Tuesday, March 20, 2018


A Reading Program

W.A. Oldfather (1880-1945), "The Character of the Training and of the Thesis for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Classics," Classical Journal 26.8 (May, 1931) 580-588 (at 581-583):
[W]e require, I repeat, the reading of about nine thousand pages in a suggested list of classical authors. Since the ordinary first-year graduate student seldom comes to us with more than twelve hundred pages read in Latin and Greek, this means that he has some seventy-eight hundred pages yet to read during three years. Since the average reading rate that we recommend is four pages an hour, he has a little less than two thousand hours to be devoted to reading during his next three years, or, since this kind of work ought well to go on continuously, even (or rather, especially) during vacation, he will have to devote to the reading of classical authors an average of from one hour and forty-five minutes to two hours a day. This is surely no hardship, particularly when one considers that a good deal of the reading required for special courses counts also toward this total. I might add that the preliminary examination, at the end of the second year, is more than half devoted to testing the ability of our students to read at sight, a power which can be acquired only by reading considerable quantities of material.

This reading program has also other advantages. If done with any attention and the taking of notes on matters of interest, it starts the scholar's collections of material for future studies (and we all know how much time is consumed later on in reading even hurriedly through long rows of authors in search of some particular matter); it gives him the salubrious habit of going to the sources at once instead of to some handbook or resumé of them; it is a delightful recreation in itself from the occasionally somewhat irksome tasks of the seminar or special reports — i.e., for the student who belongs in this field of study at all, for if he does not really like to read the great classics he surely ought to find that out very promptly, and leave a profession in which he must henceforward be either constantly bored or systematically insincere. Last of all, and decidedly least, although not to be neglected either for its practical value, the man who has read nine thousand pages of the great classics has accumulated a considerable store of the prime data of facts upon which the structures of systematic treatises on history, literature, linguistics, private and public antiquities, philosophy, religion, and the like, are constructed — information which will stand him in good stead against the days of his preliminary and final doctoral examinations.

Perhaps a word of explanation about the apparently arbitrary rate assumed of an average of four pages an hour, an average please, mind you; for four pages of Pindar should take as much more time, no doubt, as four pages of the New Testament should take less. Of course there are all rates of reading, from the average of perhaps one line in a full day which a conscientious seminar leader might allow himself, to the hundreds of pages which an experienced man can cover, galloping along in Hussarentempo, looking out only for references to safety-pins, or superstitions touching the salamander.

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