Friday, March 14, 2008

"Fragmented Narrative: the Narratology of the Greek Letter," Department of Classics, University of Wales Lampeter, September 21–24, 2008.

Recent scholarship in Classics and beyond has shown great interest in letters and epistolary literature of all forms (most recently in R. Morello & A. D. Morrison, Ancient Letters), including the narrative uses of the epistolary form (see especially N. Holzberg’s Der griechische Briefroman and P. A. Rosenmeyer’s Ancient Epistolary Fictions). The use of embedded letters to advance the narrative (among other functions) in genres such as historiography and the novel, and the potential for real or pseudonymous letters or collections of letters to function as (real or fictionalised) biography, autobiography, or historical narrative/novel, mean that letters in antiquity play a crucial role in the development of narrative literature of many kinds, especially biographical and novelistic. Spurious and fictional letters have also been recognised as important in tracing the origins of the novel in early work in this field, but have since then been marginalised by scholars working on the novels, as in other fields, until recently. The particular capacity of letters to reveal the private lives of the great and the good, and likewise of ordinary people, makes epistolary literature an essential consideration in studying the invention of prose fiction in antiquity. The great popularity of letters, with varying degrees of fictionality or literariness, as reading-matter rather than merely tools for communication, especially in the Imperial period, also makes it essential that we pay attention to this genre and its great quantity and variety of texts, if we are to understand the reading practices and appreciate the literature of antiquity without modern prejudices about the ‘artificiality’ of epistolary literature. Letters are always about narrative, among other things: whether directly—narrating events to absent correspondents; or indirectly—presenting fragments of, or oblique hints at, an underlying narrative which the reader must reconstruct. In contrast to more general epistolary studies, the aim of this conference is to explore both this inherent narrative quality of letters and its use by Greek authors in a variety of genres and kinds of text; and the fragmentary, limited, sometimes even wilfully obscure nature of epistolary narratives which omit vital information in the name of verisimilitude. The result will be a series of discussions of the narratives and the narratology of the Greek letter, taking into account fresh approaches to epistolarity from a variety of disciplines, and considering some usually neglected epistolary texts. An edited volume (not simply a conference proceedings) is the intended outcome. The literary qualities of many collections of Greek letters are often overlooked, despite the fact that they were evidently read (and in later cases written) as literature or as fiction and display the same awareness of generic conventions and self-consciousness of their literary nature as other kinds (e.g. engaging in intertextuality with famous earlier letter collections—notably the Platonic letters). The conference therefore also aims to restore letters to a place of prominence in scholarship on Greek narratives of all genres, and to explore the great wealth of epistolary material in Greek which has been far less studied than similar texts in Latin—and in some cases (especially the so-called epistolary novels) have no obvious equivalent in Latin. Texts which are studied for other reasons but whose epistolary-literary form has not been examined in detail are also central to the project. (Many collections of letters are studied as part of the history of philosophy, oratory, medicine, etc., but there is much to be said about them as narratives and as epistolary literature.) Other texts, clearly spurious but purporting to be documents in the lives of famous historical characters, have been neglected largely because of their spuriousness, but are nevertheless significant in the development of epistolary and fictional literature and their relation to one another. Texts whose epistolarity seems only a ‘frame’ for some other form of text could also be considered, provided that they contain some form of narrative, however short. Further information may be found here:

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