CANONIZATION IN THE ANCIENT WORLD:
THE VIEW FROM FARTHER EAST
ANDREW H. PLAKS
This afterword has been solicited to provide a parting glance at the topics discussed in this volume from the ‘outside perspective’ of the classical Chinese textual tradition. This collection of studies was conceived as an inquiry into the mechanisms and significance of canon-formation in the ancient world, grounded as far as possible in a comprehensive—if not global—frame of reference. To this end, the semester-long seminar conducted on this subject at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University in the winter of 1999 was designed in such a way as to embrace a broad sweep of cultural contexts up to and including that of ancient China, which I was delighted, if ill-equipped, to represent. For a variety of organizational and practical reasons, however, the scope of the conference that capped the season was restricted to the chain of contiguous civilizations following the path of Alexander the Great from Greece and Rome eastward through the ancient Near East to the Fertile Crescent and the Iranian plateau—stopping conspicuously short at the Indus. This omission could be justified as leaving merely two ancient literary civilizations: the Indie/Buddhist and the East Asian/ Confucian outside the purview of our deliberations, though these last two traditions, one notes with some regret, may well comprise the bulk of mankind’s textual history.
The organizers of the Jerusalem conference presumably had no ideological intention of marginalizing these latter civilizations, or of prioritizing one ‘East’ at the expense of another. Still, there may well have lurked within their minds the (not unreasonable) assumption that the further east one moves beyond the familiar terrain of the classic Mediterranean and West Asian worlds, the more likely one is to encounter extrinsic, or downright exotic parameters of human cultural development that need not conform to the models generat