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Johnson Reviewed work(s): Source: The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 121, No. 4 (Winter, 2000), pp. 593-627 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1561728 . Accessed: 10/07/2012 23:01
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A SOCIOLOGY CLASSICAL William
In the last century, scholarly debate on ancient reading has largely revolved around the question "Did the ancient Greeks and Romans read aloud or silently?" Given the recent work of Gavrilov and Burnfirmer, footing, the yeat, which has set the debate on new, seemingly is at first answered.1 Without hesitation we can glance easily question now assert that there was no cognitive when literate an? difficulty fully and that the cogni? cient readers wished to read silently to themselves, tive act of silent reading was neither extraordinary nor noticeably unusual in antiquity. This conclusion has been known to careful readers since at least 1968, when Bernard Knox demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the silent reading of ancient documentary texts, in? as an ordinary event.2 cluding letters, is accepted by ancient witnesses Gavrilov and Burnyeat have improved the evidential base, by refining Gavrilov on Augustine), interpretation (especially by focusing on neevidence on Ptolemy), and by addglected but important (Burnyeat from cognitive The resulting ing observations psychology.3 clarity is salutary. Yet I suspect many will be dissatisfied with the terms in which the debate has been couched. I know that I am. Can we be content with a discussion framed in such a narrow?if not blinkered?fashion? In the in an unfortufury of battle, the terms of the dispute have crystallized nate way. That is, the polemics are such that we are now presumed fools if we suppose that the ancients were not able to read silently. But is it
iGavrilov 1997; Burnyeat 1997. 2Knox 1968; "at least" since Knox's conclusions are (as he acknowledges) in part anticipated by the more cautious reading of the evidence in Hendrickson 1929, by Clark 1931, who argues briefly but vigorously against the notion that silent reading was extraordinary in antiquity, and by Turner 1952 (14 n. 4), who adduced evidence for silent reading in classical Athens. 3Gavrilov 1997, 61-66 (on Augustine), 58-61 (on cognitive psychology); Burnyeat 1997. American Journal ofPhilology 121 593-627 ? 2001 Johns The Press (2000) by Hopkins University
594 ignorant central?
WILLIAM A. JOHNSON
or foolish to insist that in certain contexts reading aloud was In any case, and much more important, are these in fact the to be The moment has arrived, I think, when we right questions asking? whether the scholarly discourse is furthering what, I need to reconsider ancient reading. As a prelimitake it, is the goal: namely, understanding we can call to mind and so that clearly the curious juncture to nary, which we have now arrived, it will be useful first to review briefly how which sociological consideration of we have come to such a pass?in within the terms of a debate over ancient reading is typically conceived silent reading.
DID THE ANCIENTS READ THE STRANGE HISTORY
SILENTLY OR ALOUD? OF A CONTROVERSY
Die antike KunstThe roots of the debate are set in Eduard Norden's work whose first edition in 1898 brought to schol? prosa, an influential it apa famous passage in Augustine (6.3.3)?wherein, arly attention finds it "unbegreiflich" that his bishop and teacher pears, Augustine reads silently to himself.4 At issue for Norden is not the idea Ambrose that the ancients were unable to read silently, but rather that reading aloud of literary texts was the norm throughout antiquity.5
4Norden 1898, 6. The passage runs: "When Ambrose read, his eyes ran over the columns of writing and his heart searched out the meaning, but his voice and his tongue were at rest. Often when I was present?for he did not close his door to anyone and it was customary to come in unannounced?I have seen him reading silently, never in fact otherwise. I would sit for a long time in silence, not daring to disturb someone so deep in thought, and then go on my way. I asked myself why he read in this way. Was it that he did not wish to be interrupted in those rare moments he found to refresh his mind and rest from the tumult of others' affairs? Or perhaps he was worried that he would have to explain obscurities in the text to some eager listener, or discuss other difficult problems? For he would thereby lose time and be prevented from reading as much as he had planned. But the preservation of his voice, which easily became hoarse, may weil have been the true cause of his silent reading." 5Observations on the Augustine passage form the conclusion to a lengthy paragraph whose theme sentence begins, "Wir haben aus dem Altertum selbst einige Zeugnisse fiir die Sensibilitat der Menschen jener Zeit gegeniiber der Musik des gesprochenen Wortes": Norden 1923, 5-6. Starting with the second edition, Norden collects passages exemplifying "die Gewohnheit lauten Lesens" in an appendix; see Norden 1923, 451-53. Before Norden, the importance of reading ancient literary texts aloud is already frequently propounded: e.g., Balogh 1927, 85, on F. Nietzsche; Hendrickson 1929,192-93, on C. M. Wieland; Norden 1923, 6, on E. Rohde; cf. Gavrilov 1997, 57.
With the striking Augustine passage as prime witness (86). Gilliard 1993 (reacting to Achtemeier 1990). almost as an aside. Johnson 1994. Hendrickson ("Ancient Reading") published a similar analysis of ancient reading. 421). Ba? of scholars. of the odd As the decades pass. and that silent reading was possible and by extraordinary under circumstances only extraordinary people or as Caesar Saint To support his conclusion. Burnyeat 1991 (in anticipation of Burnyeat 1997). with only the gradual accretion or counterevidence. for the reading where reading is aloud of texts (97-109). L. 1) in 1929. sources. 7Lesser contributions to the accumulation and analysis of evidence. A technological explanation fies why the ancients read aloud. or where the acoustic effect of a text is assumed (95-97. more cautious in its conclusions. and readers sounding the letters aloud is the thus for all but extraordinary only way to make sense of the text. now clarispaces between the words (227).6 when Josef Balogh ("Voces a much broader case: that for all texts (not makes now Paginarum") silent simply literary texts) reading was rare. Julius (such Ambrose). the ancient cessity: faced with an undifferentiated sequence reader finds it difficult. 1992. Clark 1931 (an early dissenter against the view that silent reading was extraordinary). 2. Allan 1980. Slusser 1992. Independently (see 182 n.14. The ancient reader reads aloud by neof letters. Turner 1952. a dozen or so passages to Balogh marshals a large array of evidence: his claim that silent was viewed by the ancients as-an support reading aberration another dozen passages claimed as direct evidence (84-95). which is however much briefer. G. But the very weight of the material?sixty-four pages!?wins the day. and silent reading of these 6The original version of Balogh's article was published in Hungarian in 1921 (Knox 1968.7 acceptance grows that Balogh piece of evidence "fact" about antiquity: has successfully identified a hitherto unknown the ancients always read their texts aloud. that silent reading when it did happen occasioned surprise. a point that will become central. Along a couple of generations logh succeeds in convincing the way Balogh introduces. not included in the survey here: Wohleb 1929. 202-14). Di Capua 1953. For he links the phenomenon of reading aloud with scriptio that peculiar ancient habit of writing literary texts without continua. McCartney 1948. and far less influential. . Horsfall 1993. Gilliard 1997. to see the word shapes. passages equated with hearing. Starr 1990-91. Anyone who has read Balogh's article with attention will readily discern the tendentious way in which he often pre? sents highly ambiguous as well as his heavy reliance on late evidence.SOCIOLOGY OF READING IN ANTIQUITY 595 The controversy fully engages in 1927. Schenkeveld 1991. Stan? ford 1967. if not impossible. and others.
in Johnson 1994. but others. 21. 72. 2) that these are now largely abandoned. But physical causation and verisimilitude are largely beside the point. Readers in the twenty-first century do not stop and ask why Cydippe reads the apple aloud. That Acontius' inscription is written on an apple (whose rotation prevents reading ahead in the sentence) is perhaps worth remark. Once the dust settles. are not permitted to hear?" The answer is a letter (r| emoxoXri). set up a ringing shout.6. though voiceto those mortals they wish to. By 1968 Bernard Knox ("Si? in Antiquity") lent Reading to hold no seems to feel it necessary in his effort to now what is the communis opinio. with Dig. 20. 9Discussion at Knox 1968.. 422) has not proven convincing.596 WILLIAM A.122-23. spirited systematic point-by-point of Balogh's main points and adds evidence of his own to demonstrate that?however the case may stand with literary texts?ancient letters and documentary texts certainly were able to be read silently. they speak to those far away. Indoct.9 But much doubt has east on the been other chief rough classical passages (such as Horace Satires 1. 432-33). cf. Heroid. 422. Koenen contra Knox. despite Knox's so treatment. but if anyone happens to be standing near the man who is read? Knox has made it ing he will not hear him" (trans. JOHNSON texts was both difficult and extraordinary. even when present.1ff. The Acontius and Cydippe Aetia fr. those they wish to. Gavrilov 1997. 1. As for the other example?evidence as unambiguous as one can riddle from Antiphanes' X hope for?a comedy Sappho (Athenaeus. less. L. 67 Pf.) continues to be cited.. 73. 5.64-65. "What is it that is female in nature and has chil? dren under the folds of her garments. 450e-451b) runs.3. On the other side.. Knox's argument against the passage (that as a poor African provincial Augustine may not have known about silent reading. At Aris? tophanes' Knights 115ff. 430-31.. In any case. Ovid story (Callimachus Heroid. after Knox. 2.7. 8Knox's words. the comedy of the scene depends on the image of a man (Demosthenes) totally absorbed in the silent reading of a letter. Augustine's wonderment at Ambrose's silent reading still stands tall as "Exhibit A"8 for the notion that silent reading occasioned surprise in antiquity. Two of Knox's examples seem particularly unassailable. very little is left of Balogh's edifice. "Though voiceless. jumping from a folktale motif to generalizations about reading habits seems perilous at best. and I suppose readers in antiquity were accepting of the fairy-tale conditions of the story in much the same way. 67 n. . a feminine noun whose children are the letters of the alphabet. In a punches dislodge and Knox offers refutation attack.1-2. and these children. the evidence for silent reading of letters seems suddenly secure. Lucian Adv.
The notion that silent reading was difficult or ex? in classical antiquity now depends more or less solely on traordinary the single passage in Augustine. Kenney in the Cambridge History of Latin Literature. Excepting or readers. . Buch (the common simile of the musical score originates in Hendrickson 1929. A great many. In that year. 11A startling example is the naive summary of the debate. 56).SOCIOLOGY OF READING IN ANTIQUITY 597 clear then that in the case of letters. 12: "In general it may be taken for granted that throughout antiquity books were written to be read aloud_It might be said without undue exaggeration that a book of poetry or artistic prose was not simply a text in the modern sense but something like a score for public or private performance. E.815. the lection very experienced professional of a book was a difficult process: the text presented itself in scriptio conand irregularly articulated tinua. one which because of its strange physical properties must be read aloud. for instance. continue to regard the ancient book as an alien artifact for these "early" readers. Hild in a recent (1997) volume of Der neue Pauly: "In antiquity the most usual way to read a book was out loud-A of a musical good reading was almost like the interpretation score. silent reading is possible. which serves then as the basis for a study of New Testament texts. inter alia. Assuming that reading aloud was the l0Der neue Pauly: Enzyklopadie der Antike 2. Witness. could only read aloud continues with a mysterious vigor." Kenney's remarks are quoted by Gavrilov (1997. 184). Similarly. a medievalist. save in rare and special cases. 12Thebook expands upon ideas first presented in Saenger 1982. and was only seldom by marks of so that the with could punctuation. in the introduction to his article?somewhat tendentiously since the quotation is supposed to buttress Gavrilov's assertion of wide? spread acceptance among classicists that the Greeks and Romans "did not read to them? selves silently. J. and probably usual. This example points up how conclusions on ancient reading can be vitally important to work in related disciplines. The reaction in the scholarly community to Knox's argument is curious."10 Less careful scholars and the notion that the ancients ignore Knox more or less outright.11 In this context I jump to the recent (and rather strange) climax of the controversy. Cavallo and F. Paul Saenger. G. in Achtemeier 1990 (who seems unaware of Knox's arguments. eyes only difficulty distinguish word boundaries or the sense of the whole sentence. in 1997. s. at least. even while now accepting that silent reading occurred when people read letters and documents.v. pub? lishes a book (Spaces between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading)12 in which he begins with an analysis of the "physiology of reading" in an? cient and medieval times (1-17). corrected in part by Gilliard 1993)." Kenney however carefully restricts his com? ments to the reading aloud of literary texts.
in a paper published the same year in Classical QuarMeanwhile. but skill at it" (59). sorting out of the ambiguities. al? lowed for the first time a shift from reading aloud to reading silently. found the who. Gavrilov in Classical Antiquity")13 terly. Under these cirvious meaning with greater freedom he to help in the cumstances. to "prove" the conclusion 13Gavrilov'sconclusions were already known to many specialists from reports of a similar article that appeared in a Russian journal in 1989 (reference at Gavrilov 1997. 6-9). Saenger describes or fixed word order. without either word boundaries the text very difficult. In addition to pointing out the disposition toward silent reading among mature readers in a variety of cultures. 69 n. the more easily and reliably they do this. A. JOHNSON ancient habit in all or most contexts. making the comappreciation of more difficult" (122. . K. first widely used in the tenth and eleventh centuries. that "obstructed of the word its within syntactical context. 52). Like Saenger. the more experienced wardly selected portions the reader. That is why for virtuoso reading aloud one requires not merely the ability to read to one? self. a challenge which grew even task of decoding greater in the case of literary texts. Saenger must suppose for ancient reading an "orality and the rapid tunnel vision. neurophysiologically propositions prehension italics mine).. To make his case. reading orally was necessary explains. Saenger's goal in this analysis is to chart of word separation.598 WILLIAM A. Gavrilov details how the concept of the "eye-voice span" proves the necessary ability of any lector to be able to read silently: "the person reading aloud needs to be able to glance ahead and read inof the following text. Saenger constructs a detailed cognitive model to account for why. that: (1) spaces the "evolution" so as to demonstrate between words. and (2) this change to silent reading led to the increasingly complex the scholastic and subsequent thought that characterizes periods. given the fact of scriptio continua. ("Reading Techniques uses some of the same evidence from the field of cognitive psychology to demonstrate that in neurophysiological terms the Greeks and Ro? mans must have been able to read silently. since they tend to combine less ob? in word order. the Greeks and Romans could not have read in any way other than aloud in detail the trials of the ancient reader (e." imposed by scriptio continua. Gavrilov is able to use "science" he brings to the investigation.g.
in this particular social con? text (of the magister with his disciples). of reading itself is fundamentally the same in modern and in ancient culture. 27. as is to with share his students both his that his texts. To Burnyeat's two passages. jieQi XQitriQLOU xai fiye^iovixoij 5.4. the scene may then be good evidence that.16 Gavrilov's to which Burnyeat conclusion. Again. add the list of "passages where silent reading is more or less certainly implied" at Gavrilov 1997. thus proving that at least some ancient thinkers were not unaccustomed to the notion of silent reading. but Augustine's puzzlement and irritation that Ambrose reads silently "in the I of his to more the rela? parishioners" presence (63). The Plotinus passage was first cited as a central piece of evidence in Stock 1996. reading aloud was the expected behavior.SOCIOLOGY OF READING IN ANTIQUITY 599 In the same article. expected readings aloud (in a world where books were relatively rare). and his as Ambrose thoughts on these texts?exactly implicitly does elsewhere.10). 16Burnyeat 1997. as at Confessions 6.15 When. is. But the passage does not speak to general habits of silent thus the once grand construction of reading one way or the other?and As final M. magister. Burnyeat 1997. Brinkmann). apis that "the phenomenon pears to subscribe. 286 n. though (for reasons that will become clear below) not the conclusion itself. Burnyeat article remarks on two passages appends to Gavrilov's (Ptolemy. 63-64. . a kick to the ruins. despite allowing the students to come does not read the texts for all to hear and does not comvisit. 75. tionship any it is pointed out?that the "surprise" is occasioned the by specifics of the social scene in which this silent reading is set. Balogh 1927 was also aware of the Ptolemy passage (first brought to notice by A. though most of this evidence is more ambiguous than he allows. Plotinus Enneads 1. 53. from a letter Burnyeat wrote to the Times Literary Supplement (Burnyeat 1991).4 is helpfully clarified and placed into the broader context at Stock 1996. not Augustine's at Ambrose's silent surprise reading per se. in which reading silently and concentrating hard are equated.1-2 Lammert. Cultural diversity does not exclude an underlying unity" (69. cf. 70-71. Ambrose. 15The scene at 6. Balogh collapses altogether. Seen in this way. Gavrilov usefully raises doubts about the tra? in which he sees ditional interpretation of the passage from Augustine. but he glosses over it: 105 n. prefer emphasize of teacher to but in it case does seem clear?once student.14 That is. Ambrose ment on the texts.4. this evidence was already known to cognoscenti. the students naturally wonder why. 141here renounce my use of this passage as central evidence for the reading aloud of literary texts in Johnson 1994. italics mine).
" esp. It is this. 121-25. e. in Street 1984: see the chapter "The TdeologicaF Model. JOHNSON If we accept that the ancients did But is this a proper conclusion? read silently. yet know also (what no one disputes) that they commonly read aloud. that "is fundato mean the cognitive mentally the same in modern and in ancient culture. 18Heath 1982. rather. I wish. to relov and Burnyeat to what is. cf.600 WILLIAM A. reading "initiationof such as interactive school-oriented a text. Maintown children (51-56). for instance. further in the next section. they learn parents knowledge. does it follow that ancient reading was really so like our own? Has this century of debate in fact brought us to no better under? was. finally. in reading a complex sociocultural come to recognize have increasingly In a now to particular contexts." But is reading solely. in more privileged and less priviclassic study of literacy ("Maintown") in the Piedmont reand "Trackton") communities leged ("Roadville" describes in the of the Heath detail Carolinas. essentially. . a much more interesting direct scholarly attention set of problems: how exactly the ancients went about reading. he states. Clanchy 1979). ours? standing than that the ancient readers' experience in interest lies the over whether not. learn from an early age to use for constructing real-world fiction as a frame of reference children's with other While and adults. or even mostly.18 Shirley ways in gion which many aspects of reading are informed by the reader's subculture.g. a neurophysiologically based and sociolinguists act of cognition? Anthropologists. ethnographers. My entering controversy the ancients always read aloud. WHAT READING CULTURE: DO WE MEAN BY "READING"? When Gavrilov speaks of "the phenomenon of reading itself" he seems act of reading. Heath 1983. I think. essentially. Given the terms of the debate?wrongthink that Knox and Gavri? ful terms first set into motion by Balogh?I have made sufficient response. and how the ancient reading culture (as I will call it)17 does in fact differ from the reading-from-a-printed-book model familiar to us today. conveniently summarized. construction that is tied. ways using 171use the term "reading culture" to bring to constant and immediate attention the cultural dimensions of "reading".. with illustrative examples from other cultures along the same lines (as.
this Christian markedly community. more broadly and abstractly. that is. Children from Roadville on the other (57-64). habits of interacwhile also learn certain sorts of school-like hand." "the way in which these activities in in? are embedded in other. Three prominent Heath Shirley examples: speaks of a in which event" as "occasions written is "literacy language integral to the nature of participants' interactions and their interpretive processes and strategies". "what-explanations"). which guide processes of com- . D. reply-evaluation" But they also learn to value fiction for used later in formal education. and R. reading meanings place. regard In different stance. its own sake and to replicate it by telling stories that are not true. they the text itself from a tion with texts (e. and conceptu"literacy practices. they learn that writing may represent not only real events but also decontextualized to be used in taking meaning logical propositions from their environment. Grillo extends this yet further to "communicative practices.g. More? over. Brian Street proposes.SOCIOLOGY OF READING IN ANTIQUITY 601 which model the sort of give-and-take sequences. economie. which seeks to refocus our view of the use of texts by the choice of a sometimes lens. working-class. settings or domains which in turn are implicated and "the idewider." now frequently attempt more specific terminology." ologies. The fundamental relationin between book differs: in events and Roadville. not by the particular text. nor by the reader responses are engendered education of the reader. and behind the performance are "true"?real events that tell a message. The resulting view could not be startlingly wide-angle more different from that which dominates discussion of "reading" in ancient studies." in which he includes "the social activities through which language or communication is produced." referring thereby to "both behaviour alisations related to the use of reading and/or writing". and the children are poor at decontextualizing their knowledge and applying it to different frames For our purposes. explicitly fictionalized accounts are thought to be "lies".. "reality" ship learning the real world are seldom compared to events in books. Recent anthropological and ethnographical studies. but by the sociocultural context in which the takes The that readers construct differ. in an effort to avoid the sort of vague generalities that so often devolve from discus? sion of "literacy. which may be linguistic or other. political and cultural processes. in on the in which the largely dependence (sub)culture reading occurs. but performareading to children past the toddler age is not interactive is the assumption that the stories told tive. stitutions. what is crucial is that the differing of reference. social.
etry essentially same time and place. 20Partlyin order to avoid the political and other baggage that follow the term "lit? eracy. . ration for class. 50. imaginary s/he thinks to tion of "who s/he is. 61. part of the reading event. is an important. to what reading community and determinative. and to help us begin to think this through. We do not modern ethnographers have the opportunity to take field notes from living informants. I list not simplistic?propositions:20 simple?if The (1) reading of different types of texts makes for different events. already reading my exclusively in fact an act?not individual neurophysiological. For clarity's sake. clear. nonetheless. contemporary to teach us about the deep dependency between a particular "culture." and the of defined. and "reading culture" (by which I mean to signal the cultural construct that underpins group and individual behaviors in a reading event). Reading love poetry in a given context (say. view. 15.602 municative production. 12-13. alone in one's living room) on whether the reader thinks of the reading as prepadiffers depending in elitist enthusiasms for high poetry." that is. or an community. and the in is level of specificity advocated case be (which may overwrought) any But not much studies have. Read? fers essentially from reading with a group. to be sure. Reading love poetry in a scholastic context diffrom reading love poetry over wine with a lover." I will prefer the following terms: "reading" (by which I mean the experience of reading. or as participatory here some 19Summarized and quoted in Street 1993. As will narrowly "reading" is be in or even mostly a not. texts. "reading events" (by which I mean to emphasize the contextualization of a particular "reading"). but a sociocultural system in which the individual participates. (2) The reading of a given text in different contexts results in dif? ferent reading events." WILLIAM A. broadly defined. Street 1988. the reader's conceplovers of poetry). The quotations are from Heath 1982. ing alone differs essentially (3) A reading event is in part informed by the conceived reading Whether based on an actual group (such as a class). tax of document and reading love po? a types reading Reading different even for the same person in the are events. cognitive phenomenon. belong."19 of sociocultural practices or "medium. make more sense for than for historians of ancient culture. group (intellectuals. broadly conceived). JOHNSON Note how such terminology study privileges over the emphasis on a specific "technology" Quite so wide a refocusing may. and Grillo 1989. simply possible.
thetic characteristics). but "excellent" literature. to have a cultural dimension (5) Reading which is perceived (most "literature" of linked to the selfobviously. but also a cultural compoin that the rules of are in part directed by inherited nent. Aeneid). but rather the negotiated construction of meaning within a particular sociocultural context. and the details could be argued at nearly infinite length?so is "reading"? complex but even this simple analysis should begin to make clear why I prefer to look at reading as not an act. Odyssey. At least some of these texts are rather forto everyone's tastes. indeed excitement.SOCIOLOGY OF READING IN ANTIQUITY 603 normally has not only a strictly social (4) The reading community the of (the conception component group). to the reading of these texts. as creating a reading community . Moreover. An illustrative from closer to hand example may at this point Il? When ancient in translation (Gilgamesh. is. etry (such by dispositions as attention to intertextual or appreciation for certain aesreferences. any sort) is intimately identity of the reader. which validates itself through texts deemed important to a shared sense of culture and cultural attainment. forty-something ness executives. we are not so much teaching in texts. All of these propositions have many ramifications. a reader's stance toward the sort of material favored by enthusiasts for high po? is a set of trained informed that inherited. epic teaching I have been deeply impressed at the high and iad. by the reading of difficult. more hazily. nor even a process. engagement traditions. or even polluted. after all. In a successful humanities class. that the students bring general level of enthusiasm. prove helpful. would on their own find these texts very engaging. this has far less to do with cognition of a particular than with the construction one reading community. by the reading of a "trash" ro? mance novel. and self-validated. not bidding. Critical is the yond decoding by observation that reading is not simply the cognitive process by the indi? vidual of the "technology" of writing. Thus a person who identifies with the cultural elite will feel disgusted. uplifted. some peculiar to the institution. A reader's stance toward class material is informed by scholastic traditions. Why is it that students commonly find difficult texts like Homer's Iliad or Virgil's Aeneid (or Dante or Milton or Joyce) so deeply exciting within the context of a classl As I see it. and not obviously of these same as stockbrokers or busimany people. but as a highly com? be? plex sociocultural system that involves a great many considerations the the reader of the words of a text.
particular humani? ties texts is socioculturally (or so says the cul? important: it is elemental tural tradition) to being "educated. the group dynamics?the con? pedagogic manipulation. In part. the the itself is also not unit. the student is to apprehend and experience that sense that bonds the group together as a productive. rather. cultured. that Homer should be fundamental to this particular type of reading experi? interesting?are on a dynamic. negotiated But let us think through this simple example further. the reading culture is contrived teachers by the teacher. Even for particular questions or the ancients read ("Did silently aloud?") it will not do to focus narin the recent on a as debate. reading. group." conception weil broad cultural influences or institutional bound. Institutionally. Yet class. by beyond In any case. we must proceed that what we seek to analyze is an from a clear and deep perception immensely complex. First. Which is to say: the reading experience depends within construction of the context of meaning continually negotiated the con? to be individual's the conceived is. struction of the attitude that Homer is important. a "technology" with (various) determinative this of be seen as the from for view. How. validating "group" complex: only but also that more vague conception of people who are "educated" or is Part of the reader's "intellectual" or even "sincere." In part. selfof meaningfulness. though. single mode of inquiry such as cog? rowly. In attempting an analysis of ancient reading culture. like Goody. Reading but it is never wholly interior. I therefore wish emphatically to promote two principles.) in the construction of meaning from these texts. and in its reflex. interlocking system. Individually. universities work toward creating the disposition that knowledge of. sociocul? struction of meaning. then. consequences point ." a necessary item in the cultural baggage of those who aspire to the elite of the society.604 which WILLIAM A. Ong. that the reader seeks to tural influences always inform the meaning construct. the analyses (not reviewed here) of scholars and their followers?who find in writing. sure. does such a culture materialize? from traditions maintained the reading culture devolves by the institution. society?will. work toward creating the disposition that a particular text (the one we are studying in class) is meaningful and relevant: it is a necessary tool if the knowledge. ence. nitive analysis. in this scholastic context. etc. Havelock. JOHNSON the members find self-validation (as smart. to see if we can gain a more vivid idea of what is intended by a "reading culture. Similarly. and directed engagement with.
common sense rebels against the idea that scholarly readers. 44-65. For summary and criticism. when Pliny looks for increased efficiency in his studies. None of this precludes himself for is that he does: 3. esp. the Younger Pliny describes the solution to his uncle's (evihe had a lector read to desire for reading efficiency: dently unusual) him over meals and scolded a friend who made the lector slow down to word (11-12). 1-20.5). even reductionist. Knox writes (421-22): Balogh's insistence that silent reading was not just unusual but almost unheard of seems to go too far. see Thomas 1992. when taking a bath he had a repeat a mispronounced book read to him or dictated notes (14). though. who performed the same duties in any spare moments (15). Olson 1994. nor does it writing (it probable construction point central the Younger Pliny preclude Pliny reading to himself (though whenever is specific. he mentions a lector). the Elder Pliny.SOCIOLOGY OF READING IN ANTIQUITY 605 too simplistic. 15). he traveled with a secretary. In a well-known letter (3. Street 1984. Are we really to imagine that Aristarchus read aloud all the manuscripts of Homer he used for his edition? That Callimachus read aloud all the works from which he compiled his 120 volumes of Pinakes? That Didymus wrote his more than 3. Toward the opening of that arti? cle. to allow similar accommodation the he during journey itself. always used a litter in preference the Elder Pliny to walking (16).1-14. .10. did not develop a technique of silent. Let us return for a moment to Bernard Knox's important 1968 article (summarized in the first section of this essay).5.15-28. Pliny "naturally" turns to a scheme for insinuat- 21 The problems of this sort of technologically determinative analysis are by now weil rehearsed. the "nat? ural" solution. Rather. and too inattentive to the particulars of the specific cultures under study. pronouncing every syllable out loud? "Common sense" rebels. faster reading. we have a detailed account of the work habits of one of antiquity's more prolific scholars. as for us. however.000 volumes and read the countless books on which he based them. Finnegan 1988. As it happens. because our modern cultural of scholarly is on silent reading (a efficiency predicated also to the arguments of both Saenger and Gavrilov). 36-44. But clearly. silent reading is not.21 Which leads to the second principle: that we must seek to analyze ancient reading within the terms of its own sociocultural context. for example.
First. JOHNSON to read aloud and take dictation. for the simple reason that the uneven nature of the evidence mands it. fects not only conclusions will sketch lightly some ways of trying to analyze a particular ancient reading culture. no "common sense" TOWARD A MODEL FOR ANCIENT READING We begin to perceive how large a task is at hand. as for classical antiquity. of better understanding. I but also methodologies. about it. in short. of context ticularity circumstances will force us not only to be content with a much more as diverse as bookrolls from hazy focus. deviation deturn. very far in any case from the sort of parAs it is. the This circumstance does details of the system are so dimly apprehended. I choose the reading of Greek literary prose texts by the educated elite during the early empire (first and sec? ond centuries a. The point of this exercise (and in this limited space it can be no more) is to suggest a strategy of attack. unnot only is the contextual the question unspeanswerable: of grounding the casual use of "read" the but cific.). The choice at once exposes the extreme limitations is far less de? under which we must operate. We understand now that any slicing of a particular section of "reading" within a culture not a clean cut. how? to understanding Approaches The of the system defeats nature ever. and inscribing one part of an interlocking . the behavior Greco-Roman Second. plicity manifestly a dynamic cultural system are.606 WILLIAM A. that assume in a decontextualized "reading" clarity and simquestions not it does have. but we need to be not remove the possibility this afclear from the outset that progress is by necessity limited?since In what follows. is to understand cultures that in obtained rather than to try to answer reading antiquity. The begs the particular more proper goal. from the ideal path will be forced at every Along the way. available to contemporary researchers. and that this is but an analytic tool for deis necessarily complex of habits. Even the seemingly with which we started?"Did the ancient straightforward question Greeks and Romans read aloud or silently?"?is. by very complexity asymptotic. the contextualization tailed than we might desire. final analysis. a mode of inquiry. As subject of the exercise. ing more time into his day for servants There is. very point under dispute. attitudes. as I have argued.d. strictly speaking. but also to consider evidence in Rome. and all the more so when. Egypt and cultural by "reading culture" chosen may seem oddly delimited.
profitable to our goal of understanding First. on present evidence. esp. But writing (whatever its advanis to some extent lack of the subtle contages) always by handicapped textual clues that personal speaking affords. though necessarily superficial. Reading System and Writing System All scripts are inadequate in conveying feaprosodic and paralinguistic tures like tone of voice. 91-114. An awkward fact is that many of our most important to ancient reading culture are primary witnesses written documents: much of the core of the investigation here will cen? ter around the Greek literary papyri. rather than one with strictly theoretical justification. Similar pragmatics lie behind the choice of the three modes of inquiry?cognitive. The terms "locutionary" and "illocutionary" derive from speech act theory. though. however. may clarify why I think this as? sumption justified. most lected. how the system behaves. The focus on written materials raises. facial expression. . socioculturally projection informed. 92-93. "reading" becomes. A brief discussion of writing systems.SOCIOLOGY OF READING IN ANTIQUITY teractions. by necessity. a point of order. eye contact. again. and sociological?I have se? aesthetic. between reading and writing. in large part the reader's ing formulation. so as to try to get around the fact that it is not speech. which are simply those that seem. questions about the relationship That relationship is a complex here I will topic. that is. has much to do With the evidence to hand (as we shall see): a pragmatic solution to analysis.) 2201son 1994. ence between "written style" and "spoken style" can be largely ascribed to the lexical elements that writing adds or subtracts. body language. but for the purposes make a simple assumption: that a writing system largely reflects the sys? tem of reading with which it interrelates. to force into the bare locutionary attempt project illocutionary signals of the written script.22 (And we now understand that the nature of this will itself be. first expostulated in Austin 1962. and other elements that make spoken utterances quite different from written scripts. In David Olson's interestthen. 607 But why carve off prose from poetry in this way? The answer. Writing not only records incompletely the locutionary act (what is said) but is poor as a conveyance of the illocutionary force the intends what is said to be Indeed the differ? (how speaker taken). the fragments of ancient books that survive from antiquity.
that help guide the reader's projection of illocuwriting conventions written statements. then. so characteristic of "chat" (and noris the conveyance of eye). of a part of the reading system (as This strain is felt in the breakdown matters of tone. tone be? as its working metaphor and (since e-mail is not in fact speech) the miscomes more essential. a "speaking" mode. a slight smile.24 and it is a aration is the norm.608 WILLIAM A. and project illocutionary readers feel perplexed by which leads in turn to an adjustment in the writ? force inappropriately). In functional this new ironic statement terms. teracts with its use by a particular reading culture is that curious feature of contemporary electronic mail. word sepso far as we know. paragraphing. JOHNSON if slightly silly. the somewhat desperate now of a the the conventional way making light or smiley face. I think it fair to ask the fol? lowing: why. word division and punctuation texts often have elaborate visual papyrus and inscriptional mentary structural markers. if it took our culture only a few years to adopt the smiley face." Since e-mail adopts a chatty. the "smiley face. Now. proven clear to correspondents. habits like scriptio continua and lack of punctuation For we cannot suppose the Greeks too naive or primitive or stupid to or structural markers. mally conveyed by tone of voice. of becomes more likely. and other element in the writing system joins punctuation. The face force onto is. the concluabout the reading culture sion is hard to avoid that there was something that felt no need for these things. formatting. in the virtual "conversations" an oral statement allowed by the internet. ing system. . reading. were the Greeks unable for so many centuries to adopt obviously and the like in useful aids like word spaces. to return to antiquity at a leap. the writing of their literary texts? Surprising as it may seem.23 Docuschool exercises. 81-8 24See Wingo 1972. that in terms of the total system of worked. a side tionary smiley hovers between a written and oral effect of the way in which e-mail strains to be or. that is. example of how a writing system inAn illustrative. punctuation. as needed. a brightness solution has Within the e-mail reading culture. In early Roman literary texts. In ancient think of word spaces or punctuation are often found. in fact universal telling fact that in the period under review here the Romans chose to 23Cribiore 1996. A particularly common tone taking problem of ironic tone. the way in which a written statement statement. better.
or no column markers. distinct letters. the letters forming a solid. The lines were divided rationally. the ancient reading system is in some way essentially different from our of the reading and writing own. we need however mind what a Greek literary prose text looked like. Before proceeding to bring clearly to further. not typically a codex but a handwritten and written in colpapyrus roll. Thus intimately do the characteristics systems interrelate. written. page impression uninterrupted of a coherent seems on occasion a reader cession. and modern perception. Such a development today^-the discarding Which tells us that of spaces between words?is simply inconceivable.and right-justified. only twenty-five per line. left. impractical inefficient as a reading tool. But that the ancient reading and writing 25 See Turner and Parsons 1987 (for an authoritative introduction to the ancient book). even spectacularly. And noth? mark no no to structures: running heading larger paragraph breaks. but nothing in the book's design either facilitated reference to. bewilderingly. alternating with narrower bands of white space. Johnson 1992 (for full details on Roman era bookrolls).0 centimeters to 3 in width. . The product seems. row in appearance: 4. or with a bit of red wax. paramount: might mark an important passage with a diple (>) in the margin. held horizontally. or promoted browsing in. a Greek literary prose book was. to the its lack of word spaces and punctuation. narrow rectangle of written text. with a space in between the columns (the inof 1. but there was otherwise little or no punctuation.5 to 2. The visual effect was not film. and. often calligraphically. whole. of continuous each marching one after the other to form an impression flow. (6 to 10 inches) in height. but otherwise the column was organized as a tight phalanx of clear.SOCIOLOGY OF READING IN ANTIQUITY 609 discard word spaces in the writing of their literary manuscripts?a choice they would hardly have made if it interfered fundamentally with the Roman reading system. spaces between stroke at the left edge of sentence breaks were marked by a horizontal the column. of course. with eye. to the modern unlike a strip of 35 millimeter almost more akin to an art object than a book. at the end of a word or syllable. and remarkably narumns which were regular. The of sucers.5 to 7. The letters of tercolumn) the text were clearly.5 centimeters (less than an inch). Main ferentiated?that there were no is. but otherwise undifthe words. some part of the text. something the ancient bookroll is.25 In the early em? pire. that (2 inches) about fifteen to letters 15 to 25 centimeters is.
Now since ancient texts have no word separation. letters marks the amount of text that the eye keeps ahead of the voice when reading aloud (this is the "eye-voice span"). with bibliography. 32-40. the reader's progress analyses like this:26 the eye moves across the line of text seems to go something not at an even rate. Saenger has. The economical hy? pothesis is that the reading culture was likewise stable. and that readers with the peculiarities were so thoroughly comfortable of the writing sys? tem that adjustments over a (like our smiley face) proved unnecessary great deal of time. the parafoveal vision. even unconsciously. thus the preliminary Bouma shape is not immediately proapparent. about six degrees to either side of the point of acute focus. as a "Bouma shape" (that is. the unique and easily recognized shape of a common word): no reader ever." At each ocular fixation. behind us. a single the Bouma shape. In modern reading. and begins (or finishes) processing this data prior to the next A similar span of fifteen-plus saccadic movement. and foFirst. 26 A more detailed summary of cognitive aspects of reading. but in a series of fixations and jumps called "saccades. analyzes words like "the" experienced or "of" or "and. some observations a central feature of this type of book. namely the narrow on cusing columns of continuous text." since we learn to see these as a single form. that with only small variations it prevailed for at least seven hundred years in the Greek tradition. raised the problem of the diffian ancient reader would have had that culty keeping himself oriented in this sort of text: this is the "tunnel vision" we heard about earlier. let us now see whether With these final preliminaries start at comprehending we can make a modest the ancient reading culture. In of the physiology modern of reading. and the preliminary tions occur at the beginnings analysis of vision is much aided by our ability to recogthe script in the parafoveal nize a great many common words as a unit. JOHNSON without strain is indisputable: so stable was this idea systems interacted of the literary book. is conveniently located in Saenger 1997. 1-17. one letter after the other without space be? tween words. . the ocular fixa? of words. is able to keep track of what comes before and after. interestingly.610 WILLIAM A. or roughly fifteen to twenty letters in most printed texts. A Cognitive Model for Ancient Reading based on cognitive theories of reading.
which is roughly fifteen characters.27 27Johnson 1994. a reconstruction The end divided lines. To help with this were other factors: such as the exbetween treme clarity of the letters. to twenty-five What is interesting about this coincidence is not. this will slow as down the ancient reader. which. esting. was so evidently satisfactory we can understand the better. he argues. of reference to keep the reader oriented. umn was such that the whole line could be taken in by the parafoveal the amount of text typically read by the eye vision. which to fixate. At best. Rather. In to find the start of a syllable or word and determine a leads to toward reading this account. and approximated themselves ahead of the voice." the poor reader moves back in the text from the point of fixation so as the meaning. then. "decoding" provided points a the letters could proceed on basis. at worst. perhaps. morphemic boundary).SOCIOLOGY OF READING IN ANTIQUITY 611 vision is much impeded. so dif? help in an ancient context: ferent from our own. The result was that the line beginnings for the ocular and the of natural fixation. (often. roughly width of the column in an ancient literary roll. either at word beginning or at the start of a syllable a The width of the col? in ancient Greek. Despite regularly line-by-line it would seem that there were in fact good points Saenger's contention. fact that words at line were lowing according to strict syllabic rules meant that every line of the narrow column began at a rational point. . that the ancients used narrow columns because the fifteen-to-twenty-fivethe eye-voice character width approximates span. cognitive process as the ancient I roll is used. why this system. of course. being along the fol? literary suggest. Saenger's process propensity and to slow his aloud. cognitive evidence may to to make of the and see us sense system. and cessing of the letters in the parafoveal is no "natural" are no word there worse. reading. inhibits certain very But what arrests of my attention in this account types complex thinking. what is inter? at is or least what interests that the me. Or so says Saenger. coincidence between the parafoveal vision and the is the interesting and the both fifteen to twenty characters. by analysis. since there point at spaces. and the habit of signaling sentence end by a horizontal line in the margin. which helps keep the reader oriented as he makes his rather rapid progress down the narrow column. and the number of letters to decode in each line was small enough that we can begin to think more to the matter of spaces understandable the evident ancient indifference words. eye-voice span. it will lead to "ocular regressions.
reading cultures dependent on writing by hand seem to work as closed systems where the script has just the combination of to suffice for the purpose and context of the reading. typically read aloud. arguably.) The Aesthetics of Reading functionalism but one part of the whole. eye-voice span.612 WILLIAM A. and the elegant precision functional. that are necessary ancient sion by the other specialist. Ancient scribes were paid by the quality 28Johnson 1992. unlike Greek texts. since the absence of vowels otherwise would make the word division But for ancient Greek literary texts. but of high culture. 135-38. such as the number of pills. has an elegant harmony that speaks loudly to aesthetic art. prose literary happens. does not need to be argued at was itself an expression care length. primarily but the beauty of the letter shapes. Syriac). (On which more in a moment. word division is usual (Hebrew. papyrus documents be extremely difficult to read. what was evidently esambiguous. sensibilities. The elaborate care taken by of a literary prose text is exemplified scribes in the production by the fact that the variation in column width from one end of a remarkable roll to the other almost never exceeds 2 millimeters?only two to three times the width of the pen's nib!28 The uninterrupted blocks of black with the white intercolumn in a continuous. of placement for the columns cannot be. The product itself makes it fairly obvious. The craftsman's has already been mentioned. sential was not the marking of word breaks but the very high legibility with a format comfortable of the individual for the letters. . JOHNSON In general. For characteristics it is necessary a modern physician writing a prescription. In ancient Semitic texts sufficiently reconstructed Arabic. only to comwith a pharmacist: thus prescriptions municate are clear only in the for comprehenpoints. Cognitive clarity of letters and the width of the column are. text alternating precisely aligned band. combined since Greek texts as it were. however. Such was the craftsman's That the physical literary roll not only contained high culture. since they are typically written by profesand are highly formulaic in content: the cursive sionals for professionals often deems a clear initial letter or two followed script adequate by in but obvious once one has themselves. The is. squiggles incomprehensible the formulaic context. can Similarly.
text means in particular that his level of education was insufficient for the high culture to which he aspires?that he was not raised as one is. the upper and lower margins could take more space than the text itself. The inscription is discussed in light of the palaeography of surviving papyri at Turner and Parsons 1987. was often Unlike a utilitarian. text.) is of particular interest. the use of the bookroll. 23. but great delight in ridiculing not too wealthy (19. an expensive. Lucian's diatribe on the Ignorant Book Collector (Adv. in deluxe literary rolls. The literary roll exemplifies high culture not just in the demonstration that the owner is "literate" and educated. to statuary in a garden. . much like walking in a cultured garden or dining from a beautiful plate. philhellene during In this context. Indoct. and in a by which more besocial context such as after-dinner entertainment (on a cultural the is in As bookroll low). the roll was also by design an aesthetically pleasing item to hold in one's hand and look at. cf. and with strict attention to detail in the layout and written in calligraphic or near-calligraphic scripts.d. Moreover. 25).29 The format squanders papyrus. but by means of the aesthetics the bookroll also points up the refinement of the owner. There Lucian takes a provincial from Syria who is wealthy. and who aspires to join the highly cultured elite. 1-4. His aspiration takes the form of collecting and deluxe antiquarian bookrolls. 30Johnson 1992. of the elite. hence an elitist product. ca. in short. itself an import item for most of the Mediterranean. demonstrates the owner's a sense of aesthetic refinement into ability to integrate of life in and hellene and every aspect daily society?an important goal the Roman elite behaviors era. 170 a. the bookroll documentary a used in a display setting: the reading accomplished lector. on the man who is merely wealthy casting aspersions but without culture. or to the luxurious plate on which dinner is served in an elite household. scribe. analogous many respects signifier. and almost all literary books qualify for the best or use of a thus are the most expensive possible nearly best categories.Edictum Diocletiani de Pretiis Rerum Venalium. 7 39-41. 230-33. To the provincial he repeatedly oi neopposes 29Cf.SOCIOLOGY OF READING IN ANTIQUITY 613 of the writing. provincial part of the haunts in were not ours" which in the con? right group: "your youth (3). col. with upper and lower margins much larger than function demands. Lucian takes the position of a cul? tured intellectual. Throughout the diatribe. as Lucian makes this is not But..30 The bookroll was. clear.
. after all. is largely driven by aesthetic and social imwhich to nonintellectuals pulses. one of the leading intellecthe vivid picture of a wealthy man who perceives tuals of his day?but the book as an aesthetic object central to his entry to high culture. 18-19). of the bookroll For Lucian's wealthy Syrian. but is unable to bring the proper meaning to the lection (2). 16) and as a display within his social group (19). broadly activity which. Syrian's compreportance of the contents of the texts he reads?by Lucian's account hension in the both minimal (but this is a diatribe!)?he objecclearly delights of the bookrolls and in the aesthetics of the tive aesthetics themselves. second-century may in is an activity Lucian's the intelligentsia. carefully high aspires. seems to be that of an art object. therefore. listening to someone read after dinner) as a performance activity where the lector is the meaning of the flow out both the and with charged drawing beauty is then both to appreciate of words. The provincial. LSJ s. From Lu? we may be able better to understand how it is that the cian's depiction. he uses reading to entertain his toadies after dinner. is enough. the bookrolls themselves are outstandingly beautiful. For drunken disgrace (23. 7. 29).614 WILLIAM A. 28.. to learn from the con? but does not study the books enough otherwise tents (7. like the Sophist or of a contemporary difficult prose of a Thucydides. The provincial can read his books fluently. JOHNSON but jtai5ex)|X8voL (7. such as statuary in a garden.e. of a mental inferior?Lucian was. cf. rather of wealth and superficial education of the text it contains (17). His be? than on the beauty and instruction dinner parties descend havior is. enjoyment Importantly. cf. walking among artistic Whatever the subtle understanding. again. have audience be? been of interest to a Aristides. where a pleasure in the of the implied activity and at the cultural refinement overall aesthetics. with purple vellum slipcovers and gilt rollers. rapidly into gross?his his supposed is a sham. 22. of the music of the lection and to comprehend. 1. the listener's charge. 4). that comes from and that refined feeling reading high literature in a so? cial context.v. 25)?and refinement what is interesting is not so much Lucian's chastisement our purposes. and cognates like jtaiSeuoig. the elegance itself. those who are "educated" also "cultured" (cf. 24. the culture to which he mimics faction. he reads all the time. trates on the beauty of the book as an object (4. but the reading itself is that is. (i." portrayal. by inference. to his conceived as a social deep satisreading. yond "Reading. but doesn't understand what he reads (4). Lucian depicts this sort of "reading" (that is. . The operative analogy. jtcaSeia). 3. in im? often such aesthetic overwhelms splendor). mistakenly concenfull of barbarisms (7.
the use of literary texts in antiquity is deeply rooted in that sense of refined aesthetic in the interior so formative enjoyment of a cultural elite.SOCIOLOGY OF READING IN ANTIQUITY the lection 615 depends as much on the beauty of the cadences as in the un? of the words. a motivation fundamental to reading as intellectual This apprehension. Like contem? porary opera. but downright wrong-headed. then. esp. But in ancient society. allure. given the way that ancient society was constructed). as critics might prefer. own information age society analogous reading events are difficult to summon. and. By my way of thinking. on the aesthetic pleaderstanding sure (and cultural self-validation) in the refinement of the book-asobject. the setting. hanced by a setting which?aesthetically in itself?focuses pleasurable attention on the high cultural merits of the performance. his opening two chapters. Also like contemporary construction opera. I am reminded of opera buffs who complain of those who come to the opera only as a high social activity (and by implication do not listen to opera otherwise). since in our aspect of the ancient reading culture is worth emphasizing. the chal? the in of much of the audi? lenge performance. very difficulty activity as one exclusive to the educated and cultured. emphasis even disagreeable.31 This is doubly true for literary texts. When Lucian complains an intellectual would) read these texts apart from a social. In both cases. The Sociology of Reading To modern readers. part and the because serves to validate the ties. See Harris (1989) (who emphasizes the lack of motivation. as the contents of these texts (often presupposing 31 Ancient accounts betray not the slightest interest in diffusion of literacy among all social strata. . remains deeply rooted in understanding (for and is undoubtedly enmost) a substantial part of the experience. that reading was largely an elitist phenomenon was accepted as a matter of course. performance setting. Lucian's account seems to have more points of contact with contemporary opera goers than with contempo? that the provincial does not (as rary readers. the repeated on elitism may seem odd. and the activity. the critics are not only too The aesthetic pleasure. if not so severe. Aesthetic and social responses to the reading event are. and for many ancients may have formed at least as deeply intertwined. as I have argued. many respects beyond is of the both as it insofar stretches aesthetic sensibilience.
I will argue that bookrolls as static repositories of information terms. for his monumental count of Pliny's work habits (Ep. Pliny. JOHNSON make clear.32 But the (to us) bizarre combiand the "entertainnation of the scholar's task of digesting information ment" of a performative reading to a group of friends over dinner dethe serves reflection. Now we do Pliny objects.g. but rather that the reader's attitude toward what the text repwere not. we learn that Pliny is not alone with his servants: "one of his which asks the lector to repeat a mispronounced word?to as this slowed down the reading.3-6).v. but rather as vehicles for performative reading in high social contexts. . Central to the performative of status. like Greek stichoi. in gross resents is subtly different. conceptualized (or of plea? sure)." an ancient writer. Given the nature of Pliny's writings (the nephew's letter begins with a full bibliography of the uncle's work: 3.5. But. whose attitude toward "scholarly" reading seems at first glance close to our own. Reading of literary texts was sela high level of education) dom associated with practical goals for individuals. the broader context seems to imply a text with technical or historical content. to gain infor? for personal profit (such as to increase one's knowledge. and in this Though the performance on the sociology of the actual perfor? section I propose to concentrate mance of prose literary texts (which so far as we know almost always occurred in elite settings). Natural History). even if his methods differ. customarily had a book read to him during dinner and dictated notes. and on the ways in which the habit of social may have affected the reader's conceptualizareading-as-performance tion of "reading. A preliminary example. Pliny. Earlier. 3. 4). structural devices that might assist in reference consultation mirrors the to the use of books for random ancient reader's apparent indifference That does not mean that reading was not done retrieval of information. A singular detail of this ac? e. used lectors and note takers to help in his goal of compiling information (as.616 WILLIAM A. however. For the sake of efficiency. reading were questions need not be actual. was often used as a measure for prose text (see OLD s. to our surprise. we are told. an impor? tant difference. Though in some respects an extreme circumstance. friends" 32Pliny's remark that his friend's interference has lost more than decem versus does not imply poetry: versus. we recall. mation). inasmuch not know exactly what was being read. such as the accumufor professional The bookroll's lack of lation of knowledge purposes. often it was. we encountered the Elder Pliny.5.11-12) betrays..
he said: 'Very well. Aristodemus of Aegium of (you know the man: no mere thyrsus-bearer Academic doctrine. but a most fervent devotee of Plato). (The preface to the Elder Pliny's own Natural History makes an instructive study in this regard. including techni? gether as an "entertainment" to us.) In any case. one of our company (exaiQcov). whose contents bea higher but whose style often manifests speak a technical handbook. whom do we apto defend the philosophers point our champion against this man?'"34 The scene will be at once recognized as a common type. One thinks of the opening to Parmenifor example. Franklin commonly chooses the word "entertainment" to describe the nature of his offering. Terpsion. or the oddly popular Phaenomena and translations. cal treatises. reflects a sociological aspect of reading unfamiliar and yet apparently common among the ancient Greeks and Romans.33 Let us examine another example from the early empire. Euclides reminds him that he has written out a dialogue he heard long ago between Socrates and Theaetetus. where in very similar fashion a reading des (126A-127D).). with unusual managed to hold his peace and listen properly to the patience somehow end. Colotem see. asks. 33This shift in attitude toward technical texts seems to be fairly recent. de Lacy (Loeb ed. Terpsion.Benedict Einarson and Phillip H. with obvious echoes of the dialogues of Plato. talk about the recently wounded Theaetetus. . rhetoric. its many adaptations but also a host of prose texts. the reading of a in his Moralia (1107F. When the reading was over. Zeno from one of his youthful works is the springboard to intellec? by of the open? tual discussion certain members the Or consider by group. we recall the many ancient literary texts that are marvels of technical abbut also composed with an elegance that seems to suppose struseness an audience beyond "scholars" and "professionals": poetic works such of Aratus with as Virgil's Georgics. When sending his friends scientific works on electricity and the like. In this context. adv. as I am reminded from a perusal of the papers of Ben Franklin. such as medical or agricultural or scientific treatises.SOCIOLOGY OF READING IN ANTIQUITY scene 617 helps to clarify the variety of ways in which reading may have constituted "entertainment" among the cultural elite. Plutarch. who had a walk into has the long city. 2) describes to the Doctrines of volume by Colotes ("On the Point That Conformity to Live"): "While the Other Philosophers Actually Makes It Impossible book was being read not long ago. 34Trans. to Theaetetus Euclides runs into and as they ing (142A-143C). for friends to get to? to listen to difficult texts.
(3) the reading is. and discussion. and iconoof the reader solitary graphic representations may (though need not) rest. the tenor of some recent comments in the controversy Despite over reading silently in antiquity." Euclides agrees. are familiar from Plato onward. I doubt anyone would dispute that the in? reading of a Greek prose literary text in the early empire frequently volved what is not so familiar today. even not very intellectual people. an extension to a mutu(5) the reading becomes thereby both focus and springboard set of group behaviors that serve to build the sense of ally understood an intellectual community. the goal of the reading is not simply to learn [xoofiiov]). and that. at least for some listeners.35 Scenes commentary like the one in Plutarch represent. and then hands it over to a servant. . (2) the reading is of a difficult text. philosophical of the scene where a prose (often a philosophical) Permutations work is read aloud. Some notable char? acteristics: (1) the reading is a shared. esp. 248-49. for granted both that "reading" is a common. text for the rest. and the reading is preceded. and Augustine considered earlier. and once they are "resting" he picks up the bookroll. a literary ideal. boy. takes home. then. 247-51. But such ideals have wide influence on the actual habits of a society. a reader reading aloud to a group. or followed by interrupted. the weary traveler.618 WILLIAM A. then. The scene in Plutarch is important. where one person thus probably a servant) brings out the meaning of the (here unnamed. him it to take 35 Some examples and discussion in Allan 1980. Plotinus. cussion. what Colotes had to say on the subject. but to promote a wider dis? of the dynamic interactions of the social group. not a passive activity?the of inpossibility in this particular is real (though terruption group not quite proper (4) implicitly. can nonetheless and individual examples like Lucian's Syrian leave little doubt that peo? ple. group activity. take for Terpsion and Euclides shared activity. tried to mimic this behavior. as witness to a mode of reading be? havior. JOHNSON "What hinders us from going through it now? Certainly I need to take a since I've just come in from the country." Remarkably. saying "Weil. This is not to deny that at times the ancients read silently and in solitude: that intellectuals sometimes did so is assured by passages such as those in Ptolemy. the book and read. attending a difficult (and presumably discussing) dialogue is a relaxing and refreshing way to pass the time. shows Terpsion. but also as the sort of model that directs cultural attitudes as to how educated persons ought to interact with books.
listening amateur (cf.38 But whatever the practical merits. and the 36Starr 1990-91. Lucian). See the helpful discussion of other terms for performative reading in Allen 1972. 37More in Horsfall 1995. Plutarch. there are some demonstrated by Raymond quately a reader. private recitation was mostly of melic poetry (as in symof a whole set of habits? but the close association posiastic contexts). and commonly are pas? run-of-the-mill miliar to warrant documentation. Starr's survey. including by the prose texts. 141-42. lector IB. restricts itself mostly to servants who are designated as lectores and thus encompasses only one part of the activity of reading texts aloud. 38In contemporary studies of schoolchildren. reader. that helped to bind and validate with the shared "entertainments" group. were regarded ancient reader. and the common use in elite Ro? or a gentleman of a specially trained lector (dvayvcooxTig) has been ademan households Starr. as Starr points out (342). . The custom of out-loud social context has roots in the Greek tradition as far back as we can see. into a broad-based often over dinner?developed tocratic socializing. is too famonly listened to a reader. esp. and that the lector helped masters with failing eyesight. recitation. elite. further useful comments and bibliography in Horsfall 1995. But that the ancients com"read" in groups. Starr suggests (343) that use for reasons practical employing of needing two hands of the lector got around the physical awkwardness to manage the roll. At the very heart of the use of literary texts was the as? of the activity of reading with the elite community sociation itself. group involvement.36 To be sure. Perfectly a group in which we encounter reviewed as those such here. cultural tradition. the children are helped in recall by the oral reading of texts. See Horowitz 1991.SOCIOLOGY OF READING IN ANTIQUITY 619 imply a broader base for this sort of reading. trained servant whether a to a Plato. Pliny) (cf.37 to which should probably be added the advantage of memory refor tention. however. In any case. the use of a lector is so assumed that only happenstance preserves direct mention of the reader in the ancient source. This suggests that oral reading helps recall in reading cultures where reading aloud predominates. Memory retention is particularly important in a culture where books are not normallv used for reference. up until the age (twelve to thirteen) when the widespread use of oral dissemination of information is replaced by silent reading. In earlier times. sages. aris? artistic or intellectual entertainment. reading culture.v. Beikircher in TLL s. other passages collected by H. the primary motivation reader was surely the force of tradition within the using an out-loud recitation within a private. and thus influenced generally the ways and long-lived in which literary texts.
the entertainment 39l\irner 1980.39 existed.2. like (Pliny.) was left to the reader's interpretation at will. is sometimes of a surpris26. e. linguistic quotes.15.. 9. to regard the text not as a voiceless conditioned and were. Suet.3. of the lines.2. storytellers. Turner and Parsons 1987. but a reader-performer much like an actor rendering a play. indentation. 110-11.17. As already discussed. The reader played the role of performer. and any other way. 9. I suppose.g.4. to insert the prosodic in the writing system. and could be?was?changed A surprising amount of the burden to interpret the text was shifted from author to reader. straightforward representation script to in performance actualized or be represented not). for the solitary reader. Hist. of the author's as but a intent. Hadr. . JOHNSON The odd format of the bookroll itself intersects with the fact that "read" in the sense of a small group lisliterary texts were commonly wants to say obby a reader. the idea of the "reader" is complex: who acts as an not simply the reader-listener. Just as we. for pause and tone given by the author's parathe sort of direction italics. was no times. 92. The continuous roll was "played" by the reader much in the way that we play a videotape or witness a stage perfor? could be "replayed" mance. Moreover.. 1. 78. Aug. Aug. cf. markup in our texts (commas. use as entertainment closely its traditional parallels is without hesitation "Entertainment" the proper word: several ancient enumerate for after-dinner sources lectores among the possibilities dramatic and the diversion. Ep.4). The fact that some? intermediary. (whether of the bookroll The conceptualization as a performance script in elite society.36. musicians. the many casual additions and changes to punctuation in Roman-era bookrolls witness how fully the ultimate decision remained the reader's. did not exist. Punctuation. had no authorial force. if it etc. alongside players. and though excerpts (cf. cf. today people sometimes to imagine the possibilities of the when we read a play. Johnson 1992. Phaedrus in general one was expected to remember (or take notes)? 228AB). Even though in the Roman era scribes often copied punctuation if it existed in the exemplar. Johnson 1994. The strict?one tening to a "performance" to continuous flow in the design of the ancient book sessive?attention interlocks with the idea that it was the reader's job to bring the text features and illocutionary force lacking alive. are conditioned so ancient readers (and indeed ancient authors) actor's intervention.620 WILLIAM A. 10. was designed to facilitate retrieval in nothing in the ancient bookroll in effect. the intermediary in of the conceptualization the text than the fact that more important read plays silently to themselves.
as so often. regardless of the actual merits of the ac? was integral to the self-identity tivity. explicitly (4). which was explicitly "cultured" in a the ideals of high intellectual sense that embraced attainment and aes? thetic sensibility. Spurinna converses with friends. philhellene Romans in the time of Trajan. challenging dramatized 621 nature.. tur. is that this sort of entertainment and self-validation of the group. more vigorous exertion with a ball imbefore the midafternoon bath (8). finally. I will focus. inby elegant. ones with serious purpose and a refined quality. fit in with the broader contours of daily life? As prolegomenon (it can be no more) to an answer. The portrait of Vestricius Spurinna's daily regimen given in Epis? tle 3. that is. so as do not find the reading burdensome //// non gravanthey long (si. mediately is designed to invigorate the animus as weil as the body.1 is particularly because it explicitly (1. cies and ruled provinces. of aristocratic behaviors. a book may be read. and is thought of not as a solitary pastime." by strict regularity (2)?itself the moderation who understands and self-control to the appropriate man of substance and culture?and the indeed artful. but the conversations are honestissimi sermones (4).SOCIOLOGY OF READING IN ANTIQUITY ingly havior more doubt lector. After the morning's walk. 4). a carriage ride and short walk toward midday (5). does not however deeply involved of contextualize the How did this idea of reading fully activity reading." in a that 12) way suggests. That reading is closely linked in conception with entertainment. Alternating with the physical exertions are activities meant to divert and exercise the mind more directly. but as a shared activity in the building of elite community. a pub? lic rather than a private audience for the letters (Pliny's correspondent would hardly need this reminder). these are diverse tegration Among types of moderate exercise: a long walk in the morning (4). "held magistra(Spurinna. on a couple of reports in the letters of the Younger Pliny which provide unusually detailed (how? of how reading and writing were integrated ever idealized) depictions into the lives of cultured.. The word gravantur suggests that the morning's reading typically . In addition to or in lieu of conversation. The exercise. Spurinna's activities are marked both a sign of the man who "knows himself. even if friends are present. the reality was no exemplary closer to the half-baked efforts of Lucian's Ignorant Book ColBut what seems certain. The on status itself is remarked like high Pliny. the sort of high intellectual be? in works from Plato to Macrobius will have proven than representative?for many. 12) sets forth interesting for an of behavior as the model man elderly Spurinna's high status. To be sure.
by spent in In most of verses Greek and Latin these activities. served of and the din? course on dinner plate that is elegant but not immoderate. in explicit contrast and comparison regards a more challenging with the reading that follows the afternoon bath. The fascinating structure of Spurinna's regimen. for his carriage ride a of is accompanied different mode conversation with a by (tete-a-tete in and time which he chosen companion. lyric (7). is worthy of a poetry book. 5-6). as they prefer (8). JOHNSON Spurinna's Regimen text. "so that the pleasures of dining rinna favors performance for letters" (ut voluptates quoque studiis may be spiced by enthusiasm condiantur. three of and a contrived varietas (three different modes of exercise.. 9). with its combina? and social exercises. 8) and lighter In between. mental fare of the afternoon. et dulcius (8). four of literary activity). a reconversation. or in fact any "art" that counterpoises . ner itself is punctuated entertainment between courses by literary (Spu? of comedy). is coupled with more difficult mental exercise. which is balanced in artful chiasmus by the vigorous exercise (vehementer et diu.622 WILLIAM A. for they are invited to particithe integration pate or not. followed alone. intellectual. a unifying structure fined garden. which is of something . The light physical exercise of the morning remissius. composes of his amici is seamless. The day is capped by a dinner. tion of a balanced rotation of physical. Spurinna insinuates yet other diverse modes of physical and intellectual activity.
but the elegant integration the truly cultured man. or group reading and discussion. the art of intellectual course. in which the social arts."40 Not simof. the very nature of mit. is part of that prose. all these arts is the mark of ple skill in. conversation. often difficult and inaccessible which fences off the elite group from the rest of society. the doing of culture is critical to Pliny's conception of the ideal in this Greco-Roman society. in fact. The reading here described?of literary prose?is sharply distinct from pragmatic reading of documents and the like. happenstance. prominently including leisure. the writing of poetry. . the literary arts. who punctuates his day with leisure forms of physical exercise. I subThe artfulness bespeaks. He describes. dis? Spurinna plies actively the arts of the body. but a final example 40So Petrucci 1995. and mesh together with other. intellectual entertainment). sociologically plays beyond the sum of its functional As we have seen. and all with emphatic moderation and balance (as dictated by a wide stream of hellenic philo? is the symbiotic combination of high Quintessential sophical thought).SOCIOLOGY OF READING IN ANTIQUITY with elaborate 623 variation. and serious conversation from Group reading devolving reading are twin axes around which much of the elite man's community turns. and who at day's end gracefully manages a lengthy social dinner that seems long to no one. the ideal. but who spends his morning in reading of difficult texts and in serious who at midday writes lyric verse in both Greek and Latin. Moreover. The artfulness of Spurinna's life is not. and the physical arts are tightly knit into "a more complex and organic paideia. read. tanta comitate convivium trahitur. like the doing of philosophy so cen? tral to Plato's conception of the life worth living. social status with high culture: a man who was a provincial governor. and social arts. the social graces. one which integrates a variety of behaviors. for example. are particular to the social group. That literary activities nonetheless occupy a special place in the construction of elite culture is perhaps self-evident. Reading functions and aesthetic but a role fodder. delight. in this is of "Reading" society tightly bound up in the construction the community. further examples at 143). related customs (such as routinely inviting friends to dinners with performance as group entertainment. Reading of literary to the less educated. exercise. 141. nated to a broader conception of culture. in describing similar behaviors among the medieval aristocracy in Italy. or engaged in fencing" (141. an aristocratic lady who "had two couches of rich silk installed in the great garden and had brought there whoever played music. reading is subordicomponents. Habits like use of servants to help with the lection.
"whose boorfor literary ish complaints freshen my enthusiasm (agrestes querelae) pursuits (litteras nostras) and the civilized works of life (haec urbana behavior of these griping rusopera). thus able to offer varied conversation (4). In any case. focusing eclectically not only on the strategies but also on the pieces of evidence that seem most helpful: What may be nar? implied by physical features of the ancient bookroll like extremely or exceptionally In what sense. elite?the good life?from Concluding Remarks In this series of sketches. are an essential basis for what distinguishes the life and manners of the those of their inferiors. it is important not to extrapolate lightly from the tentative depiction here to other aspects of the system. he gives time to his tenants. Pliny's sketch includes the now familiar elements of a daily regimen varied by controlled rotation among literary." Note here that the disagreeable tics is explicitly opposed to the literary pursuits that. audience specific as I would prefer. unlike that of Spuregimen needs no comment. he says. Pliny replies to a friend who has asked how he spends his days in the rustic environs of his Tuscan estate. None of this is as prose). On some days. Pliny goes on to mention one of the less artful occupations day. by implication. sociological of the reading turn. In Epistle 9. What was the was ancient reading performative? of a reading event? At each contextualization broader. if only with his wife and a few friends. I have tried to make better sense of the system of reading in antiquity. includes a book read to the group. JOHNSON from Pliny may help make this more vivid. after which follows of his household.36. next comes a dinner which." limited by type of text (literary (the elite). That the ancient elite had by the period under consideration strong traditions and other motivations to make use of performative reading of certain types of . to a specific "reading culture. fine craftsmanship? in what contexts. The similarity to Spurinna's but in this description. and social activities: he spends the morning writing. then practices oratorical reading (in Greek or Latin). followed by a drive and a walk (1-3). of his rinna. followed by comedy or music (4). and row columns. physi? cal.624 WILLIAM A. followed by more physical exercise and a bath (3). I have restricted remarks to a specific component system. though perhaps as specific as the evidence al? lows. and time (early empire). another walk with members some of whom are (he assures his friend) educated and well-bred and defensively (eruditi).
Clanchy. Paul. How to Do Things with Words. Allen. or how the elite handled other types of texts. Urmson and Marina Sbis. Raffaella. London: Edward Arnold. rather. we urgently need. 1997. do have definable traditions that go beyond ing probably particular times or texts or classes of people. 1979. Cambridge. and the editor of this journal for help with the final revision to the essay. J. Balogh. O. . W P. D.johnson@uc. 1927. 1991. better how ancient reading differed from our own. "Voces Paginarum: Beitrage zur Geschichte des lauten Lesens und Schreibens. 202-40. Austin." CQ 47:74-76. "Omne verbum sonat: The New Testament and the Oral Environment of Late Western Antiquity. Holt Parker. "Ancient Reading.: Harvard University Press. 19 April -. Burnyeat. Cribiore. and indeed cognitive behaviors. 41 An early instantiation of some parts of this essay was read in September 1998 at a festival in honor of that best of teachers. Nathan A." Philologus 82:85-109. 1975 (1962). Teachers. J. within highly specific sociocultural contexts. Josef. 1996. 1990. Mass. whether ancient or modern. T. Walter." JBL 109:3-27. and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt. for example.edu BIBLIOGRAPHY Achtemeier. Certain aspects of ancient read? thetic. M. 1980. M." CJ 26:698-700. American Studies in Papyrology. Greenberg of Oberlin College. But in general terms it seems unhelpful to speak of "literacy" and "reading" in antiquity as though these were one thing for all groups of people and all types of texts over the If we are to understand course of a millennium.15. I here record my thanks to his continuing inspiration. 1931. Times Literary Supplement. "Ovid's cantare and Cicero's cantores Euphorionis. Allan." CQ 30:244-51. to frame our discussions of reading. Writing. "'AvayiYVcbaxo) and Some Cognate Words.SOCIOLOGY OF READING IN ANTIQUITY 625 texts may tell us little or nothing about how others handled these texts. as well as my gratitude to Kathryn Gutzwiller. Clark.41 University of Cincinnati e-mail: william. L. Edited by J. 1991. The reading of documenaes? tary texts. invokes a wholly distinct set of sociological. "Postscript on Silent Reading. Atlanta: Scholars Press. From Memory to Written Record." TAPA 103:1-14. Letter to the editor. 2d ed. 1972. 36. F.
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