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The Mahabharata and Greek Mythology

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About the Book After the arrival of Alexander the Great in the 4th BCE, India was in permanent relation with the Mediterranean world. When Rome conquered Egypt and took a special interest in the routes to India, the subcontinent and its inhabitants played a key role as an economic and cultural reference in a globalized world stretching from Western Europe and North Africa to China. In an Indian scenario full of ideological and religious pluralism, interactions, learning and creations, adaptatio...
About the Book

After the arrival of Alexander the Great in the 4th BCE, India was in permanent relation with the Mediterranean world. When Rome conquered Egypt and took a special interest in the routes to India, the subcontinent and its inhabitants played a key role as an economic and cultural reference in a globalized world stretching from Western Europe and North Africa to China. In an Indian scenario full of ideological and religious pluralism, interactions, learning and creations, adaptation of new concepts and technological and artistic transfer were an essential part of the emerging cultural and social transfer were an essential part of the emerging cultural and social realities. This book, based on a previous publication Spanish, defends that in the Mahabharata – one of the most profound, captivating and richest stories of human history and, without a doubt, the most vivid of the world’s epics – Greek mythological and epic materials were systematically employed. The employment of these materials by no means takes away from the work’s authenticity, instead quite the contrary. The work was no doubt original, new and loaded with significance for the society that gave it birth, for those societies which follow, and to those which, by no accident, the work helped to shape, The acceptance of the intelligent and creative use of Greek materials in the Mahabharata to cover specific artistic and ideological goals does not imply any demerit for their author or authors. On the contrary, it is merely the discovery of an unknown facet of its genius.

About the Author

Fernando Wulff Alonso is Professor of Ancient History in the University of Malaga, Spain. His research deals with different perspectives and themes of the Ancient world and its contemporary uses. He has published books and articles in different European countries and Journals on the impact of Rome on Rome on subject societies, gender, mythology and epics, modern historiography and the role of Ancient history in the construction of collective identities. One of the main lines of his research is the study of exchange processes and human interactions throughout history, and its impact on the creation and recreation of societies and cultures. Dr. Wulff Alonso has focused his research in the last years in the study of the Mahabharata in the context of his interest in world epics and mythology from the perspective of gender and power relations.

Introduction

It is perhaps an integral part of the human condition to feel the ground beneath our feet as much firmer than it actually is, from which human societies have frequently gazed at themselves, and at others, with rigid and static perspectives as though bound to a relationship marked by immobility and mistrust. This is perhaps intimately related to the general proclivity of having defined, distinct social groups, particularly one’s own, in terms of opposition, often hostile terms, in regard to other groups.

Nevertheless, there is nothing further from the authentic history of the world than those representations of humanity as an accumulation of cultures, or of countries constituted as incommunicable and impermeable realities that have descended through the centuries untainted by means of adapting the exotic to their particular realities, and therefore imagined with an identity depicted as permanent and fixed.

The few thousand-year-old history of the human race, just as the much shorter history of urban societies and the written tradition, is a story of encounters, of exchanges, and the formation, alteration and disappearance of those specific groupings of people and their legacies which we call cultures or societies. Progress is the fruit of our Capacity to create, to work together, to accept and reinterpret all that has been discovered and all that has been learned. That is the human adventure; it is the only firm ground upon which we can tread without fear of error.

What we are suggesting here is seated in this perspective. It is a discovery that was brought to light in the middle of various comparative studies concerning mythologies and epics. These studies, to which a good portion of the last twenty five years of my academic work have been dedicated, were undertaken from the analytic vantage of power and gender. While finalizing a monograph about the Mahabharata, which was part of a more general project coming to a close, a number of interesting connections arose that, for the most part, had not been seen, or had not received enough attention as a whole, or had not been completely mapped out. Then an idea, which will hopefully prove to be more than a mere hypothesis, took shape: essentially, in the Mahabharata—one of the most profound, captivating and richest stories of human history, the most extensive existent epic, one of the best known, and, without a doubt, most vivid of the world’s epics— Greek mythological and epic materials were systematically employed, of which the /liad represents the most predominant, the most pivotal role. Moreover, as another one of our principal conclusions, we will also suggest that the author (or authors) of the Mahabharata composed the work on account of having a complete writtén index of a variety of Greek materials on hand which were used for the main body of the book.

Yet another conclusion ushered in on the coattails of the first must be addressed: the employment of Greek materials by no means takes away from the work’s authenticity, instead quite the contrary. The work was no doubt original, new and loaded with significance for the society that gave it birth, for those societies which follow, and to those which, by no accident, the work helped to shape.

As we will see, the same complexity and variation in the utilization of Greek materials, which puts Greek sources separated by centuries into play, the form itself of that utilization, which is structural and exceeds all partial aspects, and even the fact that all this implies written sources—or more directly: a well stocked library—also leads one to obviate the possibility that the interpretation’s inverse, the Greek use of Indian sources, such as those some authors of the 19" century defended, could be faithfully rendered.

After the arrival of Alexander the Great, India was in permanent relation with the Mediterranean world. When Rome conquered Egypt and took a special interest in the routes to India, the Subcontinent played a key role as an economic and cultural reference in a globalized world full of connections stretching from Western Europe and North Africa to China. In the context of these perspectives, it is not at all surprising that it was precisely in Egypt, the main point of contact between the Mediterranean world and the Subcontinent, where Christianity first developed asceticism and monasticism.

In an Indian scenario full of ideological and religious pluralism, interactions, learning, creations and re-workings, adaptation of new concepts and technological and artistic transfer were an essential part of the emerging cultural and social realities.

The acceptance of the intelligent and creative use that the author or authors of the Mahabharata made of Greek materials to cover their specific artistic and ideological goals does not imply any demerit. On the contrary, it is merely the discovery of an unknown facet of their genius.

Preface

In the years since the first edition of this book, it became apparent that some of the predictions that were to be expected before its publication were fulfilled, both in the interest it has aroused and in the difficulties in accepting its content. Without departing from purely scientific concerns, the central hypothesis of this book, that the Mahabharata was built ab ovo with the help of Greco-Roman materials, that there are significant parallels between the Mahabharata and Greco-Roman texts, because an author or team had access to Greco-Roman materials around the change of era and built the Mahabharata with these and other materials, fundamentally confronts four previous hypotheses, that formed the core of the dominant paradigm on the field for more than a century.

In the years straddling the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Western scientific community -academics, symposiums, journals, academic publications, collective works, etc.- defined that paradigm with precision: 1) The Mahabharata was the fruit of a long process of accretion, not a unitary work. 2) Its base was a traditional oral epic genre, 3) It was created (basically or wholly) prior to the arrival of Alexander the Great to India. 4) Both in the Mahabharata, like in Indian literature in general, there are no signs of use of Greco-Roman materials.

As a typical dominant paradigm, this perspective has been directing research agendas, organizations, publications and careers, and at the same time inhibiting alternative perspectives, trying to marginalize scholars and works, to present itself as a kind of natural and self evident perspective, to domesticate difficult or contradictory evidence and, in particular, to make it difficult or impossible to conceive of the problem in other than the acceptable, orthodox, terms.

Authors like V. Pisani, M. Biardeau or, in particular, A. Hiltebeitel are good examples of how critics to the first three points could build alternative hypothesis and highlight the chain of unproven assumptions underlying the prevailing view (the time sequence of the composition processes, the epic’s various layers and interpolations, multiple authors from diverse social backgrounds restructuring the work, transition from an oral to a written tradition, existence of a previous epic tradition...). Concurrently, criticism and, in particular, a deafening silence confronting their opinions, and the rarity of serious attempts at constructive dialogue are also good examples of a characteristic resistance to new points of view.

It was obvious that the fourth point could not have expected a different reception. It is an interesting paradox that the virtual ban on the idea of the use of Greco-Roman materials by writers in the Subcontinent was somewhat subsequent to the discovery of "Greco- Buddhist art", which at the same time involved the impact of the realization of such Greco-Roman presence and influence, and the need to isolate it in order to maintain the theoretical status quo. That need was felt both by Western scholars, who would not easily admit to the possibility of an "Indian soul" accepting the sophistication of Classical art —in particular right in the middle of the ascertainment of the failure of British imperialism in India- and by Indian scholars, who would not easily accept the stain of a substantial impact of the (supposed) ancestors of Western colonialists in such a foundational moment of what they felt as their own and particular culture.

Leaving ideological positions aside -if that is possible- the widespread lack of knowledge concerning developments in the archaeology and history of the Subcontinent and Bactria during recent decades, and in its connections to the Mediterranean world, could not but delay any serious recognition of the possibility of significant cultural interchange. Perhaps it has been more a kind of surprise to see in some after-lecture discussions problems generated by difficulties in understanding the complex variability of human history, the unlimited variations of answers by its protagonists, and the enormous gaps in our knowledge of Ancient India, a fact represented, for instance, by a well known scholar who assured us that he could not imagine in which historical Indian context the facts contemplated in this hypothesis could have taken place.

Another important difficulty is related to the kind of approach intended here, which is entirely traditional, just as this book is not just traditional, but too traditional for our times. Although there is room left for historiographical and historical questions, including reflections on the meaning of the work, as well as for the necessary intercultural approach and other theoretical and methodological questions, its principal aim is to prove its main hypothesis. After nigh on forty years studying, and teaching on, cultural contact and exchanges, ethnogenetic processes, identities and interactions, and on the need to change nationalistic and essentialist theoretical frameworks to clear the way for new perspectives, I did not feel the need to delve into those questions, not to mention the need to gain approval and acceptance through the use of the, already relatively, new passwords of intellectual modernity, Or post-modernity, like post-colonialism, contestation, discursive experience, economic, cultural, and linguistic power, colonial politics of knowledge, subalternity, mechanics of discrimination or hegemonic discourse; and not just because the processes dealt here have to do with situations which only occasionally, if at all, could be understood as "colonialism".

However, if it sounds logical that the hypothesis that the Mahabharata had been built with the help of Greco-Roman materials can only be substantiated with sufficient evidence, the, so to speak, encyclopaedic and perhaps arid character of this book can create additional difficulties. These include the need to follow at the same time complex Greco-Roman and Mahabharata stories and to take account of all the stories and parallels dealt with, without the help of, for instance, diagrams and tables which, incidentally, would have made a huge book of the present big enough book.

Concurrently, the need for supporting evidence has subordinated other possible explanatory resources, so that the amount of stories did not leave room for two possible developments, which could have made easier the understanding of the main hypothesis. The first is the scarcity of references to the way the author of the Mahabharata would have composed the whole story and woven together its component parts on the basis of the previous Greco-Roman and Indian scaffoldings. If it is true, as noted by Alf Hiltebeitel ' in reference to the Iliad, that: "Wulff’s approach thus does away with the need to search for one-to- one correspondences between Greek and Indian characters and scenes, which has been the defeating self-limitation that has stymied studies that sought to relate the Iliad and the Mahabharata as deriving from some common source or sources, then other correspondences and processes must be subject to analysis and explanation".

The second is the absence of an explanation of the methodological tools employed in the text, those keys which would let discriminate between the main thesis and alternative answers. An excessive reliance on the immediate impact of evidence on the reader -in particular academic readers is never advisable.

I wonder whether some remarks, even in a cursory way, on this direction could be useful here for the reader of this re-edition, and could offer some additional instruments for better understanding the 'Hiltebeitel, A. (in press), "The Mahabharata and Hubris in the Greek Epic Cycle", paper presented in the 16" World Sanskrit Conference, June 28, 2015, Bangkok.

**Contents and Sample Pages**












Item Code: NAT296 Author: Fernando Wulff Alonso Cover: HARDCOVER Edition: 2017 Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd. ISBN: 9788120837911 Language: ENGLISH Size: 8.50 X 5.50 inch Pages: 524 Other Details: Weight of the Book: 0.76 Kg
Price: $40.00
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