To have supper as guest in a Benedictine monastery, where a book is read during the meal, is to have a potent experience of what is generated when a group hears memorable words read aloud.
Here at school, one of our department had read the Aeneid a number of times in the original, but it was a revelation for her to read it aloud with a sixth form Classical Civilisation group—in English, in a prose translation, without the diction of the poet. “I didn’t realise,” she said, “how memorable the Aeneid is, or how often memory itself is a recurring theme in it.”
Another story that, like the Aeneid, is written in praise of memory is The Brothers Karamazov, of which Donald Nicholl says: ‘I am convinced that (it) cannot be appreciated if it is read in isolation. It must be read in community, each sharing insights into the meaning of this profound statement… Like everything else that is worthwhile, The Brothers Karamazov is meant to be shared in community.’ (The Beatitude of Truth, Chapter 5.)
Nicholl later quotes from the book itself words spoken by Alyosha: ‘I’m sure you will remember that there is nothing higher, stronger, more wholesome and more useful in life than some good memory, especially when it goes back to the days of your childhood, to the days of your life at home. You are told a lot about your education, but some beautiful, sacred memory preserved since childhood is perhaps the best education of all. If a man carries many such memories into life with him, he is saved for the rest of his days.’
People remember things that were said to them fifty years ago, in the exact words. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but is the voice even more powerful? Both Greeks and Romans thought so.
On the subject of reading aloud, see a link from The Guardian:
Next post: gerunds, gerundives and other things grammatical.