Edition Practices

Kalila wa-Dimna - Wisdom Encoded

Prof. Dr. Beatrice Gründler

What is Kalīla and Dimna?
Kalīla and Dimna has been one of the most widespread and influential books in the history of humanity. A collection of tales teaching political wisdom, it transcended languages, cultures and religions. It came from India via the Middle East to Europe and was translated from Sanskrit via Middle Persian and Arabic to Hebrew, Latin (under the title Directorium vitae humanae) and most European vernaculars, beginning with Greek and Old. Its religion changed from Buddhism and Hinduism via Zoroastrianism to Islam and from there to Christianity. As one of the first Arabic books (translated and edited in AD 757), Kalīla and Dimna reflects its own epistemology. It is also the first secular fiction in the Arabic language and exhibits a sophisticated framing structure.
How is it encoded?
The work’s very success has made its study complex due to the emergence of multiple variants. The Arabic version remains without a proper critical edition, and in Europe it is today largely unknown. The over eighty extant Arabic manuscripts (dating from the thirteenth century onwards) and the earlier fragmentary indirect transmission (ninth to eleventh centuries) vary far beyond of what is known in classical Arabic literature. The European translations represent yet further strands. Yet by its high literary idiom and its belonging to the classical Arabic canon, Kalīla and Dimna differs from the popular literature, where such variance is common. The project aims at comprehending and explaining its textual transformation and conceives itself simultaneously as a research and teaching venture.
As a digital edition, the project breaks new ground in two ways. First, it acknowledges the many Arabic versions in their diversity as coexisting variants, and investigates them for the different aspects they emphasize (such as literary vs. popular style, entertainment vs. political guidance). Kalīla and Dimna cannot be reduced to a single text. This problematic state of the sources has so far prevented a conventional critical edition. The approach will be both text-critical and philological in establishing parallel representative versions of the text, and sociohistorical in motivating the changes it underwent. Through digital means the diverging manuscripts will be compared on the level of plot structure and in a more fine-grained way on the level of the formulation of plot elements to take account of the work’s complex state of transmission and create a foundation to investigate and represent its history. The digital tools allow us to chart the text’s metamorphosis without reduction or simplification and to gain a better understand-ding of its multifaceted simultaneity.