Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sanskrit things

I finished the last Sanskrit reading assignment that I'm likely to ever have again. That's not to say that I'm finished reading Sanskrit, but now I get to read whatever I want! My first order of business is to read RV 1.32 for a class that I'm teaching this summer. After that I want to read some verses of the Bhagavad Gita, which I've long wanted to do. First, however, I still have that lingering business of a final exam.

In our final class I wondered why the the root vac becomes voc in the aorist forms. We consulted Whitney's grammar, which only said that "maturer" research was needed. One of my fellow students made a great suggestion, which turned out to be right after some searching. It is a secondary reduplication: *a-va-vc-at, where *av is treated like *au.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Going to Fiveness

I've come across an interesting phrase in Sanskrit for dying several times this semester. It involves the word pañcatva, which means fiveness, and the verbal element gam, meaning to go: so, going to fiveness. The sense is dying, or going to death, more fundamentally, the dissolution of the body into the five elements, earth, water, fire, air, ether (according to Lanman).


I really like the Sanskrit word sarga. I suppose the most fundamental meaning is that of letting loose or streaming. This manifests itself in several different ways. It can be used of an arrow being shot, or released. It can be used of a river or stream. It can be used of a chapter or section of a book. And it can also be used of herd of animals, presumably of a herd being let loose, and so moving together like a stream.

Lowell Edmunds on Max Ernst

Lowell Edmunds gave a lecture today on the painting Oedipus Rex by Max Ernst. After he made some observations on interpretation, it turned into a group discussion of the painting. The main question seemed to be in what degree Ernst was referring directly to the play by Sophocles or the work of Freud. There were some elements that seem to refer directly to the play, for instance, the arrow through the walnut. There are several things that suggest Hamlet, perhaps via Freud.

There were some interesting observations made. It is a left hand coming through the window, which might recall the name Laius. The device being used by the hand can be identified in other works of Ernst as a tool for piercing the feet of birds. The nut almost certainly refers to a problem, whether the riddle of the sphinx, or the murder investigation of Oedipus in the play. The horns on the the head in the background, again judging from other works of Ernst, refer to kingship. The rope attached to the horns leads into the sky, suggesting some divine control, and one member of the audience pointed out that the rope is not taut, perhaps indicating anticipation of the future, or that there remains an appearance of free will. Edmunds sees in the two heads the characters of Laius and Jocasta. Some wanted to see the horned figure as Oedipus himself. I think, in the framework of Freudian thought, there is no problem with something having two interpretations at the same time. I wondered about the how the bird might relate to augury, which is an important theme in the play. The eye on the bird in the foreground is inverted, which theme of sight is also another related theme in the play, since Tireseus is blind, and Oedipus is figuratively blind in the beginning, and later physically blinds himself, once he has seen. It was a great deal of fun, after spending a few months in a seminar on Oedipus Tyrannos, to add another interpretation to the discussion, and one that requires a good deal of detective work.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Lowell Edmunds

I had the pleasure of having lunch today with Lowell Edmunds of Rutgers University. We talked mostly about current politics and conservation of energy in daily life, but we also talked about some of his current work, which deals with minor Latin literature, or, more specifically, it deals with a definition of minor Latin literature. His work on Greek literature and mythology is more familiar to me, of course, but I also discovered that he wrote a book on the martini. Afterward, we had a small discussion with professors and graduate students on contemporary Athenian political themes in the Oedipus Tyrannos of Sophocles.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Gods and Demons

The Avestan word ahura, which refers to a group of deities, is cognate with the Sanskrit word asura, which is used of demons. When I first discovered this, I was surprised, because I had learned that the Sanskrit word sura was used of gods. It seems that the ancient Indians, at some point, thought that the word-initial "a" was privative, which it was not.