“Bookrolls as Media” by William A. Johnson is a study of the writing style and form of ancient Greek and Roman times. In this article, Johnson looks at the bookroll itself and its practicality, the grammatical structure of the writing itself, how readers adjusted this grammar as time progressed, and how reading separated the society. The purpose of studying the bookroll writings of the past is to, “reexamine traditional disciplinary paradigms (120).”
One aspect of the reading I feel is important is the telling of the scene from Gellius about the educated men in the bookshop. This example signifies the value of not only reading but, most importantly, learning how to read. Reading shaped the ancient culture, which emphasized “thorough reading, rereading, and memorization (114).” These ancient men read very differently than people do today. When studying the ancient bookrolls, the author seems to have tried to put himself in the mindset of an educated Greek or Roman in order to help readers better understand the culture.
One point I found fascinating in the reading is the term “elite anxiety.” It refers to the pressure ancient scholars felt when choosing how to spend their leisure time. The pressure they felt to be “virtuous”, as if the pleasure they felt from reading and studying abolished the want for “depraved activities” such as “drinking, gambling, and whoring (118).” I’m mentioning this point in the article to marvel at the high standards these men were facing. I feel like it is important to understand so that when we read the bookrolls, we will not just see it as some old writing, but we will look at it with the same respect and regard that the scholars had for it.
The society was built around reading. The author made this very clear to readers. I believe the reasoning behind this is to ask why reading is not as prominent in our modern society. The readings are still here and are still as relevant and insightful as they were before, so why is studying literature not a major facet of our culture? This is a great question to look at and study, especially for students studying English and literature (like me). Why can’t the “40-something stockbroker” engage in literary texts and discussions (121)? Why does it seem like this is only reserved for students? Johnson brought up these questions without giving them a very distinct solution. I believe it is important for us in this class to try and answer them.
One thing I wish was explained in greater detail is the structure of the bookroll itself. I feel like I would better understand the text if I really understood the concept of the bookroll and its origins. Another confusing aspect for me is how Johnson arrived to the points made in his concluding paragraph. I read the last few pages over and over again trying to make sense of it, but I never could.
The question I would like to pose to the class is the same question that Johnson asks: Why is studying literature not a major facet of our culture as a whole like it was in ancient Greek and Roman times? A more relevant question for this particular class would be what aspects of media have led to the fall of studying literary texts?