Setting the Stage
Setting the Stage
Sino-Japanese and Greco-Roman Constellations
This chapter explores three fundamental similarities that justify the comparison of the Sino-Japanese and Greco-Roman cultural constellations and three divergences that complicate it. Japanese and Latin literary cultures were both latecomers vis-à-vis their reference cultures; they started against the backdrop of highly sophisticated stages of literary production—Chinese Six Dynasties and Early Tang literature for Japan and Hellenistic literature for Rome; and their education systems were based on the adoption and adaption of the literary canon of their reference culture. However, their geopolitical constellations were radically different. Because Rome, unlike Japan, conquered its reference culture early in its history, there was a disjunction between cultural (Greek) and political (Roman) capital. Also, linguistically, while Japanese developed a reading technique that allowed them to read Chinese texts without the need for translation, Latin literature began with the translation and adaptation of Greek texts. Thirdly, Japanese and Latin literary cultures had a different spectrum and hierarchy of literary genres: Forms of short lyrical poetry headed the genre hierarchy in Japan. In contrast, epic—which did not exist in early East Asia—and dramatic literature—which did not develop until the fourteenth century in Japan—were prominent genres in early Latin literature.
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