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Forme di comunicazione e ideologia della polis : discorso in assemblea, decreto, ed epistola ufficiale.

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  • Communication
  • History
  • Political Science
  • Social Sciences


The paper begins with some general reflections on the status of writing in contemporary cultural studies, endorsing the position that writing in and of itself has no intrinsic political qualities, but acquires ideological connotations with reference to specific historical contexts and communities. Within this theoretical framework, it then proceeds to offer a case study of official epistolary writing in ancient Greece, from the fifth to the first centuries BCE, in contrast to other types of official communication, such as public speech or the city-decree. An analysis of texts from the fifth and early fourth centuries (historiography and drama) finds that, in Athens, the use of letters as a means of public communication was felt to be problematic, whereas letter-writing was commonplace in Sparta. In the late fourth century, our evidence for the use of letters in the context of inter-state diplomacy becomes more frequent, partly because it was the preferred mode of royal communication. This diachronic survey prepares the ground for the final part, which tackles the epigraphic evidence from the Hellenistic age. Breaking with the communis opinio (prominently articulated by Bertrand) that only kings, but not poleis wrote letters, it draws attention to the presence of a significant number of polis-letters in our epigraphical corpus: particularly interesting in this regard are the relatively high numbers of inscribed letters from Crete and Sparta. The paper ends by identifying some common elements in the political culture of those cities that wrote letters and took the further step of preserving them in a permanent and public medium.

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