How writing technology shaped classical thinking

The Roman poet Lucretius’ epic work “De rerum natura,” or “On the character of Things,” is the earliest enduring scientific treatise printed in Latin. Composed around 55 B.C.E., the writing is really a long little bit of contrarianism. Lucreutius was at the Epicurean college of philosophy: He wished a free account around the globe rooted in earthly matter, in place of explanations in line with the Gods and religion.

On top of other things, Lucretius believed in atomism, the concept that world and cosmos contains minute pieces of matter, without four important elements. To describe this point, Lucretius asked readers to consider items of matter as being like letters for the alphabet. Indeed, both atoms and letters are known as “elementa” in Latin — probably based on the grouping of L,M, and N in alphabet.

To master these aspects of writing, pupils would duplicate out tables of letters and syllables, which Lucretius thought also offered being a model for knowing the globe, since matter and letters could possibly be rearranged in synchronous means. By way of example, Lucretius composed, wood might be changed into fire by the addition of some temperature, as the word for lumber, “lignum,” could be converted into the planet for fire, “ignes,” by changing some letters. 

Students taking this example to heart would thus learn “the combinatory potential of nature and language,” claims Stephanie Frampton, a co-employee professor of literary works at MIT, inside a new book on writing when you look at the Roman globe.

Additionally, Frampton emphasizes, the fact pupils had been discovering all this work particularly through composing exercises actually significant and underappreciated part of our understanding of old Rome: Writing, as well as the resources of composing, helped contour the Roman world.

“Everyone states the ancients are actually into spoken and performed poetry, and don’t value the written word,” Frampton claims. “But examine Lucretius, who’s the first individual writing a clinical text in Latin — the way that he explains their clinical insight is by this metaphor founded upon the penned term.”

Frampton explores this also connections between writing and Roman community inside her brand new work, “Empire of Letters,” posted a week ago by Oxford University Press.

The guide is a reputation for technology itself, as Frampton examines the particulars of Roman books — which often existed as scrolls back then — and their evolution over time. But a main focus associated with tasks are how those technologies inspired how the Romans “thought about thought,” as she says.

Moreover, as Frampton records, she actually is learning the annals of Romans as “literate creatures,” consequently learning the tools of writing made use of not only in completed works, but in knowledge, too. The letter tables detailed by Lucretius are only one example of the. Romans in addition discovered to learn and write using wax pills which they could wipe clean after workouts.

The necessity to wipe these types of pills clean drove the Roman increased exposure of discovering the skill of memory — like the “memory palace” strategy, which uses visualized places for what to remember all of them, and which is still around today. That is why Cicero, among various other Roman article writers, called memory and composing “most comparable, though in a different medium.”

As Frampton writes into the book, these types of tablets additionally produced “an personal and complex commitment with memory” when you look at the Roman globe, and designed that “memory was a fundamental section of literary structure.”  

Pills also turned into a common Roman metaphor for how our brains work: They believed “the thoughts are such as for instance a wax tablet where you could write and erase and rewrite,” Frampton claims. Comprehending this kind of commitment between technology in addition to intellect, she thinks, allows us to get that much nearer to life because the Romans existed it.

“i do believe it’s analagous to very early computing,” Frampton says. “The means we speak about your head now could be it’s some type of computer. … We think about the computer in the same way that [intellectuals] in Rome were considering composing on wax tablets.”

As Frampton discusses into the guide, she thinks the Romans performed make a number of actual innovations to the typical scroll-based back for the classic globe, including alterations in layout, format, coloring pigments, and perchance also book covers and materials made use of as scroll handles, including ivory.

“The Romans were designers, that is [one thing] these people were well-known for,” Frampton says. “They can be intriguing and innovative in material tradition.”

Searching beyond “Empire of Letters” itself, Frampton will co-teach an MIT undergraduate program in 2019, “Making publications,” that looks at the annals regarding the book and gets pupils to make use of old technologies to make publications while they had been once made. While that training course features formerly focused on printing-press technology, Frampton will help pupils return back further eventually, on days of the scroll and codex, when they wish. All of these scanning devices, all things considered, had been essential innovations within their time.

“I’m working on old news,” Frampton states, “But those old news were as soon as new.”