Vedic Reciters/Wisconsin Card Sorting Test

Luis Gonzalez-Reimann reimann at UCLINK4.BERKELEY.EDU
Tue May 23 04:58:39 UTC 2000

I have been following this thread and Steve Farmer's interesting and
informative posts, and I have a question for Steve.

You quoted P. Olivelle in supporty of the possibility that:

"the citations of opposing views and texts
from different vedic schools indicate that the authors were working
from manuscripts rather than oral tradition..."

But your following description seems to confirm just the opposite: that
texts along with commentary can be memorized and discussed without a
written text.
I understand that the teacher had a written text, but the process you
describe seems to have worked mainly using memory.
On the other hand, mention of differing interpretations (by Vedic reciters)
may only have required the added work of learning the differing portions,
as the rest would be the same.  These could have been heard from a reciter
from another school.

I'm not trying to prove anything, but it seems that memorizing opposing
views doesn't necessarily imply that the presence of a written text is more

>In premodern universities in Europe, individual works from the
>Aristotelian corpus, and sometimes the whole corpus, were regularly
>memorized by students -- again without the use of formal memory
Professors in the
>university would recite the text word-for-word in class,
>contradictions and all, and then comment on it; if the students could
>afford paper, they would write out the text word-for-word and use that
>as a memory aid. If they couldn't afford the paper -- and many
>couldn't -- they simply memorized it as the teacher crawled along
>(often for months) through the text...
A single Aristotelian text would typically be
>the subject of many months of classwork. Many scholastics claimed to
>know the whole of the Aristotelian corpus -- several thousand pages of
>small type in modern editions -- by heart.

>Shifting to the historical level, I've always wondered if the typical
>overreliance of scholastic writers on "authority" in general wasn't
>*directly* related to the amount of time they spent memorizing texts.

Very interesting idea.
It could also be the other way around: they spent so much time memorizing
texts because there was an "overreliance" on authority.  Serious dissent
was not tolerated for religious texts, and even for other literature, who
dared question Aristotle?
But more along your line of thought: maybe they spent so much time
memorizing texts because written texts, although they did exist, were nor
so widely available, or/and because if they wanted to find a particular
quote it was easier to go over the text/chaper in their heads.  Things are
different when you have concordances and indexes at the back of books (or
when you can do a word search in a word processor).

Best wishes,

Luis Gonzalez-Reimann
University of California, Berkeley

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