Two Beautiful Greek Words That Give Our Reading Perspective

This is a continuation of our “Why Read” discussion. Remember, we started by defining the three broad reasons to read. Then we talked about pleasure and education. Last week, we continued our discussion by looking at  how reading reveals new ways to live.

Today I want to talk about two ancient Greek words, paedeia and eudaimonia, and what they mean to your reading. These two Greek words carry the weight of tradition. Both of these words have been the subject of philosophical discussion for centuries. That, of course, tells us they can mean just about anything you imagine  (no offense to philosophy majors, it was my favorite class as an undergraduate).


Let’s start with a dictionary definition:

training of the physical and mental faculties in such a way as to produce a broad enlightened mature outlook harmoniously combined with maximum cultural development
English borrowed the Greek word and rooted it into words like encyclopedia, but that is really a bastardized use of the word when you consider how we use encyclopedias today.

Paedeia, in ancient Greece, was the process of educating humans into their true form, the real and genuine human nature. For our purposes, though, I am most interested in part of the definition that deals with a “broad enlightened mature outlook harmoniously combined with maximum cultural development.” What a mouth full!

For ancient Greeks, it was not enough to memorize facts. It was not enough to gather large stores of information. A proper education concerned itself with teaching how those facts can be used to look at the world.

This is how we should read. It is not enough to plow through a book without stopping to consider the  ideas expressed. It is not enough to absorb a work and take it at face value without stopping to consider how you might apply what you’ve learned from your reading.


Again, let’s start with a dictionary definition:

a person’s state of excellence characterized by objective flourishing across a lifetime, and brought about through the exercise of moral virtue, practical wisdom, and rationality.”

A lifetime of “flourishing” is what we’re after, isn’t it? A weekend of flourishing is not enough nor is a decade if you’ve been given more time. Your approach to reading should be with this outlook as well.

Eudaimonia is a combination of morality, practical wisdom, and rational thought. Exploring only one is not enough. Your reading should be well-rounded.

We should read with this aim in mind. We should read for a lifetime of learning and flourishing in a well-rounded way.

How Do You Read Like These Greek Words Suggest?

1. Read slowly.

2. Take time to contemplate what you’ve read.

3. Consider a real world experience that might relate to your reading.

4. Discuss or write about what you’ve read to test your ideas.

5. Read from a variety of sources and on a variety of subjects.

6. Re-Read.

7. Make reading a daily habit for life. Even if that means, some days, spending only five minutes reading a folded up poem from your pocket.

8. Have a conversation with the author you’re reading in the margins of your text.

9. Read with an open mind and without pre-suppositions.

10. Question everything you read.

11. Eventually, take a position for or against what an author’s written.

By following these guidelines your reading will never be boring nor will it be wasted time.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Mark Wooten.


  1. Chris

    Great post. How to make reading interesting AND useful. I really need to start writing more about what I read.

  2. Read.Learn.Write

    Thank you! I think writing about what you read is a gradual process. If you dive in too deep you might burn yourself out on it. Just recognizing the need or desire to do it says a lot about how you read.

  3. T. Lloyd Reilly

    Great post! You really have a fine grasp on the method, mechanics, and motivation needeteach reading. You have the only blog I absolutely read every word of…and share with everyone I can. Thanks!

    1. Read.Learn.Write

      Thank you so much! I can’t think of a better compliment than that.

  4. Andrew Blackman

    Those words express so much, as you can tell by the fact that the dictionary needs 25 words to express their meaning! I like the really practical emphasis of them. I think many people ask “What’s the point?” when confronted with a difficult piece of reading, and that could be avoided if we embraced the Greek idea of learning not simply for the sake of knowing stuff, but as a way of finding out how to live life to the full. Really nice article, and I liked how you translate it into 11 points as well – they really encourage engagement with the text, and I’m going to try them with the next book I read.

  5. Read.Learn.Write

    That’s a great point. 25 words! Thanks.

Comments are closed.