Reading old books

“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…. The student… feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand…. 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 modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire…. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”

C. S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books,” preface to Athanasius, On the Incarnation.

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Above: First page of The Republic from the first Estienne edition. Plato, Opera (Geneva, 1578), 2 vols. The standard practice for citing passages in Plato is based on the pages and line numbers of this edition. You can read this and many other old books in the OU History of Science Collections.

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