Wait, Did You Say Philology?

I did indeed. I don’t mean philosophy, psychology, or physiology.  So what is philology anyway – an art or a science?   Good question, because that is still a subject of debate.

The field of philology arose in the 1800s and, in turn, gave rise to the science of linguistics in the twentieth century.  Actually, philology is the study of text reconstruction along with the translation of artifacts and manuscripts such as ancient scrolls or tablets – the things that might be found on archaeological digs.

When unearthed, these very delicate items are cataloged and perused for content to determine the identity, location, personality, culture, and historic period of the authors who wrote the texts and the scribes who copied them down.  The condition of an artifact when found depends on how and where the item was originally stored as well as the longevity of the medium – such as animal skin or papyrus – that was being used at the time.  By studying these variations, philologists can date and compare similar manuscripts to get a more pure translation.  They can also isolate secret codes, such as peshers, that may have been used to disguise the actual content of a work for reasons dictated by what was going on in that particular geographic area at the time it was written.

Without the above considerations – and more – we would never be able to assemble a valid interpretation of the past.  As Professor Serafina Valenti tells her graduate class in my book THE RED SERPENT, “That, students, is the essence of philology.  It’s looking through a microscope that goes way back in time.”