Macquarie University
01whole.pdf (5.66 MB)

Ancient Greek at work: a pragmatic approach to business letters in 3rd century B.C.E. Egypt

Download (5.66 MB)
posted on 2022-03-28, 00:56 authored by George William Mackay
The value of the documentary papyri in Ancient Greek to scholars of the language has long been recognised and they have been studied from a number of perspectives. These have included analysis of the information the documents make available to us about the development of Ancient Greek grammar (semantics, syntax and morphology) and phonology. The structure of particular genres such as petitions and letters has also been examined. This thesis takes a sample of business letters from the Zenon archive and the archive of Kleon and Theodoros (3rd Century B.C.E.) and examines, to the extent that we can infer them, the purposes of the writers. It seeks to identify some of the goals the writers were pursuing, with all that this may tell us about the society in which they lived, and, most importantly, the ways they used language to achieve those goals. The theory of language that informs this investigation is consistent with that branch of modern linguistics known as pragmatics and with the approach of classical rhetoric. While by no means a thesis in linguistics, it takes a number of concepts from speech act theory in particular, as well as politeness theory and Griceís theory of conversational implicature, and uses them as tools to provide a framework for the thesis and for textual analysis. The use of rhetorical tropes in the letters, and appeals to λόγος, πάθος andἦθος as means of persuasion, is also examined when relevant. Following an Introduction, Part I sets out the theoretical foundations of the thesis and reviews previous work on Ancient Greek from a similar perspective. Part II examines the use of directive speech acts in the letters sampled, including threats, warnings, orders, requests, and petitioning. Part III considers assertive, commissive and expressive speech acts. Following these three parts, a chapter of Conclusions sets out what the thesis has shown about the way language was used in these documents and about the society that produced them. It also evaluates the usefulness of the pragmatic approach to them.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. Approaches to language -- 3. Pragmatics and ancient Greek: previous studies -- 4. Directives in the papyri -- 5. Threats and warnings -- 6. Orders -- 7. Requests -- 8. Petitions and petitioning -- 9. Other speech acts in the archives -- 10. Assertives -- 11. Commissives and expressives -- 12. Conclusions.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 275-287

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Ancient History

Department, Centre or School

Department of Ancient History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Trevor Vivian Evans


Copyright George William Mackay 2016 Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (iii, 287, xxxviii pages)

Former Identifiers