Monday, September 27, 2010

on books and memory

I'm currently reading through Loveday Alexander's chapter in Jesus in Memory: Traditions in Oral and Scribal Perspectives (Werner H. Kelber and Samuel Byrskog, eds.; Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009): "Memory and Tradition in the Hellenistic Schools" (113–53). Reading this essay reminds me of the most enjoyable moments of researching my PhD under Loveday's supervision; she offers very much to think about and references to a broad range of Classical data that is quite simply beyond my realm of consciousness.

But in this post I only want to repeat an anecdote from the ancient world that Alexander shares with her readers:
The ambivalent relationship between memory and text in ancient understanding is captured nicely in a floating apophthegm attributed to Diocles of Carystus: "Someone once told Diocles the doctor that he would not need any more teaching because he had bought a medical book. Diocles responded: 'For those who have studied, books are reminders, but for the unlearned, they are tombs.'" (148)

[Διοκλῆς ὁ ίατρὸς λέγοντος αὐτῷ τινος βιβλίον ἠγορακέναι ἰατρικὸν καὶ μὴ προσδεῖσθαι διδασκαλίας εἶπε· τὰ βιβλία τῶν μεμαθηκότων ὑπομνήματα εἰσι, τῶν δὲ ἀμαθῶν μνήματα.]

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