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Sunday, March 06, 2011

How To Kill A Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics

How To Kill A Dragon:
Aspects of Indo-European Poetics
by Calvert Watkins
Oxford University Press
p.  1995

    The "indo-european" language family covers just about all of Europe, North and South America, South and South West Asia and Australia.  English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Greek, Latin, Farsi, Hindi and all of the Baltic's, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.  The language from which all these languages came is unknown, but scholars call it "Proto Indo European."  The Indo European language family has received more attention from philologists and linguists over the last century then the rest of the world's language families combined.
    One of the more interesting issues surrounding Proto Indo European is the extent to which we can reconstruct the shared culture of Proto Indo European people through language as manifested in religious ritual, myth and poetry.  How To Kill A Dragon is an attempt to work back to the primal Indo European myth- the HERO SLAYING THE DRAGON.  The first portion of the book is devoted entirely to setting up the idea of a shared Indo European poetic vocabulary.  Watkins looks at the use of alliteration, oppositions and "merisms" (the use of two individual terms to compromise a larger whole- like "men and cattle" to refer to the sum of earthly possessions.)
   Unfortunately, I couldn't follow of all of it because I CANT READ THE GREEK ALPHABET but the analysis that included languages written in a Latin script was convincing.  The Indo-Europeans had a common vocabulary of ritual and myth that is simply impossible to ignore.  The argument goes into the folder of "we are all one human race."
   The second portion, concerning the formulation of the foundational Indo-European myth "HERO SLAYS SERPENT" is again- very convincing.  Watkins then moves the clock forward and shows the way that this poetic language manifests itself in Homeric Epic Poetry, Scandinavian Epic Poetry  and the Rig and Artha Veda.  Perhaps the most interesting and novel portion of his argument is the analysis of the Hittite version of the myth, which Watkins straight forwardly claims is the direct inspiration for the Greek versions.  In fact, it in his analysis of little known Hittite tablets where Watkins really, really shines.  If I were to follow up on one aspect of this book (which, after all, was published in 1995) it would be what else scholars have learned about the relationship between Hittite ritual and Greek myth.

1 comment:

Bred in the bone said...

I am glad to have came across this, as I was just considering buying this very book.

It has always hit me, that when Christians preach Christ as the truth, then their must be a lie.

They never tell us who or what the lie is though, it made me wonder if the lie could be the serpent we need to slay.

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