Arjuna-Odysseus: Shared heritage in Indian and Greek epic, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover


Shared heritage in Indian and Greek epic, 1st Edition

By Nicholas Allen

Routledge India

400 pages | 10 B/W Illus.

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Paperback: 9780367348304
pub: 2019-08-12
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Arjuna-Odysseus provides a comprehensive view of the ideology and shared heritage between the great Indian Sanskrit epic, the Mahābhārata, and early Greek traditions presented in the texts of Homer and Hesiod. By bringing together Greek Classics and Indology within a common origin perspective, the volume not only generates new answers to old questions, but also raises issues about preliterate oral tradition among the Indo-Europeans. It discusses themes like Homer’s simile, Vyāsa’s story; Argos and Hanuman: Odysseus’ dog in the light of the Mahābhārata; Athena and Durgā: warrior goddesses in Greek and Sanskrit epic; Iliad and Mahābhārata: the quarrel among the victors. First of its kind, this book will be useful for scholars and researchers of Indo-european comparative literature, literature, cultural studies, religion, post colonial studies, Indian and Greek epics.


‘This is a volume for the ages. N. J. Allen is the dean of British comparativists; and no one has perceived more clearly or argued more persuasively for the shared structures of Greek and Sanskrit epic, features commonly held by cause of common ancestry. These twenty-three chapters are jewels, every one, to be read and re-read: rejoice in their brilliance.’

Roger D. Woodard, Andrew van Vranken Raymond, Professor of the Classics, University of Buffalo (The State University of New York)

Every educated person knows that the languages of north India are related to those of Europe and that they all derive, in the distant past, from an Indo-European forebear spoken on the steppes of Russia. But how many realize that the key motifs and stories of the Iliad and Odyssey—so often heralded as the beginning of European literature, somehow springing fully formed from the brain of Homer—in fact go back likewise to those ancient beginnings and share that origin with South Asia’s great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata? No one has pursued the comparisons that prove this common origin point with such tenacity and persistence as N.J. Allen. The publication of a collection of his essays on this theme, essays previously scattered in obscurity, is a major scholarly event and should mark the coming of age of Indo-European Cultural Comparativism.’

David N. Gellner, Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Oxford

Nick Allen’s Arjuna-Odysseus extends the foundational work of Georges Dumézil by supplying an anthropological dimension to Indo-European studies. Allen brings to bear his sensibility as an ethnographer of South Asia, his long-term engagement with Greek and Indic texts, and an expansive knowledge of anthropological theory and comparative ethnography built up over decades of teaching. The result is a feast of insightful case studies that advance a new understanding of Indo-European cultural ideology while making a major contribution to the study of epic poetry in ancient Greece and India.’

Charles Stewart, University College London

Table of Contents

Introduction 1. The ideology of the Indo-Europeans: Dumézil's theory and the idea of a fourth function. 2. The hero’s five relationships: a Proto-Indo-European story 3. Homer’s simile, Vyāsa’s story 4. Why did Odysseus become a horse? 5. The Indo-European prehistory of yoga. 6. Argos and Hanuman: Odysseus’ dog in the light of the Mahābhārata 7. Athena and Durgā: warrior goddesses in Greek and Sanskrit epic 8. Pénélope et Draupadî: la validité de la comparaison 9. Dyaus and Bhīṣma, Zeus and Sarpedon: towards a history of the Indo-European sky god. 10. Bhīṣma and Hesiod’s Succession Myth. 11. Thomas McEvilley: the missing dimensión 12. The Buddhist Wheel of Existence and two Greek comparisons 13. The shield of Achilles and Indo-European tradition 14. Iliad and Mahābhārata: the quarrel among the victors 15. The hanging man and Indo-European mythology 16. Hephaestus and Agni: gods and men on the battlefield in Greek and Sanskrit epics 17.Cyavana helps Aśvins, Prometheus helps humans: a myth about sacrifice 18. Why the Telemachy? Vyāsa’s answer

About the Author

N J Allen is Retired Reader, Social Anthropology of South Asia, University of Oxford, UK. His research interests include Himalayan Studies; World-historical approach to kinship systems; Sociology of Durkheim and more especially Mauss; Indo-European cultural comparativism.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Regional Studies