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The Yavanajataka reconsidered

 
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Martin Gansten
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Posted: Wed May 01, 2013 7:41 am    Post subject: The Yavanajataka reconsidered Reply with quote

A highly interesting and well-researched paper concerning the early history of the transmission of Greek astrology into India has just been published in History of Science in South Asia and is available here.
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Chris Brennan



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Posted: Thu May 02, 2013 4:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is huge. Not just the revised dating, but the objection to the argument about the Indianization of the text taking place during the versification process. Is Pingree's translation of the other technical chapters of the book really just as questionable or open to revision Martin? I wonder if the author will attempt a new translation along with the new critical edition? I really wish that Pingree had finished his edition of Minaraja. Is anyone trying to tackle that?
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Dave of Maryland



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Posted: Sun Aug 25, 2013 3:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would point out the whole purpose of versification was to enable the book to pass into an existing oral tradition. Which by definition would have already been strong enough to have understood the book, regardless if it was written this way or that. There is still a strong oral tradition in India (and China) to this day, as K.N. Rao himself will attest, having overheard many interesting snatches in railway cars over the years. The oral tradition in the west, which accounts for Manilius, as well as fragments of Manilius that turn up in Firmicus (etc.) was lost with the fall of Rome and appears to have never existed in the Islamic world, which has long been book-oriented.

The exception, in the west, has been the Church, which has been an oral tradition from its very beginning. In 2000 years it has made but one concession, that of putting the New Testament onto paper. Which it did about a century after the passing of its founder, when it was growing so fast it needed written materials to train its priests. A couple of years ago I queried Andrea Gehrz, who is fluent in ancient Greek, if the original Greek of the New Testament could be memorized wholesale. Easily, she said. (Which, by the way, does not say much for Bible-centered Christian religions, who may have only a fragment.)

Literate, book-oriented cultures look down on oral societies, imagining them to be crude and simplistic. A few are, but many are not. Remember that India is a hot and often humid place. Physical books simply will not last in such environments. Verse and memorization, handed down over the generations, will.
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Martin Gansten
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Posted: Sun Aug 25, 2013 7:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chris Brennan wrote:
Is Pingree's translation of the other technical chapters of the book really just as questionable or open to revision Martin?

I apologize for overlooking this question (almost four months ago now!). My answer would have to be no. I'm sure there are passages that could be better translated in the other chapters, but hardly on this scale. Having said that, though, I'm no particular authority on the YJ.

Dave of Maryland wrote:
I would point out the whole purpose of versification was to enable the book to pass into an existing oral tradition. Which by definition would have already been strong enough to have understood the book, regardless if it was written this way or that.

I'm not sure what the second sentence means, but the first is not correct. Although composition in verse form is one way (among several) to facilitate memorization, and thereby oral transmission, it does not follow that everything composed in verse is meant to be memorized, and it certainly does not follow that India had an existing tradition of horoscopic astrology at the time that the YJ was composed.
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Dave of Maryland



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Posted: Mon Aug 26, 2013 1:00 am    Post subject: Yavana Jataka Reply with quote

Hello Martin, if you've got evidence the ancient treated prose and poetry the same way we do, you should refer me to it. Modern people assume their books are triumphant. I question assumptions.

When the Yavana Jataka was versified there was a pre-existing oral tradition in India, and we have two clues to support that. One, that it was versified at all. Presumably there were a lot of prose manuscripts that were not versified and which were presumably lost as a result.

The second reason was that the Yavana Jataka was understood by the Indian culture of its day. Which is the only reason why an oral tradition around it would have started up at all. Which means there was an awful lot of similar books already being circulated orally. Given that the New Testament was not put on paper until a full century after the Crucifixion and therefore must have existed orally before that, we might well wonder if the earliest copies of Yavana are in fact the very earliest of all. That this or that king claimed it means nothing. Kings will claim whatever they can get away with. We must study the text itself.

Once you have a verse text in memory, you can spit it out, virtually error-free, decades later. I can easily do this with songs I have not heard in 40 years. Firmicus did this with Manilius. Thus the power of verse.

On the other hand, I am continually surprised by my own newsletter, six months later, when I have forgotten my very own words. As a means of conveying knowledge through the ages, books are a dicey proposition. Memory is far better. Why do I remember John Lennon from years ago, when I cannot remember myself from last week?

The opening of Parasara's Brihat Jataka ("natal astrology") is indicative of the great age of oral tradition. It is set as a dialogue between Parasara, a great sage, and Maitreya, his willing student. When I first saw that I nearly fell out of my chair. Esotericists know Maitreya as the 5th Bodhisattva, the successor to the Buddha, the man who also filled the role of Christ and, if we are to believe Alan Watts (Myth and Ritual in Christianity), was the original Adam. If that's the guy asking the questions and Parasara is giving the answers, that encounter happened many thousands of years ago. OR Maitreya's name has been put there by mistake, but that makes no sense. Why would anyone make Albert Einstein, for example, to be Tony Blair's private secretary? Anyone who knows the two would laugh. The only legitimate way to associate Parasara with Maitreya is if the two men in fact had such an association. Which would be in keeping with what is actually known of Maitreya, that he sneaks around enabling others. And would be many thousands of years ago, when he presumably would find such a job a challenge and had the time to spare.

Indian sages have always said their culture is far older than what Europeans would admit. I have seen enough of the Yavana Jataka and enough of, say, Ptolemy and Vettius Valens, to believe that Yavana had nothing whatever to do with Greek astrology, as there is barely a trace of it in it. It is possible that Yavana ("Greek") got a special cache by being deliberately mislabeled. The way that we Americans are always falling for the latest "European fad", while the Europeans are falling for the latest "American craze."

Up until the Moguls, Indians were world travelers and might be expected to know of the Greeks on Indian, not Greek, terms. An enterprising schemer might well pass off his work as that of a great and venerated foreign sage. Don't laugh. The most famous piece for organ is exactly such a thing. Not to mention the many paintings whose desperate creators signed someone else's names to them so that they might sell them and make a living thereby. The world is flooded with these things.

The oral world is different from the written one. History, when examined, is different from the tales we have been told.

Why "Yavana Jataka" ? I have so many Indian texts in my store that are Jataka this and Brihat that. Running it together, "Yavanajataka" is not the current English usage.
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Martin Gansten
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Posted: Mon Aug 26, 2013 7:51 am    Post subject: Re: Yavana Jataka Reply with quote

There is no point in prolonging this discussion, as it is clear that you do not have the necessary background knowledge (besides which, this is not the appropriate forum for it). There are some older threads on other forums dealing both with the YJ and with the BPHS; I suggest you look at them.
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Dave of Maryland



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Posted: Mon Aug 26, 2013 11:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I see you are correct. My apologies. I had thought the following observation was new. From pg. 17 of the text, link above:

Quote:
At any rate, there is no evidence of the existence of a Greek text in
prose from which Sphujidhvaja versified, as Pingree claimed.
To sum up, the most we can say in the absence of further evidence is that the
Yavanajātaka is an early Indian jyotiṣa text which incorporated elements of Greek astrology and astronomy


It has otherwise long been clear that Greek and Indian astrology bear about as much resemblance as the French and Russian languages. I will be happier when academics understand oral tradition. I can find no evidence they do.
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Bill M. Mak



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Posted: Thu Jan 15, 2015 2:13 am    Post subject: Update Reply with quote

Chris Brennan wrote:
This is huge. Not just the revised dating, but the objection to the argument about the Indianization of the text taking place during the versification process. Is Pingree's translation of the other technical chapters of the book really just as questionable or open to revision Martin? I wonder if the author will attempt a new translation along with the new critical edition? I really wish that Pingree had finished his edition of Minaraja. Is anyone trying to tackle that?


A new translation of the last chapter as well as some of the passages in other chapters have been published in my two 2014 articles. Martin was correct noting that the earlier chapters are not so problematic. A closer look at the topics dealt in all the chapters reveal a whole array of problems Pingree quietly ignored in the past. As we can quite certainly discard some of Pingree's claims regarding the origin of this work, there is still much to discover and reevaluate the position of this text in the history of Indian or even Eurasian astral science.

Here is an update on my work on my FB page:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bill-Maks-History-of-Astral-Science-Laboratory/698161153630514
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