Saturday, September 26, 2009

The dialogue form

The backbone of the TWL is an explanation of the "Sphere" -- that is the basic notions of cosmography and astronomy along (more or less) the sequence defined by Sacrobosco's Tractatus de sphaera . Imposed on this structure there are many deviations, additions, changes of emphasis, of order, etc., that make the TWL an original composition. But the most interesting aspect is that it is written in a dialogue form, or, to be more precise, as a series of questions and answers. Dialogue was used in Europe to explain the Sphere, but not frequently. There is in Portugal a well known sixteenth century manuscript, «Tratado da esfera em perguntas e respostas», with such a dialogue, but it is an exception. Printed editions of the Sphere in dialogue form are very rare (one or two in Italy and one in Poland, I think -- in a universe of more than 250 editions of Sacobosco's Sphere that have already been traced). Also, as far as I can see, dialogue form was not very common in Jesuit texts or Jesuit pedagogy. So, I am inclined to suggest that the dialogue format is more a trace of the "chinese" content of the text (i.e. influence of and adaptation to Chinese intellectual background) than of its European heritage.

1 comment:

  1. This is an extremely important point, I believe. I always assumed this was the European tradition having an impact on a Chinese text.
    We should therefore have a section in the introduction explaining the dialogue genre (for didactic or other purposes) in Chinese tradition.
    Note also that the title TIANWEN, Questions on the Heavens, refers to a famous classical text from Chinese literary tradition, written by Qu Yuan in (self-)dialogue form. Dias chose to locate his text between the astronomical and literary genres, perhaps in an attempt to attract more readers (after the fiasco of Ricci/Li Zhizao's Qiankun tiyi).
    The literary TIANWEN contains alllusions to the Nine Heavens (which Dias exploits to some extent).
    And the original TIANWEN is a frustrated attempt to get concrete answer from and about the Heavens. Qu Yuan implores the Heavens, but does not get any answers. The Tianwenlue, by contrast, explains what the Heavens are all about and locates the Supreme Deity on the top heaven.
    More on this in a separate entry on the TIANWEN, soon to come, but only after the glossary is finished.