Saturday, September 26, 2009

More on the original copy

There was certainly an original copy due to the simple reason that I don't think it possible that Dias wrote directly in Chinese. Not only because of linguistic considerations. It is deeper than that. Scientific modes of expression are very codified and in a trained person they become a "second skin". When thinking about science the mind tends to work with words, expressions and linguistic patterns of the language one learned that science.
So I think it is safe to say this: Dias first wrote a text, most likely in Latin (Portuguese is also a possibility, but less probable in my opinion). I think the question about the original text is more about what happened to it and how it was actually used. These are two very interesting questions....

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.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The original copy

Still doing the glossary, i.e., being excessively attentive to each and every word of TWL, I sense somehow the presence of a Latin text behind the Chinese version - what the Chinese like to call the 'original copy' (diben 底本). If (a) there was one, and (b) we could find it, this would, of course, be a little sensation. Both Zhang Baichun and Tian Miao, who have been working with Jesuit texts for a whole while, believe that there must be a Latin original that served as working and guiding text for Dias' translation project.

In order to establish if there was one in the first place, we should read the paratexts carefully, since they may contain some hints about the composition process. I have been reluctant about this task because these texts are hard to read and also extremely hard to decipher since they are written in a beautiful yet extremely cursive calligraphy (see picture!)

A sine qua non clue for finding the 'original copy' would also be to retrieve the original first edition of the Vatican Library. As mentioned in a previous post, the TWL has been digitized at USF, but the text they are using is not the text of the first edition, but rather a reprint that was published many decades later. This is philologically not quite kosher.:-)

If there was an 'original copy' and if this original copy is still extant, where would it be?

These are important questions for our introduction.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Henderson on Ch'ing scholars

I don't know what more competent sinologists think about it, but I still find John B. Henderson's paper, «Ch'ing Scholars views of Western Astronomy», Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 46 (1986) 121-148, quite good and most of all, quite useful. I read it recently while preparing some notes for the TWL and it was a very rewarding read. OK, here and there it needs updating, but it seems to me a very good summary. Am I missing something ? (very brief mention of TWL on p. 126. )

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Glossary & Enlightenment

The translation has come to a hold for the moment because of the glossary of terms that is being compiled for those parts of the text we have already translated.

Compiling the glossary is kind of a drag for impatient people because one moves on very slowly. Each page contains important terms - which include not only nouns, but also verbs, which obviously were used in a fairly precise and consistent manner.

Besides providing linguistic consistency, the most important thing about the process of highlighting specific terms is that mistakes become visible. I have already found two rather heavy ones in the first pages of our translation.

This glossary will be a very important tool for approaching Ricci's Qiankun tiyi as well as the Chinese astronomical tradition before the publication of Tianwenlüe.