[vol 2, p. XVI] Ludwig Alsdorf

Ludwig Alsdorf
LUDWIG ALSDORF; 8th August 1904—25th March 1978

As announced briefly in Fascicle 10 of Volume II of A Critical Pāli Dictionary Professor Dr. Ludwig Alsdorf died on 25 March 1978, at the age of 73.

Professor Alsdorf's early work was mainly in the field of Jaina Prakrit studies, and both his thesis (completed at Hamburg in 1928 under the supervision of Walther Schubring) and his Habilitationsschrift (presented at Berlin in 1935 under Heinrich Lüders) were concerned with Jaina Apabhraṃśa texts. His Apabhraṃśa-Studien, published in Leipzig in 1937, showed his continuing interest in this field. After a number of appointments in various German universities before, during, and after the Second World War, he was invited in 1950 to succeed his teacher Schurring at Hamburg, where he remained until his retirement in 1972. He continued to teach there, as Emeritus Professor, until his death.

Although Jaina studies were his main interest in his early years, his publications show he was by no means restricted to this field. He wrote about Vedic matters, made major contributions to the study of the Aśokan inscriptions, and also worked in the field of Buddhist, and especially Pāli, studies. His first major Pāli study was 'Bemerkungen zum Vessantara-Jātaka', published in 1957 (WZKSO I pp. 1-70). In this long and masterly article he examined the problems which this important text presents, and succeeded in proposing solutions to many of them. His interest in the Pāli Jātaka collection was shown very clearly by the way in which he returned to it again and again in subsequent years. In the next two decades he published studies of the Sivi-jātaka ('Das Sivijātaka', Pratidānam, Den Haag 1968, [p. XVI] pp. 478-83), the Vidhura-jātaka ('Das Jātaka vom weisen Vidhura', WZKS 15, 1971, pp. 23-56), the Chavaka-jātaka ('The impious Brahman and the pious Caṇḍāla', Buddhist studies in honour of I. B. Horner, Dordrecht 1974, pp. 9-13), and the Bhūridatta-jātaka ('Das Bhūridatta-Jātaka', WZKS 21, 1977, pp. 25-55).

In these studies of the Jātakas he relied heavily upon his investigations into the metre, which proved no less an invaluable help for textual criticism than it had already been for his Jaina Apabhraṃśa studies. These investigations enabled him to distinguish between the older parts of the stories and the later accretions, as well as to select correct readings from the welter frequently offered by the manuscript traditions. Hearing in 1966 that a reprint of the edition of the Thera- and Therī-gāthā by Hermann Oldenberg and Richard Pischel was about to be published, he offered to the Pali Text Society the first fruits of a critical study which he was making of the Āryā metre in the Pāli canon. These emendations appeared as Appendix II to the reprint, and were followed in 1967 by Die Āryā-Strophen des Pali-Kanons, in which he dealt with the Aryā verses in the other Pāli canonical texts.

These Pāli metrical studies reflected his growing involvement with Volume II of A Critical Pāli Dictionary. His realization of the need for the completion of the project, which had seemed to be defunct after the completion of Volume I in 1948, was probably accentuated by his study of the Vessantara-jātaka, although as a student of Middle Indo-Aryan he was undoubtedly convinced of its importance for all such studies. At the XXIVth International Congress of Orientalists at Munich in 1957 he joined with others in proposing a resolution urging the Royal Danish Academy to take steps to resume work on the Critical Pāli Dictionary and bring it to a speedy completion, and he attended the conference in Copenhagen in 1958 at which the decision was taken to recommence the dictionary on an international basis.

In 1959 he was elected to the Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur at Mainz, which was one of the sponsoring academies of the reborn Dictionary. His annual reports to the Kommission für Indologie of that Academy from 1960 onwards show his concern not only with the progress of the Dictionary but with the provision of adequate source materials for those who were preparing articles for it. Year after year he stressed the importance, for the progress of the Dictionary, of the indexes to Pāli texts which were being compiled by Dr. Hermann Kopp, who was the Academy's nominated collaborator on the Dictionary project.

Appointed, from the start, a member of the Supervisory Committee which supervised the rebirth of A Critical Pāli Dictionary, he contributed to the first fascicle in 1960 and again to the fifth fascicle in 1969, but his really important contribution to the Dictionary began with the latter part, when he became Editor-in-Chief. He thereafter devoted more and more time to the task of imposing uniformity upon articles written by contributors from different language and cultural backgrounds, with varying approaches to the subject, who interpreted in their own ways the guidelines which they had been given. This led to a situation where the role of the Editor-in-Chief developed in such a way [p. XVII] that the typescripts for the eighth and ninth fascicle were prepared in their entirely for the press by Ludwig Alsdorf. Work on the tenth fascicle, for which he was also preparing much of the typescript, was far advanced at the time of his death.

That work on the Dictionary did not come to a complete halt at that moment was due to Alsdorf's foresight. Realizing that the physical task of preparing the Dictionary for the press was taking up an increasingly large proportion of his time, and fearful that this would reduce his chances of producing all the books and articles he had in mind to write, he had asked the Administrative Committee to give thought to the problem of finding someone to help him in this task. They had in 1976 asked the present writer if he would be willing to do this, and he had agreed. A plan to begin publication of the fascicles containing the letters E and O while Alsdorf completed the earlier ones was shelved in favour of a joint effort in an attempt to speed up the rate of production. The two editors were therefore in continual correspondence during the preparation of the tenth fascicle, and at the time of Alsdorf's death the whole fascicle was in proof form, and all the changes and corrections which were thought necessary had been indicated. It proved possible, after some delay, to carry out all the Editor-in-Chiefs wishes, and the tenth fascicle appeared, a little later than planned, but essentially as Alsdorf himself would have wished it.

Others who were Alsdorf's pupils have written elsewhere aboutthe man as ateacher. It was my privilege to have associated with him as a scholar, in his capacity of Editor-in-Chief of A Critical Pāli Dictionary. Not only did he have an enviable command of English, which enabled him to define clearly and precisely the meanings and usages of Pāli words, but he also showed a rare aptitude for nosing out problems, and for suspecting from a brief quotation and reference in a contributor's article that the commonly accepted meanings of a word did not apply in the particular case. Greatly impressed by his ability to do this, I asked him soon after taking up my editorial duties whether I should check every reference. He replied that it was only necessary to check those which were probably wrong. He added, in explanation, 'It is in the nature of things that we have rather often to weigh possibilities and alternatives. And I am convinced of the truth of what my great and revered Guru Lüders told me more than once: what makes a philologist is above all a feeling for what is probable ("Ein Gefühl für das Wahrscheinliche")'.

By this and any other standard Ludwig Alsdorf was a true philologist. His death is a great loss to Indology as a whole and to Pāli studies in particular. We shall not see his like again.

Cambridge, October 1980.
K. R. Norman.