It seems to me that at this time, written words were basically instructions for reading out loud. I would guess that while Caesar was exceptionally educated for his time and that indeed the men who were so amazed could not read at all let alone silently, Caesar was not the only scholar who could read silently.

And did the ability to read silently reflect a fundamentally different understanding of text vs spoken language? If written text was indeed meant to be spoken, would that not imply that such text tended to be simpler and that only after people understood that text could be read more slowly, and retraced by the reader that more complex texts be produced.

(I would bet my bottom dollar that Tacitus or Pliny (even the Younger) could read without even moving their lips.)

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    "If written text was indeed meant to be spoken, would that not imply that such text tended to be simpler…" If so, certainly nobody seems to have told Cicero!
    – Draconis
    Dec 15, 2020 at 6:35
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    I've not heard this story about Caesar, but Saint Augustine records a similar comment about Saint Ambrose that he never read aloud. This appears to have been viewed as an oddity by the well-educated Augustine (I half remember hearing that there is a contemporary account that describes this ability as a miracle). This article on stanford's website has some more info web.stanford.edu/class/history34q/readings/Manguel/…
    – Tristan
    Dec 15, 2020 at 11:34
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    When this unsourced anecdote is really true, there are many potential reasons for the amazement of the soldiers. I think it is quite outstanding to read silently in front of other people who expect you to communicate with them. Just Ceasar priorising silent reading over communication alone may be the cause of amazement. Dec 16, 2020 at 14:33
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    once something becomes well known as a feat (because someone picked the ability up in passing for some more practical skill), it starts being an end in its own right that people work towards
    – Tristan
    Dec 16, 2020 at 15:17
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    The concept of "spelling" being a skill in itself, unconnected with writing or communication, is restricted to English (because of its awful orthography), and has been turned into a competitive sport for children. It's a good example of a skill picked up for a reason that has become an end in its own right, as @Tristan mentioned.
    – jlawler
    Dec 16, 2020 at 23:08


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