[KS] Samguk Yusa readership during Joseon

Andrew zatouichi at gmail.com
Sat Sep 8 04:59:28 EDT 2012

Dear all,

I'm writing to ask a couple of questions concerning the history/fate/shelf
life of the *Samguk Yusa* during the Joseon dynasty.  Broadly:

I  How was the *Samguk Yusa* regarded by scholars of the Joseon dynasty,
particularly by the late 18th century?

II  How widely available and read was the *Samguk Yusa *throughout this

The context for these questions is related to my current research on
scholar Yu Deuk-gong (1749-1807) associated with the Northern Learning
school (북학파), in particular his poetry cycle *21 Capital hoegosi* (이십일도회고시)
of which I have made a tentative translation (including the extensive
quotes from histories accompanying each poem).

In this work, Yu directly quotes from the *Samguk Yusa* just twice: once at
the beginning concerning Dan'gun establishing his capital at Pyeongyang;
the second significantly later concerning Gyeon-hwon's Later Baekje.
 However, many of the other earlier poems also take topics found dotted
throughout Books 1 and 2 of the *Samguk Yusa *and whilst they were no doubt
topics recorded in other works which Yu would have also read, if he was
reading the *Samguk Yusa* anyway, I imagine it influenced his selection for
the poetry cycle which essentially became a chronological miscellany of
topics picked out from conventional Joseon historiography (from Dan'gun up
to Goryeo).

According to the biographical information I have on Yu Deuk-gong, he was
from an illegitimate line of descent, his father died when he was young and
he was raised by his mother alongside two uncles who were only slightly
older than himself.  He was widely read in history and skilled in poetry
but essentially quite poor until being granted a position at the Gyujanggak
royal library in 1779.  He first completed the *21 Capital hoegosi* the
year before in 1778 (and revised it later in 1792).  So how did he come to
read the *Samguk Yusa *early on? Was it widely available in Seoul at the

To what degree was the *Samguk Yusa* considered a heretical Buddhist work,
and to what degree was it regarded as a collection of folklore?  Yu was
interested in everything from ancient history to contemporary folk customs,
so it is no surprise he read it: but I wonder in what context was it
available to him?

It's not impossible that he didn't read it until joining the Gyujanggak
library, if there was a copy kept there, and inserted the two extracts in
the revision of 1792 (it was the extracts and structure which were revised
rather than the 43 poems themselves).  But what makes me doubt this is, as
said, the topics initially chosen for the cycle seem to have been
influenced by reading the *Samguk Yusa;* and even potentially the structure
itself was influenced as it alternates between the poems and historical
prose extracts in a manner reminiscent to the "songs" interspersed in
the *Samguk
Yusa* though both points may just be coincidence* *(I've only read and have
available the Ha Tae-Hung & Mintz translation of the *Samguk Yusa*.)

Any thoughts related to this topic would be of much interest.

Andrew Logie
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