[INDOLOGY] Fwd: text reuse

jacob at fabularasa.dk jacob at fabularasa.dk
Sun Jul 26 09:15:18 UTC 2015

Back in 2011 I wrote my BA on the subject of six unidentified palm 
leaves found in the papyri collection of Istituto
Papirologico "G. Vitelli" in Florence. The leaves were written in the 
Sinhalese script and consisted of Sinhalese headlines on various 
Ayurvedic topics followed by Sanskrit verses relevant to the various 
topics. I was quite surprised to find that many, if not all, of the 
verses seemed to be made up of wholes, halves, and even quarts of verses 
taken from the medical literature and rearranged without regard to - or 
mention of - their prior context (I identified verses from 
Carakasaṃhitā, Suśrutasaṃhitā, Aṣṭāṅgasaṅgraha, Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasaṃhitā, 
and Garuḍapurāṇa). At the time I noticed three trends in the approach of 
the author/scribe:

a) polyphony: back-to-back quotation of verses or parts of verses from 
various sources on the same subject (e.g. quotations from multiple 
sources on different kinds of meat);

b) fragmentation: splitting up of individual verses or groups of verses 
into separate parts quoted under different headlines in different parts 
of the manuscript (e.g. parts of a section of verses from a single 
source on different kinds of water appearing under multiple headlines 
relevant to water);

c) recontextualization: rearrangement of verses or parts of verses in 
contexts different from the original context resulting in a change of 
syntax and/or semantics (e.g. a verse originally used to describe water 
from the Ganges used in the manuscript to describe the life-giving 
properties of water in general).

It should be noted that the palm leaves in question were originally part 
of a larger manuscript about which nothing is known. As such, it may 
simply have been the private notes of an Ayurvedic doctor. Still, the 
silent splitting up and rearrangement of known verses might be taken as 
an example of a special art of "quotational sampling" (useful, perhaps, 
as a means of creative innovation within the confines of a fixed textual 


Jacob Schmidt-Madsen
PhD student
Department of Indology
University of Copenhagen

Patrick Olivelle skrev den 2015-07-26 01:25:
>> Sorry, I intended to send this to the list but initially sent it
>> only to Jonathan. Here it is.
>> I have not entered this discussion yet, but given that we have
>> turned to the fruitful discussion of plagiarism in the ancient world
>> (not just India), a book that many of you may find interesting and
>> illumination is Ehrman's work on early Christian literature. It is
>> not on plagiarism per se (which passes of others' work as one's own)
>> but the opposite, forgery, (which tries to pass of one's own work as
>> that of someone else).
>> Bart Ehrman, "Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary
>> Deceit in Early Christian Polemics" (OUP, NY, 2013).
>> Best,
>> Patrick Olivelle
>> On Jul 25, 2015, at 3:45 PM, Jonathan Silk <kauzeya at gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>>> Dear Friends,
>>> In the hope of gaining something academically useful out of what
>>> otherwise might (have already) become a sort of mud slinging
>>> fight, I would like to mention the now increasingly well studied
>>> area of "text reuse."
>>> Of course, this is in part behind the project of E. Prets, and it
>>> is conceptually behind plagiarism detection software etc., but it
>>> should be noted that there is considerable work being done with
>>> regard to Classical Studies, and to my knowledge (I'm not sure if
>>> this has been published yet) on Arabic World Histories. I myself
>>> am interested in this approach to what I see as the modularity of
>>> Buddhist scriptural literature, although the notion of modular
>>> composition is not exactly the same as text reuse as generally
>>> understood.
>>> For a general overview of 'historical text reuse', one might see
>>> as a start http://etrap.gcdh.de/?page_id=332 [1]
>>> I mean here only to point out an additional resource (not the
>>> website in particular, but the notion) to frame this discussion in
>>> what may be a helpful direction.
>>> Best, Jonathan
>>> --
>>> J. Silk
>>> Leiden University
>>> Leiden University Institute for Area Studies, LIAS
>>> Matthias de Vrieshof 3, Room 0.05b
>>> 2311 BZ Leiden
>>> The Netherlands
>>> copies of my publications may be found at
>>> http://www.buddhismandsocialjustice.com/silk_publications.html [2]
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> Links:
> ------
> [1] http://etrap.gcdh.de/?page_id=332
> [2] http://www.buddhismandsocialjustice.com/silk_publications.html
> [3] http://listinfo.indology.info
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