[INDOLOGY] earliest translations of Sanskrit or other Indian-language works?

Shankar Nair shankaranair at gmail.com
Tue May 16 16:18:36 UTC 2023

Dear John,

It's a good question that could have different answers depending on your
"parameters" -- particularly the question of direct vs. mediated
translation. Anquetil-Duperron's translation of the Upaniṣads, for
instance, as Prof. Lindquist just mentioned, was translated from the
Persian version of Dara Shikoh.

A more extended case of such mediation could take us back to the Middle
Ages, when the *Pañcatantra *was translated into Latin via Pahlavi and
Arabic (there under the title *Kalila wa Dimna*). From Latin, the *Pañcatantra
*quickly found its way into numerous other European languages: according to
Edgerton (1924), it was certainly extant in Greek, Spanish, Italian,
German, English, Slavonic languages, etc., before 1600. Olivelle (2009)
offers a general trajectory of Sanskrit --> Pahlavi --> Arabic --> Syriac
(10th/11th c.) --> Greek (11th c.) --> Latin; there is also another
fascinating trajectory from Sanskrit --> Pahlavi --> Arabic --> Persian -->
Spanish (ca. 1251) and Hebrew (12th c.) --> Latin (between 1263-1278). The
life of the Buddha has a comparable trajectory, eventually becoming the
story of *Barlaam and Josephat* via Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, and other

In the vein of Abraham Rogerius, early Christian missionaries were of
course active from the early 16th c., particularly the Jesuits. It's
well-known that they were translating in the other direction (translating
Christian materials into Indian languages), but I'm just not familiar
enough with the materials to know about the earliest translation in the
other direction. The 1610 (and onwards) Portuguese translations that Prof.
Vielle mentions are certainly noteworthy in this vein. I have encountered
mention (I believe by Will Sweetman) of an *Anādipurā**ṇ**a *that a Brahmin
convert to Christianity, Manuel d’Oliveira, partially translated into
Portuguese via Marathi/Konkani, ca. 1558 (mostly episodes from the
*Mahābhārata* and *Rāmayāṇa*).

Adding a different kind of ambiguity to your question is when Europeans
would themselves patronize translations into *Persian*, which would then
later find their way into European languages. Rosanne Rocher (1983, pp.
48-72) tells us of Warren Hastings' commission of a Persian translation of
the *Vivādārṇavasetu*, then translated into English by Halhed as *A Code of
Gentoo Laws* in 1776. This is just one of numerous European-commissioned
translations in this time period that were mediated by Persian (see Carl
Ernst, "Muslim Studies of Hinduism?," 2003).

Hope this helps,

Shankar Nair

Associate Professor
Department of Religious Studies and
Middle Eastern & South Asian Languages & Cultures
University of Virginia

On Tue, May 16, 2023 at 9:53 AM Nemec, John William (jwn3y) via INDOLOGY <
indology at list.indology.info> wrote:

> Dear Indology Colleagues,
> Speaking with a colleague, recently, who is not subscribed to this list, a
> question arose as to the first works translated from an Indian language
> into a Western one (including Dutch, Portuguese, Latin, French, English,
> Italian, Spanish, German, etc.).
> I am of course aware that Charles Wilkins rendered the *Bhagavadgītā* into
> English at a relatively early date, I believe in 1785.  I found reference
> to 1789 for William Jones's translation of the *Abhijñānaśākuntala*.
> Before these there was a rendering (into Dutch and not first into Latin,
> though there was a dispute evidently over this fact) of Bhartṛhari's poems
> by Abraham Roger/Abraham Rogerius, posthumously in 1651.
> Could anyone provide more and/or better information about the history of
> the translation of Sanskrit texts and works of other Indian source
> languages into Western/European languages?
> Thank you.
> Sincerely,
> John
> ______________________________
> John Nemec, Ph.D. (he, him, his)
> Professor of Indian Religions and South Asian Studies
> Editor, Religion in Translation Series (Oxford University Press)
> 323 Gibson Hall / 1540 Jefferson Park Avenue
> Department of Religious Studies
> University of Virginia
> Charlottesville, VA 22904
> 434-924-6716
> nemec at virginia.edu
> https://virginia.academia.edu/JNemec
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