Letters to the emperor : epistolarity and power relations from Cicero to Symmachus
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Traditionally Latin prose letters have been classified in one of two ways: often they are seen as historical documents to be mined for political, historical and social information; otherwise they are viewed as literature, to be read with a consideration of the role of rhetoric and persuasion. These letters are only rarely approached as letters, and classical scholars have only just begun to discover the benefits of applying epistolary theory to these texts. My thesis examines epistolary exchange within the context of Roman power relations, offering a new interpretation of the correspondences between the most powerful political figure in a given period and one from among the senatorial class. Cicero, Pliny the Younger, Fronto and Symmachus each conducted an epistolary exchange with a powerful figure with whom he hoped to gain influence, and despite the significant differences between them in terms of political and social circumstances, each uses his letters in similar ways to that end. I approach these texts, never before treated together in a comparative study, with a consideration of epistolarity, ‘the use of the letter’s formal properties to create meaning’, a concept developed by J. G. Altman (1982). These properties are identified and examined by means of detailed stylistic analysis of the Latin text. The act of writing a letter is an act of self-definition; the sender constructs a self defined necessarily in relation to a particular addressee. Thus the letter also affords a sender the opportunity to define the You, to whom he addresses himself. In the context of power relations in Roman politics, the letter then becomes a flexible tool of self-fashioning, by which a senator may attempt to influence the emperor.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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