are usually dated, but private letters often are not; see White, J. L., Light from Ancient Letters (1986), 58. But for the presence of ‘archon’ dates in the letters of Epicurus, see B. Inwood, ‘The importance of form in Seneca's philosophical letters’, in Morello and Morrison, op. cit. (n. 10), 133–48, at 143–4.

25 See especially Wilson, M., ‘Seneca's Epistles reclassified’, in Harrison, S. J. (ed.), Texts, Ideas and the Classics (2001), 164–87, at 184–5.

26 See Wilson, op. cit. (n. 25), 179–86; Henderson, J., Morals and Villas in Seneca's Letters (2004), 652; Richardson-Hay, C., First Lessons: Book 1 of Seneca's Epistulae Morales (2006), 1373.

27 Beard, op. cit. (n. 2), 128–9. As with Seneca, the ancient book divisions show signs of being meaningful editorial units on their own; see Beard, op. cit. (n. 2), 125.

28 See above n. 5. At any rate, Seneca quotes a passage from Att. 1.16.5 at Epist. 97.4–6, and from Att. 1.12.1, 4 at Epist. 118.1–2; cf. also Epist. 21.4.

29 Hieronymi Ragazonii, In Epistolas Ciceronis Familiares commentarius: in quo brevissime, quo quaeque earum ordine scripta sit, ex ipsa potissimum historia demonstratur. For the actual re-ordering of Book 16 in printed editions of the day, see Beard, op. cit. (n. 2), 131.

30 M. Tullii Ciceronis Epistolarum Familiarum nova editio, etc. (1611).

31 Le Brun des Marettes, J. B., Pontii Meropii Paulini, Nolani episcopi, Opera digesta in II tomos, secundum ordinem temporum, nunc primum disposita, etc. (1685).

32 The 1690 chronological edition of Ambrose's letters was part of a complete edition of the author produced by the Benedictines of St Maur (1686–90), as was the edition of Augustine's letters (1679–1700). On the Maurists — the intellectual powerhouse of the French Catholic Church in their day — see Hurel, D.-O., ‘The Benedictines of the Congregation of St.-Maur and the Church Fathers’, in Backus, I. (ed.), The Reception of the Church Fathers in the West: From the Carolingians to the Maurists (1997), 1009–38; Pabel, H. M., Herculean Labours: Erasmus and the Editing of St Jerome's Letters in the Renaissance (2008), 347–8.

33 Domenico Vallarsi's edition of the letters was part of an eleven-volume complete edition of Jerome — published between 1734 and 1742 — based on an earlier Maurist edition by Dom Jean Martianay (1693–1706). The Maurist edition itself claimed to order the letters chronologically, but was soon judged defective by critics of the day, and eventually overtaken by Vallarsi. On both these editions of the letters, see Pabel, op. cit. (n. 32), 132, 348–52.

34 PL 16 Migne (letters of Ambrose); PL 30 Migne (letters of Jerome); PL 33 Migne (letters of Augustine); PL 61 Migne (letters of Paulinus). On Migne, see Bloch, R. H., God's Plagiarist. Being an Account of the Fabulous Industry and Irregular Commerce of the Abbé Migne (1994).

35 For their editions, see above n. 7.

36 Mai, A., M. Cornelii Frontonis et M. Aurelii imperatoris Epistulae (1823), xviii.

37 Haines, C. R., The Correspondence of Marcus Cornelius Fronto (1919–20), vol. 1, p. xxii.

38 R. Y. Tyrrell and L. C. Purser, Correspondence of M. Tullius Cicero, Arranged According to its Chronological Order …, etc. On this edition and its complicated publication history, see Beard, op. cit. (n. 2), 106–16.

39 Part of the reason is that Baret's edition (Oeuvres de Sidoine Apollinaire, etc. (1879)) re-orders letters only within individual books.

40 D. R. Shackleton Bailey, Cicero's Letters to Atticus, six volumes (1965–68); Cicero, Epistulae ad Familiares, two volumes (1977); Cicero, Epistulae ad Quintum Fratrem et M. Brutum (1980).

41 Notoriously, Shackleton Bailey has almost nothing to say on the rationale for this compromise position; see op. cit. (n. 16), 24.

42 Faller, O. and Zelzer, M., Sancti Ambrosii Opera. 10, Tom.1-3, Epistulae et acta. Epistularum libri 1–10 (1968–1982–1990, CSEL 5.82).

43 van den Hout, M. P. J., M. Cornelii Frontonis Epistulae (1988), with separate ordo chronologicus at op. cit., 292–4. For similar developments in recent editions of the letters of Jerome, see Pabel, op. cit. (n. 32), 170–3.

44 K. D. Daur, Augustinus: Epistulae 1–CXXXIX, CCSL 31, 31a, 31b (2004, 2005, 2009).

45 This classification, in fact, can be applied to the two collections discussed earlier in Section III, since Cicero's letters to Atticus and Seneca's letters to Lucilius obviously belong to the broad category of arrangement by addressee, and — to a lesser extent — arrangement by topic.

46 Beard, op. cit. (n. 2), 130–43; cf. Shackleton Bailey, op. cit. (n. 16), 23: ‘all the Books [of the ad Familiares] show varying degrees of internal cohesion, some of them more than has been generally recognised’ — before definitively dissolving the Books.

47 Beard, op. cit. (n. 2), 134–5.

48 Beard, op. cit. (n. 2), 140.

49 For a detailed and authoritative survey of the entirety of Fronto's correspondence, its constituent books, and principles of organization, see Champlin, op. cit. (n. 19). A conspectus of both newer and older views on the chronology of the books can be located in van den Hout, M. P. J., A Commentary on the Letters of M. Cornelius Fronto (1999).

50 For a clear overview of the transmission and editing of Fronto, see A. G. Freisenbruch, The Correspondence of Marcus Cornelius Fronto (dissertation Cambridge, 2004), 15–43.

51 Note that some titles for ancient groupings are modern supplements for lost originals; see van den Hout, op. cit. (n. 49), 313.

52 For example, noting that the two most significant events in Fronto's life were his appointments as imperial tutor and consul, van den Hout, op. cit. (n. 49), 3 suggests: ‘The ancient editor, … wish[ing] to draw our attention to these events’ clusters letters relating to them into Books 1 and 2 respectively.

53 See Champlin, op. cit. (n. 19), 139–45, also van den Hout, op. cit. (n. 49), 3. One possible exception is formed by the first five letters of the first book of Ad Antonin. Imp., which may record in narrative order the interchange of letters between Fronto and Marcus Aurelius just after the birth of the latter's twins in August a.d. 161: see Champlin, op. cit. (n. 19), 145–6; but this is disputed by van den Hout, op. cit. (n. 49), 223–4.

54 Champlin, op. cit. (n. 19), 153.

55 i.e. letters of commendation (1.1–10), consolation (1.22–5) and (perhaps) those dealing with literary affairs (1.11–21) all grouped separately, albeit without any strong principle of ordering internal to the individual groupings, beyond occasional clustering by shared addressee; see Champlin, op. cit. (n. 19), 149–53; van den Hout, op. cit. (n. 49), 399.

56 i.e. Book 1 (c. a.d. 370–384), 3 (c. a.d. 370–90), 4 (c. a.d. 398–402), 5 (a.d. 376–96), and 7 (c. a.d. 379–402); see Matthews, op. cit. (n. 20), 66–7.

57 See Sogno, op. cit. (n. 20), 60–2; Cameron, op. cit. (n. 20), 368–9.

58 On Books 8–9, see Matthews, op. cit. (n. 20), 67–8. Book 10 contains official communications to the emperor, arranged without internal chronological order (Cameron, op. cit. (n. 20), 367). As extant, this book consists of two letters only; but the separately transmitted Relationes of Symmachus is often thought to form the missing part of Book 10; see Kelly, op. cit. (n. 20).

59 White, op. cit. (n. 1), 61; cf. 56.

60 In this connection, it is worth noting that Ciceronian letter collections were often known and identified in antiquity by the name of the correspondent; cf. e.g. Gellius 1.22.19, 4.9.6, 12.13.21 ‘in libro M. Tulli epistularum ad Servium Sulpicium’, Beard, op. cit. (n. 2), 117–18.

61 Note that while Pliny's Bithynian letters appear in uncharacteristically strict chronological order, Trajan's replies are paired with the letters of Pliny to which they respond. This pairing disturbs the original chronological order of Pliny's actual sending and receipt of letters, and effectively groups them by topic, since ‘None of the replies [from Trajan] listed under year one [109 c.e.] will have reached Pliny until year two [110 c.e.]’ (Millar, F., Government, Society and Culture in the Roman Empire (2004), 40).

62 cf. the series of letters on the successive actions of the Bithynians against their former governors, dispersed across the central books of the collection (4.9, 5.20, 6.5, 6.13, 7.6, 7.10).

63 See Sherwin-White, A. N., The Letters of Pliny (1966), 2741; Gibson, R. and Morello, R., Reading the Letters of Pliny the Younger (2012), 21–2, 27.

64 Barchiesi, A., ‘The search for the perfect book: a ps to the new Posidippus’, in Gutzwiller, K. (ed.), The New Posidippus: a Hellenistic Poetry Book (2005), 320–42, at 330–1; Marchesi, I., The Art of Pliny's Letters (2008), 249–50.

65 See Gibson and Morello, op. cit. (n. 63), 39–43: 6.1 and 6.34 are joined by the deployment of strong Ciceronian motifs; 6.2 and 6.33 by the flourishing of Plinian rhetoric in the context of the death of his rival Regulus; and 6.3 and 6.32 by the shared subject of (rare) gifts to women.

66 Gibson and Morello, op. cit. (n. 63), 36–73.

67 Pliny 6.21.1, ‘sum ex iis qui mirer antiquos, non tamen (ut quidam) temporum nostrorum ingenia despicio’ makes significant allusion to Tac., Dial. 15.1, where one character upbraids another for his pessimistic view of modern literature: ‘non desinis, Messalla, uetera tantum et antiqua mirari, nostrorum autem temporum studia inridere atque contemnere’. For further examples of such ‘daisy chain’ connections between Pliny's letters, see Gibson and Morello, op. cit. (n. 63), 187–96.

68 e.g. letters 1 (to Iustus) and 2 (to Simplicianus) both engage with the same work of Philo; for such connections, see further Zelzer, op. cit. (n. 13), xix–xxxv. Addressees: Book 4 contains a run of six letters in a row addressed to Irenaeus (Epist. 11–16).

69 On the character and content of the collection, see K., further and Zelzer, M., ‘Retractiones zu Brief und Briefgenos bei Plinius, Ambrosius und Sidonius Apollinaris’, in Alvarium: Festschrift für Christian Gnilka (2002), 393405; Liebeschuetz, op. cit. (n. 13), 32–8.

70 On this and other examples of Sidonius' engagement with Pliny as model, see Gibson, op. cit. (n. 14).

71 On the chronology of the letters, see Loyen, A., Sidoine Apollinaire: Tome II: Lettres I–V; Tome III: Lettres VI–IX (1970); R. Mathisen, ‘Strategies for dating the letters of Sidonius Apollinaris’, forthcoming in J. van Waarden and G. Kelly (eds), New Approaches to Sidonius Apollinaris, Volume One.

72 Books 1–2 appear to contain no letter from before Sidonius' consecration as bishop in a.d. 470, while Book 3 includes letters from after that consecration, but without reference to the betrayal of his seat of Clermont to the Visigoths in a.d. 475. Thereafter, from Book 4 onwards, Sidonius appears happy to mix letters from the latest stages of his life (e.g. from after his return from exile c. a.d. 477: letter 4.10) with those of much earlier periods; see R. K. Gibson, ‘Reading Sidonius by the book’, forthcoming in van Waarden and Kelly, op. cit. (n. 71).

73 For Books 1 and 2, see Harries, J., Sidonius Apollinaris and the Fall of Rome, AD 407–85 (1994), 710; for Book 3, see Gibson, op. cit. (n. 14).

74 On the importance of paratextual features mediating between book and reader, see Genette, G., Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (1997).

75 See, for example, Fehsenfeld, M. D. and Overbeck, L. M. (eds), The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Volume I: 1929–1940 (2009); Reid, C. (ed.), Letters of Ted Hughes (2007); Hardy, H. (ed.), Isaiah Berlin. Flourishing: Letters 1928–1946 (2004).

76 See, for example, Davison, P. H. (ed.), Orwell: A Life in Letters (2010). Alternatively, reviewers may take it upon themselves to attribute (auto)biographical status to published collections of letters. Add to this the simple — but brute — fact that booksellers market letter collections generally within the confines of the biographical sections of their stock.

77 Lejeune, P., On Autobiography (1989), 73; cf. Sturrock, J., ‘The new model autobiographer’, New Literary History 9 (1977), 5163. For a few exceptions to the chronological rule, see Sturrock, J., The Language of Autobiography (1993).

78 See, for example, Parker, D., Michelangelo and the Art of Letter Writing (2010), 27 on the deficiencies of the important edition of Michelangelo's correspondence published by G. Milanesi in 1875.

79 On the frustrations of Seneca's letters for historians and biographers, see Edwards, C., ‘Self-scrutiny and self-transformation in Seneca's Letters’, Greece and Rome 44 (1997), 2338, at 23–6.

80 See Gibson and Morello, op. cit. (n. 63), 10–19.

81 op. cit. (n. 75).

82 Contrast a widely disseminated on-line paratext (source unknown, 2011) which markets Hughes' letters in a typical fashion for letter collections: ‘This selection … documents the course of a life … a life pared down to essentials and yet eventful’ (emphasis added).

83 Mai, op. cit. (n. 36), xvii–xviii.

84 See above n. 24.

85 See R. Gibson, ‘Loves and elegy’, forthcoming in T. S. Thorsen (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Roman Love Elegy. Propertius preserves traces of a macro-narrative (the affair is in progress apparently by 1.2 and ends at 3.25); but even this is disrupted by the unexplained reappearance of Cynthia in 4.7–8. Nevertheless, for an attempt to argue for a species of narrative in Ovid's Amores, see Holzberg, N., Ovid: the Poet and his Work (2002), 4670.

86 Horace, Epistles 1, however — like the later philosophical epistles of Seneca — does offer readers the chance to reconstruct from an implied ‘narrative’ the story of the poet's moral progress; see A. D. Morrison, ‘Didacticism and epistolarity in Horace's Epistles 1', in Morello and Morrison, op. cit. (n. 10), 107–31. Nevertheless, in other poetic books of letters, such as Ovid's Heroides and the Epistulae ex Ponto 1–3, there is little sign of an attempt to maintain narrative ‘chronology’; on the design of the latter, see Gaertner, J. F., Ovid, Epistulae ex Ponto Book 1 (2005), 25.

87 See the Appendix.

88 For readings of the first book of Symmachus, see Salzman, op. cit. (n. 20); Cameron, op. cit. (n. 20), 371–3. For a creative attempt to read the first five books of Fronto's collection, see Freisenbruch, op. cit. (n. 50), 43–60.

89 Of course, many collections contain individual letters which are didactic in that they aim to inculcate particular forms of behaviour, or they contain important statements about doctrine, belief, and practice (as, most obviously, in Seneca and the Christian collections of Late Antiquity). But here we are concerned with the didactic possibilities of collections as formal entities.

90 Hoffer, S., The Anxieties of Pliny the Younger (1999), 100.

91 Noreña, C., ‘The social economy of Pliny's correspondence with Trajan’, American Journal of Philology 128 (2007), 239–77.

92 Cameron, op. cit. (n. 20), 377, with broader discussion at 373–83.

93 cf. Book 9 of Symmachus, which is made up almost entirely of letters of recommendation, ‘giving it virtually textbook status’ (Cameron, op. cit. (n. 20), 367 n. 64).

94 Nevertheless, Roman autobiography — to the extent that it may be said to have existed as a genre at all prior to Augustine's Confessions — may well have exhibited the same mixture of diachronic and topic-based treatment found in Augustus' Res Gestae; see Pelling, C., ‘Was there an ancient genre of “autobiography”?’, in Smith, C. and Powell, A. (eds), The Lost Memoirs of Augustus and the Development of Roman Autobiography (2009), 4164.

95 See the useful analysis of Burridge, R. A., What are the Gospels?: A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography (1992, 2nd edn 2004), 150–84, with summary at 163.

96 See n. 98 below.

97 Hurley, D. W., Suetonius, Divus Claudius (2001), 1719; cf. Wallace-Hadrill, A., Suetonius (1983), 1315, 44, 158; Burridge, op. cit. (n. 95), 161–2.

98 For the typical headings of encomium (and its preference for non-chronological treatment), cf. Cic., de Orat. 2.342–8, Quint., Inst. 3.7.10–18, Theon 61 Sp., Menander II 368–77 Sp., ps. Aristid. 35, and see Innes, D., ‘The Panegyricus and rhetorical theory’, in Roche, P. (ed.), Pliny's Praise: the Panegyricus in the Roman World (2011), 6784. Interestingly, Pliny chooses to follow the less common method of arranging his Panegyricus (largely) by chronology: an interesting parallel with his decision to adopt a type of chronology at the macro-level in the Letters.

99 e.g. Aug. 62–4, 67 (wives, children, slaves), Tib. 52 (children), Calig. 25 (wives), Claud. 26–8 (wives, children, slaves).

100 Aug. 1–4, Tib. 1–4, Calig. 1–7, Claud. 1, Nero 1–5, Galb. 2–3, Otho 1, Vitell. 1–2, Vesp. 1.

101 e.g. Iul. 55–6, Aug. 84–8, Tib. 70–1, Claud. 41–2, Dom. 20.

102 On the character and contents of these collections, see van den Hout, op. cit. (n. 49), 313, 357–8, 462–4.

103 cf. Iul. 72–3, Aug. 66, Tib. 55, Calig. 26.

104 Quint., Inst. 3.7.13–14; for Quintilian's categories in the context of the broader encomiastic tradition, see Innes, op. cit. (n. 98), 68–77.

105 White, op. cit. (n. 1), 60, with analysis at 59–61. In fact, ‘The editor's consciousness of the […] relative status [of Cicero's addressees] is evident also in sequences where he groups them by type, as leading senators or knights or exiles’ (White, loc. cit.).

106 See J. Weisweiler, State Aristocracy: Resident Senators and Absent Emperors in Late-Antique Rome (dissertation Cambridge, 2010), 121–4.

107 Cain, op. cit. (n. 21), 226–7, Conybeare, op. cit. (n. 22), 162.

108 See the Appendix below.

109 It can be added that even letter collections which organize themselves entirely or in part on a principle other than ‘the addressee’ might come equipped with paratextual material which allows the reader to re-focus attention on the correspondent. Tables of contents which list the addressees found within a book or books can be found in the manuscript traditions of Pliny (Gibson and Morello, op. cit. (n. 63), 45–7, 274–5), Fronto (van den Hout, op. cit. (n. 43)), perhaps also Sidonius (cf. Epist. 8.16.1), and certainly in Carolingian manuscripts of Cicero's ad Familiares (Shackleton Bailey, op. cit. (n. 16), 19). Letter collections equipped with tables of contents are in a particularly good position to display the writer's network of correspondents, and so present in textual form a map of the extent of his ‘potentia et gratia’.

110 cf. e.g. Claud. 29, where Suetonius returns to pass explicit moralizing judgement on his subject's wife and slaves (they had too much influence), after laying out relevant material on these two categories of relationship at Claud. 26–8.

111 Cain, op. cit. (n. 21): I rely on his account here; cf. Pabel, op. cit. (n. 32), 115–73, who surveys the non-chronological arrangements typical of medieval manuscripts and early printed editions of Jerome's letters, prior to the early modern editions mentioned above in n. 33.

112 Cain, op. cit. (n. 21), 68–98.

113 Cain, op. cit. (n. 21), 13–42.

114 Cain, op. cit. (n. 21), 16.

115 See Cain, op. cit. (n. 21), 225–7: dossiers of thematically related letters observable in one manuscript include epistles on repentance (letters 147, 122), consolation (60, 66), and monastic life (14, 125), plus one dossier linked by addressee (83, 84).

116 One representative Escorial manuscript of the eighth century highlighted by Cain, for example, contains two exegetical letters written to women in southern Gaul, sixteen letters from the Jerome-Augustine correspondence, the remnants of the Epistularum ad diuersos liber, eight letters to or by Theophilus of Alexandria on the Origenist controversy, plus various other short correspondent-based clusters, etc. In sum, ‘only four … of the forty-three items are free-floaters that seem to be situated haphazardly among clusters with which they have nothing in common’ (Cain, op. cit. (n. 21), 227).

117 Conybeare, op. cit. (n. 22), 12–15, 161–5, synthesizing the work of earlier editors. I summarize her account in the next footnote.

118 Ms. O (using the sigla of Hartel's 1894 edition) arranges by correspondent, without internal chronological order. Mss. PFU largely follow O's arrangement, but with additional letters, and in the case of U a formal arrangement into five books, where the first book is a novel creation extracting letters known from PF. Mss. LM follow arrangement of PFU in one instance only (i.e. for the letters addressed to single correspondents); but are otherwise different again.

119 For a convenient overview of the tradition in both manuscript and print, see Ebbeler, op. cit. (n. 23), ch. 1.

120 See Chadwick, H., ‘New letters of St. Augustine’, Journal of Theological Studies n.s. 34.2 (1983), 425–52. The thirty-one new letters were published by J. Divjak as vol. 88 of the CSEL series.

121 For a report of the contents of this manuscript (in the context of showing the reliance of early printed editions on such manuscripts, prior to the Maurist chronological ordering), see G. Folliet, ‘L’édition princeps des lettres de saint Augustin parue à Strasbourg chez Mentelin vers 1471', Sacris Erudiri 34 (1994), 3358.

* Sincere thanks for help, opportunities and advice are owed to Irene Peirano, Ornella Rossi, and Steve Rigby, also Annelise Freisenbruch, Kirk Freudenberg, John Henderson, Niklas Holzberg, Andrew Morrison, Sigrid Mratschek, Chris Pelling, Alison Sharrock, Michael Trapp, John Weisweiler, Chris Whitton, Greg Woolf and the JRS Editorial Committee, also audiences in Anaheim, St Andrews, Liverpool, Charlottesville, Trinity College Dublin, and the Petronian Society in Munich.


On the Nature of Ancient Letter Collections*

  • Roy Gibson (a1)


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