Textual criticism in Indology and in European philology during the 19th and 20th centuries

  • Michael Witzel (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


This paper discusses the post-enlightenment development of philology in Europe during the 19th-20th centuries, particularly in the German speaking areas. After several centuries of sustained interest in the Graeco-Roman Classics, all types of medieval, older European and Asian literatures became the focus of new textual approaches. Prominent was an historical and critical approach bolstered by the newly developed MSS stemmatics and the new evidence from comparative historical linguistics.
After a brief retrospective, the paper follows some of the salient features of these developments from c. 1800 CE onward: including the development of the text-critical and stemmatic method by Lachmann; early Indo-European and Neogrammarian approaches to linguistics; also, briefly, the religious and mythological approaches to the texts such as those of Max Müller; the intrusion of ‘race science’, and the increasing, if rather temporary influence of ethnology. A detailed discussion of the stemmatic approach and its later critics follows. Special attention is given to the situation in South Asian, notably in Sanskrit Studies. Finally, the paper discusses at some length the recent development of computer-based stemmatics that use biology-inspired computer programs. The paper concludes with a discussion of the prospects of stemmatic approaches in Indology.