Thursday, May 16, 2019

A Text is Not Equal to the Events

Here are some words by an Utrecht Emeritus probably professor:

What is a text? Or more specifically: how does a text relate to an event? The Hebrew Bible is a text, or better, a collection of texts partly of a literary character.This observation opens a whole line of questions. There seems to be a dichotomy in the basic interpretation of texts. Novels, for instance, are generally understood to be fictional. When Biblical texts are labelled as literary texts, are they by implication fictional? And the other way around: are non-fiction texts by implication not literary? I will try to elucidate this point with an example. Many good books on history are praised for their literary quality. A good style and mastery of the language often leads to books that are both informative and a pleasure to read.The question is: how do such books relate to reality? They certainly refer to events that happened in real-time. They are, however, not equal to the event(s). Such texts do relate to reality since they are descriptions of the events.

How to Encounter an Historical Problem
in: S. Hasegawa, K. Radner and C. Levin (eds), The Last Days of the Kingdom of Israel (BZAW 511), Berlin New York 2018, pp. 17-32
Bob Becking, Utrecht University, Faculteit Geesteswetenschappen, Emeritus

Correct. My mother's history textbook's text about Charlemagne being crowned Emperor on Christmas Day 800 AD by Pope St. Leo III is not equal to the event.

For one thing, had you been present at the event, you would have been in a big Church and seen lots of people in stately "medieval" or even "byzantine" style clothes and heard words in a strange or beautiful or simply very normal language called Latin, perhaps some in Greek as well.

To be present at the text I referred to, you would be present at a book closely before your own eyes, letters printed in antiqua, language Swedish : if you were present at the original event you would certainly not have heard the sounds of Swedish "Karl den store". Basically Kahr(e)l denn stooruh. Be sure to pronounce the R (I wrote e in parenthesis for non-rhotic dialects), since "kal" means "bald".

Also, the Swedish text in my mother's text book did not say one whit of Pope Leo III being a canonised saint.

Also, it did not delve into this aspect:

When Odoacer compelled the abdication of Romulus Augustulus, he did not abolish the Western Empire as a separate power, but caused it to be reunited with or sink into the Eastern, so that from that time there was a single undivided Roman Empire ... [Pope Leo III and Charlemagne], like their predecessors, held the Roman Empire to be one and indivisible, and proposed by the coronation of [Charlemagne] not to proclaim a severance of the East and West ... they were not revolting against a reigning sovereign, but legitimately filling up the place of the deposed Constantine VI ... [Charlemagne] was held to be the legitimate successor, not of Romulus Augustulus, but of Constantine VI ...

Footnote 76 claims this was written: James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce, The Holy Roman Empire, 1864, pp. 62–64 (in other words, the text on the wiki is very condensed from that of James Bryce).

In the event, one would have known basically if Charlemagne was considered as successor of Odoacar or of Constantine VI or if it wasn't known to the public. In the text, one is presented with one interpretation (the short quote on wiki doesn't allow to judge how much evidence James Bryce had for his), or the text totally leaves out the problem, as did the one in mother's textbook, which even somewhat suggested the opposite, that Charlemagne revived independence of Western half. But it didn't straightout say that was his intention.

So, yes, whatever event we are concerned with, the telling of it is not identical to the actual event.

Even so, it can be totally truthful. However, it need not be. The Bible is, and whatever includes Pagan or Atheist views of theology isn't.

And, no, literary does not mean fictional. No one regarded events in Iliad, Odyssey, Argonautica or Aeneid quite as one now regards a novel, but even more, actual novels did exist, and comedies were also the equivalent of novels. So, how Iliad, Odyssey, Argonautica and Aeneid were regarded was not even a kind of primitive precursor to how we later regard novels, it was a class distinct from novels. The same genre, hexameter epic, was also used of recent history, like Pharsalia by Lucan.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Bibl. Audoux
St John Nepomuk

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