Lord Shang Revisited 1
E Bruce Brooks, University of Massachusetts
Philology in an Old Key: Lord Shang Revisited
WSWG 17, Leiden University, 17 September 2003
This lecture inaugurated the WSWG 17 Conference at Leiden University. It is here reproduced substantially as given on that occasion.
My talk today is offered in homage to Joseph Scaliger, a hero to philologists, and the star of this University's faculty beginning in the year 1593. I wish to suggest that the art of philology is still growing, and can still be of service to history. For the historian can hardly use some text as evidence unless its value as evidence has been determined, and that determination is the proper work of philology. As an extended example, I will return to the first work of Professor Duyvendak, another of Leiden's founding figures: his 1928 study of the Shang-jywn Shu, or SJS as I shall abbreviate it. And finally, at the end, I will return briefly to Scaliger. I am advised by my hosts that philology is no longer as exciting a subject as it was in 1593, or even in 1928. Of course I hope to dispute that judgement, but in doing so, I will try to keep things moving. I don't in any case have a full solution of SJS to share with you. Instead, I offer some highlights from a work in progress. If someone wishes to return later, to a point I have too briefly discussed, or omitted altogether, I understand there will be time to do so.
By philology, I mean using linguistic and historical knowledge to understand a problematic text. The usual view is that there are two phases of this: (1) In "text criticism," manuscripts are compared, scribal errors and additions are removed, and the author's original is recovered. (2) In "higher criticism," the recovered original is interpreted like any other literary text. Note the presumption that what text criticism recovers is in fact the author's original manuscript. But not all ancient books are author productions in the first place. As Jang Sywe-chvng long ago pointed out, some classical Chinese texts are really school accumulations; they come into being over time, and the difference in time may well produce internal inconsistencies, which are nevertheless original to the final text. In such cases, text criticism which assumes a consistent original, and corrects inconsistencies accordingly, may operate to deface the text, not to recover it. Eldon Epp, in the New Testament field, has recently recognized this problem. If to long-established methods of dealing with text corruption, we add an awareness of the possibility of text growth, we get a revised canon of procedure. My suggestions for that procedure would be the following:
- Rule 1. In general, we must begin by determining the nature of the text, whether it be authorial or something else. With the target properly defined, text criticism can then proceed in the appropriate way.
- Rule 2. Since false authorship claims are common in antiquity, we should not make or accept author attributions, but should reserve those questions for later, when we know what it is that we have to attribute.
- Rule 3. With a growth text, we should not seek to recover its oldest stratum and then discard the rest as corrupt. We must distinguish, but we must also regard all the stages of a growth process as part of history. Change, in this area, does not count as corruption.
- Rule 4. In examining details, we must distinguish situations where a growth text is adapting contemporary material, from situations which involve mere copying of a previously fixed text. Tischendorf summed up many scribal error correction rules in this maxim: "Choose the reading which best explains the origin of the others." That is well said. I would add that error correction in turn is part of a larger class of directionality problems, and that directionality problems also occur during textual growth. Unifying the methodology for directionality problems brings greater power to our handling of cases where texts are in contact during their formative periods, and also, I would dare to suggest, to cases of standard text corruption.
- Rule 5. This I name for Scaliger, the most learned man of his time: The more you know, the more you understand. Many philological problems cannot be solved in isolation. They require a knowledge of other things.
And apart from theory, one should be open to advances in technique. Technique can never be good enough.
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