Audientae salutem dicit M.

Si vales, bene est, ego valeo.

Having never been the sort of person who was neither much good, nor well practiced, at writing letters, I’ve been recently thinking about the epistola (letter) and its modern and ancient forms. This line of thought has come about due to a discussion we held at the conclusion of this semester’s round of informal fortnightly seminars that my university department’s research students organise. We have started off doing what I’ll call quaestiones, a format in which some statement about the ancient world or its literature was formulated, short papers given for and against the proposition, and then an interesting round table discussion held. A very interesting and illuminating exercise. The proposal at the end of the semester was, that over the summer (for summer it nearly is in the southern hemisphere), we might study a single body of work over the ensuing weeks. One such body of works proposed were various collections of epistolae.

I realised with this proposal my contact with this important form of ancient literary expression was fairly minimal. I’m a historian really, not a philologist, or a scholar of epic or theatre. I’m primarily interested in questions of social organisation and historical development, to this way of thinking literature is a window into a patterns of thought (Hölkeskamp’s history of mentalities) rather than the end-goal of research. Oh, I had dipped into Cicero all right, and Pliny too, looking for some evidence in support of some historical point or other, but I have never really considered what they were doing as a form or mode of ancient expression.

My mind, when it’s on this sort of topic, likes to wander a bit. As a person who has never been disciplined at writing letters, even for one who spent so much of his youth far from home and his loved ones, I started to think about modern forms of the art. I think that the two closest forms, in the modern world, to the letter, are the email, and the blog post. Of course both of these can be purely functional, and in the main they are the types of emails I write: here is some interesting information for your perusal; I’m writing to ask you about that information we discussed; Would you like to visit the museum next weekend; There is an important task that we need to achieve together; Check out this amusing video of a cat doing something cute; What time do you think you can be here; Do you have time for a meeting tomorrow; — this sort of thing is the bread and butter of my inbox. My blog, as you see below, tends to be just re-posts of other blogs, news snippets, and emails which I get from other sources: calls for papers and announcements et cetera. The other common media of social expression, Facebook and Twitter (and Google+), don’t really lend themselves to any form of long-form expression. They are excellent at communicating brevity, they are truly made for the TL;DR crowd.[1]

Thus, it occurred to me (in the shower, where of course I have all my best ideas), that the ideal way for that I could explore this form, and as a way to differentiate inlustre monumentum est [2] from the crowd of much-more-interesting classics blogs, is to directly practice this form of communication on the blog, by writing the Epistolae monumenti directly to you, my Reader. I hope to be able to write directly to you primarily about aspects of my research, the turbulent times of the PhD student, and maybe touch upon the difficulties of striking a balance between part-time research and full-time work. Thus it is with some hope that over the future weeks, dearest Reader, that I write you again with some interesting tid-bit of research, discussion, or academic life that you may find worthy of your attention.

di te incolumem custodiant


[1] Too Long; Didn’t Read.
[2] No, and please don’t autocorrect that, annoying Mac OSX 10.7 global autocorrector. It is definitely not “in lustre monument set”!