For information about past lectures, please email Project Manager Jonathan Brent (jonathan.brent “at” mail.utoronto.ca).
27. January 2023: Illusions of Novelty in Early Modern India: Raghunātha Śiromaṇi on Time, Existence and Distinctness
A talk by Dr. Nilanjan Das, associate professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto-Mississauga.
Abstract: This talk will be about a Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika philosopher, Raghunātha Śiromaṇi, active in Bengal in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Traditionally, Raghunātha has been regarded as an unorthodox and (to some extent) iconoclastic figure in the history of Nyāya-Vaiśeika. But, more recently, a number of authors—such as Jonardon Ganeri (2011) and Samuel Wright (2021)—have argued that his bold theoretical innovations inaugurated a new era in Sanskrit philosophy, an era where Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika philosophers explicitly represented themselves as questioning and breaking away from the received doctrines of their text-tradition. Ganeri uses this observation to argue that Raghunātha’s work—along with that of others who were influenced by him—should be treated as a “moment of rupture”: the origin of a distinctive kind of philosophical modernity in South Asia. This, according to Ganeri, undermines the view that modernity is indigenous to Europe, and clears room for the view that it is a polycentric phenomenon, i.e., a phenomenon with many centres across the globe.
In this talk, I won’t be able to address the entirety of this argument. Rather, I will present some reasons to be sceptical of the interpretation of Raghunātha that Ganeri and Wright put forward. While interpreting Raghunātha, these authors focus exclusively on his monograph, An Inquiry into the Nature of the Ontological Categories (Padārthatattvanirūpaṇa), largely ignoring his commentarial works, especially his extensive commentary Splendour (Dīdhitī) on Gaṅgeśa Upādhyāya’s The Wish-Granting Jewel of Truth (Tattvacintāmaṇi). Reading the Inquiry and the Splendour together, I will show that many of Raghunātha’s central theses in the Inquiry about existence, time, and distinctness—which Ganeri and Wright regard as theoretical innovations—are in fact concessions to earlier criticisms of Nyāya epistemology and Vaiśeṣika ontology and metaphysics presented by the 12th century philosopher and poet, Śrīharṣa. This, in turn, explains why Raghunātha’s theses often met with resistance from his own Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika commentators. Presumably, these commentators saw what Ganeri and Wright take to be novelty merely as an admission of defeat. This, I shall argue, should motivate us to rethink Ganeri’s claim that Raghunātha’s work inaugurated an era of philosophical modernity in South Asia.
- Preisendanz, Karin. “The Production of Philosophical Literature in South Asia During the Pre-Colonial Period (15th to 18th centuries): the case of the NyāYasūtra commentarial tradition.” Journal of Indian Philosophy33 (2015): 55-94.
- Ganeri, Jonardon. “Raghunātha Śiromani and the Origins of Modernity in India.” Nagoya Studies in Indian Culture and Buddhism: Saṃbhāśā30 (2013): 55-78.
16. December 2022: The First Philosophical Impulses in the Medieval West
A talk by Professor John Magee, University of Toronto, Centre for Medieval Studies and Department of Classics
Abstract: The texts comprising the “Old Logic” – Porphyry’s Isagoge and Aristotle’s Categories and De interpretatione – disappear from view in the Latin West ca. 560-80 and resurface at about the turn of the 9th c. Aristotle, who was to be the driving force behind so much of medieval philosophy, initially appears only in a body of commentary lemmata which form an incomplete text of his De interpretatione. A standard account of his reappearance intersects with a traditional narrative about the Carolingian “Renaissance,” the philosophical portion of which in turn revolves around a particular manuscript now housed at the Vatican Library (Pagès 1). A redating of that manuscript and revised assessment of its origins undercut the traditional narrative and suggest that the first philosophical movement in the medieval West originated with an anonymous body of scholars working earlier and further East than has been imagined rather than in Lyon or at the court of Charlemagne. The focus of this study is the textual tradition of Boethius’ elementary De interpretatione commentary and its implications for our understanding of how Aristotle’s thought resurfaced in the later 8th c.
- Magee, John. “Chapter 1: The Codex Pagesianus and the Early Textual Tradition of Boethius’ First De Interpretatione Commentary.” In The Codex Pagesianus (BAV, PAGÈS 1) and the Emergence of Aritotile in the Medieval West, 11-20. Città Del Vaticano: Biblioteca Spostolica Vaticana, 2022.
- Magee, John. “Chapter 2: The Extant Tradition.” In The Codex Pagesianus (BAV, PAGÈS 1) and the Emergence of Aritotile in the Medieval West, 21-38. Città Del Vaticano: Biblioteca Spostolica Vaticana, 2022.
- Magee, John. “Chapter 3: Edited Passage.” In The Codex Pagesianus (BAV, PAGÈS 1) and the Emergence of Aritotile in the Medieval West, 39-48. Città Del Vaticano: Biblioteca Spostolica Vaticana, 2022
25. November 2022: Byzantine Commentary between Past and Present
Dr. Baukje van den Berg, Associate Professor of Byzantine Studies in the Department of Medieval Studies at Central European University.
Abstract: In my talk, I intend to address broader issues in the study of Medieval Greek commentary through the case studies of two prolific twelfth-century scholars, Eustathios of Thessalonike and John Tzetzes. Both were active as teachers in Constantinople in the time of the Komnenian emperors, when commentary production flourished and took new forms. Both composed various commentaries on ancient authorities in dialogue and competition with ancient predecessors and contemporary colleagues. The talk will explore how Eustathios and Tzetzes carve out a space for themselves within centuries-long traditions, how they redefine canonical texts to suit twelfth-century needs, and how they use their commentaries to build their own identities as intellectuals and literati.
- B. van den Berg and D. Manolova (2022) “Byzantine Commentaries on Ancient Greek Texts: Introduction,” in Byzantine Commentaries on Ancient Greek Texts, 12th-15th Centuries, ed. B. van den Berg, D. Manolova, P. Marciniak, 1-40. Cambridge.
- A. Kaldellis (2009) “Classical Scholarship in Twelfth-Century Byzantium,” in Medieval Greek Commentaries on the Nicomachean Ethics, ed. C. Barber and D. Jenkins, 1–43. Leiden–Boston.
29. April 2022: The Ancient Quarrel between Text and Commentary
A talk by Dr. Christina Kraus, Thomas A. Thacher Professor of Latin at Yale University
Abstract: Commentary in Greco-Roman antiquity seems to have begun with criticism, with objections to how Homer portrayed the gods. Not all commentaries were critical of their source texts but some ancient critics apparently made enough of a business of criticism that they got the nickname “mastix” – whip or scourge; so in the 4th century BCE Zoilos was the “Homeromastix”. And in response to the whipping came the defending, a commentarial process now known as “charity”. Moreover, ancient commentators were as aggressive toward other scholars as modern ones are—an aggression that on the surface operates in search of the “truth” but works primarily to enhance a commentator’s prestige. Commentary, whether critical or charitable, became part not only of the exegesis but also of the transmission of ancient texts. Roman poets read their precursors through commentaries and responded not only to the Greek authors but also to the commentaries on them. In this talk, I will explore some interpretative modes that this dynamic took – allegorical reading, surface reading, etymology and textual criticism, and historical contextualization—focusing on the death of Priam in the Aeneid and the prologue to Lucan’s Bellum civile, in an effort to further elucidate the ancient quarrel between text and commentary.
- Christina, Shuttleworth Kraus. ‘Introduction: Reading commentaries/Commentaries as reading.’ In The Classical Commentary, 1-27. BRILL, 2002.
- Glenn W. Most. ‘Allegoriesis and etymology.’ In Canonical texts and Scholarly Practices: A Global Comparative Approach, edited by Anthony Grafton and Glenn W. Most, 52-74. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
- Ineke, Slutier. “Obscurity.” In Canonical texts and Scholarly Practices: A Global Comparative Approach, edited by Anthony Grafton and Glenn W. Most, 34-51. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
25. March 2022: The first commentaries on Dante’s Commedia: myths, conflicts, heritages
To celebrate the (belated) 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri, Dr. Luca Fiorentini from Sapienza University of Rome delivered a talk about commentaries on Dante’s Commedia.
Abstract: The seminar focused on the main challenging issues concerning the early tradition of commentaries on Dante. Firstly, we have addressed the ancient ‘origin myth’ transmitted by the Epistle of friar Ilaro, relevant in that it contains a legend concerning the very first commentator of Dante’s Inferno. Secondly, on the basis of the interpretation of this legend, we analyzed the cultural and ideological context in which the Commedia knew its first diffusion. During the Fourteenth Century, the early humanists developed an idea of poetry conflicting with Dante’s poem; indeed, they embraced the devaluation of vernacular language promoted by Petrarch – highly influential over the main intellectuals of his time –, which implied a negative judgment on Dante’s linguistic choice, thus on his main literary work. The statements in support of Dante’s poem elaborated by the early interpreters of the Commedia followed different paths, with different consequences. We, therefore, considered the – at times conflicting – goals of Dante’s commentators in the Fourteenth Century – defending Dante’s language and poetic work, deeply understanding its meanings, celebrating it as a classic, in order to evaluate their impact on the following and more recent exegetical tradition
- Fiorentini, Luca. Petrarch and Boccaccio in the First Commentatries on Dante’s ‘Commedia.’ London: Routledge, 2020.
- Fiorentini, Luca. “Commentary (Both by Dante and on Dante).” In Oxford Handbook of Dante, edited by Manuele Gragnolati, Elena Lombardi, and Francesca Southerden, 79-95. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021.
25. February 2022: Lines of Thought: A Conversation with Prof. Ayelet Even-Ezra
A special conversation between Prof. Kara Gaston (University of Toronto) and Prof. Ayelet Even-Ezra (Hebrew University, Jerusalem) about Prof. Even-Ezra’s new book, Lines of Thought: Branching Diagrams and the Medieval Mind.
Abstract: We think with objects—we conduct our lives surrounded by external devices that help us recall information, calculate, plan, design, make decisions, articulate ideas, and organize the chaos that fills our heads. Medieval scholars learned to think with their pages in a peculiar way: drawing hundreds of tree diagrams. Lines of Thought is the first book to investigate this prevalent but poorly studied notational habit, analyzing the practice from linguistic and cognitive perspectives and studying its application across theology, philosophy, law, and medicine. These diagrams not only allow a glimpse into the thinking practices of the past but also constitute a chapter in the history of how people learned to rely on external devices—from stone to parchment to slide rules to smartphones—for recording, storing, and processing information. Beautifully illustrated throughout with previously unstudied and unedited diagrams, Lines of Thought is a historical overview of an important cognitive habit, providing a new window into the world of medieval scholars and their patterns of thinking.
- Even-Ezra, Ayelet. “Introduction.” In Lines of Thought: Branching Diagrams and the Medieval Mind, 3-12. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2021
- Even-Ezra, Ayelet. “The Habit: on What, Where, Who, When and How Often.” In Lines of Thought: Branching Diagrams and the Medieval Mind, 50-83. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2021.
28. January 2022:
Commentaries and the Questions We Didn’t Want Answered
A talk by Dr. Adam Talib, Durham University.
Abstract: The commentary has become a litmus test for historians of thought, culture, and society. Sophisticates know that commentaries are generally of greater empirical and analytical interest than the texts that instantiated them, even if the so-called originals provide a more engaging, meaningful, and edifying reading experience. We understand that this is largely because we learned to read by reading texts like those originals, but there are other affective reasons for our feelings of immediacy and comfort when encountering them. After all many scholars of our grandparents’ generation would have encountered commentaries in their formative schooling, but that didn’t lead them to think about these texts with more nuance or enthusiasm than most people today. Why is an individual’s original easier to relate to than a network’s commentary on it? There are undoubtedly many reasons, but I want to reflect on just one of these from the perspective of a historian of the pre-modern Islamicate episteme. The commentary concretizes the cultural exclusion of women that we recognize, but do not yet know.
- Johan Östling, “Circulation, Arenas, and the Quest for Public Knowledge: Historiographical Currents and Analytical Frameworks.” History and Theory58 (2020): 111–126.
26. November 2021:
Multilingualism and the Role of ‘Classical’ Languages in Indic and Chinese Commentarial Traditions
A panel discussion, featuring grad students Anusha Rao and Tony Scott, and professors Amanda Goodman and Alessandro Graheli, all from U of T
- Trent Walker, “Indic-Vernacular Bitexts from Thailand: Bilingual Modes of Philology, Exegetics, Homiletics, and Poetry, 1450–1850.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 140, no.3 (2020): 675-699.
29. October 2021:
The Value of Obscurantism: Reading an Indecipherable Text in Medieval and Early Modern China
A talk by Dr. Nathan Vedal, University of Toronto
Abstract: This talk examines the reception history of Fan Zongshi (fl. 793–824), a prolific Tang dynasty prose stylist famed for the impossibly difficult and obscure nature of his writing. Very little of Fan’s work remains extant; yet given its impenetrability, the fact that any of his writing was preserved at all is remarkable. New commentaries on one short text in particular continued to be produced through the eighteenth century. While most admitted that Fan’s writing was ultimately unreadable, commentators and readers continued to propose new interpretations. This talk considers what value they saw in attempting to decipher the obscure.
- Sluiter, Ineke. “Obscurity.” In Canonical Texts and Scholarly Practices: A Global Comparative Approach, edited by Anthony Grafton and Glenn W. Most. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
1–2. October 2021:
Practices of Commentary October Symposium
29-30. September 2021:
Forms of Commentary in Literature Virtual Workshop
Hybrid Commentary in Paul Claudel: Au milieu des vitraux de l’Apocalypse between Tradition and Ekphrasis
A presentation by Philip Stockbrugger.
Sie varn durch ein Wolken: Frauenlob and Integumentum
A presentation by Walker Horsfall.
Maeren Prologues and Epilogues
A presentation by Florian Müller & Jennifer Gerber.
Examining Prefaces – The Commentators’ Voices
A presentation by Stefanie Brinkmann & Nadine Löhr.
A Late Medieval German Magnificat Commentary and the Question of Commentarial Authorship
A presentation by Christina Lechtermann & Markus Stock.
Moshe da Rieti’s Little Temple – A “Hebrew Dante” and its Reception
A presentation by Elisabeth Hollender & Saskia Dönitz.
Anecdote, Poetry, Commentary: Adab and the Commentarial Gesture
A presentation by Jeannie Miller.
29. April 2021:
Translation and Glossing in Marguerite Porete’s Mirror of Simple Souls
A talk by André Babyn, University of Toronto.
- Minnis, J. Alastair. “Absent Glosses: the Trouble with Middle English Hermeneutics.” In Translations of Authority in Medieval English Literature: Valuing the Vernacular, 35-55. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
26. March 2021:
What’s In a Genre Defining hadīth Commentary
A talk by Dr. Stefanie Brinkmann, Bibliotheca Arabica.
- L.W.C. (Eric) Van Lit. “Commentary and Commentary Tradition. The Basic terms for Understanding Islamic Intellectual History.” In Mélanges de l’Institut dominicain d‘études orientales (MIDÉO) 32 (2017): 3-26.
26. February 2021:
Religious Dimensions of the Homeric Scholia
A talk by Dr. Kenneth Yu, University of Toronto.
29. January 2021:
Veda-viplāvanam, or the Limits of Exegesis in Early Modern India.
A talk by Jonathan Peterson, University of Toronto.
Abstract: The chapter is titled “Veda-viplāvanam, or the Limits of Exegesis in Early Modern India.” It may be technical in some places, but the gist of the paper is exploring how the fourteenth century progenitor of Mādhva Vedānta used the Ṛg Veda to establish his writings as divine revelation; how Madhva’s reference to the Ṛg Veda was explained by his early commentators; and how those explanations were viciously attacked by critics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Floating around these technical debates is a larger question of scholarly practice and community formation––a problem that my dissertation tries to get at through a number of different angles in other chapters. Ultimately the stakes of recovering these internecine debates is that assertions like the kind Andrew Nicholson and others make about an emergent unified Brahmanism in the late medieval and early modern periods predicated on a shared sense of the Veda’s authority is demonstrably untenable.
27. November 2020:
Cairo as a New Center of Qur’an Commentary: Is there a social history for commentary?
A talk by Dr. Walid Saleh, University of Toronto.
- Saleh, Walid. “Medieval Exegesis: The Golden Age of Tafsīr.” In The Oxford Handbook of Qur’anic Studie, edited by Mustafa Shah and Muhammad Abdel Haleem. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.
- O’Keefe, John. “Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture. By Francis M. Young. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Pp. Xiv 325 £37.50.”, Journal of Early Christian Studies, 7, no. 2 (1999): 310-12.
- Louth, Andrew. “Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture. By Frances M. Young. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Pp. Xiv 325 £37.50.” Scottish Journal of Theology 54, no. 2 (2001): 247–48. doi:10.1017/S0036930600051395.
- Kelly, Joseph F. “Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture. By Frances M. Young. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Pp. Xiv 325 £37.50.” Church History 68, no. 2 (1999): 418–20. https://doi.org/10.2307/3170865.
- Jordan, William Chester. “L’ambiguïté du livre: Prince, pouvoir, et peuple dans les commentaires de la Bible au moyen âge. By Philippe Buc. Paris: Beauchesne, 1994. Paper. Pp. xvi, 427. F 270.” Speculum 71, no. 3 (1996): 704–5. https://doi.org/10.2307/2865812.
30. October 2020:
Visual Forms of Ritual Commentary in Chinese Buddhist Traditions
A talk by Dr. Amanda Goodman, University of Toronto.
25. September 2020:
Facets of Chinese Commentary: Form, Function, Style, and Intent
A talk by Dr. Lo Yuet Keung, National University of Singapore.
- Lo, Yuet-Keung, “To use or not to use: the idea of ming in the Zhuangzi,” Monumenta Serica, 47 (1999), 149-168.
- Lo, Yuet-Keung, “Persuasion and entertainment at once: Kumārajīva’s Buddhist storytelling in his commentary on the Vimalakīrti-sūtra,” Bulletin of the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy (Academia Sinica) 21 (2002), 89-116.
- Hon, Tze-Ki. 2012. “Wennei Wenwai: Zhongguo Sixiang Shi Zhong de Jingdian Quanshi (Intratextual and Extratextual: Interpretations of Chinese Classics in Chinese Intellectual History).By Lo Yuet-Keung . (Taipei:Taida Chuban Zhongxin, 2010. Vii, 427 Pp. Paperback, ISBN 978-986-02-3705-4.).” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 1 (2012): 160–62. https://doi.org/10.1163/15406253-03901013.