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The Gift of Correspondence in Classical Rome

Friendship in Cicero's Ad Familiares and Seneca's Moral Epistles

Amanda Wilcox

Publication Year: 2012

Amanda Wilcox offers an innovative approach to two major collections of Roman letters—Cicero’s Ad Familiares and Seneca’s Moral Epistles—informed by modern cross-cultural theories of gift-giving.
    By viewing letters and the practice of correspondence as a species of gift exchange, Wilcox provides a nuanced analysis of neglected and misunderstood aspects of Roman epistolary rhetoric and the social dynamics of friendship in Cicero’s correspondence. Turning to Seneca, she shows that he both inherited and reacted against Cicero’s euphemistic rhetoric and social practices, and she analyzes how Seneca transformed the rhetoric of his own letters from an instrument of social negotiation into an idiom for ethical philosophy and self-reflection. Though Cicero and Seneca are often viewed as a study in contrasts, Wilcox extensively compares their letters, underscoring Cicero’s significant influence on Seneca as a prose stylist, philosopher, and public figure.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xi

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pp. 3-22

In recent years, scholarly attention to the study of Roman correspondence has greatly increased. But our understanding of the complex cultural location of letters, poised as they are at the intersection of literature, communication, and practice, remains incomplete. So too does our understanding of their power to shape relationships, policies, and the personae their authors hoped to ...

Part One: Cicero - The Social Life of Letters

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1. Euphemism and Its Limits

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pp. 25-39

Cicero was a master of epistolary euphemism, adept and inventive at flattering his addressees, and shrewd in gauging, on the one hand, how much to suggest or reveal and, on the other, how much to conceal or disguise his own interest in the outcome or continuation of various exchanges. He delicately manages and discreetly veils the self- interest that permeated late republican letter exchanges, ...

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2. Consolation and Competition

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pp. 40-63

“I have received a consolatory letter from Caesar sent April 30th from Hispalis.” (A Caesare litteras accepi consolatorias datas prid. Kal. Mai. Hispalis, Att. 13.20 [328].) So begins a letter to Atticus written at the beginning of July 45, about five months after the death of Cicero’s daughter, Tullia. For Cicero, the arrival of a letter of consolation from Caesar is not only worthy of mention, but ...

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3. Absence and Increase

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pp. 64-78

To push our appreciation of the terminological range and subtlety of Cicero’s epistolary rhetoric of friendship still further, we may start by comparing some lines from Catullus’s poem 50 with a climactic passage from Cicero’s Laelius de amicitia. A day spent drinking wine and engaging in witty conversation with his friend Gaius Licinius Calvus leaves Catullus infl amed. He manages to get ...

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4. Recommendation

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pp. 79-96

In the classical world as now, letters of recommendation were an essentially practical epistolary form.1 A more powerful person would write a letter on behalf of a less powerful protégé, a recommendation addressed to a third party who was an existing connection of the writer and a connection hoped for by the protégé. Thus business was transacted and careers were advanced. But the practical function ...

Part Two: Seneca - Commercium Epistularum: The Gift Refigured

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5. From Practice to Metaphor

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pp. 99-114

A complex system of social negotiation carried on by familiar correspondence and other practices involved in the production and maintenance of amicitia confronted Seneca as, through his Moral Epistles, he undertook a redefinition of Roman friendship. Two aspects of this system were especially prominent, and problematic, for Seneca’s project. First, success depended on personal ...

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6. Rehabilitating Friendship

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pp. 115-131

Books 1 through 3 of the Moral Epistles reclaim a vivid sense for a figurative vocabulary that had grown pale with use. They construct the character of Lucilius, they establish Lucilius and Seneca’s relationship as amicitia, and they invite the reader to join in the exchange. The definition of friend (amicus) and the practice of friendship (amicitia) are treated in several early letters, and the ...

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7. Redefining Identity: Persons, Letters, Friends

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pp. 132-156

The letters in the first three books of the Moral Epistles sketch portraits of Lucilius, of Seneca, and of the friendship that connects them, based in their common pursuit of the happy life. Of course, this Lucilius is “Lucilius” and Seneca is “Seneca.” Each member of the pair is a character, and although the biographical details that characterize this Lucilius match those that are ...

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8. Consolation and Community

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pp. 157-174

Seneca composed several prose consolations long before embarking on the Moral Epistles.1 His consolation for Marcia on the death of her adult son is his earliest extant work. It was followed by two consolations written during his eight years of exile on Corsica. The first of these was addressed to Polybius, an imperial freedman who would have the emperor’s ear.2 The second was for ...


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pp. 175-197


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pp. 199-208


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pp. 209-218

Index Locorum

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pp. 219-223

E-ISBN-13: 9780299288334
E-ISBN-10: 0299288331
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299288341
Print-ISBN-10: 029928834X

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 813392075
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Gift of Correspondence in Classical Rome

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Subject Headings

  • Cicero, Marcus Tullius. Epistolae ad familiares.
  • Cicero, Marcus Tullius -- Correspondence -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, ca. 4 B.C.-65 A.D. Epistulae morales ad Lucilium.
  • Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, ca. 4 B.C.-65 A.D. -- Correspondence -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Authors, Latin -- Correspondence.
  • Latin letters -- History and criticism.
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