Furthermore, and puzzlingly so, the above-mentioned passage has not been found in any of Seneca’s works: Neil Cornwell, in a footnote to his book The Absurd in Literature, sums this mystery up by describing the quote as “unidentified [in Seneca’s writing] and possibly unidentifiable” (Cornwell 278). While one might speculate any number of reasons for this oddity, it might be worthwhile to consider it as a kind of prank in order to reward close reading in a slightly different way. The passage itself translates roughly to: “Nothing is more hateful to wisdom than too much cunning,” which at a basic level may be taken to represent the triumph of the tale’s villain, Minister D—, in hiding the letter from the proven methods of the Parisian police by way of putting it outside “the range of their search” (Poe 7). Poe’s fabricated attribution of the quote to Seneca essentially does the same thing to the readers by placing it outside of the capabilities of those who would search for it in its alleged context. In this case, therefore, those who close read the text would be more likely to understand this hint and avoid a futile search among the numerous works of Seneca for a passage which does not really exist. Thus, through the epigraph, Poe both discourages cursory reading and encourages close reading.
Similar instances of Poe using quotes from foreign sources in order to slow down the reading of his audience occur throughout “The Purloined Letter,” notably during the musings of the detective C. Auguste Dupin, who occasionally cites other writings or sayings in French, again without ever providing a translation. Though this makes sense within the context of the story due to the fact that it is set in France, Poe was largely writing for an American audience that may or may not have had a sufficient knowledge of the French language to understand these