By William V. Harris
What number of people may learn and write within the old global of the Greeks and Romans? nobody has formerly attempted to provide a scientific solution to this question. so much historians who've thought of the matter in any respect have given positive exams, on the grounds that they've been inspired through huge our bodies of old written fabric similar to the graffiti at Pompeii. they've got additionally been motivated by means of a bent to idealize the Greek and Roman international and its academic method. In old Literacy W. V. Harris offers the 1st thorough exploration of the degrees, forms, and features of literacy within the classical international, from the discovery of the Greek alphabet approximately 800 B.C. right down to the 5th century A.D. Investigations of different societies express that literacy ceases to be the accomplishment of a small elite basically in particular conditions. Harris argues that the social and technological stipulations of the traditional global have been reminiscent of to make mass literacy unthinkable. Noting society at the verge of mass literacy regularly possesses an intricate tuition procedure, Harris stresses the restrictions of Greek and Roman education, mentioning the meagerness of investment for trouble-free schooling. Neither the Greeks nor the Romans got here wherever on the subject of finishing the transition to a contemporary type of written tradition. They relied extra seriously on oral verbal exchange than has quite often been imagined. Harris examines the partial transition to written tradition, taking into account the industrial sphere and daily life, in addition to legislations, politics, management, and faith. He has a lot to assert additionally in regards to the movement of literary texts all through classical antiquity. The constrained unfold of literacy within the classical global had various results. It gave a few stimulus to severe proposal and assisted the buildup of information, and the minority that did discover ways to learn and write used to be to some degree in a position to assert itself politically. The written note was once additionally an tool of energy, and its use was once fundamental for the development and upkeep of empires. so much interesting is the position of writing within the new non secular tradition of the past due Roman Empire, during which it was once a growing number of respected yet much less and not more practiced. Harris explores those and comparable issues during this hugely unique paintings of social and cultural heritage. historic Literacy is critical studying for somebody attracted to the classical international, the matter of literacy, or the historical past of the written be aware.
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Extra info for Ancient Literacy (British Museum)
We can say that in such-and-such conditions, it is very improbable that a given population reached a level of literacy above 10%, or 25%, or 50%. Without subsidized schools, for example, and without powerful incentives for farmers, artisans and daylabourers to teach their children to read and write, literacy is likely to have remained below a certain level. No one, admittedly, would hypothesize that any particular ancient community was exactly like any statistically better-known modern one. And needless to say, we can reach only approximate conclusions in this fashion-bands of probability within which the truth is likely to fall.
Cf. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record 264, summarizing his work on Norman England. 37 Functions of Literacy in the Graeco-Roman World The first mention of writing in European literature, in the Iliad, represents it as doing harm by bringing about the death of Bellerophon, and writing continued to have sinister associations. 40 The classic critique of literacy itself is the one in the Phaedrus, though this did not prevent Plato from showing a quite conventional attitude towards literacy in the educational programme set forth in the Laws.
Meanwhile speeches and recitations, like performances of plays, transferred thoughts from the written page to the listener. In a Greek city there was plenty to listen to, and a Roman city normally had a theatre as well as a forum and other public and private spaces which could be used for talk. But there were severe limitations of space and time: 36 if you did not see Oedipus 'Tyrannus on its first day, you would wait a long time to see it again. If you lived in Capua, it was not easy to attend a contio in Rome.