How did Augustine write Confessions? Well, in the strict sense, he didn’t – he didn’t set words down on papyrus or parchment. Augustine has been painted, by artists as great as Botticelli, Carpaccio and Benozzo Gozzoli, seated at a desk and writing. He did not do that. Oh, he undoubtedly wrote notes to himself or lists of items or instructions to individual brothers in his monastic community. But the books, sermons and letters that have come down to us were all dictated to scribes. Even a book that feels as intimate as Confessions was spoken to several of the many scribes Augustine kept busy. That was the normal practice in antiquity. Even in prison, Saint Paul had a scribe on hand. Even when living as a hermit, Saint Jerome had teams of scribes. The population of ancient scribes was a vast one. Writing was a complex and clumsy process. That was especially true in the classical period, when papyrus scrolls were used. One needed at least three hands to unroll the scroll on the left, to roll it up on the right, and to write a series of columns in the intermediate spaces. Besides, even the mixing of the ink and trimming of the reed pens (quills arrived in the Middle Ages) had to be done while the scroll was held open at the spot reached by the scribe. Since the rolls were written on one side only, they could run to great lengths, as much as 30 feet long.
more from Garry Wills at The New Statesman here.