Ancient Letter Collections

Project Details


 The Ancient Letter Collections Project is a major project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (£500k) which examines all of the letter collections in Greek and Latin surviving from classical antiquity up to around AD 400. It is a collaboration between the Universities of Durham and Manchester. It forms part of the wider Ancient Epistolography Network based at Manchester and is also associated with the Manchester Centre for Correspondence Studies.

The letter collections of Greco-Roman antiquity dwarf in total size all of ancient drama or ancient epic put together. Yet, unlike epic or drama, they have little visibility as a distinctive area of study. This project determines for the first time how many such collections survive, and through diachronic critical review of each collection to survive from the fourth century B.C. to the early fifth century A.D., establish the study of ancient letter collections as a discrete and unified field.

A central aim of the project to establish how ancient letter collections were ordered and read. A good number of surviving ancient letter collections are available only in standard modern editions which have abandoned the distinctive orderings that are found in the MSS. By seeking to establish how each letter collection to survive from antiquity was arranged (and often rearranged) in its MSS, we aim to recover, and promote the importance of, distinctively ancient reading practices in relation to letter collections.

The project will produce two books: (i) a critical review of all the surviving (Greek and Latin) letter collections up to about AD 410 and (ii) a synchronic monograph surveying the collections from a number of different perspectives. We have identified just over 50 letter collections for inclusion. The project is moving into the final phase of work on the critical review and is producing draft entries of about 4,000-6,000 words on each of the letter collections. Each entry includes a detailed review of the following relevant categories:

1.    Modern Reference Edition
2.    Senders
3.    Extent and Range of length
4.    Dating
5.    Arrangement of Letters in Mss
6.    Publication History
7.    Addressees and Summary of Contents
8.    Characteristics of the Collection
9.    Associations in MSS
10.   Current Text-Critical and Editorial Work
11.   Modern Critical Editions and Indicative Bibliography

Each entry contains some general information on the letter collection in question, but ultimately the emphasis falls on sections 5 and 8: how are the letters arranged in the MSS and what are the implications of these arrangements for ancient, medieval and modern readings of the letters? (Sections 6 and 9 provide supporting context for the posing of these questions.) The questions are important because under two-thirds of standard editions for our c. 50 letter collections either do not (or cannot) reflect the kinds of ordering and variant ordering visible in the MSS. The project as a whole is premised on the argument that the selection and ordering of letters determine the reception and interpretation of a given letter collection.
Short titleR:HAC Ancient Letter Colls
Effective start/end date1/12/1630/11/21


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