How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics / Edition 1

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In How to Kill a Dragon Calvert Watkins follows the continuum of poetic formulae in Indo-European languages, from Old Hittite to medieval Irish. He uses the comparative method to reconstruct traditional poetic formulae of considerable complexity that stretch as far back as the original common language. Thus, Watkins reveals the antiquity and tenacity of the Indo-European poetic tradition.

Watkins begins this study with an introduction to the field of comparative Indo-European poetics; he explores the Saussurian notions of synchrony and diachrony, and locates the various Indo-European traditions and ideologies of the spoken word. Further, his overview presents case studies on the forms of verbal art, with selected texts drawn from Indic, Iranian, Greek, Latin, Hittite, Armenian, Celtic, and Germanic languages.

In the remainder of the book, Watkins examines in detail the structure of the dragon/serpent-slaying myths, which recur in various guises throughout the Indo-European poetic tradition. He finds the "signature" formula for the myth—the divine hero who slays the serpent or overcomes adversaries—occurs in the same linguistic form in a wide range of sources and over millennia, including Old and Middle Iranian holy books, Greek epic, Celtic and Germanic sagas, down to Armenian oral folk epic of the last century. Watkins argues that this formula is the vehicle for the central theme of a proto-text, and a central part of the symbolic culture of speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language: the relation of humans to their universe, the values and expectations of their society. Therefore, he further argues, poetry was a social necessity for Indo- European society, where the poet could confer on patrons what they and their culture valued above all else: "imperishable fame."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The at once an impressive summation of what has gone before and a bold step forward into new waters...In its methodology, in its breadth, Watkins' book can only be termed a tour de force."—Journal of the American Oriental Society

"This book is an inspiring introduction to the problems and techniques of comparative Indo-European poetics and at the same time a major contribution to that field...It is both delightfully entertaining and a very important work..."—The Classical Journal

"[This] rewarding book crowns many decades of thorough and often brilliant linguistic research."—Religious Studies Review

"Watkins builds a compelling case for his interpretations....This work is richly illustrated with examples from relevant literature, with all passages presented both in the original and in translation."—Diachronica

"The sheer mass of the learning in this landmark book by Watkins is overwhelming....the whole book is full of stimulating ideas....We owe a debt of gratitude to Watkins for this massive—and masterly— synthesis of traditional poetics in the Indo-European tradition."—Journal of American Folklore

" attests to an extraordinary erudition and unique command of the major ancient IE languages; it contains innumerable original insights and fascinating notes on religion and mythology; it is well written and develops its argument step by step with growing conviction and clarity; altogether, a challenging and stimulating work!"—The Journal of Indo-European Studies

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195085952
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 12/28/1995
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 640
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.87 (d)

Table of Contents

Aspects of Indo-European Poetics
I. The Field of Comparative Poetics: Introduction and Background
1. The comparative method in linguistics and poetics 3
2. Sketch for a history of Indo-European poetics 12
3. Poetics as grammar: Typology of poetic devices, and some rules of poetic grammar 28
4. Poetics as repertory: The poetic traditions of the Indo-European world--sources and texts 50
5. The Indo-European poet: His social function and his art 68
6. The poet's truth: The power, particularity, and preserveration of the word 85
II. Case Studies
7. Greece and the art of the word 97
8. Vedic India and the art of the word 109
9. Ireland and the art of the syllable 117
10. Saxa loquuntur: The first age of poetry in Italy--Faliscan and South Picene 126
11. Most ancient Indo-Europeans 135
12. The comparison of formulaic sequences 152
13. An Indo-European stylistic figure 165
14. A late Indo-European traditional epithet 170
15. An Indo-European theme and formula: Imperishable fame 173
16. The hidden track of the cow: Obscure styles in Indo-European 179
III. The Strophic Style: An Indo-European Poetic Form
17. Some Indo-European prayers: Cato's lustration of the fields 197
18. Umbria: The Tables of Iguvium 214
19. Italy and India: The elliptic offering 226
20. Strophic structures as "rhythmic prose"? Italic 229
21. Strophic structures in Iranian 232
22. 'Truth of truth', 'most kavi of kavis', 'throng-lord of throngs': An Indo-Iranian stylistic figure 241
23. More strophic structures 247
24. Early Irish rosc 255
25. The Asvamedha or Horse Sacrifice: An Indo-European liturgical form 265
26. Orphic gold leaves and the great way of the soul: Strophic style, funerary ritual formula, and eschatology 277
How to Kill a Dragon in Indo-European: A Contribution to the Theory of the Formula
IV. The Basic Formula and Its Variants in the Narration of the Myth
27. Preliminaries 297
28. The root *g[superscript u]hen-: Vedic han- 304
29. The root *g[superscript u]hen-: Avestan jan- 313
30. The root *g[superscript u]hen-: Hittite kuen- and the Indo-European theme and formula 321
31. The slayer slain: A reciprocal formula 324
32. First variant: The root *udeh- 330
33. 'Like a reed': The Indo-European background of a Luvian ritual 335
34. Second variant: the root *terh[subscript 2]- 343
35. Latin tarentum, the ludi saeculares, and Indo-European eschatology 347
36. The myth in Greece: Variations on the formula and theme 357
37. Expansion of the formula: A recursive formulaic figure 370
38. Herakles, the formulaic hero 374
39. Hermes, Enualios, and Lukoworgos: The Serpent-slayer and the Man-slayer 383
40. Nektar and the adversary Death 391
41. The saga of Iphitos and the hero as monster 398
42. The name of Meleager 408
43. The Germanic world 414
44. Thor's hammer and the mace of Contract 429
V. Some Indo-European Dragons and Dragon-Slayers
45. Fergus mac Leti and the muirdris 441
46. Typhoeus and the Illuyankas 448
47. Python and Ahi Budhnya, the Serpent of the Deep 460
48. Azi dakaka, Visvarupa, and Geryon 464
VI. From Myth to Epic
49. From God to hero: The formulaic network in Greek 471
50. The best of the Achaeans 483
51. To be the death of: Transformation of the formula 488
52. The formula without the word: A note on Euripides and Lysias 493
53. The basic formula and the announcement of death 499
54. Further Indo-European comparisons and themes 505
55. The song of victory in Greek 510
VII. From Myth to Charm
56. From dragon to worm 519
57. The charms of Indo-European 525
58. Indo-European medical doctrine 537
59. The poet as healer 540
Abbreviations 545
References 550
Indexes of names and subjects 577
Index of passages 586
Index of words 601
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