Thursday, 30 June 2011

Pauline Allen - Prolegomena to a Study of the Letter-Bearer in Christian Antiquity

One scholar has recently written of “an apparent explosion of epistolary practice” in late antiquity; another states that “our most substantial evidence for Greek and Latin letter-writing and collection practices is late antique”. Yet although in the last decade considerable attention has been paid to travel and information-transfer in late antiquity, there is no book on early Christian letter-writing in general, , and the role of the private letter-bearer has gone almost unnoticed.  

In this paper I begin to redress the imbalance between the avid scholarly attention paid to the cursus publicus and the role of the letter-bearer in Pauline literature and Christian papyrological letter-material on the one hand, and on the other the scant cognizance of the many hundreds of people, often named, who delivered bishops’ private letters in Christian antiquity. Although originally only certain ranks of the clergy were engaged as couriers for bishops, in fact we find a large range of private and lay individuals, female and male, Christian and non-Christian, slave and free, carrying letters and gifts to and from their bishops and performing other favours at their destinations.  Chiefly on the basis of edited Greek and Latin episcopal letters from the fifth and sixth centuries I examine the identity and nomenclature of the bearer, and the disparity between the variety of terms in Latin and the limited number of appellations in Greek.  

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