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Abstract

The Suda is a tenth-century CE Byzantine encyclopedia and lexicon, which compresses into the compass of a single work all the most important knowledge available of the past and renders it accessible for the readers of a sprawling empire. Its author and date are unknown and even the meaning of its title is controversial. What makes the Suda unique among Byzantine works of compilatory scholarship is that it uses the structure of a dictionary that explains difficult lexical terms in order to include as well a large number of entries that provide historical, geographical, or biographical information, thus disguising an encyclopedia as a lexicon or, perhaps more fairly, creating a hybrid that combines within a single work both genres that had hitherto been separated. This explains the considerable success of the Suda, which notwithstanding its huge size was copied relatively often by medieval scribes and printed a number of times since the Renaissance.

Open Access
In: Plurilingualism in Traditional Eurasian Scholarship

Abstract

What is a “barbarian” language, and why does Homer apply this definition only to the population of the Carians in Asia Minor? A chapter of Strabo’s Geography (1st c. BCE) attempts to clarify the meaning of this term in the Iliad, but also with an eye to what linguistic “barbarism” has become in Strabo’s own day.

Open Access
In: Plurilingualism in Traditional Eurasian Scholarship

Abstract

In the first century BCE, in the middle of a profound political and social crisis, the Roman polymath Varro explained to his fellow citizens the mysteries of their own Latin language by applying the linguistic conceptions of Greek scholars to his profound antiquarian erudition concerning such matters as religious rituals, political and legal institutions, obsolete and regional words, and archaic poetic texts. Although his systematic treatise on the Latin language, De Lingua Latina, has only partially been preserved and although its many etymologies are unsystematic and often (by our standards) erroneous, it exercised an enormous influence upon all later scholars working on the history and grammar of the Latin language well into modern times. For a modern linguistic science of etymology, it is easy to belittle Varro; but to do so does justice neither to his own achievement nor to his historical significance.

Open Access
In: Plurilingualism in Traditional Eurasian Scholarship
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The handbook of the Stoic philosopher and rhetorician Lucius Annaeus Cornutus (1st century CE) provides a good example of the ways in which Stoics applied etymology to the names, epithets, and other words connected with the Greek gods. It goes through a number of the most important Greek gods, starting with the heavens and moving downwards to end with the Underworld. For each god, it explains the meaning of the personal name, epithets, other associated terms, attributes, and often myths, usually by means of etymological analysis and in terms of the tenets of Stoic philosophy. However, Cornutus does not limit himself to this etymological approach to the words associated with divinities: instead, he combines etymological accounts of single words with allegorical interpretations of mythic narratives, events, and objects.

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In: Plurilingualism in Traditional Eurasian Scholarship
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Abstract

In the dialogue Cratylus written by Plato, this fourth-century BCE Greek philosopher provides an extensive analysis of etymology and considers its value as a potential tool for philosophical investigation. Etymologies are introduced as evidence into a debate on whether names are correct by convention or by nature. Understanding etymologies means understanding the messages that the primeval name-givers used them for in order to communicate their philosophical doctrines. The etymological procedure unpacks and expands the word’s sounds into a brief definition of that same word; if the name-giver has chosen the name wisely, that definition or description will be correct. Socrates ends up concluding that etymology on its own, without a solid philosophical foundation, is not very useful.

Open Access
In: Plurilingualism in Traditional Eurasian Scholarship
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In the dialogue Phaedrus, written by Plato, this fifth-century BCE Greek philosopher presents an intense philosophical analysis of the nature of the human soul, in terms of desires for the beautiful, and explores the real and possible relations between philosophy and rhetoric. Near the end of the dialogue, Socrates tells a philosophical myth, doubtless invented by Plato himself, about the Egyptian origins of writing: once upon a time, the Egyptian god Theuth (otherwise known as Thoth) presented a series of his cultural inventions to King Thamus (better known as Ammon) for his approval; and Thamus accepted or rejected them one by one on the basis of their utility or harmfulness. When they came to writing, Theuth praised its merits enthusiastically—and Thamus rejected it out of hand, saying it would not be a remedy for human memory, as Theuth had claimed, but instead a poison for it.

Open Access
In: Plurilingualism in Traditional Eurasian Scholarship
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Abstract

During the North and South Dynasties in around the fourth century CE, Buddhist translations proliferated to the extent that the Buddhist community in China saw an urgent need to understand the origin of these texts and how reliable the translations were. Dao’an, a monk of exceptional religious zeal, was among the Chinese Buddhists who saw the importance of these textual matters for the purpose of delivering the sacred teachings. In his preface to a Chinese translation of the Large Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, Dao’an addresses the processes of translation and addresses various textual and linguistic problems such as redaction of the source texts in various Indic languages, multiple translations, retranslations, and a large body of still unstandardized technical vocabulary. Dao’an developed important theories on Sino-Indian translation although he appears not to have translated any Buddhist texts himself. Among his best-known observations on the difficulties of translation are the “Five Losses of the Original” and “Three Things not to be Changed.”

Open Access
In: Plurilingualism in Traditional Eurasian Scholarship

Abstract

The fifth-century BCE historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus displays in his work a lively interest in interpreters, linguistic contacts, and peculiarities of foreign tongues. In a special passage on the old population of the Pelasgians, Herodotus draws conclusions on the latter’s ethnicity (and, more broadly, on the development of Greek) based on the special features of their language.

Open Access
In: Plurilingualism in Traditional Eurasian Scholarship
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Abstract

The Nine Seizers Canon (Jiuzhi li) is an eighth-century CE Chinese treatise on Indian astronomy in the format of a practical manual, dealing with topics such as calendrical calculation, mean and true motion of Sun and Moon, and eclipse computation. Its author, Qutan Xida (*Gautamasiddhārtha) came from an expatriate Sino-Indian family who had settled in Chang’an for multiple generations. Although described as a translation commissioned by the emperor, it contains extensive remarks comparing mathematical and astronomical practices in China and India, giving it the character of an original composition rather than purely a translation of some Sanskrit siddhānta or karaṇa texts. It introduces the Indian numerals, place-value system, symbol for zero and its application in computation, and some specific concepts and techniques in Vedic and Greco-Indian mathematics and astronomy such as the nakṣatras and the zodiac signs as coordinates, the use of geometry, trigonometry, epicycles, and nodal precession. Despite its technical sophistication, the text was poorly understood and received by Chinese astronomers. It was lost sometime after the mid-eighth century until its rediscovery in the seventeenth century.

Open Access
In: Plurilingualism in Traditional Eurasian Scholarship
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In this example, I demonstrate some of the differences between the printed Greek and Arabo-Latin texts of Euclid’s Elements established by modern editors during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the Arabic texts as preserved in manuscripts from the tenth and later centuries. These extracts show an impressive degree of linguistic and content conformity. But they also reveal the challenges each translator faced partly due to the structural and semantic differences between the source and target languages and partly to their individual skills and goals.

Open Access
In: Plurilingualism in Traditional Eurasian Scholarship