The Difference between Dialogues and Letters

Demetrius, On Style 223-224

“Then we will talk about the style of a letter which also needs to be simple. Artemôn who edited the letters of Aristotle, says that we ought to write letters the same way as dialogues since a letter is similar to one side of a dialogue.

Perhaps he speaks the truth in this, but not all of it. For a letter ought to be a little more formalized than a dialogue. For a dialogue imitates speaking extemporaneously while a letter is written and sent as a gift in some way.”

(223) Ἐπεὶ δὲ καὶ ὁ ἐπιστολικὸς χαρακτὴρ δεῖται ἰσχνότητος, καὶ περὶ αὐτοῦ λέξομεν. Ἀρτέμων μὲν οὖν ὁ τὰς Ἀριστοτέλους ἀναγράψας ἐπιστολάς φησιν, ὅτι δεῖ ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ τρόπῳ διάλογόν τε γράφειν καὶ ἐπιστολάς· εἶναι γὰρ τὴν ἐπιστολὴν οἷον τὸ ἕτερον μέρος τοῦ διαλόγου.

(224) καὶ λέγει μέν τι ἴσως, οὐ μὴν ἅπαν· δεῖ γὰρ ὑποκατεσκευάσθαι πως μᾶλλον τοῦ διαλόγου τὴν ἐπιστολήν· ὁ μὲν γὰρ μιμεῖται αὐτοσχεδιάζοντα, ἡ δὲ γράφεται καὶ δῶρον πέμπεται τρόπον τινά.

 

Image result for medieval manuscript epistle writing
Enter a caption

“I hear You’re a Lover of Learning”: An Unlikely Letter to a Leader

Isocrates, Letter to Alexander, 5

“I hear everyone saying how you are a man of goodwill to humanity and lover of learning, not foolishly so, but in practical fashion. For they add that you welcome some of our citizens who have not neglected themselves by pursuing base interests but those in whose presence you would not feel any grief by staying and whose alliance and shared goals would bring you neither harm nor injustice. Indeed, these are the sorts of men wise people should choose to be near.

When it comes to schools of philosophy, people report that you do not despise the practice of eristic argumentation, which you think is right to value in individual conversations, you do think that it is not proper for those in charge of many people or those who rule in monarchies. For, it is not advantageous or proper for those who think that they are greater than others to strive with politicians on their own or to allow others to disagree with them.

I hear that you do not take pleasure in this training, but instead have selected for yourself education about arguments which you might use in response to events which transpire on any given day and which help us us make plans about common affairs. Through this, it is possible to form an appropriate opinion about what will happen in the future and to give commands competently to the people you rule as to what is best for each person to do, you will learn how to make good judgments about what is right and just and opposite to both. In addition, you will learn when to honor and criticize as is fitting for each group.

You are wise, then, in showing concern for these things. For you provide hope to your father and the rest that, as you get older if you persist in these studies, you will outpace others as far in prudence as your father has surpassed all people [in war].”

 

Ἀκούω δέ σε πάντων λεγόντων ὡς φιλάνθρωπος εἶ καὶ φιλαθήναιος καὶ φιλόσοφος, οὐκ ἀφρόνως ἀλλὰ νοῦν ἐχόντως. τῶν τε γὰρ πολιτῶν ἀποδέχεσθαί σε τῶν ἡμετέρων οὐ τοὺς ἠμεληκότας αὑτῶν καὶ πονηρῶν πραγμάτων ἐπιθυμοῦντας, ἀλλ᾿ οἷς συνδιατρίβων τ᾿ οὐκ ἂν λυπηθείης, συμβάλλων τε καὶ κοινωνῶν πραγμάτων οὐδὲν ἂν βλαβείης οὐδ᾿ ἀδικηθείης, οἵοις περ χρὴ πλησιάζειν τοὺς εὖ φρονοῦντας· τῶν τε φιλοσοφιῶν οὐκ ἀποδοκιμάζειν μὲν οὐδὲ τὴν περὶ τὰς ἔριδας, ἀλλὰ νομίζειν εἶναι πλεονεκτικὴν ἐν ταῖς ἰδίαις διατριβαῖς, οὐ μὴν ἁρμόττειν οὔτε τοῖς τοῦ πλήθους προεστῶσιν οὔτε τοῖς τὰς μοναρχίας ἔχουσιν· οὐδὲ γὰρ συμφέρον οὐδὲ πρέπον ἐστὶ τοῖς μεῖζον τῶν ἄλλων φρονοῦσιν οὔτ᾿ αὐτοῖς ἐρίζειν πρὸς τοὺς συμπολιτευομένους οὔτε τοῖς ἄλλοις ἐπιτρέπειν πρὸς αὑτοὺς ἀντιλέγειν.

Ταύτην μὲν οὖν οὐκ ἀγαπᾶν σε τὴν διατριβήν, προαιρεῖσθαι δὲ τὴν παιδείαν τὴν περὶ τοὺς λόγους, οἷς χρώμεθα περὶ τὰς πράξεις τὰς προσπιπτούσας καθ᾿ ἑκάστην τὴν ἡμέραν καὶ μεθ᾿ ὧν βουλευόμεθα περὶ τῶν κοινῶν· δι᾿ ἣν νῦν τε δοξάζειν περὶ τῶν μελλόντων ἐπιεικῶς, τοῖς τ᾿ ἀρχομένοις προστάττειν οὐκ ἀνοήτως ἃ δεῖ πράττειν ἑκάστους, ἐπιστήσει, περὶ δὲ τῶν καλῶν καὶ δικαίων καὶ τῶν τούτοις ἐναντίων ὀρθῶς κρίνειν, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις τιμᾶν τε καὶ κολάζειν ὡς προσῆκόν ἐστιν ἑκατέρους. σωφρονεῖς οὖν νῦν ταῦτα μελετῶν· ἐλπίδας γὰρ τῷ τε πατρὶ καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις παρέχεις, ὡς, ἂν πρεσβύτερος γενόμενος ἐμμείνῃς τούτοις, τοσοῦτον προέξεις τῇ φρονήσει τῶν ἄλλων, ὅσον περ ὁ πατήρ σου διενήνοχεν ἁπάντων

Image result for alexander the great

 

“Greetings to My Sister”: A Letter Home

This is from the Loeb collection of private papyri. Thanks to .@graham_claytor, here’s a link to the text on line

B.G.U. 7.1680 (CE 2nd Century?=Trismegistos 30955)

“Isis sends her mother the most greetings. I make a prayer for you each day before lord Sarapis and the gods who are with him.

I want to tell you that I made it safely and well to Alexandria in four days. I send greetings to my sister and her children, and Elouath and his wife, as well as Diokorous and her husband and son and Tamalis and her husband and son, and Hêron and Ammonarion and her children and her husband and Sanpat and her children. If Aiôn wants to join the army, have him come. For everyone is joining the army.

I pray for you and everyone in the house to be well.

Your daughter, Isis

Ἶσεις Θερμουθίῳ τῇ μητρὶ πλεῖστα χαίρειν. τὸ προσκύνημά σου ποιῶ καθ᾿ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν παρὰ τῷ κυρίῳ [Σ]αράπιδι καὶ τοῖς συννάοις θεοῖς. γεινώσκειν σε θέλω ὅτι εὖ καὶ καλῶς γέγονα εἰς Ἀλεξάνδρειαν ἐν τέσσαρσι ἡμέραις. ἀσπάζομαι τὴν ἀδε[λ]φήν μο[υ] καὶ τὰ παιδία καὶ Ἐλουᾶθ καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ Διοσκοροῦν καὶ τὸν ἄνδρα αὐτῆς καὶ τὰ παιδία καὶ Τ[ά]μαλιν καὶ τὸν 7ἄνδρα αὐτῆς καὶ τὸν υἱὸν καὶ Ἥρωνα καὶ Ἀμμωνάριον καὶ τὰ παιδία αὐτῆς καὶ τὸν ἄνδρα καὶ Σανπὰτ καὶ τὰ παιδία αὐτῆς. καὶ ἐὰν θελήσῃ Ἀΐων στρατεύσασθαι, ἐρχέσθω· στρατεύονται γὰρ πάντες. ἐρρῶσθαι ⟦σε⟧ ὑμᾶς εὔχομαι πανοικί.
Verso: – – – π](αρὰ) Ἴσειτος θυγατρός.

Here’s a picture of the letter (again, thanks to @graham_claytor)

papyrus page with legible writing; tattered bottom edge
This is a different letter.

“If it is a girl…”: A Letter about Child Exposure

This letter contains a reference to disposing of a female infant. 

P. Oxy. 120 (1st Century BCE) From Hilarion to Alis

“Hilarion sends sends many, many greetings to his sister along with my lady Berous and Apollonarion. Listen, we are still in Alexandria. Don’t worry about this—if they go home completely, I will stay in Alexandria. I am asking you and begging you to take care of the little child and when we are paid, I will send it to you right away. If you happen to be pregnant again, if it is a boy, leave it; if it is a girl, throw it out.

You have told Aphrodisias “don’t forget me.” How could I possibly forget you? Please, do not be worried….”

Ἱλαρίων{α} Ἄλιτι τῆι ἀδελφῇ πλεῖστα χαίρειν καὶ Βεροῦτι τῇ κυρίᾳ μου καὶ Ἀπολλωνάριν. γίνωσκε ὡς ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἐν Ἀλεξανδρέᾳ ᾿σμεν. μὴ ἀγωνιᾷς· ἐὰν ὅλως εἰσπορεύονται, ἐγὼ ἐν Ἀλεξανδρέᾳ μενῶ. ἐρωτῶ σε καὶ παρακαλῶ σε, ἐπιμελήθ<ητ>ι τῷ παιδίῳ καὶ ἐὰν εὐθὺς ὀψώνιον λάβωμεν ἀποστελῶ σε ἄνω. ἐὰν πολλὰ πολλῶν τέκῃς, ἐὰν ᾖ{ν} ἄρσενον, ἄφες, ἐὰν ᾖ{ν} θήλεα, ἔκβαλε. εἴρηκας δὲ Ἀφροδισιᾶτι ὅτι μή με ἐπιλάθῃς. πῶς δύναμαί σε ἐπιλαθεῖν; ἐρωτῶ σε οὖν ἵνα μὴ ἀγωνιάσῃς.

Image result for medieval manuscript childbirth
Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts · Osée et Gomer. Birth of Yizréel Cote : Français 10 , Fol. 444 Guiard

No One Who Is Serious Writes Their Best Ideas Down

Plato, Epistle 7 344c-e

“For this reason it is necessary that every serious person does not write about serious subjects so that they might not end up an object of envy or confusion among regular people. Simply, when you look at someone’s written work, whether it is a law by a legislator or anything by anyone else, you need to understand that this is not the person’s most serious work even if the author is very serious. Instead, his best works remain in the most noble part of his own realm. But if it turns out that the most serious works are those they have been written down, it is surely not the gods, but mortals themselves “who have totally ruined their senses.”

Anyone who has been following this story and my digression will clearly know that whether Dionysus has written anything about the ultimate and primary truths of nature or some lesser or greater mind has done the same, according to my argument nothing of what he has written is sound thanks to what he has learned or what he has heard. For, he would have the same respect for these things as I do and would not dare to make them available for inappropriate or unacceptable reception.

Dionysius did not write those things for the sake of reminding himself. For there is no danger of anyone forgetting a thing once he has obtained it with his soul, where it is settled among the smallest of all places. But it was for shameful pride, if truly he did write, either as a way of establishing the ideas as his own or to demonstrate that he was an initiate in great learning for which he proved himself unworthy by delighting in the reputation he might gain from it. If this happened to Dionysius because of our single interaction, it could be the case. But how, Only Zeus knows, as the Theban says. For, as I said before, I went through my ideas with him only once and never again afterwards.”

Διὸ δὴ πᾶς ἀνὴρ σπουδαῖος τῶν ὄντως σπουδαίων πέρι πολλοῦ δεῖ μὴ γράψας ποτὲ ἐν ἀνθρώποις εἰς φθόνον καὶ ἀπορίαν καταβάλῃ· ἑνὶ δὴ ἐκ τούτων δεῖ γιγνώσκειν λόγῳ, ὅταν ἴδῃ τίς του συγγράμματα γεγραμμένα εἴτε ἐν νόμοις νομοθέτου εἴτε ἐν ἄλλοις τισὶν ἅττ᾿ οὖν, ὡς οὐκ ἦν τούτῳ ταῦτα σπουδαιότατα, εἴπερ ἔστ᾿ αὐτὸς σπουδαῖος, κεῖται δέ που ἐν χώρᾳ τῇ καλλίστῃ τῶν τούτου· εἰ δὲ ὄντως αὐτῷ ταῦτ᾿ ἐσπουδασμένα ἐν γράμμασιν ἐτέθη, Ἐξ ἄρα δή οἱ ἔπειτα, θεοὶ μὲν οὔ, βροτοὶ δὲ φρένας ὤλεσαν αὐτοί.

Τούτῳ δὴ τῷ μύθῳ τε καὶ πλάνῳ ὁ ξυνεπισπόμενος εὖ εἴσεται, εἴτ᾿ οὖν Διονύσιος ἔγραψέ τι τῶν περὶ φύσεως ἄκρων καὶ πρώτων εἴτε τις ἐλάττων εἴτε μείζων, ὡς οὐδὲν ἀκηκοὼς οὐδὲ μεμαθηκὼς ἦν ὑγιὲς ὧν ἔγραψε κατὰ τὸν ἐμὸν λόγον· ὁμοίως γὰρ ἂν αὐτὰ ἐσέβετο ἐμοί, καὶ οὐκ ἂν αὐτὰ ἐτόλμησεν εἰς ἀναρμοστίαν καὶ ἀπρέπειαν ἐκβάλλειν. οὔτε γὰρ ὑπομνημάτων χάριν αὐτὰ ἔγραψεν· οὐδὲν γὰρ δεινὸν μή τις αὐτὸ ἐπιλάθηται, ἐὰν ἅπαξ τῇ ψυχῇ περιλάβῃ, πάντων γὰρ ἐν βραχυτάτοις κεῖται· φιλοτιμίας δὲ αἰσχρᾶς, εἴπερ, ἕνεκα, εἴθ᾿ ὡς αὑτοῦ τιθέμενος εἴθ᾿ ὡς παιδείας δὴ μέτοχος ὤν, ἧς οὐκ ἄξιος ἦν ἀγαπῶν δόξαν τὴν τῆς μετοχῆς γενομένην. εἰ μὲν οὖν ἐκ τῆς μιᾶς συνουσίας Διονυσίῳ τοῦτο γέγονε, τάχ᾿ ἂν εἴη· γέγονε δ᾿ οὖν ὅπως, ἴττω Ζεύς, φησὶν ὁ Θηβαῖος· διεξῆλθον μὲν γὰρ ὡς εἶπόν τότε ἐγὼ καὶ ἅπαξ μόνον, ὕστερον δὲ οὐ πώποτε ἔτι.

enough about plato

After the Body, The Mind Fades Away

Seneca, Moral Epistle 26.1-3

“I was recently explaining to you that I am in sight of my old age—but now I fear that I have put old age behind me! There is some different word better fit to these years, or at least to this body, since old age seems to be a tired time, not a broken one. Count me among the weary and those just touching the end.

Despite all this, I still am grateful to myself, with you to witness it. For I do not sense harm to my mind from age even though I feel it in my body. Only my weaknesses—and their tools—have become senile. My mind is vigorous and it rejoices that it depends upon the body for little. It has disposed of the greater portion of its burden. It celebrates and argues with me about old age. It says that this is its flowering. Let’s believe it, let it enjoy its own good.

My mind commands that I enter into contemplation and I think about what debt I owe to wisdom for this tranquility and modesty of ways and what portion is due to my age. It asks that I think about what I am incapable of doing in contrast to what I do not wish to do, whether I am happy because I don’t want something or I don’t want something because I lack the ability to pursue it.

For, what complaint is there or what problem is it if something which was supposed to end has ended? “But,” you interject, “it is the worst inconvenience to wear out, to be diminished, or, if I can say it properly, to dissolve. For we are not suddenly struck down and dead, we are picked away at! Each individual day subtracts something from our strength!”

But, look, is there a better way to end than to drift off to your proper exit as nature itself releases you? There is nothing too bad in a sudden strike which takes life away immediately, but this way is easy, to be led off slowly.”

Modo dicebam tibi, in conspectu esse me senectutis; iam vereor, ne senectutem post me reliquerim. Aliud iam his annis, certe huic corpori, vocabulum convenit, quoniam quidem senectus lassae aetatis, non fractae, nomen est; inter decrepitos me numera et extrema tangentis.

Gratias tamen mihi apud te ago; non sentio in animo aetatis iniuriam, cum sentiam in corpore. Tantum vitia et vitiorum ministeria senuerunt; viget animus et gaudet non multum sibi esse cum corpore. Magnam partem oneris sui posuit. Exultat et mihi facit controversiam de senectute. Hunc ait esse florem suum. Credamus illi; bono suo utatur. Ire in cogitationem iubet et dispicere, quid ex hac tranquillitate ac modestia morum sapientiae debeam, quid aetati, et diligenter excutere, quae non possim facere, quae nolim †prodesse habiturus ad qui si nolim quidquid non posse me gaudeo.† Quae enim querella est, quod incommodum, si quidquid debebat desinere, defecit? “Incommodum summum est,” inquis, “minui et deperire et, ut proprie dicam, liquescere. Non enim subito inpulsi ac prostrati sumus; carpimur. Singuli dies aliquid subtrahunt viribus.”

Ecquis exitus est melior quam in finem suum natura solvente dilabi? Non quia aliquid mali est ictus et e vita repentinus excessus, sed quia lenis haec est via, subduci.

seneca strength

Cranky about the State of the Country

Cicero, letters to Atticus 375 (11 May 44)

“I have no doubt that our state is looking at war. This affair has been managed with a man’s bravery and a child’s planning. Can’t everyone see that a king was removed but his heir was left on the throne?

What is more ridiculous? To fear this but not to consider that a risk at all! There is still in this moment much which is crooked. That the house of Pontius near Naples is held by the mother of that tyrannicide! Oh!

I should read the “Cato the Elder” I made for you more often. Old age is making me rather cranky. I am annoyed by everything. But, certainly, I have lived. Let the young men see to these things. You will care for my affairs as you do.”

Mihi autem non est dubium quin res spectet ad castra. acta enim illa res est animo virili, consilio puerili. quis enim hoc non vidit, <regem sublatum>,2 regni heredem relictum? quid autem absurdius? ‘hoc metuere, alterum in metu non ponere!’ quin etiam hoc ipso tempore multa ὑποσóλοικα. Ponti Neapolitanum a matre tyrannoctoni possideri! legendus mihi saepius est ‘Cato maior’ ad te missus. amariorem enim me senectus facit. stomachor omnia. sed mihi quidem βεβíωται; viderint iuvenes. tu mea curabis, ut curas.

cranky cicero