Monday, February 09, 2009
Reading at One Sitting
There is worse reading than the Opuscula of Gottfried Hermann, a mighty shade in the days when I began to learn my business, and in turning over the third volume the other day I chanced on two prefaces, one of which made a deep impression on my youthful mind more than fifty years ago. In the preface to his edition of the Odyssey as in the preface to his edition of the Iliad the fine old scholar emphasizes the importance of reading Homer continuously, and tells us how he read the Iliad over and over again within the compass of a few days. Years before I knew aught of Hermann except the name I had been stirred by the passage in Gibbon's autobiography in which he informs us that 'Scaliger ran through the Iliad in one and twenty days' and adds 'I was not dissatisfied with my diligence for performing the same labour in an equal number of weeks.' It was easy enough to beat Gibbon, but when it comes to Scaliger, when it comes to Hermann, the question 'How?' arises. To read Homer as Hermann read him, as Hermann would have us read him, with the eye now on this, now on that element, is not an easy matter for men of a certain temperament. One gets caught in the undertow, and I have once at least found myself turned back from ω to A and forced to begin all over again in order to verify an observation I thought I had made. Even lesser units are not often read continuously by the average scholar, such units as a major dialogue of Plato or a long speech of Demosthenes; and I myself remember as a manner of revelation the first time I read the De Corona through without leaving my chair from πρῶτον μέν, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι to the musical close σωτηρίαν ἀσφαλῆ. It was some thirty years ago. I had studied the speech years before under the illustrious master Boeckh. I had gone through it guttatim et stillatim with undergraduate classes, but I never felt the thrill of it and the surge of it as I did then. What was intended to be heard at one sitting ought to be read at one sitting.Gildersleeve was referring to p. 81 of Gottfried Hermann's Opuscula, vol. III (Leipzig: Fleischer, 1828), where he says, "Eiusmodi lectio quem fructum praeberet, ego ipse expertus sum, quum aliquando Iliadem quater aut quinquies intra paucos dies perlegi..."
See also E.P. Sanders, Comparing Judaism and Christianity: An Academic Autobiography (.pdf), p. 14:
By then I had learned THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OF MY LIFE: you really know what you learn for yourself by studying original sources. I would never have come to my understanding of the Rabbis by reading secondary literature. I could decide without first-hand study that Moore was better than Bousset, but that was by no means the same as internalizing the Rabbis' modes of argument and their spirit. Furthermore, I remembered that one of the most exciting afternoons of my life was when I had read the Pauline letters through at a single sitting.Related post: How to Read.