Thursday, October 29, 2009


Take It As It Comes

One of my Greek teachers used to say, at least once during every class, "Take it as it comes," by which he meant, "Try to understand the Greek words in the order in which they appear." Years later, I am still trying to follow this wise counsel. My natural tendency is not to "take it as it comes," but to skip around, to find the main clause with subject and verb first.

Most of the literature that survives from Greek and Roman times was meant to be understood with the ears, "as it comes," not perused silently with the eyes. Philip did not "see" the eunuch reading Isaiah, he "heard" him reading (Acts 8:30), because the eunuch, like most people of his day, was reading aloud.

Some bibliography: Josef Balogh, "Voces paginarum: Beiträge zur Geschichte des lauten Lesens und Schreibens," Philologus 82 (1927) 84-109 and 202-240; G.L. Hendrickson, "Ancient Reading," Classical Journal 25 (1929) 182-196; E.S. McCartney, "Notes on Reading and Praying Audibly," Classical Philology 43 (1948) 184-187; Bernard M.W. Knox, "Silent Reading in Antiquity," Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 9 (1968) 421-435; Paul J. Achtemeier, "Omne Verbum Sonat: The New Testament and the Oral Environment of Late Antiquity," Journal of Biblical Literature 109 (1990) 3-27; Raymond J. Starr, "Reading Aloud: Lectores and Roman Reading," Classical Journal 86 (1991) 337-343.

"Take it as it comes" is advice that applies not only to reading Greek, but to life. As Horace said (Odes 3.8.27), "With joy seize the gifts of the current hour" (dona praesentis cape laetus horae).

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