Reading silently versus reading aloud in antiquity.

Discuss the world of the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, and Egyptians.
mbuckley3
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Re: Reading silently versus reading aloud in antiquity.

Post by mbuckley3 »

Reading Josephus's 'Vita', you could be forgiven for thinking that most of a commander's time was taken up with reading, writing and intercepting dispatches.

When necessary, a letter was read aloud. So #260 : "I then read aloud [ παρανεγίνωσκον ] to the Galilaeans two of the letters dispatched by Jonathan, which had been intercepted and forwarded to me by the scouts whom I had picketed on the roads."

When necessary, a letter was read silently. So #223 : "I directed four only of my closest friends to stay and ordered my servant to set on wine. Then, when no one was looking, I unfolded the letter, took in at a glance [ ταχύ συνείς ] the writers' design and sealed it up again."

So also #245 : "..Jonathan's couriers, carrying dispatches, fell into the hands of my sentries..The prisoners were, in accordance with my directions, detained on the spot; the letters I perused and, finding them full of slander and lies, decided, without mentioning a word of them to anyone, to advance to meet my foes."
mbuckley3
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Re: Reading silently versus reading aloud in antiquity.

Post by mbuckley3 »

Ovid, 'Heroides' 21, lines 1-2. A would-be suitor tricks Cydippe into making a sacred vow. As she tours the temple of Diana, an inscribed apple is rolled towards her. Her servant picks it up and asks her what it says. Naturally, she reads it out aloud. Unfortunately, the text is "By Diana, I swear I will marry Acontius". The trap is sprung, dire consequences follow.

He writes her a letter. Wary of further entrapment, she reads it silently :
"I was terrified, and I read through your letter without the slightest sound,
so that my tongue might not unknowingly swear by some other gods ".

"Pertimui, scriptumque tuum sine murmure legi,
iuraret ne quos inscia lingua deos".
mbuckley3
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Re: Reading silently versus reading aloud in antiquity.

Post by mbuckley3 »

Dio Chrysostom Oration 18.6

Dio is providing a reading list to a man who has power but lacks an elite education, who needs a 'crash course' in the classics to give the necessary resonance to his public speaking :

"I would counsel you to read Menander of the writers of Comedy quite carefully, and Euripides of the writers of Tragedy, and to do so, not casually by reading them to yourself
[ 'αυτόν 'αναγιγνώσκοντα ], but by means of others who know how to declaim [ 'υποκρίνασθαι ],
preferably pleasurably, at least not gratingly. For the perception is greater when one is relieved of the business of reading."

The context suggests that reading for 'research' would normally be done silently. The accelerated nature of Dio's educational programme, with its end point of public oratory, determines the switch to being read to, out loud.
mbuckley3
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Re: Reading silently versus reading aloud in antiquity.

Post by mbuckley3 »

Euripides, 'Iphigenia in Tauris', lines 760ff.

Iphigenia makes Pylades swear to deliver a letter safely to Argos. He negotiates an opt-out : if he is shipwrecked, survives but loses the letter, is he free from the oath's consequences? She :
"I will tell you what is written in the folds of this tablet for you to report to my friends. For this is secure : if you preserve the writing, it itself, though silent [ φράσει σιγωσα ], will speak its message; if the writing is lost in the sea, when you save yourself, you will save my words."
mbuckley3
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Re: Reading silently versus reading aloud in antiquity.

Post by mbuckley3 »

Suetonius, Life of Nero 15 :

"Furthermore, whenever he withdrew for consultation, he did not discuss any matter with all his advisers in a body, but had each of them give his opinion in written form; these he read silently and in private [tacitus ac secreto legens] and then gave a verdict according to his own inclination, as if it were the view of the majority."
mbuckley3
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Re: Reading silently versus reading aloud in antiquity.

Post by mbuckley3 »

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 5.8.2 :

"As soon, then, as it was day, Brutus seated himself upon the tribunal and examined the letters of the conspirators; and when he found those written by his sons, each of which he recognised by the seals, and, after he had broken the seals, by the handwriting, he first ordered both letters to be read by the secretary in the hearing of all who were present, and then commanded his sons to speak if they had anything to say."

In this piece of energetic historical fiction, the drama depends precisely on Brutus reading the letters silently, before they are 'published' out loud in open court, and the action resumes.
mbuckley3
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Re: Reading silently versus reading aloud in antiquity.

Post by mbuckley3 »

The ultimate condensation of the Sappho riddle in the OP occurs in the 'Altercatio Hadriani Augusti et Epicteti Philosophi'. This Q & A session between Hadrian and Epictetus is usually dated late C2/C3, which is perhaps optimistic, though possible; in the manuscript transmission, it is bundled together with such late C4 works as the 'Notitia Dignitatum' and the 'De Rebus Bellicis'.

Anyway, #2 is, underwhelmingly, this :

H : "What is a letter ?" Quid est epistola?
E : "A silent messenger" Tacitus nuncius
mbuckley3
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Re: Reading silently versus reading aloud in antiquity.

Post by mbuckley3 »

The eyes have it again in this tale from Pausanias (10.38.13) :

"The sanctuary of Asclepius I found in ruins, but it was originally built by a private person called Phalysius. For he had a complaint of the eyes, and when he was almost blind the god at Epidaurus sent to him the poetess Anyte, who brought with her a sealed tablet. The woman thought that the god"s appearance was a dream, but it proved at once to be a waking vision. For she found in her own hands a sealed tablet; so sailing to Naupactus she bade Phalysius take away the seal and read what was written. He did not think it possible to read the writing with his eyes in such a condition, but hoping to get some benefit from Asclepius he took away the seal. When he had looked at the wax [ιδων ες τον κηρον] he recovered his sight, and gave to Anyte what was written on the tablet, two thousand staters of gold." (LCL tr.)
mbuckley3
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Re: Reading silently versus reading aloud in antiquity.

Post by mbuckley3 »

Bernard Knox's splendidly bad-tempered article, referenced in the OP, should have put an end to the scholarly consensus that silent reading was virtually unknown before the fourth century. It did not.

In the Classical Quarterly 47/1 (1997), the formidable and exasperated Myles Burnyeat made two contributions to reinforce the Knox position.

Firstly, he translated Alexander Gavrilov's 'Techniques of Reading in Classical Antiquity'. Perhaps gaining perspective from his eyrie in St. Petersburg, Gavrilov focused in particular on Confessions 6.3.3, the Augustine/Ambrose passage (quoted in the OP). He argued cogently that this text, the bedrock of the consensus position, has been mis-read to fit the theory. At no point does Augustine remark on any novelty in reading silently. Both the narrow and wider context make it clear that what frustrated him was that he was unable to engage with his supposed mentor. Ambrose was literally a public figure, who insisted on spending his private hours, including reading, in public, seen but not available. It was this policy which Augustine tried to explain, but which still irked him; it is not about a reading technique.

Secondly, in his own 'Postscript on Silent Reading', Burnyeat supplied an overlooked piece of textual evidence. Many of the examples given in this thread could be dismissed as exceptions to the rule, forced by circumstance. A banal reference to the general experience of being silently absorbed in a text would be better. Taking advantage of a recently published English translation* of a mediocre essay on sense perception by the notable, but rarely read, C2 astronomer/mathematician Claudius Ptolemy, Burnyeat highlighted this :

"The internal logos of thought is itself sufficient for judging things and discovering their natures : uttered logos makes no contribution to the process. Rather, it disturbs and distracts our investigations if it comes into operation, just as the motions of the senses do. This is why we are more likely to discover what we are seeking in states of peace and quiet, and why we keep quiet too when we are reading books if we are concentrating hard [διοπερ εν τε ταις ηρεμιαις και ταις ησυχιαις μαλλον ευρισκομεν τα ζητουμενα και κατα τας αναγνωσεις αυτας, αν σφοδρα τισιν επιστησωμεν, ησυχιαν αγομεν]. But talk is useful in passing on the results of our enquiries to other people."
(On the Criterion and Commanding Faculty 5.1-2, tr. Gordon Neal)

As Burnyeat puts it : "It deserves emphasis that the statement, besides being plain and straightforward in itself, comes from a work so boringly plain and straightforward that the most recent discussion sums it up as 'bland'...The tone and context of Ptolemy's remark ensure that modern scholars should treat it as the plainest of plain statements of fact." In its relying on fundamental common assumptions, it dovetails with Knox's example of the Sappho riddle.

Burnyeat, summing up : "Let it not be said, then, that I exaggerate when I speak of Augustine's amazement at Ambrose's silent reading as a 'myth'. It has exercised the function of a myth. Despite the efforts of Clark, Knox, Gavrilov, and myself to dispel the illusion, it will probably continue to exercise a powerful influence on the community of classical scholars - and on specialists in other fields (biblical studies, renaissance studies, medieval history, etc.) who rely on us for information about the ancient world."


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*Perhaps appropriately, the translation of this obscure work is hidden away as chapter 11 of a decent but obscure festschrift, 'The Criterion of Truth', ed. Pamela Huby & Gordon Neal, Liverpool University Press, 1989
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