Posted by: Ken Brown | October 7, 2009

Quote – On the Reading of Old Books

C.S. Lewis in The Grand Miracle (you’ll have to excuse the gendered language):

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books, Thus… if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last think he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said…. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some of the modern books on Platonism…. [F]irsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring then secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire. (pg. 122)

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Responses

  1. great quote!

  2. You know, after I posted this I realized it’s less true now than it used to be. These days if someone wants to know about Plato, they still don’t read Plato, but neither do they pick up some academic tome… they just check Wikipedia! Huge improvement, that.


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