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Level 7

7AACM215 Latin Literary Letters

Credit value: 20 credits
Module convenor/tutor: Dr Emily Pillinger 
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour weekly seminars
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x essay of 5,000 words (100%)

Pre-requisite: students must have Latin to an advanced level as teaching includes notable proportion of reading in the original language.
N.B. This module is not running in 2019-20
Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

Letter-writing, or ‘epistolography’, was both a political tool and an artistic medium in Roman culture. The literate elite of Roman society devoted considerable effort to maintaining lines of communication between each other even when they were unable to interact on a face-to-face basis, with the result that letters were used to sustain relationships across cities and across the empire. The letters that have survived to our day illustrate how Romans used the full tonal range of epistolary composition to write their way through political, philosophical and personal issues that could range from a lifetime’s exile to a brief separation in a love affair. As it became fashionable for individuals’ correspondence to be circulated among a wider public, so letters also became identified as a distinctive mode of writing that could be turned to more purely literary purposes.

In this module we will read a selection of letters, prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction, from late republican through to early imperial Rome. We will learn about ancient reading and publication practices, and engage with modern literary theories concerning epistolography. We will consider issues such as: how do letters deal with conflicts between public and private concerns, or between predominantly male and female spheres of ancient life? How do they negotiate the journeys they must make through both time and space? Are they more effective at conveying myths or the experiences of the writer? How do they relate to other literary modes and genres such as biography, historiography, mythography, philosophical dialogue, didactic, oratory, or love poetry? How do they fit with critical notions of ‘authorship’ and ‘readership’? 

Suggested Reading

The literature listed here is not mandatory nor exhaustive but provides further reading on topics treated during the lectures.

Suggested introductory reading:

  • R. Morello and A. D. Morrison, (eds.) Ancient Letters: Classical and Late Antique Epistolography, Oxford (2007), esp. R. Gibson ‘Introduction: What is a Letter?’

    C. Edwards, ‘Epistolography’, in A Companion to Latin Literature. Malden, MA (2005)

    J. Ebbeler, ‘Letters’, in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies. Oxford (2010)

    A. J. Malherbe, Ancient Epistolary Theorists, Scholars Press, Atlanta (1988)

    P. A. Rosenmeyer, Ancient Epistolary Fictions: The Letter in Greek Literature, Cambridge (2001), 19-35

    M. Trapp, ‘Introduction’, in Greek and Latin Letters: an anthology with translation, Cambridge (2003)

    J. G. Altman, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form. Columbus, OH (1982)

    S. Žižek, ‘Why Does a Letter Always Arrive at Its Destination?’ in Enjoy your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and out, Routledge (1992, 2001)

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