The final step in preparing a text for use in the enterprise of history is to place it geography and in time, and to associate it, where possible, with an author or other sponsor.
A factor affecting all these determinations is the tendency of cultures to unify and linearize what they choose to remember of their heritage. Regional traditions tend to be subsumed into a central tradition, minor authors tend to have their works reassigned to major authors, and especially in the Chinese case, the dates of both texts and their authors tend to be moved back to a time of greater antiquity and thus greater authority. Of two attributions, then, the lesser may well be true; of two datings, the later; of two locales, the more obscure. The myth process as it affects locales may be seen at work in the Maha-parinibbana Sutta:
The Buddha was dying in Kusinârâ, a little town of no importance, and his disciple Ananda protested the incongruity of that location, for so great a man. The Buddha, in reply, is made to accept the principle, but to resolve the incongruity by revealing that Kusinârâ had once been the capital of a great empire, and so was appropriate after all.
Cases must always be judged on their individual characteristics, but at the end of ten years of cases, the philologist will probably find that the Kushinaga cases far outnumber those of opposite tendency.
Dating texts in terms of events, or authors relative to other authors, runs the risk that the outside events or authors may never have existed. History as it presents itself for use in this way is liable to have been affected by the same cultural inventiveness that applies to texts and authors, and one must beware of taking events or persons as real, simply because they are mentioned.
The moral of all this is that neither a text nor its historical matrix may be taken for granted as natural objects, of an uncomplicated nature. On the contrary, both require scrutiny. Both are likely to have been affected by society's desire to see them come out a certain way, or by its receptivity to one rather than another of the forms in which they might emerge, or into which they might evolve. This interaction of a work and its public, or an author and his time, is one of the factors that makes history (even if it does not require mastery of the integral calculus) a more difficult science than physics.
Philology is Copyright © 2001- by E Bruce Brooks
Comments to The Author / Exit to Project Home Page