November 19, 2004

Reading Silently

Category: History,Miscellaneous :: Permalink

Recently, I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis’s The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition. In an earlier life, I was an English major with a strong interest in medieval and Renaissance literature, and though I don’t get to do as much study in literature as I would like my interest has not evaporated.

I’ve long wanted to read through Lewis’s works, and this one aroused a sense of nostalgia for the days when I was studying Chaucer under Dr. Stephen Reimer and Shakespeare under Dr. James Forrest at the University of Alberta. In it, Lewis discusses the rise of “courtly love” and medieval allegorical poetry before examining The Romance of the Rose and works by Chaucer, Gower, Usk, and Spenser.

In the course of that discussion, Lewis touches on a number of other topics. This side-comment I found particularly interesting:

But perhaps there is no writer who admits us so intimately into the heart of that age as Augustine. Sometimes he does so by accident, as when he comments on the fact — to him, apparently, remarkable — that Ambrose, when reading to himself, read silently. You could see his eyes moving, but you could hear nothing. In such a passage one has the solemn privilege of being present at the birth of a new world. Behind us is that almost unimaginable period, so relentlessly objective that in it even “reading” (in our sense) did not exist. The book was still a logos, a speech; thinking was still dialegesthai, talking. Before us is our own world, the world of the printed or written page, and of the solitary reader who is accustomed to pass hours in the silent society of mental images evoked by written characters (pp. 64-65; I’ve transliterated the Greek, because I can’t do Greek font on this blog yet).

Posted by John Barach @ 12:06 pm | Discuss (0)

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