Although the history of philology is merely an addition to the rediscovery of textual traditions, which have been neglected for too long by academic philology, it is nonetheless an important one for its ability alone to provide an explanation to the existing asymmetric situation. When the world opened up after the 16th century following transoceanic navigations, European encounters with written traditions in America, Africa and Asia led to a variety of attitudes – from denial to fascination, from destruction to collection. These “philological encounters”, both material and conceptual, largely contributed to shape the views of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment regarding language and writing. To understand the semiological and epistemological consequences of these views, this paper focuses on a single text produced at the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the Codex Mendoza, and on the different interpretations to which the latter was subjected in Europe after crossing the Atlantic. The history of the Codex Mendoza would have us believe that it was during the 18th century, and not before, that writing became exclusively synonymous with alphabet, resulting in the marginalisation of non-alphabetic written system, and this mainly for historiographical reasons.
Adrien Delmas, Ph.D. (2010) in History, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris, is currently scientific director of the French Institute of South Africa. He has published on travel writing in the early modern world, including Written Culture in a Colonial Context. Africa and the Americas 1500-1900 (Brill, 2012) and Les voyages de l’écrit. Culture écrite et expansion européenne à l’époque moderne, essais sur la Compagnie Hollandaise des Indes Orientales(Honoré Champion, 2013).
In cooperation with the Centre Marc Bloch.