pots, brahmin names, and potters

Robin Kornman rkornman at CSD.UWM.EDU
Wed Dec 30 17:32:25 UTC 1998

I'm a mere watcher usually, but I couldn't help but add this bit: heroic
epithets in other oral epics are often quite funny. I'm translating a
Tibetan epic, which quite irrevlantly to this point, has bits of Indian
epic in it, and the text is full of irony--- particularly with reference to
the heroes. You've got to remember that when epics are performed in
villages, people like to make fun of the great. Witness the satire and
irony that occur in village performances of Javanese Shadow Plays about
Indian epics.

Robin Kornman

>Artur Karp wrote (I quote only part of his message):
>>I wish I could hear the word "bhArgava" as it was pronounced in the
>>original context. Wouldn't it have ironical undertones? Similar to those
>>that usually accompany some of the above high-falutin 'courtly titles'? Or
>>like these produced by the narrator's sudden shift from the simple
>>kumbhakArasya zAlAyAM (potter's compound) to pompous bhArgavavezma
>>(BhRguid's abode)? And then on to funny bhArgavakarmazAlAM (BhRguid's
>>It's clear that heroic epithets cannot be always treated literally. Their
>>character points oftentimes to a conscious use of irony - especially if
>>they are found out of heroic context. Whenever such accents are lost in the
>>process of translation, we as the readers cannot see the narrator giving us
>>the wink - as if telling us: "look, these are pretensions, appearances,
>>disguises - but this here is reality".
>I doubt very much that this is a valid method of interpreting the text of
>the Mahabharata. Irony is a rhetorical device, and we may expect to find it
>sometimes in the dialogues, which are often of a polemical character. But
>does the narrator himself ever use irony in the narrative parts of the
>story? Please give convincing examples! Heroic epithets out of context can
>be explained as a feature of the formulaic style of (originally) oral
>composition and not as examples of irony, I would say.
>Best regards,

Robin Kornman
Fellow, National Endownment for the Humanities
Associate, Joint Center for International Studies
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
fax 414-967-0064
rkornman at csd.uwm.edu

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