Requests, Refusals, and Advice
This chapter examines three types of face-threatening act that regularly occur in the social interaction and correspondence of Roman aristocrats: making requests, issuing refusals, and offering advice. As the discussion shows, various conventionalized expressions of redressive politeness arose in Roman epistolary manners in order to ease the social tension often caused by these situations. Typical strategies used when making a request include acknowledging explicitly the imposition upon the addressee and offering a ready-made “out” (a valid reason for refusing). Conversely, when issuing a refusal, a Roman patron would often be careful to give reasons for his decision and to show that the refusal was not an easy one to make. Finally, when offering advice (especially to powerful peers), the Roman aristocrat frequently took pains to stress that such suggestions should not be taken to imply a certain ignorance on the part of the addressee. The extent to which this strategy prevailed shows again the Roman grandee's concern with personal status and dignitas. This latter topic is analyzed with reference in particular to the letters of Pompey and Decimus Brutus, and to the conventionalized use of the Latin phrase ut facis.
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