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date: 10 April 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The history of reading in antiquity is wholly dependent on literary sources that must be read with care; one misinterpreted passage can enable an entire misguided history. This is the case with Augustine’s account of Ambrose reading silently, and the tenacious misapprehension that such reading was impossible in antiquity. Another reading of the passage points not to reading’s physical mechanics but to its psychological unknowability, and the distance that reading creates between subjects whether in the same room or at a historical distance. This should prompt us to consider other unknowable or invisible aspects of ancient Roman reading, like its dependence on enslaved labor, ubiquitous but almost never described. The unknowability of ancient reading invites us to consider its cultural idiosyncrasy; that idiosyncrasy, in turn, provides exciting new points of contact with our current age of digital reading.

Keywords: ancient reading, silent reading, ancient Rome, public reading, slavery, Augustine, recitatio, paideia

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