Posts Tagged ‘vedas’

1.   List and discuss the major primary sources for the mythology of three Indo-European cultures, including their dates of origin and authorship (if known). Discuss any important factors that may cause problems in interpreting these sources, such as the existence of multiple revisions, or the presence of Christian or other outside influences in surviving texts. (minimum 300 words)

In Vedic mythology, there are the samhitas of the four Vedas, which date from between the second to the first millennium BCE: The Rgveda, which is used for recitation; the Sama-Veda, which is used for chanting; the Yajur-Veda, which is used for liturgy; and the Atherva-Veda, which is named for a group of priests. These documents are the foundational texts of the Vedic religion, but they are also cited as foundational texts of Classical Hinduism, and are almost always translated through that lens. Unfortunately, according to Puhvel, “classical Hinduism… is worlds removed from the cultures of the early Vedic period” (Puhvel, 46). In fact, many “serious” scholars of the Vedas have problems with non-Hindu translators like Wendy Doniger, leading to an increase in bias. This is especially true with movements like Hindutva (the Hindu nationalist movement), which, over the last five years, have led to an increasingly strict and conservative reading of the ancient texts and are actively trying to subvert or destroy other versions.

Greek texts include the Iliad and the Odyssey, both by Homer, but the only written copies of these epic poems are from well after his death, so their compositional age is unknown. As well, works by Hesiod (Theogony and Works and Days – 7th to 6th century BCE) and the Homeric Hymns (Hymns in the style of Homer, also 7th to 6th century BCE for composition) are considered foundational texts. There is some discussion to be had about all of these texts, as they were typically carried in the oral tradition for a long time before being written down, so changes almost certainly occurred over time. Generally speaking, the Greek texts are better translated and have less cultural baggage, as they were not translated by conquerors or religious people who overtook/replaced the original religion, but were preserved, and often studied, in the original language. Since they are still studied as part of the regular education curriculum, many modern translations seek as much as possible to reflect (what best we know of as) ancient Greek culture as accurately as possible. Even for scholars who do not read ancient Greek, there are often many translations that can be compared to gain better understanding of the original texts.

The foundational texts of Norse mythology are the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century in Iceland by a Christian monk named Snorri Sturluson, the Gesta Danorum, written in the 12th century in Denmark by Saxo Grammaticus, the Poetic Edda, a collection of earlier poems and sagas collected in the 13th century in Iceland, and various Sagas, mostly from Iceland as well, that were collected over the course of Iceland’s Christianized history. These texts are both well preserved and dangerously full of bias – because they were written by Christian monks, they often have layers of Christian morality and meaning layered over older stories, and there is a good deal of euhemerization that goes on (especially in Saxo’s work), turning the divine stories of the gods into stories of kings and other mortals. Complicating the matter, most of these texts were (of course) written as Old Norse poetry, and so English speakers must often choose between comprehending the text itself and understanding the complexities of the written poetry styles common to that era.


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