Thursday, July 30, 2009

Concerning Reading


Reading is a faultless utterance of poems and prose works.

One must read according to delivery, variation in pitch, and distinction. From the delivery we see virtue, and from variation in pitch skill, and from distinction the particular mind in order that we might read the tragedy heroically, and the comedy lively, and the elegies clearly, and the epic vigorously, and the lyric poem elegantly, and the lamentations subdued and mournfully. For the things which are not produced according to the observance to these rules of reading both despise the virtues of poets and render the habits of those who read absurd.

[Greek Text]


  • First, notice what reading is. It is the faultless utterance. Reading involves speaking aloud. Greek works, in particular, are meant to be read aloud, not, as most of us are used to, read quietly in our heads (I suspect most modern English works are meant to be read silently. I wonder how this has affected writing style. I also wonder whether reading aloud or silently is better for learning and understanding what is being read).
  • If we should read aloud, then we should read correctly, that is, the way the work was meant to be read in order that we may feel the full effect of what the author intended. Dionysius gives us three main points on which to focus: delivery (ὑπόκρισις), variation in pitch (προσῳδία), and distinction (διαστολή).
    • Delivery belongs to the art of orators and actors. This is one place, as Anonymous commented on the previous section, it would be handy to have a Classical scholar or at least someone who has read something like Aristotle's Rhetoric that might better inform us on what delivery entails. We do see, however, that based upon the delivery we can observe virtue or excellence (I really cannot decide whether it refers to the reader or the text. The following ἵνα clause makes me want to say the text, but the next item in the list "from variation in pitch skill" seems to point to the reader while I am uncertain of the final item of the list (though I might be leaning towards text. See below)).
    • Variation in pitch concerns the pronunciation of what we see today as accents. The pitch accent of earlier Greek was probably starting to die out when Dionysius Thrax wrote in the 2nd century A.D. Basically, I see Dionysius as arguing for a reconstructed pronunciation, a utilization of the pitch accent when reading ancient works because we can see the reader's skill based upon his use of variation in pitch (I myself do not use a pitch accent. I have been trying to learn Randall Buth's Reconstructed Koine, but I find it really hard not to slip back to Modern Greek pronunciation which I have used for at least a year or two now and I really like).
    • I am not sure what to make of "distinction." Could it be enunciation? That is my best guess, but I really don't have assurance of it. What Dionysius tells us we can see from distinction does not give me any clues either. He says we can see τὸν περιεχόμενον νοῦν, which I translated "the particular mind" (or maybe "the contained mind," "the surrounded mind," "the particular thought"? This last one might have some virtue) but I am not certain what he means by it. Perhaps, it means the particular characteristics of the author or the interpretation of the reader (If we went with "the particular thought," maybe distinction refers to vocal pauses indicating punctuation and the particular thought refers to phrases and clauses. That is appealing. What do you think?)
  • This ἵνα clause is a wonderful passage. It makes me want to go try to read the Iliad, plays, and other poetry. He gives a list of the different genres of Greek literature with an adverb describing the way these genres ought to be read.
    • The word "lively" (βιωτικῶς) has the idea of pertaining to common life
    • The word "clearly" (λιγυρῶς) seems to have some sad connotations, something clear, sweet, and sad. While I cannot think of any in particular, I have head songs that I would describe that way.
  • The final sentence says that if one does not read according to the aforementioned guidelines, one ruins the skill and artwork of the author as well as makes those guidelines laughable.
    • The first section of the sentence offered some difficulty: τὰ γὰρ μὴ παρὰ τὴν τούτων γινόμενα παρατήρησιν. The phrases are intertwined in a way that I did not expect to see. Normally (at least in what I have read of the NT so far, which of course is different), I would have expected the παρατήρησιν to fall before the γινόμενα in a nested structure (which seems to be fairly common in Greek) especially with how the sentence begins, but Dionysius threw a curveball at me and placed the παρατήρησιν outside the τὰ…γινόμενα structure. I wonder if and how this changes the emphasis.

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