Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 551.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Submit to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Thu, 13 Mar 2003 06:46:28 +0000
From: "Jim Marchand" <email@example.com>
Subject: palimpsestic syndrome
This was originally posted to Medtextl, which is why the examples are
medieval. Modern ones are easy to come by.
In a recent conversation with colleagues, the use of the word
_palimpsest_ to mean `layering' came up, and this led me to
remember Robert Merton's (On the Shoulders of Giants) invoking of
the `palimpsestic syndrome', that is, the tendency to attribute a
striking term, concept or construction to the first person you
heard it from.
All of us have received on the net such things as `Errors my
students made', `cute jokes', etc. etc., almost always repeats of
things we heard in the hoary past and would just as soon forget. I
remember hearing last year: "We had a machine translating Russian
into English and input: `The spirit is willing but the flesh is
weak'; it came back: `The booze is good, but the meat has gone
bad'." I heard this first as a grad student back in 1952.
This sort of thing happens also in scholarship as it does in Ann
Landers. An interesting article, "A Modern Medieval Story: `The
Soldier's Deck of Cards'," by D. K. Wilgus and Bruce A. Rosenberg,
Medieval Literature and Folklore Studies. Essays in Honor of
Francis Lee Utley, edd. Jerome Mandel & Bruce A. Rosenberg (New
Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1970), 291-304, points to
a number of `inventions' and `inventors' of Tale Type 1613, Motif
Albert S. Cook, The Christ of Cynewulf, ed. with intro., notes and
glossary (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1909), in treating the Anglo-Saxon
theme of the leaps of Christ, says: "The ultimate source of this
mystical interpretation of Canticles 2.8 is to be found ... in two
passages of Ambrose," though it appears in Hippolytus at least a
century earlier (N. Bonwetsch, Hippolyts Kommentar zum Hohenlied
[Leipzig, 1903], 55 f.; (translation mine:): "Oh, plan (oeconomia)
of the New Grace! Oh, great mysteries: "Behold my brother came
leaping.' What was that leaping? The Word sprang from heaven into
the body ofthe Virgin. It sprang from the tree into Hades, it
sprang again onto the earth. Oh, the new arising: Again it sprang
from the earth into heaven."
The most careful scholars do not appear to be proof against the
palimpsesting syndrome. Thus, D. W. Robertson, Jr., A Preface to
Chaucer (Princeton: PUP, 1962), cites a famous passage from
Gregory's Moralia (English translation, 1845, vol. 2:514) as
deriving from Hrabanus Maurus rather than Gregory (out of pietas I
do not mention that he also gives the wrong column in Migne).
One needs to be careful in reading or making statements such as
"... was the first," "the ultimate source was ...", "not until",
etc., and one needs to realize that many of our concepts are
"layered" in their structure.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Thu Mar 13 2003 - 02:03:40 EST