Wednesday, August 10, 2005
[Arthur Darby] Nock, a bachelor with a large library, gave me other good advice. "First buy texts, then lexica and indices, then commentaries and only then, if you can, secondary literature." [Sterling] Dow's advice was "Read the big books." Prefer, he meant, Kühner-Gerth to Smyth, which was simply derivative and without independent value, RE to OCD. . . . I owe my library to the kindly advice of my teachers. None of the literary professors ever urged acquisition of books and none of their students ever acquired a library worth looking at.I follow some of Nock's advice, in that I buy primarily texts and commentaries.
It's an embarrassing admission for a wannabe scholar to make, but I also buy translations. Often I find that commentaries don't have anything at all to say about passages that give me extraordinary difficulty. Sometimes I think I get the gist of a passage, until I try to turn it into English, when I realize that I don't really understand it at all. It's good mental exercise every day to grapple with a page or a paragraph or even just a sentence from an ancient text in the original language, at first unaided and then with a dictionary and commentary, and as a last resort with a translation. Translations are crutches, but the lame can walk farther and faster with crutches than without.