So earlier this week I wrote about my desire to read a lot more canonical classical texts, and plan to use a university reading list to do so. This caused the minorest of flutters among my minute circle of acquaintances, which prompts me to write a second post today. How to leverage everything possible to make a mountain into a mole-hill?
My approach to reading texts is to use every tool possible to make the job of comprehending a text easier. Anything that makes a text easier to understand, is good.
So here are some of my thoughts/intentions for my own studies.
- Start easy.
- Use and abuse intermediate versions/books/commentaries
- Grade whole texts, read whole texts.
… means what it sounds like. Particularly if you’re transitioning from a Koine background (!). In this case, Lysias 1 is a very common transition to intermediate text for 2nd year classical Greek students (and I’m pretty sure I read at least selections of it in such a class). It’s also well resourced. So, for myself, Lysias 1, and then Plato’s Crito, are first on my reading list. For Latin, Cicero’s 1st Catiline. If you want a reading-buddy, let me know.
Use and Abuse resources.
If you aren’t already familiar with them, (a) Geoffrey Steadman’s texts with vocabulary and grammatical commentary are (i) free to download pdfs of (you should buy some print copies to support him though), (ii) well-made and helpful, (iii) cover a considerable amount of text (9 whole books of Homer!); (b) The DCC commentaries; (c) the old BCP texts, now published by Bloomsbury (I believe) are also at the right level.
Essentially, no one should have to start by reading Oxford Classical Texts or Teubners or whatever. Sure, you might want to, but I would never start a student there. And, while many a grad student has got through their list with a healthy dose of Loebs, in general I don’t recommend using a facing-translation text (it’s not the worst thing in the world; I’d at least rather someone attempted the Greek/Latin by itself, and then consulted a translation post-lectum).
My plan at present is to work through Steadman texts, and some BCPs, see what I’ve covered by that point, and then work on filling out the CUA MA-list (thanks to some useful resources tailored to that list).
Grade whole texts, read whole texts.
I’d also suggest working from easier to harder texts, but not easier to harder passages. Chopping and changing authors might work in an assembled transitional reader, but for this kind of enterprise, getting into a single author and persevering through a whole text is worthwhile. Exceptions would be poetry though. I do think you can do single epic books and then take a break, no-one needs to read 24 straight books of Homer.
What about Patristic texts?
You know, I don’t know of any “Set reading list of patristic authors” for a grad program anywhere. If you do, please tell me. In any case, I have some brain space ticking over this question, because I think reading a canonical core of patristic texts in the original would do wonders for me as well.