Answer by Steve Tamburello:
1. Silent Reading
Silent reading was quite unusual in the west, at least until the 10th century. Rather it is thought that you had speak the words out loud to read them. One of the first people to be actually recorded as doing so was Ambrose in the 4th century AD. It was noted by St Augustine of Hippo on his visit to Milan.
This is an extract from:
"Ambrose was an extraordinary reader. "When he read," said Augustine, "his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud."
Eyes scanning the page, tongue held still: that is exactly how I would describe a reader today, sitting with a book in a cafe across from the Church of St. Ambrose in Milan, reading, perhaps, Saint Augustine's Confessions. Like Ambrose, the reader has become deaf and blind to the world, to the passing crowds, to the chalky flesh-coloured facades of the buildings. Nobody seems to notice a concentrating reader: withdrawn, intent, the reader becomes commonplace.
To Augustine, however, such reading manners seemed aufficiently strange for him to note them in his Confessions. The implication is that this method of reading, this silent perusing of the page, was in his time something out of the ordinary, and that nomal reading was performed out loud. Even though instances of silent reading can be traced to earlier dates, not until the tenth century does this manner of reading become usual in the West."
2. Segmented Sleep
Another fascinating difference is normal sleep patterns in Pre-Industrial societies. So your average medieval serf might find it difficult to grasp the concept of sleeping for 7 or 8 hours straight. They would have been used to getting up in the middle of the night and getting up to all sorts of things.
In 2005 Roger Ekirch, a historian at Virginia Tech published a book called At Days Close: Night's In Times Past. It was the culmination of 20 years research into references to sleep patterns from Homer's Odyssey, through ancient texts, medieval writings and all the way to modern day African tribes. He concluded that many of the references described a a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.
"It's not just the number of references – it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge," (Ekirch).
So you came in from the fields exhausted, the sun has gone down and all you can do is collapse onto your bed. So what do after you have refreshed yourself with a few hours sleep. Well apparently some got up and ate, some entertained or went around to neighbours houses to socialise. Reinvigorated from their nap some muster the energy for more energetic night time activity! Some doctors even recommended there was a better chance of conceiving after 'the first sleep'.
After a couple of hours of night time activity a 'second sleep' or morning sleep was had until sunrise.
This seems like such a fundamental difference to the daily routine that it really didn't occur to me before I read of the research a few years ago. Here are a few leads if you wish to find out more: