CLASSICAL GREEK LITERARY LETTERS
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CLASSICAL GREEK LITERARY LETTERS book
This section of the anthology includes epistolary passages embedded in classical tragedy and history. In the ﬁfth and early fourth centuries BCE, references to letters and the written word begin to crop up more frequently in literature, especially in the pages of historians and in performance on the Athenian stage. Aeschylus (Prometheus Bound 460-1) praised writing in general as a beneﬁt to mankind and a mark of advanced civilization, while Euripides (Palamedes 578 Nauck) extolled the usefulness speciﬁcally of letters in keeping people informed about the affairs of friends and relatives abroad. Cratinus, an older contemporary of Aristophanes, included in one of his comedies a scene in which a letter was read out loud: at one point, an unidentiﬁed character says “now listen to this letter!” (Kassel and Austin 1983: 316). The historians Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon focused on the power of written messages to communicate across enemy lines, as commanders sought ever more secure ways to send military secrets. While most of the passages below are fairly brief, they highlight themes that will recur in later post-classical epistolary narratives, namely urgent appeals for assistance in times of crisis, mistaken deliveries to the wrong addressee, dangerous misreadings, and scribbled confessions of secret passions.