Letters of Alciphron


Book Details

Author  Frank Redmond
Publisher  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Publication Date   October 8, 2013
ISBN  1492937061
Pages  106

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ALCIPHRON, a Greek sophist, and the most eminent among the Greek epistolographers. Respecting his life or the age in which he lived we possess no direct information what­ever. Some of the earlier critics placed him, without any plausible reason, in the fifth century CE. Others who followed them placed Alciphron in the period between Lucian and Aristaenetus, that is, between 170 and 350 CE, while others again assign to him a date even earlier than the time of Lucian. The only circumstance that suggests anything respecting his age is the fact, that among the letters of Aristaenetus there are two (i. 5 and 22) between Lucian and Alciphron; now as Aristaenetus is nowhere guilty of any great historical inaccuracy, we may safely infer that Alciphron was a contemporary of Lucian—an inference which is not incompatible with the opinion, whether true or false, that Alciphron imitated Lucian.

We possess under the name of Alciphron 116 fictitious letters, in 3 books, the object of which is to delineate the characters of certain classes of men, by introducing them as expressing their peculiar sentiments and opinions upon subjects with which they were familiar. The classes of persons which Alciphron chose for this purpose are fishermen, country people, parasites, and hetaerae or Athenian courtesans. All are made to express their sentiments in the most graceful and elegant language, even where the subjects are of a low or obscene kind. The characters are thus somewhat raised above their common standard, without any great violation of the truth of reality. The form of these letters is exquisitely beautiful, and the language is the pure Attic dialect, such as it was spoken in the best times in familiar but refined conversation at Athens. The scene from which the letters are dated is, with a few exceptions, Athens and its vicinity; and the time, wherever it is discernible, is the period after the reign of Alexander the Great. The new Attic comedy was the principal source from which the author derived his information respecting the characters and manners which he describes, and for this reason these letters contain much valuable information about the private life of the Athenians of that time. It has been said, that Alciphron is an imitator of Lucian; but besides the style, and, in a few instances, the subject matter, there is no resemblance between the two writers: the spirit in which the two treat their subjects is totally different. Both derived their materials from the same sources, and in style both aimed at the greatest perfection of the genuine Attic Greek. Bergler has truly remarked that Alciphron stands in the same relation to Menander as Lucian to Aristophanes. The first edition of Alciphron's letters is that of Aldus, in his collection of the Greek Epistolographers, Venice, 1499. This edition, however, contains only those letters which, in more modern editions, form the first two books. Seventy-two new letters were added from a Vienna and a Vatican MS. by Bergler, in his edition (Leipzig, 1715) with notes and a Latin translation. These seventy-two epistles form the third book in Bergler's edition. J. A. Wagner, in his edition (Leipzig, 1798, 2 vols, with the notes of Bergler), added two new letters entire, and fragments of five others.

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