Reviewing Paola Ceccarelli's Ancient Greek Letter Writing, Josephine Crawley Quinn points out that letters were once “the new technology, superseding the oral message” and as Ceccarelli demonstrates, they were regarded by many with “suspicion and disapproval.” In contrast to Near Eastern empires, which had “used letters from the third millennium BC, sending them across vast distances to report matters large and small to the Pharaoh or the Great King, and to carry their orders back” the Greeks treated the personal letter with suspicion and distaste, even

well into the Hellenistic period, when letter writing had long become a part of everyday life. They highlight the possibility of loss, forgery and deception, and associate letters with danger, cruelty, women, mercenaries, merchants, tyrants and kings. According to Euripides' tragedy, the sacrifice of Iphigenia in Aulis by her father Agamemnon in the hope of better weather for the Greek fleet was brought about by the deceitful letter he was persuaded to write to her mother telling her to send the girl to be a bride for Achilles - and by reports that the Assyrian queen Atossa, as ivell as employing eunuchs and wearing baggy trousers, insisted on administering ; justice through letters rather than in person. creating an appropriate relationship, and an inappropriate distance, between herself and her subjects,

Summarizing Cecarelli, Quinn explains that the Greeks distrusted letters because they “are personal and private, reaffirming the individual relationship between writer and recipient and quite alien to the public and communal ideology of Greek city states. . . . Greek cities, and especially the democratic ones, tended to communicate through public decrees rather than letters” (5).


Quinn, Josephine Crawley. “Late Deliveries.” Times literary Supplement no. 5800 (May 10, 2014): 5.

Ceccarelli, Paola. ANCIENT GREEK LETTER WRITING: A cultural history . Oxford University Press. 2014.

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Last modified 6 June 2014