18th Gonda Lecture

Stephanie Jamison: Make New the Song Born of Old 'A Rig Veda for the New Millennium'

2 December 2010 from 16:00 to 16:00 hrs
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18th Gonda Lecture by Stephanie Jamison, professor of Asian Languages and Cultures and head of the program in Indo-European Studies at UCLA

The Rig Veda, the oldest Sanskrit text, remains one of its most challenging and enigmatic. Consisting of over a thousand intricate praise hymns dedicated to a variety of divinities, it showcases the work of its many poets, who proudly display their skill and verbal trickery in service of their gods and mortal patrons. These poets are inheritors of the Indo-Iranian and Indo-European poetic tradition, but they also are self-conscious innovators and manipulators of that tradition. The boast "I make new the song born of old" (RV III.31.19), one of many such statements in the text, encapsulates this dual focus.

Translators of the Rig Veda find themselves in a similar situation. The text is too multivalent and ambiguous to allow a single interpretation to hold over time, space, and culture. Each era and culture has had its own Rig Veda -- from the anonymous paraphrases of the middle Vedic exegetes, to the influential indigenous medieval commentator S yaGa, to the Western response to the text beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing till today, with many other stops along the way.

In collaboration with her colleague Joel Brereton of the University of Texas, Stephanie Jamison has long been working on a new English translation of the text. In her lecture she will discuss the presuppositions that underlie their translation, how they differ from (and resemble) those of other translators, and how their assumptions and practices will affect their translation in practical terms.

Stephanie Jamison is a professor of Asian Languages and Cultures and head of the program in Indo-European Studies at UCLA. She was trained as a historical and Indo-European linguist (PhD Yale 1977), but for many years she has concentrated on Indo-Iranian, especially (Vedic) Sanskrit and Middle Indo-Aryan languages and textual materials. She works not only on language and linguistics, but also literature and poetics, religion and law, mythology and ritual, and gender studies in these languages, and she is also interested in comparative mythology and poetics, especially with Greek materials.

Jamison's teaching at UCLA spans these topics, including Sanskrit, Middle Indo-Aryan, and Old Iranian language and literature, Indo-European and Indo-Iranian linguistics, and undergraduate courses on Classical Indian civilization. Her books include: The Rig Veda between Two Worlds: Four Lectures at the Collège de France, May 2004 (2007), Sacrificed Wife / Sacrificer's Wife: Women, Ritual, and Hospitality in Ancient India (1996), The Ravenous Hyenas and the Wounded Sun: Myth and Ritual in Ancient India (1991), and Function and Form in the -áya-formations of the Rig Veda and Atharva Veda (1983).