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CELTIC-L  January 2007

CELTIC-L January 2007

Subject:

Re: Literacy attested?

From:

Bruce Wright <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List.

Date:

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 09:13:10 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (139 lines)

Thanks for the exchange that I guess I started.  I, too, will read Clanchy.
Surely there are different degrees of literacy and we all surely know all
too well that broad-brush stroked statement about Celts are nearly always a
mistake.  I was especially interested in peoples in Gaul.  I am familiar
with the claims that some Gauls (does not limit it sufficiently) who were
referred to by classical authors (at least Julius Caesar) as the same as
Celts (one word from Greek, the other Latin as I understand it)forbid
writing about some matters, such as religion (whatever that means).  But to
open the can of worms a bit further my real effort is to re-construct a
pre-Roman "story of politics" (how Celts might have thought about broad
issues of political evaluation).  We have, of course, no literary tradition
in Celtic that comes from the time (prior to 51 B.C.E.) and place (roughly
Gaul and perhaps other areas of Western and Central Europe) in which I am
interested.  If these peoples could read and write (even a few of them) the
assertion that they forbid writing about such subjects leads to some
interesting possible speculations about the use of oral traditions in
political and legal matters.  While it might seem at someone's first sight
that a written tradition in these areas provides important advantages, a
strictly oral one in the midst of peoples who might have been able to write
about it would provide some other advantages.  While we are at it, part of
my problem from the very beginning is that my own discipline (political
philosophy) often makes radically overly broad claims about "Western
political ideas" and assumptions about Greek and Roman literacy.  That's why
I am trying to reconstruct an alternative understanding of Western European
and North American politics and political thought.  "Barbarian" thought and
practice is often simply dismissed as readily today as it was by those who
constructed the idea of "the barbarian" (including such major thinkers as
Aristotle.  Yet when we look at actual political developments and arguments
that we call "political philosophy" it is clear that we can hardly
understand feudalism or medieval controversies without taking into account
something more than classical Greek and Roman philosophy.
I guess my final thought is that we should always be clear that our
historical constructions (even when we get to genetics and the nature of
people in various geographical areas as is being discussed in parallel here)
are based substantially on our present preconceptions as well as on some
rather incontrovertible data.  History, political science, archeology and
linguistics are all affected in this way and one important task is to make
clear that our reconstructions (as I think it is important to call them) are
not simply based on facts.  And yes, it is important to realize that claims
about "literacy" need to be clear with respect to issues of who might be
able to read and write.  The Greek slaves that Aristotle claimed to be
"natural slaves" can hardly be assumed to have been able to read what he had
to say.  That was his point and it helps to continue to pay attention to
these issues as David insists.  Thanks again to both of you for helping me
to think these issues through a bit more thoroughly.

Bruce

-----Original Message-----
From: CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List.
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Kevin Tolley
Sent: Monday, January 22, 2007 8:38 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Literacy attested?

Well, I suppose we at least agree on some points, and
thank you for the reference.  I will read Clanchy's
book. However, I'm not sure we fully understand each
other.

First of all, Donald Rumsfeld, though he said "Absence
of evidence is not evidence of absence" hardly came up
with the phrase.  It is simply a common scientific
aphorism and I would appreciate not being compared to
Rumsfeld, thank you.  I do not see how what we are
talking about has anything to do with Weapons of Mass
Destruction, which is what he was laughably referring
to at the time.  Nor have you used this aphorism
correctly.  I am not searching in vain for evidence of
something that I already know I won't find.  Instead,
I offered evidence in a very limited way for a very
limited theory.   I said that Diodorus' quote offers
evidence that the Gauls were in fact literate.  I have
no idea who among the Gauls and said as much.

The fallacy of logic here, if you want philosophic
aphorisms, is a kind of argumentum ad ignorantiam,
though not a classic case.  You have given the
argument that something is false because you cannot
(or find it hard to) conceive otherwise.  You said 
'> > Of course, all of fails to prove anything, much
less
> > the very broad (and rather silly) proposition that
> > "the Celts were literate".'  
Just because you find it difficult to believe that a
proposition is true does not make it false, or silly.

As to your other point.  As I said before, I don't
know who was literate.  But it doesn't have much to do
with the original point.  It is an interesting
question but nothing can be demonstrated from this
tiny bit of evidence.  However, I do have some idea as
to what kind of literacy we are talking about.  Again,
if we assume the source is accurate, who ever is being
burned must be able to read the letters being burned
with them.  That would suggest functional literacy of
some sort on the part of the dead person.

Cheers, K

--- "[log in to unmask]" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> Hmmm... much of what you say sounds like Donald
> Rumsfeld's "Absense of evidence is not evidence of
> absence."  I think you would do well to read MT
> Clanchy's From Memory to Written Record--he delas
> mostly with the transition from orality to
> literatate cultures in medieval England, but many of
> the concepts ring true for this discussion.  Who are
> you talking about when you say "literate" amongst
> the Gauls?  Priestly folks, nobles, commoners,
> merchants?  Men or women?  What does "literacy" mean
> to them?  Ability to understand some symbols or
> basic words or could they read Homer?  Are we
> talking about "functional literacy" or the ability
> to read and write?  Did they have a literature or do
> the inscriptions reflect a very few individuals who
> were in contact with the classic world?  Also, with
> that contact with the Roman and Greek worlds, how
> did this impact their ability to use letters?  There
> are far too many questions to make some broad
> assertions from some scanty evidence.  
> David W. Fortin
> Assistant Professor
> History Department
> Millersville University
> Millersville, PA  17551
> 




 
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