A few words are necessary to explain how the present work came to be written; and one or two points should be mentioned regarding the aims it is hoped to achieve. Early in 1908 the Government of Ceylon was contemplating a new and revised edition of Turner's translation of the Mahavamsa, published in 1837 and reprinted in L. C. Wijesinha's Mahavamsa published in 1889, and were in correspondence on the subject with the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. The Society appointed a numerous and influential Committee, and recommended myself as Editor for Europe.' By their letter of July 18, 1908, the Government of Ceylon requested me to undertake that post. I took the opportunity at the Congress of Orientalists held at Copenhagen in August, and again at the Congress on the History of Religions held in September at Oxford, to consult my colleagues on the best plan for carrying out the proposed revision. They agreed that the method most likely to lead to a satisfactory result within a reasonable time was to entrust the work to one competent critical scholar who could, if necessary, consult members of the Ceylon Committee, but who should be himself responsible for all the details of the work. I reported to Government accordingly, and recommended that Prof. Geiger, who had just completed his edition of the text, should be asked to undertake the task. The Government approved the plan, and asked me to make the necessary arrangements. Those arrangements have resulted in the publication of the present volume.
Professor Geiger has made a translation into German of his own revised critical edition published by the Pali Text Society in 1908; and added the necessary introduction, appendices, and notes. Mrs. Bode has translated the German into English; and Professor Geiger has then revised the English translation.
The plan has been to produce a literal translation, as nearly as possible an absolutely correct reproduction of the statements recorded in the Chronicle. It is true there is considerable literary merit in the original poem, and that it may be possible hereafter to attempt a reproduction also, in English unrhymed verse, of the literary spirit of the poem. But a literal version would still be indispensable for historical purposes. For similar reasons it has been decided to retain in the translation certain technical terms used in the Buddhist Order. In a translation aiming at literary merit some English word more or less analogous in meaning might be used, regardless of the fact that such a word would involve implications not found in the original. Thus bhikkku has often been rendered 'priest' or 'monk'. But a bhikkku claims no such priestly powers as is implied by the former term, and would yield no such obedience as is implied in the other; and to discuss all the similarities and differences between these three ideas would require a small treatise. There are other technical terms of the same kind. It is sufficient here to explain that when such terms are left, in the present translation, untranslated, it is because an accurate translation is not considered possible. Most of them are, like bkikkhu, already intelligible to those who are likely to use this version. But they are shortly explained in footnotes; and a list of them, with further interpretation, will be found at the end of the volume.
The Ceylon Government has defrayed the expense of this, as it did of the previously published translations of the Mahavamsa.
|T.W. RHYS DAVIDS|