Philology is hard work, and a break now and then to celebrate past triumphs can help to refresh the spirit for future triumphs. And if one has no recent triumphs of one's own, one can always borrow someone else's. But it would be perverse to celebrate philology by abandoning philology, and we trust that, except as specified below, local observances will be complemented by some hours of normal work. Festival days are considered to be especially propitious for philological discoveries. Don't miss out.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
- Second Tuesday: Mencius Day. About 0253, the head of the Northern Mencian school ascribed to the founder this impatient comment on a troublesome Shu document: "If we had to believe everything in the Shu, it would be better not to have the Shu at all" (MC 7B3). This protest against spurious documents and dubious traditions is remarkable as coming from within the classical period itself. It shows no critical method whatever, but it does display a salutary impatience with imposture. Today we celebrate the motivating force of impatience.
- 27 Jan: Bentley Day. Richard Bentley (27 Jan 1662 - 14 July 1742) was the first of the great English text critics and in a sense the founder or anticipator of philology as we know it. He published a celebrated exposure of the fraudulent Epistles of Phalaris, edited Horace, and recognized that Homer had used the digamma. Bentley's 1720 prospectus for a critical edition of the Greek New Testament (a project realized a century later by Lachmann) included an outline of critical principles, and noted that a text based on early manuscripts would differ from the accepted text in some 2,000 instances (a figure closely confirmed by Lachmann). Bentley thus possessed method. But in the eyes of posterity his great quality was a literary sensibility that allowed him to propose emendations which later method has often vindicated. Today we celebrate the sovereign skill of literary insight.
- 11 Feb: Edison Day. Thomas Alva Edison (11 Feb 1847 - 18 Oct 1935), the most prolific inventor of modern times, is the author, or at any rate the decisive modern reformulator, of the "99% perspiration" definition of genius, and his own example reminds us of the need for continual hard work. Sustained effort is valuable even if it does not seem to reach the desired result. After years of searching for for a viable lightbulb filament material, one of Edison's associates sympathized with him over the seeming lack of progress. "On the contrary," said Edison, "I now know 4,000 things that won't work." Today we celebrate the value of negative knowledge, of eliminating things that are not worth wasting further time on.
- Fourth Tuesday: Wang Chung Day. Wang's lifework is his Lun Hvng or "Animadversions," consisting of essays written over some sixty years. Among these are several casting doubt on various classical texts and traditions, including traditions about Confucius and Mencius. A shift to dynastic piety in his later years did not save Wang from being permanently branded as an iconoclast, and critical spirits in later centuries have often invoked him as an ancestor. His arguments are sometimes cogent and sometimes not, but he showed courage in raising these questions at all. Today we celebrate that often overlooked part of the toolkit: courage.
- 4 Mar: Lachmann Day. Karl Lachmann (4 Mar 1793 - 13 Mar 1851) realized Bentley's project for a critical text of the Greek New Testament. His edition (1831, 3ed 1842-1850) contained an appendix listing the points of departure from the received Greek and Latin texts of his own time; they roughly fulfilled Bentley's prediction. Lachmann's New Testament (like Bentley's New Testament prospectus) made a decided break with previous tradition in abandoning the standard Greek text of the day and attempting to recover, and to substitute, something older. His suggestion that the Iliad was actually composed of 18 "lays" lying behind our present gigantic text gave rise to several other "Lieder" theories, all of them excoriated by posterity, but nevertheless lying in the direction of the correct answer. In his final work, an edition of Lucretius (1850), Lachmann was able to specify the archetype from which all other manuscripts descended as having 302 pages, with 26 lines to each page. Today we celebrate the possibility of working backward from what does exist, to recover what once existed.
- Third Tuesday: Lyou Jr-ji Day. Lyou (661-721) completed his masterwork, the Shr Tung, in the year 710. It was the first comprehensive treatise, in any language, to set forth the goals and techniques of writing history. Among its 50 chapters are several on source criticism, which for Lyou Jr-ji was an integral part of the historian's toolkit. In these chapters he turns a cold eye on the claims of some of some revered classical works (such as the Spring and Autumn chronicle) to represent the facts of the classical period. This of course caused a scandal, and at least one book was written in rebuttal. With his Latter Han predecessor Wang Chung, whose example he cites, Lyou Jr-ji defines the beginning of the consecutive critical tradition in Chinese scholarship. Today we celebrate the critical tradition, the thing that gives us an ancestry in the past, and a collective identity in the present.
- 8 Apr: Medici Day. Lorenzo de' Medici, the paradigmatic patron of learning, died on this day in 1492. A funeral ode was written by the philologist Angelo Poliziano, one of many scholars (another was Pico della Mirandola) and artists (one was Michelangelo) who had been supported or assisted by the generosity of "Lorenzo the Magnificent." The gathering of rare manuscripts together into libraries where they might be consulted by text critics was another revolution of the mind in which Lorenzo led the way. He provided not only the tools of scholarship, but a civic context which valued the use of those tools. Today we celebrate philology's patrons and its libraries, and remember those who have labored not for their own success, but that others might succeed.
- Third Tuesday: Lyou Dzung-ywæn Day. In the Analects, the supposed disciple Dzvng Shvn is frequently called Dzvngdz, "Master Dzvng." Confucius would not have spoken of him in those terms, nor would any of Dzvngdz's fellow disciples. That form of address can only have been used by those for whom Dzvng Shvn was a master or teacher. Then those Analects passages which contain that form of reference must date, at earliest, from the second Confucian successor generation, and the Analects text has a time depth of at least two generations. This momentous conclusion is the substance of a short note left by Lyou Dzung-ywæn (773-819). The note is remarkable in that it is not an authenticity argument, but a chronological argument. It does not reject the Analects. It puts it 50 years lower on the timeline than was previously thought. Today we celebrate the fact that critical analysis of texts does not destroy the texts as history, it merely locates more accurately the historical period to which they testify.
- 7 May: Hu Yin Day. On this day, the beginning of solar summer, we commemorate Hu Yin, a scholar completely forgotten except for ambiguous references here and there in the commentaries and conversations of Ju Syi (1130-1200). Hu Yin realized that some anomalies in the Analects pointed, not merely to a later date for the whole text (as Lyou Dzung-ywæn had seen), but to its separation into two layers, with two different dates of composition. This was the first recognition that one date may not be enough for a text; more may be required. It was yet not the answer, but it was a step toward the answer. Today we celebrate the analytical spirit, the perception that a problem may be insoluble until it is broken into smaller problems.
- 29 May: Einstein Day. It was on this date in 1919 that a closely observed eclipse of the sun confirmed a prediction of Einstein (14 Mar 1879 - 18 Apr 1955): the bending of light in a gravitational field. In the process, it confirmed his general theory of relativity and made him a celebrity. The notion of confirmed predictions applies to all sciences, including philology. The only difference is that there is less money in philology, a merely social fact which is of no methodological importance. Today we celebrate verification, and remind ourselves to plan an investigation so that when we are finished, there will be a way of deciding if we are right or not.
- Second Tuesday: Ventris Day. Somewhere in here, in the year 1952 (the exact date seems to be no longer recoverable, but it was between Work Note 20 of 1 June and an 18 June version of the syllabic grid), Michael Ventris decisively grasped the solution of the Linear B problem. In his enthusiasm, he remained overlong in his study, and was late for a dinner to which he and his wife Lois had invited Michael and Prudence Smith. Ventris's feat was all the more remarkable in that, unlike Champollion with Egyptian, he had no parallel inscription to work from, and his own first theory of the language of the Mycenaean inscriptions (Etruscan) was wrong. The decipherment is a triumphant example of letting the facts, as they slowly emerge, unseat a working hypothesis. Today we celebrate the abandonment of early ideas in favor of later and better ideas. We celebrate the process of growth.
- 23 June: Hu Ying-lin Day. This day, celebrated as Midsummer in the Scandinavian countries (which ought to know), is the great turning point in the year. A turning point of sophistication in Chinese philology was reached with the canon of forgery constructed by Hu Ying-lin (1551-1618) as part of his 1586 work Sz-bu Jvng Wei. This work not only set forth principles for distinguishing forgeries, it elevated the old genuine/spurious dichotomy into something fully analytical, and turned the study of forgery on its head by inquiring, not into its results, but into its motives and procedures. It perceived the historical interest within the twenty shades and species of the spurious the pastiche, the supplied text, the enabling text, and all the rest of them. It continued to banish forgeries from the realm of acceptance, but at the same time it welcomed them into the the realm of the historically consequential. The forgers, their motives, and the climate of opinion in which they operated, are things we need to know before we can say we understand antiquity. Today we celebrate the higher understanding of antiquity.
- Second Tuesday: Yau Ji-hvng Day. Yau (1647-?1715) was one of several contemporary Hangjou bibliophiles. Working in evident leisure, he produced close studies of many early texts, among them a demonstration (in 10 chapters) that the Old Text Shang-shu were forgeries of the 4th century. In 1693, he met Yen Rwo-jyw, who had also been working on this problem, and Yen incorporated many of Yau's findings into his own treatise. Yau's treatise is lost, along with his other specialized studies. What survives is a work in only a few pages, entitled Gu/Jin Wei-shu Kau (Studies in Inauthentic Works, Ancient and Modern). Its 90 entries were not the first attempt to survey the field in its breadth; Sung Lyen had done something of the sort, for 40 works, centuries earlier in 1358. Yau's work was however the most comprehensive up to the 18th century. It is also notable for the ethical stance which its author takes in his Preface. "Spurious books," he writes, "have been produced in great numbers in both ancient and modern times. Can a scholar who does not take the time to distinguish between genuine and spurious be called a scholar at all? To make that distinction is the first duty of scholarship." Today we celebrate the first duty of scholarship.
- 25 July: Pierre and Marie Curie Day. On this day in 1895, Marie Sklodowska married Pierre Curie, creating a research team which was able to announce the discovery of the radioactive element polonium in July 1898, and that of radium in December of that same year. Isolation is all very well, and every scientist needs to know how to cope with it. Today, however, we celebrate teamwork. Go out to dinner, but not alone. Take someone along to talk with. And if you talk shop, that much less time will be lost to science.
- 5 August: Scaliger Day. This is the birthday of Joseph Justus Scaliger (1540-1609), the most learned man of his time, and also the one who best appreciated the need for systematic organization of knowledge. At nineteen he went to Paris to learn Greek. "After attending the lectures of Adrian Turnebus for two months," he tells us, "I found I was throwing all my work away, because I had no foundation. I secluded myself, therefore, in my study, and sought to learn, self-taught, what I had not been able to acquire from others. Beginning with a mere smattering of the Greek conjugations, I procured Homer, with a translation, and learned him all in twenty-one days." Then on to the rest of the poets, and the rest of the literature. Not content to have pioneered the study of Old Latin, he sought to compile, or to have compiled, a complete corpus of Latin inscriptions. Scaliger marks the transition from miscellaneous learning to systematic learning. Today we celebrate system in learning.
- Fourth Tuesday: Yen Rwo-jyw Day. Yen Rwo-jyw (11 Nov 1636 - 9 July 1704), a classicist and mathematician, worked on the so-called Gu-wvn or "Old Text" Shu documents over a long period of time, beginning in about 1655. In 1693, he was introduced by Mau Chi-ling, a defender of the Shu, to Yau Ji-hvng. Yau had already written a study in 10 chapters, demonstrating the inauthenticity of these sixteen "Old Text" Shu documents. Yen found that he had independently coincided with several of Yau's findings, and incorporated other points into his own work. Yen's treatise circulated only in manuscript, and was not printed until 1745, long after his death. But in the interim, it had done the job, by proving to the satisfaction of scholarship generally that despite the false pedigree and forged Kung An-gwo commentary with which these documents had been provided, they were spurious. (Yau Ji-hvng had laughed that people had doubted the commentary but not the text, not realizing that, stylistically, the same person had written both the texts and the commentary). The remarkable thing about this episode was not that the point was made, or even that it impugned a classic, but that it was generally accepted by other classical scholars, and prepared the way for scholarly examination of other previously untouchable texts. Today we celebrate the possibility of winning a skirmish with received opinion.
- 17 Sept: Champollion Day. On this day in 1822, Jean-François Champollion orally presented his epoch-making Lettre à M. Dacier (he being the permanent secretary of the French Académie des Inscriptions). In the letter, or address, Champollion announced his solution of the Egyptian Hieroglyphic riddle. He had solved it with the aid of the Rosetta Stone, a trilingual inscription (erected by the Priests of Memphis to celebrate the achievements of Ptolemy V in Greek, Egyptian, and demotic), which had been discovered in 1799. Champollion's achievement was no weekend project; it was a lifelong effort, begun by acquiring many languages, including Coptic, in his early years. Not that Champollion (23 Dec 1790 - 4 Mar 1832), any more than Ventris (12 July 1922 - 6 Sept 1956) was to enjoy any late years, but years are not part of the bargain we make with eternity. Today we celebrate the race with eternity.
- Fourth Tuesday: Convergence Day. Chywæn Dzu-wang (29 Jan 1705 - 9 Aug 1755), was the first scholar to detect, somewhere around 1751, the mixing of text and commentary in the Shwei-jing Ju (Waterways Survey), and to establish the principle on which the two could be systematically separated. He communicated this discovery to Jau Yi-ching (c1710 - c1764), who had also been working on this text, and in 1754 the two met and compared notes. In Jau's words, "we found that we had reached exactly the same results. We raised our cups to each other and laughed heartily. He then wrote a preface for my book." Working independently, the younger scholar Dai Jvn (19 Jan 1724 - 1 July 1777), had also been at work on the Shwei-jing Ju, and had articulated four principles on which the text and commentary could be distinguished. His work was submitted in the summer of 1774 to the Imperial Library, and was immediately recognized as a masterpiece. Controversy later arose over whether he had plagiarized the work of Jau Yi-ching. It seems that three independent studies of the same work, on similar and correct principles, had led to the same correct result. Today philologists visit rivers, and there raise their winecups to Chywæn Dzu-wang, Jau Yi-ching, and Dai Jvn, but above all to what they had laughed at. They had laughed at the fact that philology is neither capricious nor vain. The texts have a history, and philology, by whomever practiced, aims to recover that history. Today we celebrate the fact that all good work converges.
- 16 Oct: Hamilton Day. On this day in 1843, the Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton (3 Aug 1805 - 2 Sept 1865), while walking with his wife, conceived the fundamental equation of the noncommutative algebra which he called quaternions. This insight, reached after fifteen years of seemingly fruitless thought, was comparable to the invention of alternate (non-Euclidean) geometries by Riemann and Lobachevski. Hamilton carved the basic equation (i² = j² = k² = ijk = -1) into the stone of Brougham Bridge, which he was just then passing. Quaternions were not his greatest achievement (see rather his 1826 discovery of systems of rays in optics, made while still an undergraduate, or his 1834 application of the characteristic function to mechanics), but it is good enough to serve as a festival pretext. Today we celebrate the pleasures of discovery.
- 25 Oct: Tswei Shu Day. Tswei Shu (19 Sept 1740 - 4 Mar 1816) was the most systematic critic of ancient texts and historical traditions that traditional China ever produced. His moment of untruth (he tells us) occurred before the age of twenty, when he began to doubt the authenticity of certain Analects passages, but he went far beyond mere authenticity questions, and far beyond the focus on one text. He took up the whole of ancient tradition, and asked how much of it was credible. His lifework, collectively titled Kau-syin Lu (Investigations in Credibility), was his answer to that question. Tswei Shu worked in poverty all his life. He died leaving a few published sections of his work. His one disciple, Chvn Li-hv (1761-1825), devoted the remaining ten years of his own life to trying to publish a few more. All else is lost. Never mind. Today we celebrate the insight that each of a set of problems constrains the solution of the others, and none of the separate problems may be soluble until they are seen as a single problem.
- Second Tuesday: Housman Day. A E Housman (26 Mar 1859 - 30 Apr 1936) was the poet of the "Shropshire Lad," and a philologist with enough nerve to edit Manilius, a difficult text which had been earlier dealt with by no less a master than Scaliger, not to mention Bentley. His great legacy to philology, however, is his sardonic essay from the year 1921, "The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism," in which he subjects to crisp but deserved scorn the fools and poopheads who would make of philology a mere gimmick, which yields correct answers simply by pulling on its lever. Today we celebrate the joyful task of dealing firmly with all who would reduce valid experiential insights to nonsensical rules of thumb; who would make the world simpler than it actually is.
- 23 Nov: Gu Jye-gang Day. On this day in 1920, Gu Jye-gang answered a note from his teacher Hu Shr, giving information on the works of Yau Ji-hvng, which at that time were difficult to obtain. Thus began the exchange of comments among a number of like-minded scholars, some of them monographic in extent, that eventually made up the seven volumes of Gu Shr Byen (published 1926-1941). As with Tswei Shu's comprehensive researches in the 18th century, which were lost to neglect until a definitive modern edition was prepared by Gu Jye-gang, this new beginning was of brief duration. It was snuffed out by the patriotic needs of war and national collapse, not to be revived until the end of the century, and under other skies. The Gu Jye-gang movement was, precisely, a movement. It created a community of colleagues, and used their collective knowledge to criticize individuals' work and to advance the common understanding. Today we celebrate the tradition of scholarly cooperation, which makes us all smarter than we could hope to be alone.
- Second Tuesday: Turing Day. It was in this vicinity, in 1943, that the successful prototype of the decrypting computer Colossus was disassembled for shipment to Bletchley Park. Alan Turing (23 June 1912 - 8 June 1954) did not design it, but his 1936 paper On Computable Numbers, which solved one of that century's Hilbert problems, had provided the foundation, and his previous contributions at Bletchley Park itself had shown the theoretical path. Colossus symbolizes the addition to technique, including speed enhancement of previous techniques, which is the chief gift of the 20th century to philology. Today we celebrate the new tools in the kit, and remind ourselves, since the perpetual war against the unknown is always an urgent matter, to make use of them before the year is over.
- 21 Dec: Leopold von Ranke Day. At midwinter, we renew our sense of the basics. Leopold von Ranke (21 Dec 1795 - 23 May 1996) left several sayings that luminously define what it is that we are trying to accomplish. We are trying to get back into the past, "as it really was," and for its own sake, not as it suits us or our public to imagine it. What we or the public want may change. What actually happened is a constant. It is the same for all observers, to the extent that they have the detachment and the technique to find out what it was. Today we celebrate that constancy: the fact that history stands still.
These little reminders, scattered throughout the year, have their intrinsic historical and methodological value. In addition, by observing them on these particular days, you will be able to feel that you are in touch with other people of like mind, elsewhere in the world, who are part of the same enterprise. Ours is a lonely trade, and it helps to have friends (as Mencius long ago advised us), both in antiquity and in our own time. Those who follow the Festival Calendar are assured of both.
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