Antonello Palumbo - School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Several mentions of the Buddha in the Mediterranean world of Late Antiquity intriguingly cluster in a short period between the 3rd and the 4th c. AD. Although the triumph of Christianity and Islam as well as geopolitical developments closed the door to further exposure for centuries to come, this knowledge was never entirely lost. What had been sketched in the testimonies of Church Fathers such as Clement of Alexandria and Jerome was still available to the likes of Erasmus in the 16th c. It was also well known to the Jesuit missionaries in Japan and especially China, who brought back to Europe the first substantial accounts of Buddhism. But these cultural memories were arguably at odds with the missionary imperative to keep Buddhism at a distance and depict its founder as the ultimate alien to European readerships. With few, revealing exceptions, Jesuit accounts failed to identify the Late Antique ‘Budda’ with the Fo 佛 in front of them. If this, as it seems, was deliberate, the modern discovery of the Buddha in the West may have been premised to a perhaps significant extent on the unsuspected repression of its distant memories.