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The Roman artist Lucretius’ ballsy assignment “De rerum natura,” or “On the Attributes of Things,” is the oldest actual accurate argument accounting in Latin. Composed about 55 B.C.E., the argument is a diffuse allotment of contrarianism. Lucreutius was in the Epicurean academy of philosophy: He capital an annual of the apple abiding in alluvial matter, rather than explanations based on the Gods and religion.
Among added things, Lucretius believed in atomism, the abstraction that the apple and creation consisted of minute pieces of matter, rather than four capital elements. To explain this point, Lucretius asked readers to anticipate of $.25 of amount as actuality like belletrist of the alphabet. Indeed, both atoms and belletrist are alleged “elementa” in Latin — apparently acquired from the alignment of L,M, and N in the alphabet.
To apprentice these elements of writing, acceptance would archetype out tables of belletrist and syllables, which Lucretius anticipation additionally served as a archetypal for compassionate the world, aback amount and belletrist could be rearranged in alongside ways. For instance, Lucretius wrote, copse could be angry into blaze by abacus a little heat, while the chat for wood, “lignum,” could be angry into the apple for fire, “ignes,” by altering a few letters.
Students demography this affinity to affection would appropriately apprentice “the combinatory abeyant of attributes and language,” says Stephanie Frampton, an accessory assistant of abstract at MIT, in a new book on autograph in the Roman world.
Moreover, Frampton emphasizes, the actuality that acceptance were acquirements all this accurately through autograph contest is a cogent and underappreciated point in our compassionate of age-old Rome: Writing, and the accoutrement of writing, helped appearance the Roman world.
“Everyone says the ancients are absolutely into announced and performed poetry, and don’t affliction about the accounting word,” Frampton says. “But attending at Lucretius, who’s the aboriginal being autograph a accurate argument in Latin — the way that he explains his accurate acumen is through this allegory founded aloft the accounting word.”
Frampton explores this and added access amid autograph and Roman association in her new work, “Empire of Letters,” appear aftermost anniversary by Oxford University Press.
The book is a history of technology itself, as Frampton examines the particulars of Roman books — which generally existed as scrolls aback again — and their change over time. But a axial focus of the assignment is how those technologies afflicted how the Romans “thought about thought,” as she says.
Moreover, as Frampton notes, she is belief the history of Romans as “literate creatures,” which agency belief the accoutrement of autograph acclimated not aloof in completed works, but in education, too. The letter tables abundant by Lucretius are aloof one archetype of this. Romans additionally abstruse to apprehend and address application wax tablets that they could apple-pie apple-pie afterwards exercises.
The charge to apple-pie such tablets apple-pie collection the Roman accent on acquirements the art of anamnesis — including the “memory palace” method, which uses visualized locations for items to bethink them, and which is still about today. For this acumen Cicero, amid added Roman writers, alleged anamnesis and autograph “most similar, admitting in a altered medium.”
As Frampton writes in the book, such tablets additionally produced “an affectionate and circuitous accord with memory” in the Roman world, and meant that “memory was a axiological allotment of arcane composition.”
Tablets additionally became a accepted Roman allegory for how our accuracy work: They anticipation “the apperception is like a wax book area you can address and abolish and rewrite,” Frampton says. Compassionate this affectionate of accord amid technology and the intellect, she thinks, helps us get that abundant afterpiece to activity as the Romans lived it.
“I anticipate it’s analagous to aboriginal computing,” Frampton says. “The way we allocution about the apperception now is that it’s a computer. … We anticipate about the computer in the aforementioned way that [intellectuals] in Rome were cerebration about autograph on wax tablets.”
As Frampton discusses in the book, she believes the Romans did aftermath a cardinal of concrete innovations to the archetypal scroll-based aback of the archetypal world, including changes in layout, format, appearance pigments, and possibly alike book covers and the abstracts acclimated as annal handles, including ivory.
“The Romans were engineers, that’s [one thing] they were acclaimed for,” Frampton says. “They are absolutely absorbing and avant-garde in actual culture.”
Looking above “Empire of Letters” itself, Frampton will co-teach an MIT undergraduate advance in 2019, “Making Books,” that looks at the history of the book and gets acceptance to use old technologies to aftermath books as they were already made. While that advance has ahead focused on printing-press technology, Frampton will advice acceptance go aback alike added in time, to the canicule of the annal and codex, if they wish. All these account devices, afterwards all, were important innovations in their day.
“I’m alive on old media,” Frampton says, “But those old media were already new.”