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15 - Pamela and Plato: Ancient and Modern Epistolary Narratives

from PART III - BEYOND GREECE

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 September 2014

A. D. Morrison
Affiliation:
University of Manchester
Douglas Cairns
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh, UK
Ruth Scodel
Affiliation:
University of Michigan, USA
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Summary

For those working on ancient texts in a modern world which puts a high value (in different ways) on the ‘relevance’ and ‘impact’ of scholarly research, it is beguiling and seductive to discern ancient analogues or equivalents even for such seemingly modern forms as the novel, as well as for genres whose antiquity is more transparent, such as the epic poem. A very understandable critical excitement has also been in evidence with regard to a special category of the novel, the novel in letters or epistolary novel (Briefroman), since there are several collections of Greek letters surviving from antiquity which tell a story of some kind, and which have accordingly sometimes been analysed as analogues of the modern epistolary novel. But there are some dangers in assuming too readily that these ancient collections of letters are straightforwardly equivalent to modern epistolary novels, not the least of which is failing to examine properly what is distinctive, and distinctively Greek, about these ancient letters and the narratives they tell.

In this chapter, therefore, I examine some prominent examples of these ancient and modern epistolary narratives alongside one another to illustrate some of the differences as well as some of the similarities between them, in order to achieve a more systematic and thorough understanding of the connections (and disconnections) between ancient and modern examples of stories told in letters. I concentrate on what one might term epistolary narratives ‘proper’, that is, on narratives mostly or entirely told by means of a series of letters, rather than narratives containing embedded letters or narratives consisting of a letter relating a narrative.

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Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2014

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