Friday, June 23, 2017

Golden Peaches

It has been years since I last read it straight through, and by now I have picked up perspective that I lacked when Schafer's The Golden Peaches of Samarkand was first published and, to my pleasure, is still in print, both literally in hard copy and as an e-book.  I never took Schafer's course, but most of my friends did, and his colleagues admired it, too.  I owned the first edition of 1962, one of the UC Press's finest productions, and after I returned to teaching in the 1980s I replaced it (evidently given away to an appreciative friend when I entered a religious order) with the current paperback.  Now that the Kindle edition is so much easier on my eyes, I have acquired it and am grateful that the footnote access works perfectly.  No scholarly book has ever managed its documentation, of almost unequaled adequacy, and mostly the author's own, better than this one; to a reader who habitually reads footnotes it is wonderful to be able to use them just as well as in the original.
There was a period of several months in my last undergraduate year when, privately, I struggled with the realization that I couldn't do graduate work in both Greek and Chinese art and history in the parallel fashion I'd been enjoying; either one demanded some real mastery of the language.  Since I had always worked my way through, my head start in Greek and Latin was decisive; I had not even begun Chinese, and there was always a generous but limited provision of scholarships, fellowships, teaching assistantships (from the budgets of different apartments), and hour-basis jobs in the University Library loan department (where, also, I had learned punch-card based computer programming).  In sum, the University had already treated me as royally as even Oxford or Cambridge was wont to do for such as me.  But my interest in China persisted, and China was foreign only in the same way as Greece was, though I never did study the language.
One evening Antiques Roadshow featured a lion both powerful and exquisite and wonderfully preserved.  As the expert said, it is certainly Tang, and it triggered a search all over my house for my copy of Schafer's book and then to seek it in Amazon,  where, behold, there it is.  What with all the place-names in both the older transliterations rather than pinyin and finding adequate maps (assuming that, like me, you are unhappy without them) it is not easy reading, but I can only say that, even reading it for the first time, one is possessed by it (rather like Arthur Waley's translation of The Tale of Genji in this respect) once you have read not more than a hundred pages.  The Encyclopaedia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1910) double-page map of China is best, but it is more daunting than the most readily available (and possibly based on it) double-page map in any edition of Sherman Lee's A History of Far Eastern Art.  You see, I am actually urging you all to read Edward Schafer's Golden Peaches of Samarkand.  It still bears its 5-star rating in Amazon.
So, this is, you see, my first repayment of my debt alluded to in the last Post, a true pleasure of real value in recompense for time taken to try to chase that money trail, since now I see that all the media are finally onto it.  The latter quest isn't something that one values having learned more than half a century later.
Of course, each of us may find his own Golden Peaches.

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