Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Rest is Commentary

Today I read Sun Tzu’s Art of War, which dates to the 6th Century BCE. My mother told me that the thing that’s important to understand about Sun Tzu before delving in, is that it's like reading Talmud – it is published with the original text embedded with various commentaries.

This turned out to be very helpful advice. For example, let’s start at the very beginning:
Sun Tzu said:
War is a matter of vital importance to the State; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied.

Li Ch’üan: ‘Weapons are tools of ill omen.’ War is a grave matter; one is apprehensive lest men embark upon it without due reflection.
I begin to see why this is still arguably the most important book on military strategy. And yes, that lasting impact is another parallel. 

In fact, thus far I have found Talmudic logic a useful corollary in several of my courses this semester. Another example is in comparative law, where we have been studying the development of civil law and the jus commune, which began with the glossators at the University of Bologna (11th-12th Century CE) expounding on the text of the Justinian (roman) codes with interlinear commentary.

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