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

Matthew Kapstein mattkapstein at proton.me
Tue May 16 17:33:17 UTC 2023

Dear John,

As long as the medieval transmission of the Pañcatantra was mentioned, one might as well throw in Barlaam and Josaphat, probably more a retelling than a translation of a life of the Buddha, that was transmiited in virtually every language from Pahlavi and Arabic versions of the story to Georgian and Armenian, and thence to Greek, Hebrew, Amharic, Catalan, Icelandic and many others. The literature on this is now very extensive.

all best,

Sent from Proton Mail for iOS

On Tue, May 16, 2023 at 18:18, Shankar Nair via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info> wrote:

> 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 languages.
> 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 Anādipurāṇa 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
> 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 theBhagavadgītā into English at a relatively early date, I believe in 1785. I found reference to 1789 for William Jones's translation of theAbhijñānaśākuntala. 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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