Knowing Words: Wisdom and Cunning in the Classical Traditions of China and Greece

Knowing Words: Wisdom and Cunning in the Classical Traditions of China and Greece

Knowing Words: Wisdom and Cunning in the Classical Traditions of China and Greece

Knowing Words: Wisdom and Cunning in the Classical Traditions of China and Greece

Synopsis

"For the Greeks, the craft of Odysseus and the wisdom of Athena were examples of metis, an elusive cast of mind that ranged from wisdom and forethought to craft and cunning. Although it informed many aspects of Greek society, metis was all but absent from the language of Greek philosophy. Invoking indigenous Chinese debates, Lisa Raphals here examines the role and significance of metic intelligence in classical Chinese philosophy, literature, history, and military strategy. Raphals first examines the range of meanings of the Chinese word zhi. As with the Greek metis, the uses of zhi include "wisdom," "knowledge," "intelligence," "skill," "cleverness," and "cunning." Drawing on parallels between the two traditions, she argues that, in China as in Greece, metic intelligence tacitly informed many aspects of cultural and social life. In China, these included views of the nature of knowledge and language, standards of personal and social morality, and theories of military strategy and statecraft. After surveying representative texts from the Warring States period, Raphals considers the function of metic intelligence as the dominant quality of central characters in two novels from the Ming dynasty, the Romance of Three Kingdoms and Journey to the West. Finally, she compares the treatment of themes of heroism and recognition in the Chinese and Greek narrative traditions. Knowing Words will be welcomed by sinologists, classicists, and scholars of comparative philosophy and literature." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

My goal as editor of the Myth and Poetics series is to encourage work that helps to integrate the critical study of literature with the approaches of anthropology and pays special attention to problems concerning the nexus of ritual and myth.Early volumes in the series set the groundwork for a broadened understanding of the very concepts of myth and ritual as reflected in the specific cultural context of ancient Greek poetics.Later volumes extended the field of vision from the Greek perspective to linguistically related realms such as ancient Indic ritual syntax and medieval Scandinavian heroic sagas and ballads.Lisa Raphals's Knowing Words: Wisdom and Cunning in the Classical Traditions of China and Greece extends the field even further, drawing on the philosophical and literary traditions of China to explore the semantics of wisdom and cunning, and, through them, the broader problem of intelligence.In the area of Greek intellectual history, an anthropological approach to this problem, most clearly articulated in Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant's Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society, has proved to be particularly successful.Raphals's book offers a reexamination of this approach in terms of Chinese traditions, arriving at a powerful new formulation that will interest sinologists, classicists, and scholars of philosophy and comparative literature.

GREGORY NAGY

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