W. Doniger's Manu

Tue Nov 7 06:04:42 UTC 1995

Since I have been put on the spot, etc. : here is translation no.3:

3. The Laws of Manu (Wendy Doniger, with B.K. Smith) Penguin  1991.

Leaving aside the introduction which stresses the novelty of the 
translation ... and various well-known problems encountered in 
translation, which, in my opinion at least, have not been solved 
admirably (cf. the forthc. volume on Translations from Indian languages, 
HOS, based on the 1994 conference at Harvard, organized by E. Garzilli), 

I give just one example which shows both wrong (rather, lack of) 
philological method and lack of simple common sense.

Manu 8.134-135, on weights:

O. : 8.134:
"Six (white) 'mustard seeds' equal one medium-sized 'barley-corn', and 
three 'barley-corns' make one 'berry'; five 'berries' make a 'bean', 
sixteen 'beans' a 'gold-piece'. 135. Four 'gold-pieces' equal a 'straw'....

footnote:  The 'straw' (pala) thus weighed about 1.33 ounces or 37.76 
grams ....  might be measurements of gold, silver or copper.     <<of 
course, tola, etc. and ratti, see note 134, still are in use!>>
-- First logic or common sense: Take 3x5x16x4 (960) barley corns and 
weigh them... and see whether they eqyal any blade of straw. Even if you 
believe, with Herodotos, in gold digging ants and other wonders in India, 
I haven't seen Indian (rice/barley) straw of that weight.

-- But we forget simple philology,
the hand-maiden of any translation that is supposedly better than 
Buehler's  in Victorian English and the recent partial one by Derrett, 
etc. :

The last straw is : If you check pala in the Petersburg 
dictionary (PW) , or even in its copy, Monier Williams' dict., you see 
that pala 'straw' is attested only with some lexicographer, who turns out 
to be Hemacandra (according to the PW, in his AbhidhaanacintaamaNi 
1182), that is, and theword apparently is attested only once).

If you check the surrounding words, you find palaala in Manu, Mbh. 
(and Atharvaveda: palaalii) which mean 'straw'; and palada' (AV) of 
similar meaning.  It is clear that Hemacandra got his truncated  (hapax!) 
word pala from from the well known word for RstrawS  palaala/ii / palaada' 
(cf.TURNER 7958) -- while pala (Turner 7952!) always meant 'a certain 
weight/measure' and also 'meat'.--  
Mayrhofer suggests an Indo-European (see: palaava "chaff,grass"), and a 
Dravidian (Tamil: pul etc.) etymology.

Common sense apart, to establish pala 'straw', D. should at least have 
searched in texts of similar nature and time level before accepting the 
meaning of 'straw' in Manu.

--  And a little less hype would also do: "a landmark translation, the 
first authoritative translation in this century" (cover); "to offer to 
more specialized scholars new interpretations of many difficult verses." 
(p. lxi)   ---  I doubt it.

NB: the translation is based on 2 apparently  uncritical editions with 
7-9 commentaries (not available at Harvard). While commentators occasionally 
provide some variant readings found at their time and in their location, 
we do not know, of course, how these variants are represented in the 
*UN*critical editions: their very form may be influenced by the choice of 
the editor... see this Summer's (unfinished) discussion on criticla 
editions. I have seen such procedures  with Kashmiri misreadings in a text 
edited in N. India). 
In the present case, of course, we have the 19th century style half-way 
critical edition with many variaant readings by J. Jolly, representing the 
Vulgate, and not Bharuci's earlier text. But these two have *not* been 
used as the base text.

Also, D. does not take real issue with BharuciUs variants. This 
is the only OLDER  commentary we have; incidentally, at the instance 
where I once had to check Bharuci against the oldest Manu MS ( written 
under Govindracandra of Kanauj,c.1150 AD), the MS already followed the 
Vulgate and not Bharuci. Good reason thus to take Bh. seriously -- and 
his text is easily available, even in translation.

In view of all of this, I wonder indeed whether D's translation would 
have been accepted in the Harvard Oriental Series rather than in Penguin 
(p. lxviii). 

Finally, note that all 3  translations are RE-translations. Mistakes 
of the type mentioned above could easily have been avoided if the work of 
our 19th century predecessors (and contemporaries!) had been consulted more 
carefully -- instead of following the current fashion of lambasting them for 
various / supposed prejudices/attitudes of their times (what about 
<<end-of->> 20th century attitudes? The critics have 5 years to go before 
they are in for equally severe criticism of their 20th century 

Last point: Looking at the various new translations that have appeared in 
the past decade or so: 

Why always to RE-translate something done *several* times over already 
--- and why not to take up one of the zillion UN-translated Skt. texts?

Much more difficult of course...


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