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object: - Different Methods of Writing
book class:Essays In Philosophy And Yoga
author class:Sri Aurobindo

Different Methods of Writing
What is the origin of the different methods of writing, - from right to left, from left to right or, like the Chinese, vertically?

The question is one of great interest but impossible to solve definitely for lack of substantial data. All one can do is to speculate on the most probable and satisfying explanation.

In the first place, it is evident that these differences are no mere accident nor the result of some trivial and local cause; for they coincide with great cultural divisions of humanity belonging to prehistoric times. It is the races called Aryan from their common original culture whose script is directed from left to right; the Mesopotamian races deriving their culture from the Chaldeans proceed from right to left; the Mongolians write vertically.

In the second place no explanation is possible if we adopt the view that writing is a comparatively recent invention in the history of the human race and borrowed by all the ancient nations from a common source, - a derivation, let us say, from Egyptian hieroglyphs popularised and spread broadcast over earth by the commercial activities of Phoenician traders. We must suppose on the contrary that these differences were developed at a very early time while the great cultures were in their formation and before the dispersal of the races representing them.

Undoubtedly, the general use of writing is a late development in the history of the present cycle of civilisation. And to this retardation two causes contributed, at first, the absence of a simple and easy system and, afterwards, the absence of a simple, common, but handy and durable material. While this state of things endured, writing would not be used for daily and ordinary purposes, but only in connection with great religious ceremonies or, where culture was materially more advanced, for

Different Methods of Writing

the preservation of important records or of treasured and sacred knowledge.

It is, therefore, in some circumstance intimately connected with religious ideas and practices that we must look for the explanation we are seeking; and it should be a circumstance common to all these cultures, yet capable of leading to so striking a difference.

The one important circumstance common, one might almost say central, to the ideas and practices of the ancient nations was the reverence for the sun and its supreme importance in religious ceremonies. Might not the direction adopted for their writing be determined by some difference in their attitude towards the direction of the sun in its daily movement from east to west?
The difference of attitude can only be explained if we suppose that for some reason the Aryan forefathers had their faces turned southwards, the Mesopotamian northwards and the Mongolian eastwards. In that case, the sun for the Aryans would move from their left to their right, for the Mesopotamians from their right to their left, for the Mongolians straight towards them, and this difference would be represented by the movement of the hand tracing the sacred symbols on some hard flat surface, of stone or other material used for these early scripts.

But what circumstance, again, could lead to this difference?
We can only think of one, - that this tendency might have been formed during the constant migration of these races from their original habitat. If we accept Mr. Tilak's theory of an Aryan migration from the arctic regions southwards towards India,
Persia and the Mediterranean countries; if we can suppose that the fathers of the Mesopotamian culture came from the south northwards and that the first Mongolian movement was from
Central Asia to the east, we shall have the necessary conditions.

We may thus explain also the Sanskrit terms for the four directions; for entering India from the west and following this line in their early colonisation, the east would be in front of the Aryans, purva, the west behind, pascima, the south on their right,, while the name for the north, uttara, higher, might possibly indicate a memory of their old northern home in


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that supreme point of the earth where they still placed the sacred mountain of their gods.

Necessarily, this explanation is in the highest degree conjectural and depends on pure intellectual reasoning which is an unsafe guide in the absence of solid and sufficient data. Nevertheless, it is the one positive explanation that suggests itself to us and, as a hypothesis, is well worth taking into consideration.

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   1 James V. Schall


1:I often think . . . that the bookstores that will save civilization are not online, nor on campuses, nor named Borders, Barnes & Noble, Dalton, or Crown. They are the used bookstores, in which, for a couple of hundred dollars, one can still find, with some diligence, the essential books of our culture, from the Bible and Shakespeare to Plato, Augustine, and Pascal. ~ James V. Schall, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching - Different Methods of Writing,

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1, #Essays In Philosophy And Yoga, #Sri Aurobindo, #Integral Yoga
  object: - Different Methods of Writing
  author class:Sri Aurobindo

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