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Sanskrit after Homer?

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Sanskrit after Homer?

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Mar 06, 2011 10:44 pm

Not really a question about Greek, but I'm still asking this, as I couldn't find any good Sanskrit forum...

I've been reading Greek quite a bit, especially Homer. My Greek epic studies have made me interested about Sanskrit too. At present I'm only interested (I think...) about the Epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The older stuff that is, which they say have parallels with Homer both in language and in subject matter. I don't there's something else of relevance (except the Vedas of course, but maybe later ;) )

Is there someone you philhellenes who has done something like this before? Can you give me any advice?

I've been reading the first chapters of Coulson's (Teach yourself) book and another easier textbook. My plan: read a couple more chapters of the textbook, memorize a couple of of the most important inflexion paradigms, and then GO and get my hands on some real Sanskrit stuff! Before now, my foreign language learning method has been reading the textbook a lot, but I think I want to try a different "submersion" method now.

Maybe it's insane, I don't know. Got to try...

Clay Sanskrit Library has texts printed in the Latin alphabet, so I'll need to be able to read Devanagari just enough to consult the dictionnary.

Now the big question: What text should I begin with? What would be both relatively easy and relatively interesting for a beginner? I'm not imagining that I just start from the first line of the Mahabharata and finish at the 100 000 th...

Many thanks for any input!
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Re: Sanskrit after Homer?

Postby Scribo » Mon Mar 07, 2011 1:05 pm

Yeah your thinking is flawed. The epics which you're referring to are not the "earliest" by any means and both (the MBh moreso than the other) contains a lot of late forms, dialectical divergences and odd vocabulary. As someone putting together a paper on Homer and the MBh there aren't many similarities in themes past the very, very, shallow concordances you find from scholars like Dumezil.

Not learning Devanagari (which ultimately takes little time...) hinders you in mastering the phonology which makes recognising permutations and the like much more difficult than it needs to be, as well as precluding some of the more advanced books on Sanskrit. Why would you shoot yourself in the book?

The Coulson book is geared towards the reading of the Sanskrit plays, not the Vedas, nor the Epics. For the former it is much better to get a general grasp of Sanskrit and then consult the Oxford reader and Vedic grammar for students. For the latter? well there are specific books on Epic sanskrit but they're very, very. expensive and in all honesty if you have enough experience with Sanskrit they should be fine to start.

Your best bet..is to Stick with the Coulson book for a while and then get a good students edition of the Bhagvad Gita: It's in the MBh, a gentle introduction to the Epic tongue, and is well catered for. After that reading some easy excerpts like the story of King Nala, get yourself used to some of the Vedic forms and then go after the MBh. Good luck.
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Re: Sanskrit after Homer?

Postby Paul Derouda » Mon Mar 07, 2011 3:30 pm

Ok, thanks a lot, really! Can you recommend any particular student edition(s) of the Bhagavad Gita?

(Are there student editions of (parts of) the Ramayana?)

Well, I was aware that the MBh and Ramayana are not the oldest, but I've understood that learning Vedic straightaway isn't easy. Anyway, I am ready to face the fact that Sanskrit Epic will be different from Homer and probably from anything I expect... I got interested about Indian Epic because I've been reading Greek Epic and because modern Homeric literature has a great deal to say about the Indian Epics, but they are of course two different worlds, and I want to appreciate them as such. I'm not expecting that Sanskrit Epic will open my eyes about Homer...

I agree that learning Devanagari is necessary if I really want to master Sanskrit. But why right from the beginning? I'll do that if ever get that far - life is short! Phonology is a good a point, but I already understand that "bh" is one sound and not two, I you mean that kind of thing. Actually I've already learned Devanagari, but like I say, just well enough to consult a dictionnary. My point is, I don't want to spend forever reading a textbook. People can spend years at school studying a language that way and never learn. I just want to get the basics and then start reading with a good translation and pick up the grammar in the process. I'll have to look up about every word, but that way I'll actually also learn Devanagari, because my dictionnaries don't use the Latin alphabet...
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Re: Sanskrit after Homer?

Postby Scribo » Mon Mar 07, 2011 4:46 pm

Well bear in mind that the Vedas are Epics also, in the same way Hesiod, the cycle and the hymns also are. What modern Scholiastic literature is citing the MBH in relation to Homer? I'm curious..

As to student editions, no not really anything specific. Sanskrit is poorly catered for, I mean the Vedic reader I have is some 80 years old. I know there is an actual book called "A Sanskrit Reader" or some such which has popped up on eBay and amazon here and there for about £4. I think the "further reading" section of the Coulson book specifically recommends one or two different editions of the BvG. Sanskrit is poorly served, if something looks semi decent and isn't ott pricewise grab it.

Good luck with your studies.
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Re: Sanskrit after Homer?

Postby Paul Derouda » Mon Mar 07, 2011 5:56 pm

Scribo wrote: What modern Scholiastic literature is citing the MBH in relation to Homer? I'm curious..


Well, "great deal" was an overstatement, but there must have be something I've read, otherwise I wouldn't have got the idea of reading MBh in the first place... I just don't remember what it was... I have a vague recollection reading comparisons of battle scenes between the two somewhere... Then again, maybe it was between Homer and Vedic... Ennepe nun moi Mousa, where did I read that? Ok, just forget about it...

The only thing that comes to my mind right now is M. L. West's Indo-European Poetry and Myth, and that's "general" Indo-European studies, not spesifically MBh vs. Homer.

But thanks a lot! I'll start with the BvG. But probably you're right, the Vedas are what I really want to read one day, but I suppose it's much easier to start with classical Sanskrit. I'll just skim through the MBh and the Ramayana doublequick, and maybe in just 200 years I'll be ready to start Vedic...
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Re: Sanskrit after Homer?

Postby Scribo » Mon Mar 07, 2011 6:24 pm

Well it shan't be Odyssey 1.1 since invocations to the muse are missing from the Rya and the MBh. You're probably thinking of κλεος αφθιτον in the Greek and shrivas akritsi in the Sanskrit right? If you want more on that stuff in general then Watkins "How to Kill a Dragon" is the most important work. West's book though is amazing for the none too philological side, I have it about a foot away from me lol.

Ah you know if it's solely for comparative purposes than you want to read something like Gilgamesh and Atrahasis, there are precious little concordances in general between Homer and the MBh (I could list most of them in a few sentences, alas) and in general Greek epic very much functioned in a Near Eastern culture sphere.

Yes try the BvG, it is probably by far the most popular starting text but I'm sure you can find student editions of some of the drama for post Coulson. Don't worry, it won't take 200, it might take 2, but don't sweat.
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Re: Sanskrit after Homer?

Postby Paul Derouda » Tue Mar 08, 2011 7:59 pm

Ok, now I'm waiting for some BvG stuff from Amazon... (the relevant Clay Sanskrit Library text and a commented edition from someone called R. C. Zaehner.) Got some homework to do now!

That Dragon book is already on my "books I'm going to read some day" list! At the moment I'm actually reading, whenever I find the time, another book by West, the East FAce of Helicon. The chapter on the Odyssey, which I haven't reached yet, seems to have a lot to say about the Gilgamesh. But I suppose you have already read that too... ;) I read the Gilgamesh a few years ago in Finnish (my native tongue), but that was before I really knew Greek.

I don't think I'll be studying Sanskrit or anything else for purely comparative purposes, that was maybe the initial spark that got me interested, but I think interesting stuff is interesting by itself. The reason I ever started to study Greek as an adult was that I really loved some kids' Greek mythology books at age about 9. I even wanted to go on reading the "real" Iliad then, but the only Finnish translation is unreadable. Years later, I got the idea that maybe I could read it in the original, and I think that's what got me to study Greek... I still think "Greek is Good", but is that a rational decursus? What I mean that there doesn't always have an obvious goal in what we do or a logical reason for doing it.
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Re: Sanskrit after Homer?

Postby Kynetus Valesius » Sun Mar 13, 2011 5:36 am

Hi all,

Somehow are another, ancient languages have become a hobby of mine. I don't claim to be skilled in Latin, Sanskrit or Koine yet I am am not entirely ignorant about them either or about methods used to acquire them. The best edition of Bhagavad Gita from the our point of view (that is from a philologist's) is Winthrop Sargeant's. Each verse is given in devanagari, transliteration, and literal translation. Each word of each verse is fully parsed so that an amateur can see how the author derives his translation and so the reader can actually develop his own translation.

I used the teach yourself sanskrit book and found it virtually useless. Furthermore the books in the series fall apart on the first reading - cheap glue I guess. For a while I had a number of reprints of some older 19th century grammars. These books were also useless. Half the time the characters were blurred. The other half I couldn't get through the complexities of the exposition. I can't say what the names of these volumes were because I threw them all away (no point in giving a useless book to someone else) when I moved to California from Washington D.C. Fortunately, there is a modern book by a truly talented teacher that anyone can use to learn sanskrit. I speak of "Introduction to Sanskrit" by Thomas Egenes of which there are two volumes. Commbining "Introduction" with Sargeant's Gita would be a highly effective introduction to the language - especially for those interested in the key ontological concepts of ancient Indian philosophy and religion. If someone knows of something better, please let us know.

Bhagavad Gita As It Is by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada is not a negligible work of scholarship either (albeit from a distinct sectarian viewpoint and without the grammatical helps of Sargeant's book). In addition, I own another seemingly useful book (seemingly because I have not yet used it) which applies Sargeant's method to a 900 page snippet from the Mahabharata: "Ramopakhyana, the Story of Rama in the Mahabharata - An Independent-study Reader in Sanskrit" by Peter Scharf.

I am currently making a second attempt at learning Koine. When that is done in about 1 year, I will make a second attempt at Sanskrit using the books described. My goal for sanskrit is to read only Bhagavad Gita and small portions of the Bhagavata Purana. I was almost to that point several years ago when I dropped my studies. When I pick them up again I anticipate learning at a pretty fast clip since I already have some experience, have a limited goal, and am equipped with excellent books.

I have no idea why I do this stuff and it is certainly alien from my other retirement interests. Yet these studies are really gratifying if somewhat lonely pursuits. If God grants me a few more years and I can keep my wits I would like eventually to learn at least two other ancient IE languages: Avestan (just to read the "Gathas" and Old English just to read Beowulf).
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Re: Sanskrit after Homer?

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Mar 13, 2011 7:29 pm

I checked Winthrop Sargeant's on Amazon, and it looks pretty good. Unfortunately, it was only possible to "look inside" the introduction, but it seemed like the kind of thing I have searching. (I wonder how come that people at Amazon don't understand that we want to look inside the actual text, not just the introduction...) I have now already ordered two different texts of Bvg (like I mentioned before), but if I don't seem to get along with them, I'll check this one.

Actually I do own Egenes's books. I read the first volume for some time, but the progress was so slow that I got fed up and changed to Coulson's book, which is the exact opposite, it advances really fast. So fast that I guess it was actually good that I had read Egenes's book first a bit. But it seems a good book to me, only a bit difficult, you certainly have to have studied foreign languages before and know technical terms to be able to read it.

Kynetus - a book I have found useful for NT Greek is Zerwick & Grosvenor's Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testment. It's verse by verse analysis of the NT, with every word form analysed and a translation is given for all greek words that are not part of the (quite short) list of "words occuring over 60 times in the NT", given in the beginning of the book. With this, you can actually read the greek text (which is not included) even without a dictionnary. Probably there are other books like this for the NT, but this is the one I know, and I can recommend it.
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