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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Silent reading

Augustin wrote this on St Ambrose's odd habit of reading silently:

sed cum legebat, oculi ducebantur per paginas et cor intellectum rimabatur, vox autem et lingua quiescebant. saepe cum adessemus (non enim vetabatur quisquam ingredi aut ei venientem nuntiari mos erat), sic eum legentem vidimus tacite et aliter numquam, sedentesque in diuturno silentio (quis enim tam intento esse oneri auderet?) discedebamus et coniectabamus eum parvo ipso tempore quod reparandae menti suae nanciscebatur, feriatum ab strepitu causarum alienarum, nolle in aliud avocari et cavere fortasse ne, auditore suspenso et intento, si qua obscurius posuisset ille quem legeret, etiam exponere esset necesse aut de aliquibus difficilioribus dissertare quaestionibus, atque huic operi temporibus impensis minus quam vellet voluminum evolveret, quamquam et causa servandae vocis, quae illi facillime obtundebatur, poterat esse iustior tacite legendi. quolibet tamen animo id ageret, bono utique ille vir agebat. (Confessiones 6.3.3.)


"Now, as he read, his eyes glanced over the pages and his heart searched out the sense, but his voice and tongue were silent. Often when we came to his room--for no one was forbidden to enter, nor was it his custom that the arrival of visitors should be announced to him--we would see him thus reading to himself. After we had sat for a long time in silence--for who would dare interrupt one so intent?--we would then depart, realizing that he was unwilling to be distracted in the little time he could gain for the recruiting of his mind, free from the clamor of other men's business. Perhaps he was fearful lest, if the author he was studying should express himself vaguely, some doubtful and attentive hearer would ask him to expound it or discuss some of the more abstruse questions, so that he could not get over as much material as he wished, if his time was occupied with others. And even a truer reason for his reading to himself might have been the care for preserving his voice, which was very easily weakened. Whatever his motive was in so doing, it was doubtless, in such a man, a good one." (Translation from here)

Is this issue ever treated in Indian or Tibetan literature?

7 Comments:

Blogger sdv said...

The instruction in reading (oratory) in Rājaśekhara's Kāvyamīmāṃsā 7 envisages reading aloud:

karoti kāvyaṃ prāyeṇa saṃskṛtātmā yathā tathā /
paṭhituṃ vetti sa paraṃ yasya siddhā sarasvatī //
yathā janmāntarābhyāsāt kaṇṭhe kasyāpi raktatā /
tathaiva pāṭhasaundaryaṃ naikajanmavinirmitam //
sasaṃskṛtam apabhraṃśaṃ lālityāliṅgitaṃ paṭhet /
prākṛtaṃ bhūtabhāṣāṃ ca sauṣṭhavottaram udgiret //

lalitaṃ kākusamanvitam ujjvalam arthavaśakṛtaparicchedam /
śrutisukhaviviktavarṇaṃ kavayaḥ pāṭhaṃ praśaṃsanti //
atitūrṇam ativilambitam ulbaṇanādaṃ ca nādahīnaṃ ca /
apadacchinnam anāvṛtam atimṛduparuṣaṃ ca nindanti //
gambhīratvam anaiśvaryaṃ nirvyūḍhis tāramandrayoḥ /
saṃyuktavarṇalāvaṇyam iti pāṭhaguṇāḥ smṛtāḥ //
yathā vyāghrī haret putrān daṃṣṭrābhiś ca na pīḍayet /
bhītā patanabhedābhyāṃ tadvad varṇān prayojayet //
vibhaktayaḥ sphuṭā yatra samāsaś cākadarthitaḥ /
amlānaḥ padasandhiś ca tatra pāṭhaḥ pratiṣṭhitaḥ //
na vyastapadayor aikyaṃ na bhidāṃ tu samastayoḥ /
na cākhyātapadamlāniṃ vidadhīta sudhīḥ paṭhan //
āgopālakam āyoṣidās tām etasya lehyatā /
itthaṃ kaviḥ paṭhan kāvyaṃ vāgdevyā ativallabhaḥ //
ye 'pi śabdavido naiva naiva cārthavicakṣaṇāḥ /
teṣām api satāṃ pāṭhaḥ suṣṭhu karṇarasāyanam //

3:19 am  
Blogger PDSz said...

very interesting, thanks for this! Rājaśekhara is so good on realia.

9:34 pm  
Blogger sdv said...

The verse to memorize is of course this one:

yathā vyāghrī haret putrān daṃṣṭrābhiś ca na pīḍayet /
bhītā patanabhedābhyāṃ tadvad varṇān prayojayet

“Just as a tigress takes her cubs and does not crush them them with her fangs, anxious of dropping and injuring them, so one should enunciate the varṇas.”

9:59 pm  
Blogger elisa freschi said...

Augustin's remarks is an evidence of the fact that silent reading was an absolute exception at his time. Older Latin authors also point to the same and, as far as I know, around 800 AD one still differentiated between reading aloud and reading with a low tone of voice, for oneself, but there was no idea of reading silently. What about Indian authors? Is there any evidence of silent reading? I just know about loud reading. Silent reading influences your writing habits (one cares less for the sounds and more for the written form) and indicates private study (=done alone, not necessarily with a teacher in front of you). I would be happy to know whether you know more about that.

9:52 am  
Blogger sdv said...

This one might well be worth pursuing for its further bearing on Vajrayāṇa culture: From K.V. Sharma's Praśastiprakāśīkā, p. xviii, note 12: "Manuals too have come to be written on the art of reading, for instance, the Pustakapāṭhopajaya of Dānaśīla, the Biddhist monk of Bengal (ca. 100 A.D.).

Anyway, to the point, on the same page op. cit., concerning the reading of letters at court by the rājalekhaka:
patraṃ vitatya sadasi dvivāraṃ manasā paṭhet /
sphuṭaṃ paścāt pravaktavyam akṣobho rājalekhakaḥ //

(is he still citing the Patrakaumudī of Vararuci?)

6:34 am  
Blogger PDSz said...

hm, that's intriguing... does this work survive? of course if this is the Dānaśīla I know about, it's more like early 9th century.

2:07 pm  
OpenID shreevatsa said...

Actually, the often quoted Augustine anecdote seems to be a misinterpretation according to this article. Augustine seems to be commenting on Ambrose reading silently in front of visitors instead of sharing his reading and thoughts and interacting with them, and it's on this seemingly inexplicable behaviour, he says "Whatever his motive was […] it was doubtless, in such a man, a good one".

So the point of the passage seems to be etiquette, not that silent reading was exceptional. The linked article says that Augustine himself was capable of silent reading.

9:06 am  

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