Ye olde booke thread. e.

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Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Zohar » Mon Aug 15, 2011 11:27 am UTC

The oldest book I've read is the bible, though not cover to cover. Apart for that, and I'm guessing a lot of people have read some of it, what are the oldest books you've read?

Right now I'm reading Don Quixote (1605) and Dangerous Liaisons (1782). I've read many books from the start of the 20th century or latter half of the 19th century. Some of them are pretty difficult though - I didn't finish Gulliver's Travels and Frankenstein.

I was pretty happy a few years ago to find a translation in Hebrew of Einstein's special relativity theory from the 1920's. It even had a personal intro by Einstein saying how happy he was that Hebrew has come so far along that it can be used to convey scientific ideas - Hebrew wasn't widely used among Jews until the 20th century.

There's a sort of hipstery feeling to reading old books - a sort of pride at having read such archaic language. In addition to that, I do enjoy looking into those things in the past that now seem strange and arcane.
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby SlyReaper » Mon Aug 15, 2011 11:50 am UTC

I used to enjoy reading Chaucer in the original Middle English because being able to almost instantly understand it made me feel smug and superior to everyone else who was scratching their heads and declaring it gibberish. And as a spotty grotty teenage twerp, feeling smug and superior was important to me. I couldn't really understand why everyone else found it so difficult; yeah the words were a bit garbled to modern eyes, but anyone who knows a few words of French, German and Latin should at least be able to grasp the gist of it.

Beowulf was beyond me though. Could not understand a single word of it.

For more recent literature, I've greatly enjoyed Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog), and some of the Sherlock Holmes stories. It's interesting to see how much language has changed even in such a short period of time.

Zohar wrote:There's a sort of hipstery feeling to reading old books - a sort of pride at having read such archaic language. In addition to that, I do enjoy looking into those things in the past that now seem strange and arcane.


I think it's anti-hipstery. I read these books after they were cool.
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby johnny_7713 » Mon Aug 15, 2011 9:06 pm UTC

I've read snippets of Homer (yay, Ancient Greek in high-school) which pre-dates portions of the Bible IIRC. I've also read other Greek works that are contemporaneous with the Old Testement, which I've also read parts of. If we're only counting complete works, Ovid's Art of Love and Suetonius' Lives of the Caesars would be the oldest. I've also read a translation of Gilgamesh if that counts?

Oldest English book would be Canterbury Tales (in translation) or Shakespeare (in the original).

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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby bigglesworth » Mon Aug 15, 2011 10:22 pm UTC

I'm currently reading some essays by Michel de Montaigne (though translated), so this thread is apposite!

There is a difference in age of a text and age of a bound book though! I have read parts of a Shakespearian-era bible in the Stratford upon Avon All-Saints church, and a copy of the Doomsday Book only a few generations away from the originals.

I think this thread is focusing most on text in the original language, and that is no bad thing. Zohar, I might guess that you have read portions of the Bible in the original Hebrew?
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby PAstrychef » Tue Aug 16, 2011 1:15 am UTC

I did a fair amount of Anglo-Saxon stuff, and plenty of the Greeks, but I suspect the Chinese poetry is the oldest. It's contemporaneous with some of the Egyptian stuff. Most of the Old Testament and many of the non-canonical bits.
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Mighty Jalapeno » Tue Aug 16, 2011 2:54 am UTC

Other than obligimatory Shakespeare and other mandatory high schoo literature, I think my oldest has to be the Sherlock Holmes stories (late 1800's to early 1900's).

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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Zohar » Tue Aug 16, 2011 6:18 am UTC

I did read the bible in Hebrew, yes.

I also just remembered I read Antigone in high school (which I rather liked). I've never read any Shakespeare plays, only a couple of sonnets. I also read "Monkey", which is an abridged version of "Journey to the West", a 1590's Chinese novel (for a history paper), but I don't think that counts. :)
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Bassoon » Tue Aug 16, 2011 7:04 am UTC

Which is older: Euclid's Elements or Lao Tzu's Daodejing? I've read all of the Daodejing, and most parts of Elements, and those are both pretty old.

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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Adacore » Tue Aug 16, 2011 7:10 am UTC

The oldest book I've read by choice is Northanger Abbey (if you go by when it was written, which was around 1799), or Pride and Prejudice (if you go by when it was published, which was 1811). I've read a fair bit of Victorian fiction, but Jane Austen pre-dates all of that by a fair bit.

I have also read some Shakespeare (although mostly for school), but that doesn't count, because it is a play, not a book, and should be seen in a theatre, not read from a script.

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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Czhorat » Tue Aug 16, 2011 9:22 am UTC

Do you count The Illiad as 8th Century BC, or the date of the translation (Alexander Pope, 1715 - 1720)?

I've recently been reading all the classical literature I never have, to kind of piece together how it influences writing today. The aforementioned Homer and some of Pope's other work. I was fascinated with how Pope played with the form of epic and produced something which was, as the time, modern and original social commentary. In Homer I found the story and characterization quite interesting, and was very intrigued to see how the actual epic is a much richer and more interesting work than I'd have guessed from my popular surface knowledge of it.

I also read some of the 15th century humanists (Erasmus, Christine of Piza, Thomas More). These speak reasonably well to a modern audience because issues with face today - economic upheaval due to changes in how the world works, changes in the role of religion including liberalism and conservative backlashes - are still issues to this day.

Just got through most of the Hebrew Bible in translation (King James). I find it a maddening book in many ways. There's a theme of unquestioning deference to authority which I find very unsavory, some very odd and disfunctional family dynamics, and very starkly outdated sexual mores. What I find most interesting is the number of different styles, from beautiful lyrical poetry (including the somewhat erotic Song of Solomon) to bare-bones narrative summary (especially in the earlier chapters of Genesis).

I'll tackle the unauthorized sequel a bit later on, along with some derivative works.

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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby clockworkmonk » Tue Aug 16, 2011 2:03 pm UTC

I read the poems of Catullus in Latin, same with Ovid's metamorphosis and the Aeneid.

I like latin, and it took a while, as I was never particularly good at it.
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Aiwendil » Tue Aug 16, 2011 6:12 pm UTC

If we're counting works read in translation, then, other than parts of the Bible, the oldest things I've read would be the Iliad and the Odyssey. I've read a bunch of Plato, Artistotle, etc. for school, but after Homer, I suppose the next oldest thing I read for pleasure was the Aeneid, then Beowulf, then a whole bunch of Icelandic sagas.

If translations don't count, then I suppose the oldest thing I've read is Caesar's De Bello Gallico, again for school. The oldest thing I've read for pleasure and not in translation would be some miscellaneous Old English stuff ("The Wanderer", "The Battle of Maldon", various excerpts from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle).

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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Zarq » Wed Aug 17, 2011 1:08 am UTC

The Castle of Otranto, 1764. I need to read more.
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Felstaff » Mon Aug 22, 2011 1:44 pm UTC

The gateway to Gothlit, 'tis verily.

I found myself enjoying a lot of Everyman-style medieval mystery & miracle morality plays. They're pretty basic, remedial stuff, teaching peasants good Christian morals by way of prosopopoeic Evils (notably the Se7en Deadly Sins). Which is interesting because I saw Dr. Faustus at the Globe a few weeks ago, which also personifies the Deadly Sins into female characters. Truly, the feminine form was the root of all wickedness right up until... well, today, really.

Anyway, if you can slog your way through an Epic Poem, I'd recommend Spenser's The Faerie Queene (1590s). It's a little fey in places, as was the style at the time, but it contains some pretty funky stuff, with excellent names: sansjoy, sansfoy, and sansloy battling the Redcrosse Knight. I remember laughing out loud when, after stories of Cymochles, Pyrochles, and Talus, we come across a farmer called Colin Clout. It reminded me of one of the pitfalls of writing fantasy literature (No. #38: Do you see nothing wrong with having two characters from the same small isolated village being named "Tim Umber" and "Belthusalanthalus al'Grinsok"?)
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby PatrickRsGhost » Tue Aug 23, 2011 12:37 am UTC

Yea, I doth hath readeth upon The Odyssey, and hath partook in ye olde mythologia what hath been ye inspiration for ye Epic poetry.

Also hath I partook in the mythologia that hath inspireth some of ye picture-book writers, or the composer Grieg, from the land of thine ice and snow. There beith the midnight suns and flowing hot springs. I speaketh of course of the tales of the barbaric Vikings.
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Kizyr » Tue Aug 23, 2011 3:38 am UTC

I still don't get if we're just talking books in their original language, or if we're including translations. If it's the original language, then I suppose parts of the Qur'an (6th Century) and some poems and selections from Heian-era Japan (11th century) would be it. I also read some of Don Quixote in the original Cervantes-era Spanish.

If we're talking translations, then it'd go back to the first few books of the Old Testament and the Epic of Gilgamesh. KF
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Czhorat » Wed Aug 24, 2011 2:22 pm UTC

Kizyr wrote:I still don't get if we're just talking books in their original language, or if we're including translation


I'm not sure that it matters. I suppose a better question would be why we're talking about this. Is it just bragging rights, or do we want to talk about what value we find in older literature. The OP seemed to have both:

Zohar wrote:There's a sort of hipstery feeling to reading old books - a sort of pride at having read such archaic language.


Zohar wrote: In addition to that, I do enjoy looking into those things in the past that now seem strange and arcane.

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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Zohar » Wed Aug 24, 2011 9:44 pm UTC

I'm just curious to see what other old stuff people read, if they derive any specific pleasure from reading old books etc.
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Jahoclave » Thu Aug 25, 2011 2:30 am UTC

SlyReaper wrote:I used to enjoy reading Chaucer in the original Middle English because being able to almost instantly understand it made me feel smug and superior to everyone else who was scratching their heads and declaring it gibberish. And as a spotty grotty teenage twerp, feeling smug and superior was important to me. I couldn't really understand why everyone else found it so difficult; yeah the words were a bit garbled to modern eyes, but anyone who knows a few words of French, German and Latin should at least be able to grasp the gist of it.

Beowulf was beyond me though. Could not understand a single word of it.

For more recent literature, I've greatly enjoyed Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog), and some of the Sherlock Holmes stories. It's interesting to see how much language has changed even in such a short period of time.

Zohar wrote:There's a sort of hipstery feeling to reading old books - a sort of pride at having read such archaic language. In addition to that, I do enjoy looking into those things in the past that now seem strange and arcane.


I think it's anti-hipstery. I read these books after they were cool.

Yeah, but were you pronouncing the language right? Then you could feel really superior. Plus, it sounds flipping amazing.

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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Felstaff » Thu Aug 25, 2011 8:20 am UTC

I recommend listening to the audiobook, particularly Prunella Scales reading The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale. However, Amazon seem to only have the spoken Modern English translation by Nevill Coghill (whose written translation, incidentally, helped me blaze through my Early Modern English semester at uni)

Also Seamus Heany's translation (2001) of Beowulf is more accessible than Gummere's, (1910) which is based on Klaeber's OE text. Tolkien's lecture is also very interesting.
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Microscopic cog » Sun Aug 28, 2011 2:34 pm UTC

I've been folllowing this thread a while and I decided that I don't really have an excuse for not having read anything older than Poe in high school.

So, I decided to start at the bottom and I'm currently reading The Epic of Gilgamesh. I'm halfway through the introduction I'm excited for the actual story. ( Introduction is 80 pages, story itself 60. )
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Deep_Thought » Tue Oct 04, 2011 1:03 pm UTC

Adacore wrote:The oldest book I've read by choice is Northanger Abbey (if you go by when it was written, which was around 1799), or Pride and Prejudice (if you go by when it was published, which was 1811). I've read a fair bit of Victorian fiction, but Jane Austen pre-dates all of that by a fair bit.

I tried to read Pride and Prejudice. Really tried. I made it to about chapter 17 but couldn't face the remaining 45 odd. The ratio of words to plot advancement was just too much for me.

I've read a bunch of Sherlock Holmes, but the other old book I'd recommend is "Epitaph for a Spy" by Eric Ambler, which is 1950s or something like that. It's short and sharp for anyone who likes thrillers.

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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Sir Novelty Fashion » Sat Oct 08, 2011 9:54 am UTC

The oldest thing I've read 'cover to cover' in the original that's analogous to a book is probably Papyrus Westcar.
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby el_loco_avs » Sat Oct 08, 2011 10:38 am UTC

Oldest things I've read are probably the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated ofcourse. 10th century I think.
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Indy » Thu Jul 12, 2012 1:18 am UTC

Maybe it's gauche to revive old threads but after reading an essay called 'On the Reading of Old Books', by C S Lewis, I got really excited about old books. (Great essay, easy to find online, do read it.)

[Edit] It's a preface to Athanasius' work De Incarnatione , so it refers specifically to early Christian literature, but I think what he says holds true for other kinds too.

So anyway, I started reading The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius (in translation, regrettably). People who think all old books are boring need to read this one. The hardest thing about it is that it's so fast-paced you just about get breathless reading it. The book opens with Julius Caesar losing his father, being nominated to the priesthood of Jupiter, breaking a longstanding engagement to marry some other girl, having his priesthood and inheritance stripped from him, going underground and bribing householders to hide him from the secret police. And that's just the first paragraph. Then there's a homosexual scandal at the court of King Nicomedes, and then Caesar gets kidnapped by pirates (that's on page 2). I'm halfway through the life of Augustus now, I can just feel my mind expanding.

Seriously, amazing stuff.
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby bigglesworth » Thu Jul 12, 2012 5:54 am UTC

Hah, yeah Suetonius, Rome's Hello! reporter.

Have you read Herodotus' Histories? I really enjoyed that one.
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Indy » Thu Jul 12, 2012 10:39 am UTC

Yep, Herodotus was required reading for one of my courses. That was good fun. I especially liked the story about the dog-sized ants. He's more a storyteller than a historian though.
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby bigglesworth » Thu Jul 12, 2012 11:47 am UTC

Actually, I have a request: I've had an idea for a while to make myself something of a reading list based on fun to read literature that covers history - starting with Herodotus. What should I cover next? I tried Thucidides but found his style a bit impenetrable for casual reading.
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Indy » Thu Jul 12, 2012 10:10 pm UTC

You could try Xenophon, although he picks up more or less where Thucydides leaves off, so you'd have a gap there. I think his style might be more readable though. A reading list for history sounds like a cool idea, I had a few ideas for a general reading list that covered ancient plays and philosophy as well, like Plato's Republic (which I've started a few times and never finished) and other stuff -- it makes sense to me that to understand the history of those times it helps to understand the way they thought, their mythology to a certain extent, and the issues they were struggling with at the time. The plays can be very enlightening. I only did Greek at university though so I know nothing about Roman history or literature yet ... but all that is going to change! I also want to get my hands on a copy of Josephus' Jewish Wars. Have you read that? I found a huge old leatherbound copy in a second hand book shop for a mere $90 so I thought ... no. The search continues.
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby bigglesworth » Thu Jul 12, 2012 10:20 pm UTC

I probably will try Xenophon - I liked the small part I had to translate in school.
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby Indy » Thu Jul 12, 2012 10:25 pm UTC

Have you read any Josephus?
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Re: Ye olde booke thread. e.

Postby bigglesworth » Sat Jul 14, 2012 9:54 am UTC

None, apart from excerpts I have read whilst debating the evidence for the historical Christ.
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