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Classical World LiteraturesSino-Japanese and Greco-Roman Comparisons$
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Wiebke Denecke

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199971848

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199971848.001.0001

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City-Building or Writing?

City-Building or Writing?

How Aeneas and Prince Shōtoku Made Rome and Japan

Chapter:
(p.120) Chapter 4 City-Building or Writing?
Source:
Classical World Literatures
Author(s):

Wiebke Denecke

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199971848.003.0005

The indebtedness to China and Greece was inscribed into the profile of symbolic founding figures of the Japanese and Roman state. Some legends make Aeneas ethnically Greek, and Prince Shôtoku was recognized as the incarnation of the Chinese Buddhist patriarch Huisi. They could, however, not be more different: in the Aeneid Aeneas is a devoted city-builder. In contrast, in the Abridged Biography of Prince Shôtoku, the prince is most importantly a brilliant reader and writer of texts. Why was literacy so important for the Japanese state builder, but not for the Roman founding figure? This chapter argues that there was little advantage in making Aeneas into a hero of literacy, whereas it was highly profitable to make Shôtoku into a writing specialist. Authors such as Plato and Herodotus acknowledged that the most potent type of writing was not Greek alphabetic writing but oriental “signs” or hieroglyphs. But the “city-builder” identity was a perfect allegory for Augustus’ rebuilding of Rome after the destructive civil wars. From a Chinese perspective, however, the technology of writing (wen) embodied the essence of civilization (also wen) and statecraft. Therefore, Shôtoku’s textual mastery adorned him with the most coveted ornament of civilizing power in East Asia.

Keywords:   national founding figures, Aeneas, Prince Shôtoku, foundations of cities, literacy, Aeneid, Shôtoku taishi denryaku, writing technology, alphabetic scripts, hieroglyphs

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