Intercultural Communication
in Classical Antiquity

Jeremiah Reedy, Professor Emeritus,

Macalester College

Many scholars have observed that we read very little about "intercultural communications" in ancient authors.  J. P. Balsdon, for instance, wrote, "We hear surprisingly little of language difficulties in antiquity."  Learning foreign languages, teaching foreign languages, the role of the interpreter, contretemps caused by misunderstandings appear to be subjects that did not interest ancient authors.  This paper represents the fruit of an attempt to discover how the Greeks and Romans of the classical period communicated with the various peoples they encountered and were obliged to interact with who did not speak their languages.  I have been especially interested in interpreters, for example, who they were, how they were trained, how competent they were, etc.  The goal of the research project was threefold: to learn in the first place whether recent discoveries in epigraphy and papyrology have brought to light new information on this subject.  Secondly, I sought to learn if we can benefit in any way from what little is known about this aspect of the experience of the ancients.  Thirdly, I have attempted to garner from contemporary work in intercultural communications and sociolinguistics insights which might enhance our understanding of the available ancient texts. 

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