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Avesta Sample
Y. 29.xi

When will Ye all, Asha and Vohu Man'

"And Khshathra, bring Your welcome steps to us?

"O Mazda, that this teaching might spread far,

"Accept as Thine His Gracious Brotherhood;

"Ahura, now that help has come our way,

"We will serve zealously both Thee and Thine."

kuda ashem vohucha

mano khshathremcha at ma masha

yuzhem mazda frakhshnene

mazoi magai a paiti zanata

ahura nu nao avare

ehma ratoish yushmavatam

I.J.S. Taraporewala, The Gathas of Zarathushtra, Bombay, 1947


From this time, moreover, till about the 17th century we find there was little inquiry into the sacred books of the Persians. One of the first series of investigations into the Greek and Roman sources seems then to have been undertaken by a European, Barnabe Brisson, De Persarum Principatu (Paris 1590). The Italian, English, and French travelers in the Orient next added some information as to the religion and customs of the Persians. Among them may be mentioned the works of Pietro della Valle (1620), Henry Lord (1630), Mandelso (1658), Tavernier (1678), Chardin (1721), Du Chinon. Most important, however, was the work of the distinguished Oxford scholar, Thomas Hyde (1700). It was written in Latin, and entitled Historia Religionis veterum Persarum. Hyde resorted chiefly to the later Parsi sources; the original texts he could not use, although an Avesta manuscript of the Yasna seems to have been brought to Canterbury as early as 1633. Hyde earnestly appealed to scholars, however, to procure manuscripts, of the sacred books of the Parsis, and aroused much interest in the subject. In 1723 a copy of Vendidad Sadeh was procured by an Englishman, George Boucher, from the Parsis in Surat and was deposited as a curiosity in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

No one, however, could read these texts of the Avesta. To a young Frenchman, Anquetil du Perron, belongs the honor of first deciphering them. The history of his labors is interesting and instructive. Happening, in 1754, to see some tracings made from the Oxford MS., and sent to Paris as a specimen, du Perron at once conceived the spirited idea of going to Persia, or India, and obtaining from the priests themselves the knowledge of their sacred books. Though fired with zeal and enthusiasm, he had no means to carry out his plan. He seized the idea of enlisting as a soldier in the troops that were to start for India, and in November, 1754, behind the martial drum and fife this youthful scholar marched out of Paris. The French government, however, recognizing at once his noble purpose, gave him his discharge from the army and presented him his passage to India. After countless difficulties he reached Surat, and there after innumerable discouragements, and in spite of almost insurmountable obstacles, he succeded in winning the confidence and favor of the priests, with whom he was able to communicate after he had learned the modern Persian. He gradually induced the priests to impart to him the language of their sacred works, to let him take some of the manuscripts, and even to initiate him into some of the rites and ceremonies of their religion. He stayed among the people for seven years, and then in 1761, he started for his home in Europe. He stopped at Oxford before going directly to Paris, and compared his MSS. with the one in the Bodleian Library, in order to be assured that he had not been imposed upon. The ten years were devoted to work upon his MSS. and upon a translation, and in 1771, seventeen years from the time he had first marched out of Paris, he gave forth to the world the results of his untiring labors. This was the first translation of the Avesta, or, as he called it, Zend-Avesta (Ouvrage de Zoroaster, 3 vols., Paris 1771), a picture of the religion and manners contained in the sacred book of the Zoroastrians.

The ardent enthusiasm which hailed this discovery and opening to the world of a literature, religion and philosophy of ancient times was unfortunately soon dampened. Some scholars, like Kant, were disappointed in not finding the philosophical or religious ideas they had hoped to find; while others missed the high literary value they had looked for. They little considered how inaccurate, of necessity, such a first translation must be. Though Anquetil du Perron had indeed learned the language from the priests, still, people did not know that the priestly tradition itself had lost much during the ages of persecution or oblivion into which the religions had fallen. They did not sufficiently take into account that Anquetil was learning one foreign tongue, the Avesta, through another, the modern Persian; nor did they know how little accurate and scientific training du Perron had had. A discussion as to the authenticity of the work arose. It was suggested that the so-called Zend-Avesta was not the genuine work of Zoroaster, but was a forgery. Foremost among the detractors, it is to be regretted, was the distuinguished Orientalist, Sir William Jones. He claimed, in a letter published in French (1771), that Anquetil had been duped, that the Parsis had palmed off upon him a conglomeration of worthless fabrications and absurdities. In England, Sir William Jones was supported by Richardson and Sir John Chardin; in Germany, by meiners. In France the genuineness of the book was universally accepted, and in one famous German scholar, Kleuker, it found an ardent supporter. He translated Anquetil's work into German (1776, Riga), for the use of his countrymen, especially the theologians, and he supported the genuineness of those scriptures by classical allusions to the Magi. For nearly fifty years, however, the battle as to authenticity, still raged. Anquetil's translation, as acquired from the priests, was supposed to be a true standard to judge the Avesta by, and from which to draw arguments; little or no work, unfortunately, was done on the texts themselves. The opinion, however, that the books were a forgery was gradually beginning to grow somewhat less.

It was the advance in the study of Sanskrit that finally won the victory for the advocates of the authenticity of the Sacred Books. About 1825, more than fifty years after the appearance of du Perron's translation, the Avesta texts themselves began to be studied by Sanskrit scholars. The close affinity between the two languages had already been noticed by different scholars; but in 1826, the more exact relation between the Sanskrit and the Avesta was shown by the Danish philologian, Rask, who had travelled in Persia and Iran, and who had brought back with him to the Copenhagen library many valuable MSS. of the Avesta and of the Pahlavi books. Rask, in a little work on the age and authenticity of the Zend-Language (1826), proved the antiquity of the language, showed it to be distinct from Sanskrit, though closely allied to it, and made some investigation into the alphabet of the texts. About the same time the Avesta was taken up by the French Sanskrit scholar, Eugene Burnouf. Knowing the relation between Sanskrit and Avestan, and taking up the reading of the texts scientifically, he at once found, through his knowledge of Sanskrit, philological inaccuracies in Anquetil's translation. Anquetil, he saw, must often have misinterpreted his teachers; the tradition itself must often necessarily have been defective. Instead of this untrustworthy French rendering, Burnouf turned to an older Skt. translation of a part of the Avesta. This was made in the 15th century by the Parsi Naryosangh, and was based on the pahlavi version. By means of this Skt. rendering, and by applying his philological learning, he was able to restore sense to many passages where Anquetil had often made nonsense, and he was thus able to throw a flood of light upon manyan obscure point. The employment of Skt., instead of depending upon the priestly traditions and interpretations, was a new step; it introduced a new method. The new discovery and gain of vantage ground practically settled the discussion as to authenticity. The testimony, moreover, of the ancient Persian inscriptions deciphered about this time by Grotefend (1802), Burnouf, Lassen, and by Sir Henry Rawlinson, showed still more, by their contents and language so closely allied to the Avesta, that this work must be genuine. The question was settled. The foundation laid by Burnouf was built upon by such scholars as Bopp, Haug, Windischmann, Westergaard, Roth, Spiegel, Bartholomae, Darmesteter, de Harlez, Huebschmann, Justi, Mills, especially Geldner, including some hardly less known names, Parsis among them. These scholars, using partly the Sanskrit key for the interpretation and meaning of words, and partly the Parsi tradition contained in the Pahlavi translation, have now been able to give us a clear idea of the Avesta and its contents as far as the books have come down to us, and we are enabled to see the true importance of these ancient scriptures. Upon minor points of interpretation, of course, there are and there always will be individual differences of opinion. We are now prepared to take up the general division and contents of the Avesta.

Abstracted from : Avesta Grammar, A.V. William Jackson, Stuttgart, 1892

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