The Gift of Correspondence in Classical Rome, by Amanda Wilcox

Amanda Wilcox’s New Book Examines Two Major Collections of Roman Letters

The Gift of Correspondence in Classical Rome

Friendship in Cicero’s Ad Familiares and Seneca’s Moral Epistles

by Professor Amanda Wilcox

Amanda Wilcox offers an innovative approach to two major collections of Roman letters—Cicero’s Ad Familiares and Seneca’s Moral Epistles—informed by modern cross-cultural theories of gift-giving.

By viewing letters and the practice of correspondence as a species of gift exchange, Wilcox provides a nuanced analysis of neglected and misunderstood aspects of Roman epistolary rhetoric and the social dynamics of friendship in Cicero’s correspondence. Turning to Seneca, she shows that he both inherited and reacted against Cicero’s euphemistic rhetoric and social practices, and she analyzes how Seneca transformed the rhetoric of his own letters from an instrument of social negotiation into an idiom for ethical philosophy and self-reflection. Though Cicero and Seneca are often viewed as a study in contrasts, Wilcox extensively compares their letters, underscoring Cicero’s significant influence on Seneca as a prose stylist, philosopher, and public figure.

Wisconsin Studies in Classics

William Aylward and Patricia A. Rosenmeyer, General Editors

“The letter collections of Cicero and Seneca have rarely been considered in concert, a consideration crucial to furthering our understanding of ancient epistolography, epistolarity, and ancient literary gift-giving as a whole. Wilcox’s focus on letters as a sort of gift is an important, smart, and valuable one.”

—Sarah Culpepper Stroup, University of Washington

“Wilcox describes a ‘logic of practice’ for Roman letter-writing, reveals the contests and strategies at play in Cicero’s exchanges with his friends, and demonstrates that Seneca created his new genre of ‘moral letters’ through a brilliant short-circuiting of the forms and values of the epistolary system.”

—James Ker, author of The Death of Seneca

Amanda Wilcox is assistant professor of classics at Williams College in Massachusetts. She specializes in late republican and early imperial Latin prose, with interests in epistolography, ethics, and representations of grief and friendship.