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Epistolary Style and Rhetorical Style: A Path Across Letters and Rhetorical Treatises

Francesco Ginelli

The purpose of the paper is to demonstrate the strong relationship between the theory of epistolary style explained by Cicero in fam. 9, 21, 1 and the rule of the tria genera oratoris clarified in de orat. 3, 210-212 and orat. 69-71. Although there are many Greek and Latin epistolary corpora still preserved (like that of Plato, Themistocles or Pliny), we don't have any ancient textbook about epistolary style, but only scattered theories or notes in many different texts. Recent studies have never tried to describe a uniform theory of Cicero's epistolary style, but they always concentrated separately on single matters, like connections between letters and speaking (Biville 2003; Garcea 2003a), grammar (Chessa 1999; Oliver 2002; Rauzy 2002; Garcea 2003b), use of Greek (Baldwin 1992), language of emotions (Jäger 1986; Garcea 2005), politeness (Hall 1996 and 2005; Roesch 2004; Leach 2006), thematic variety (Cugusi 1983). Nevertheless we can read brief epistolographystyle theories in Cic. fam. 2, 4, 1, where Cicero asserts that there are two different kinds of letters: Reliqua sunt epistularum genera duo, quae me magno opere delectant, unum familiare et iocosum, alterum severum et grave. This classification resembles the one in Cic. fam. 9, 21, 1, where Cicero makes a better distinction between the private epistle, sent to friends or for confidential communication, and the public one, written for publication or for official situations. Private letters are characterized by the use of sermo tenuis, whereas public epistles must have a sermo ornatius, like judiciary trials: ipsa iudicia non solemus omnia tractare uno modo: privatas causas, et eas tenues, agimus subtilius, capitis aut famae scilicet ornatius. This kind of classification, very close to the that of Democritus, suggests us that epistolography was ruled like oratory. So Hutchinson 1998, 7: «Cicero's own language in various ways implies both that letters can have an aesthetic dimension, and that the letter writer, like the orator, should use the system appropriately and resourcefully». This theory is very similar to the one explained in de orat. 3, 210-212, where Cicero sustains that style of private trial is very different from that of public lawsuit: nam et causae capitis alium quendam verborum sonum requirunt, alium rerum privatarum atque parvarum (so Shackleton Bailey 1977, 327). The good orator must adapt his speech both to the matter and to the public: refert etiam qui audiant, senatus an populus an iudices. This specific rule, called πρέπον or decorum, is exposed more precisely in Cic. or. 69-71, where Cicero links the tria officia oratoris with the respective tria genera dicendi: oratorical style musts adapt to themes, audiences and circumstances. The paper will so demonstrate the connection between the rules of epistolography as explained by Cicero and the theory of genera dicendi. This relationship will be highlighted showing both the contact points of this two different genres and the use of the same technical terminology.

Session/Panel Title:

Cicero across Genres

Session/Paper Number

38.4

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