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Classics and Ancient History

Ancient Letter Collections

The Ancient Letter Collections Project is a four-year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (£500k) which will examine all of the letter collections in Greek and Latin surviving from classical antiquity. It forms part of Manchester’s wider Ancient Epistolography Network.

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 will determine 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 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 ordering that is found in the ancient MSS. By seeking to establish how each letter collection to survive from antiquity was originally arranged in its MS form, we aim to recover, and promote the importance of, distinctively ancient reading practices in relation to letter collections.

The project will result in two substantial books: i) a critical review of each of the c. 70 surviving Greco-Roman letter collections before 500 A.D., and ii) an accompanying synoptic interpretative monograph.

The major component of the critical review is a series of cross-referenced discursive essays. Each essay will include the following information for each surviving letter collection:

  • basic information on authors, dates and other works;
  • total number of letters in the collection and total number of addressees (in the largest surviving version of the collection);
  • a detailed descriptive essay on the main patterns of arrangement visible in the available manuscripts, including key information on the earliest evidence available for an existing collection.
  • an essay-survey of modern editions and short critical bibliography of significant items.

The synoptic interpretative monograph – building on the foundations of the critical review – will look at the field as a whole and ask questions about wider patterns of organization and associated reading practices.