Scribe Mi (Write to Me): Requests in Non-Literary Latin Letters




Menendez, Elena

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This project examines requests in the non-literary Latin letters, preserved on parchment, tablets, and ostraca, from the 1st century BCE to the 4th century CE, in the social dimension of politeness. While every letter has a greeting and closing, it also requires a body; requests were the most common way of producing this, along with information-sharing (eg. advice, personal news). Two main factors determine politeness: the linguistic features of the formulation of the request, and how it is framed and contextualized in the broader letter. The latter is particularly affected by the fragmentary nature of the evidence. Rogo, mostly with a dependent subjunctive (with or without ut), was the most common way of expressing requests, but imperatives (including fac + subjunctive) are also common in connection with correspondence and other non-physical requests, such as making enquiries and passing along greetings. Other markers include peto, conditions, and jussive subjunctives. Requests were usually direct or framed with the need, with only letters of recommendation and from the later empire explicitly invoking the reward of gratitude to the requestee. Requests were a key component in cultivating reciprocity across distances, and their politeness strategies and implementation in surviving letters reflect that.



politeness, requests, non-literary Latin, letters