4. The Rig Veda c. 1200 BC

Content : A selection from the larger collection of 1,028 Vedic (pre-Hindu) hymns. My copy is the Penguin edition translated by Wendy O’Flaherty (ISBN 0140444025)

My thoughts : Not as incomprehensible as The Book of the Dead, but still a difficult read. In this case, the obscurity is deliberate as a single line of a hymn can be interpreted in 3 or 4 or even 5 different ways. Thankfully the editor prefaces most hymns with an explanation which generally gave me the gist of the meaning. Other confusing patterns include different hymns praising different gods for the same acts (such as separating the heaven and earth), Gods known by different names, switching back and forth between cause and effect, etc.
All of the hymns are seeking material gain of some sort in the current life – there is no mention of the Afterlife or spiritual redemption and everlasting life. It is all about immediate gain – very materialistic for our modern idea of a sacred text. And since the caste system is already in place in Indian civilization at the time of the hymns’ writing, they are no doubt written and to be sung by the higher educated classes.
Some of the mythological hymns reflect similar tales from European stories. One I noticed that the editor didn’t comment on was the God Indra killing the dragon Vrtra and its mother Danu – shades of Beowulf!

Favourite lines/passages
I have proclaimed your wondrous deeds, Asvins. Let me be lord over this world, with good cattle and good sons; let me see and win a long life-span and enter old age as if going home. (p. 184)
Can’t say better than that!

Diversions/digressions : A quick bit of research into the Vedic gods thanks to Veronica Ions’ Indian mythology.

Personal rating 3/10

Next : Off to Ancient Troy. Polish your spears and gird your loins – we’re off to rescue (?) Helen with the Greek Army in Homer’s The Iliad.

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