“I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are wise and very beautiful; but I have never read in either of them: Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden.”
~~ St Augustine ~~
It has often been said that St Augustine was the first person from antiquity who didn`t read aloud: this is a slightly dismaying thought, because the Roman Empire enjoyed exceedingly high literacy levels which would not be equaled for well over a millennium from the collapse of the western empire in A.D. 476. Think of the babel as the whole empire read everything out loud; quiet contemplation of a book was a complete non-starter. The Roman rich had their own private “reading rooms” where a book could be enjoyed without disturbing the rest of the family, because the Roman world valued a well trained voice highly, whether it be a tasty piece of oratory or someone literally “living” a written passage for the enjoyment of others.
Romans not only read out loud, but they read it with immense gusto and vocal panache as if every single word counted towards a performance of Oscar winning potential. Great poets such a Virgil would have been trained to read their own works to convey their meaning and passion with the greatest effect on his audience, their ears flapping away like organic satellite dishes, picking out every little nuance from his performance. Reading was a finely honed acoustic art in which everyone was an expert: if a reader couldn`t hack it, he was the unceremonious target of not just verbal abuse, but the recipient of a wide variety of garden produce thrown in his general direction.
It`s probably not coincidental that silent reading gradually became the norm from St Augustine onwards: perhaps the requirements of the quiet life in monasticism was a major contributor towards reading aloud losing popularity. Literacy became almost the sole preserve of the church as the requirements of reading and writing were no longer a necessary part of life for the man in the street, as the dying embers of the Roman Imperium flickered and died.
Reading aloud was part and parcel of the art of public speaking so beloved of Romans, and gave the author of a book or a poem the opportunity to put their own distinct stamp on how they felt their words should be spoken. The recent proliferation of recordings of modern writers reading their own works gives us a much better idea of how they thought about their work and how it should be vocalised. The vocalisation of Roman Latin was probably a hell of a lot more dramatic and hearty than the phonetically “dull as ditch water” version we tend to hear nowadays from classicists and school classrooms. As with any type of reading, often times a passage will become clearer when the words are read out aloud a few times.
Latin should always be read out aloud to take pleasure in the phonetics of the words, because after all, the ear is a much finer tuned instrument of memory than the eyes – how else do you learn language? For the average Roman in the street, reading was an extravert act shared with all and sundry; we have internalised and compacted it into our own psychological worlds: reading silently is an essential part of our culture, whereas the Romans roared out loud every word with consummate happiness and would have wondered what the hell was going on in the quiet sanctity of a modern public library.
As in everything, there is no definitive “right or wrong” way of doing something, we are products of the rules and standards of the society we are raised in………..Nothing is set in stone.