Critical editions

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at
Thu Jul 6 09:53:08 UTC 1995

Vidhyanath K. Rao said:

> The remark of West I am referring to is on p.~43 amid discussion of
> editing `open recessions'. It goes like this:
>     The critic will take note of the general appearance of the various
>     witnesses first --- that this one is from a humanist copy liable to
>     contain much emendation; that here is a major family that preserves
>     its identity from the twelfth century into the fifteenth, and so on.
> The reference to `strong tradition' needs some elaboration. West does not
> indicate what he means by it. Let me state what I think it should mean:
> The tradition should be conservative in the sense that it >actively<
> resists change; it should be unbroken in the sense that apprenticeship
> of the younger person(s) should overlap significantly with the mature
> period of the previous generation(s) in the same tradition; the tradition
> should be alive at the time of transcription (or manuscript copying).

On the same page, 43, West does clarify what he means.  He develops 5
steps for sorting the manuscripts.  The important point to notice is
that each step involves *looking at the readings* of the manuscripts,
and weighing them against each other.  West is not suggesting that we
make judgements about which manuscripts to include as witnesses to a
tradition on the basis of general considerations (such as that the MS is
found in a particular ma.tha library).  He says, for example, that we
must "make a note of the reading or readings that seem to be ancient ...
and the manuscripts in which they appear."  And so forth.

This assumes that we are already in possession of the manuscripts (or
copies), and that we have actually read them (or representative parts of
them).  Only then are we able to decide which manuscripts we may ignore
in our edition, and which ones we must adopt.

I still think that West's guidelines here leave something to be desired,
and could easily descend into circularity.  Nevertheless, the main point
-- that you have to look at the actual MS readings of each MS in order
to know whether that MS is an important witness -- cannot be set aside.

> Now let me turn Professor Wujastik's remark about how we know that manuscripts
> of Sankara's work from S.r"ngeri Mu.t (or one of the other major Mu.ts)
> are any better than a random manuscript. I am not sure that the
> description as a `strong tradition' does not apply here.

I have to say that I don't recall saying anything like the above; if I
did, I recant!   My point isn't and wasn't about Ma.tha libraries or
"random" manuscripts, but about the impossibility of making judgements
about the fidelity of textual traditions without actually looking at the

The Mathas, Jaina bhandaras, and Indian religious foundations in
general have often done a splendid job of preserving manuscripts, and
all scholars are grateful for that.  (It would be nice to have easier
access, mind you. :-)  So if you mean to take a swipe at me in your next
paragraph, I think you must have misunderstood something I said earlier:

> There is another thought that crossed my mind. I know that this will be
> offensive to some (but no more offensive than off-hand statements to
> the effect that major mu.ts are not heirs to a strong tradition) ...

Regarding the general point about doing an edition, only to find that
the edited text is identical to the vulgate, and one has wasted one's
time, I don't know that it has ever happened, or ever will.  But the
result of the work would still be to separate knowledge from opinion.
This is surely worthwhile.



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