Opening: a sense of immediacy
Closing: a sense of resonance and completion
Horus to the most honoured Apion greeting. Regarding Lampon the mouse-catcher, I paid him on your account 8 drachmae as earnest money to catch mice in Toka. You will kindly send me this sum. I have also lent 8 drachmae to Dionysius, president of Nemerae, and he has not sent them back; this is to inform you. Goodbye. Pauni 24. (108) Horus could not have requested repayment for the earnest money without a compelling sense of responsibility or duty. In fact, because the request is deeply grounded in honor, he can almost forgo politeness and demand what is due to him: “You will kindly send me this sum.” While the private letter relies on friendship and intimacy, antithetically the official letter invokes authoritative hierarchy and duty.
Horus to the most honoured Apion greeting. Regarding Lampon the mouse-catcher, I paid him on your account 8 drachmae as earnest money to catch mice in Toka. You will kindly send me this sum. I have also lent 8 drachmae to Dionysius, president of Nemerae, and he has not sent them back; this is to inform you. Goodbye. Pauni 24. (108)
Horus could not have requested repayment for the earnest money without a compelling sense of responsibility or duty. In fact, because the request is deeply grounded in honor, he can almost forgo politeness and demand what is due to him: “You will kindly send me this sum.” While the private letter relies on friendship and intimacy, antithetically the official letter invokes authoritative hierarchy and duty.
|GALATIANS— personal letter and official pronouncement
In fact, Galatians could easily be adumbrated around the authoritative tone of one holding the office of an apostle, and the pastoral tone of one who had brought the gospel to the Galatians. In this sense, Galatians shares the characteristics both of an official edict and of a personal letter. Such blending may seem surprising, yet given the close interplay between the personal letter with its expectation of shared confidence and the official letter with its expectation of compelling duty, the two are not really that far apart. In fact, the rhetorical setting of the private letter enlarges the puissance of the official edict, and when the two can be blended, the effect becomes even more telling.
|Epistolary Structure—closing words
The openings and conclusions of letters should conform with the degree of friendship (you share with the recipient) or with his rank, and should be according to customary practice. One ought to answer letters by having at one’s fingertips the very letters to which one would reply lest one forgot to what it was that he was replying. As a rule, the ancients wrote in their own hands to those closest to them, or at least frequently appended a post-script. (8-12)
Especially important here is that Julius Victor discusses both private and official letters almost as having no discernable differences. Even so, one needed to follow the customary standards and not confuse rank with friendship even when epistolary convention might allow a handwritten note or personal signature.
In an pure official edict, of course, the appeal to friendship would necessarily be absent. After all, the edict by its nature must assume a different rhetorical stance, maintaining, in fact, a distance of rank between writer and audience. An emperor writing a decree to the populace must frame his words as an emperor; a tone of familiarity would not only be regarded as inappropriate, but would probably achieve only a sense of contempt.
The dignity of the office demands that familiarity be eschewed just as the dignity of friendship demands that friendship be genuine. Of course, the distance between ruler and ruled might be tempered by some reference to an empowered graciousness or benevolence, but beyond that, the reality lies in a real difference in status. We may want our rulers to notice us, but we do not want our rulers to be like us. Illustrative of the rhetorical interplay of distance and position can be seen in this excerpt taken from an official letter issued by the Emperor Hadrian:
But for my own part I have much pleasure in enunciating a principle which allows me to interpret more liberally the rather strict rule established by emperors before me. For although those who were thus acknowledged in the period of military service are not legitimate heirs of their fathers, nevertheless I decide that they also are able to claim possession of the property through that clause of the edict which give this right to kinsmen by birth. This bounty of mine it will be your duty to make known both to my soldiers and to the veterans, not to enable me to take credit in their eyes, but in order that they may use this privilege, should they be ignorant of it. (Select Papyri II, 89-90).
The formal tone of the letter immediately sets up a sense of distance between Hadrian and his intended audience. Although the letter is addressed to Rammius, a praefect, the contents are clearly intended for a wider distribution. In addition, the epistolary prescript records that the letter had been publicly displayed. Especially important is the way the edict closes by specifically delineating both duty and graciousness: “This bounty of mine it will be your duty to make well known. . . .” The resonance here, of course, closely resembles that found in a personal letter. Rather than a regretful reminder, there is a final injunction, and in place of the intimacy of a friendship, there is the bestowing of favors from one in power.
Certainly, not every edict would have read as this one does. Most edicts and orders, in fact, were perfunctory announcements carrying some official imprimatur. Fundamentally, the aim was purely informative rather than persuasive. Even so, Demetrius complains about the careless style characteristic of many official letters:
While (letters) ought to be written as skillfully as possible, they are in fact composed indifferently by those who undertake such services for men in public office (Epistolary, 5).
Nevertheless, whenever possible the official letter followed a more communicative style at approaching the tone (and even the wording) of the private correspondence. In this sense, the epistles of the New Testament are no different.