method of dating RV, III

George Thompson thompson at JLC.NET
Mon Oct 19 01:17:17 UTC 1998

In response to the recent remarks of Yaroslav Vassilkov:

I think that a couple of assumptions are being made here which need to be

First, to say that a culture "suddenly emerges" at a given date means only
that it is attested only at that date, NOT that it did not exist before
that date. Just as we cannot say that Sanskrit is older than Latin or
German, even though we can say that there are Sanskrit texts which are
older than any surviving texts in Latin or German, so we cannot say that
Vedic is older than the language of the ZAkas. To say that the Scyths
"emerged" in the 8th cent BCE means only that somebody started to notice
them at that point. I see no reason to assume that the Scythian language,
like proto-Latin and proto-German, did not exist during the Vedic period.
Of course it did, even if we have no direct record of it. The same applies
to the culture. Perhaps I should have said that certain "proto-Scythians"
were contemporaries of our RV poets. Okay. But my point, I think, stands.

Second, what is "the Vedic period", and where was it located [the focus of
this extended thread, after all]? As far as I can tell, there is no
significant gap between attested Scythian at the 8th cent BCE and the
language of RV. What? Perhaps a couple of centuries?  How old exactly is RV
8.46? And where was it composed? In my view, early Vedic, and in particular
RV book 8, is better understood as the product of an Indo-Iranian culture,
rather than as a strictly Indic one. I have made this assertion repeatedly
on this list.

The name 'kanIta' seems to have stronger ties with Iranian than with Indic.
It is a hapax legomenon in the RV, and utterly disappears thereafter
[except for a quotation in a zrauta sUtra]. On the other hand, we have the
name of a Scythian prince, Kanites. Why should we doubt an historical [or
prehistorical] connection between the Vedic and the Scythian names? Would
we doubt a historical connection between a Vedic name and a comparable Pali
name, in spite of a gap of at least as many centuries separating texts in
these languages as those that separate attested Scythian and the assumed
date of the RV? I think we should give as much, if not more, credence to
Vedic-Iranian [including Scythian] parallels as we would to Vedic-Pali
ones. In fact, in my view we have better reasons for accepting the former
than the latter.

Given the presence of camels, mathra horses, dogs, etc, in RV 8.46, I think
it is reasonable to suppose that the Vedic prince pRthuzravas, son of a
certain kanIta, was a descendent of a proto-Scythian, on the basis of the
comparison of Vedic kAnIta' with a Greek form of a Scythian name, kanites.
Tenuous though the connection would seem to be, there is no better one
available to us, is there [pace Thieme's entirely Vedic-internal
interpretation of kAnIta' in his Kleine Schriften, p. 509f.; impressive, as
usual, but not entirely convincing]?

When I close my eyes and imagine what this ancestor of pRthuzravas actually
might have looked like, given the scanty description in RV 8.46, I see a
cultural figure that is closer in form [dress, customs, cultural outlook,
etc.] to Scythian than to, say, Gangetic. Perhaps my imagination is wrong.
But what I know of Scythian culture is frequently reminiscent of what I
know of Vedic. This would be worth talking about some more.

Finally, I just don't think that the RV is very old or very Indic. If there
are good arguments against this assumption, of course I will yield to them.

But not until then.

Best wishes,


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