[Q]jyoti.h'saastra - what is "catarchic"?

Birgit Kellner kellner at ipc.hiroshima-u.ac.jp
Sun May 19 16:32:10 UTC 1996

At 20:59 1996-05-17 BST, Allen Thrasher wrote:
>	I must express a revervation as to what Birgit Kellner says in the message
>quoted below on using Greek or Greek-derived terminology in discussing
>Indian jyotihsastra.  Certainly the Sanskrit terminology ought not to be
>omitted, but the case of jyotihsastra is different from that of grammar,
>philosophy, and other fields where the two civilizations developed their
>Wissenschaften in isolation from one another.  Even if one discounts the
>evidence that Indian astronomy/astrology is profoundly indebted to
>Babylonian and Greek counterparts, many if not most of the concepts are
>shared or similar.  For this reason to use terminology of Greek origin is
>one might argue to reflect accurately the fact that it's a body of
>knowledge that is in large part shared across several civilizations.  In
>addition, in pursuing a sort of ethnic purity of terminology one risks
>putting the research off into a exoticist, "Orientalist" corner in which
>there is on the one hand _the_ history of astral science and on the other
>the history of _Indian_ jyotihsastra.  In discussing the closely related
>field of Indian mathematics, would scholars recommend, and do they in
>fact, routinely eschew the use of international mathematical terminology
>for the near-exclusive use of Sanskrit (or Prakrit) terms?

As became obvious from my postings on Jyoti.h'saastra, I know next to
nothing about it (At this point, I have to apologize for my sloppy reading
of Pingree's book. As Takao Hayashi pointed out, there is indeed a passage
in Pingree's book which makes the meaning of "catarchic" quite clear), but
if I am permitted to throw in my uninformed answer to Allen Thrasher's
question, I would resort to the all-curing medicine "it all depends".
Firstly, in the process of studying a certain body of knowledge, it is
always useful and, to a certain extent, necessary to compare Sanskrit
terminology to that of one's own language, or to that terminology which has
become accepted as a standard of the same/a corresponding body of knowledge
in one's own tradition/culture. This is part of the learning-process. 

Secondly, to what degree the "own", e.g. Greek terminology, should be used
in publications depends on the purpose and target audience of the study,
irrespective of whether certain bodies of knowledge are historically
dependent on others in different cultures or not. Any writer uses a language
which he assumes his audience will be able to understand. If he writes
mainly for astronomers, there's nothing wrong with writing in astronomer's
jargon, if he writes for the general public, that would be inappropriate. It
is part of a writer's skill to develop a sensorium of what knowledge can be
presupposed on part of what audience. 

As for two points levelled against a purely Sanskritistic terminology (if
one might choose to advocate such a strange breed, which I'm not) I am not
convinced by either. 

To the "shared across several civilizations"-argument: If one and the same
body of knowledge is shared across several civilizations, there is no
particular reason why one language should be preferable to another. The only
reason why one doesn't retain the original Sanskrit is that  not many people
in one's readership will be likely to understand Sanskrit. Add to which, I
am sure that even an Indological field which is indebted to Greek ancestors
has certain peculiarities and idiosyncracies, which would be hidden by a
consistent (unexplained) use of Greek terminology. So I can't really see why
the history of Jyoti.h'saastra would be different from that of other
disciplines, grammar or philosophy. This may be due to my doubts about the
assumption that different cultures can share EXACTLY the same body of
knowledge, and hence, I cannot see any merits in a reductionist attitude to
the study of foreign sciences/philosophies (i.e. one that reduces an Indian
body of knowledge to a Greek/European/... parallel field). In case of
philosophy, I always find myself shrugging at publications which simply
claim that "the Indian philosopher's claim A is none other than the ancient
Greek/medieval French/post-modern notion of B". So what? Such an
unsophisticated application of comparativism only results in an obfuscation
of both crucial differences and (really) important parallels. 

As for the "exoticism"-danger, I am not convinced either. Actually, I can
imagine that the constant usage of Greek terminology would produce more
exoticism than the constant (and explained) usage of Sanskrit terminology,
by giving rise to the question that, if these strange Indian astronomers did
do nothing different from the Greeks (and were probably even using authentic
Greek sources), why did they go through so much trouble to cloud the sharp
and clear analysis of ancient Greek astronomy by wrapping layers of strange
Sanskrit around it? By reducing Sanskrit terminology to Greek equivalents,
the prejudice of "on the one hand _the_ history of astral science and on the
other the history of _Indian_ jyotihsastra" is reinforced rather than removed. 

Much more has already been said and written on this subject, and much more
probably will (and shall) be. Anyway, before using Greek terminology,
obviously, one would have to establish THAT Greek and Indian sciences really
employ corresponding notions. There's nothing wrong with a sophisticated use
of Greek terminology, i.e. with one which is explained and made clear, and
fortunately, the beautiful creature of "annotation" still inhabits the dense
forest of academia, and let's hope that it won't become extinct. 

Birgit Kellner
Department for Indian Philosophy
University of Hiroshima

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