The Zend Avesta, Part III (SBE31), L.H. Mills, tr. , at sacred-texts.com
THE five Gâthas of Zarathustra and his immediate followers are placed here before the other parts of the Yasna on account of their higher antiquity. There existed no other Yasna for years or centuries beside them.
The more remarkable circumstances connected with them have been already discussed in the Introduction.
If it is necessary to recall any of them here, the most prominent would be that they are undoubtedly the productions of a small group of influential men who are referred to in them for the most part by name; that Zarathustra, everywhere else nearly or quite a demi-god, is here a struggling and suffering man. He is a prophet, or a divinely appointed instructor, but thoroughly human and real, so far as his situations become apparent.
Secondly, their historical tone may be emphasised. Their doctrines and exhortations concern an actual religious movement taking place contemporaneously with their composition; and that movement was exceptionally pure and most earnest. Their tone is therefore everywhere serious. Nearly all myths are dropped, and likewise, as perhaps their most striking peculiarity, even the old Aryan gods, who reappear in the later Yasna, Vendîdâd, and Yasts, are, save one, wholly absent.
The movement in its reformatory character seems to have thrown them out, not perhaps with definite intention, but because the minds of the devout enthusiasts excluded them as having inferior interest, in view of the results immediately before them.
So far as a claim to a high position among the curiosities of ancient moral lore is concerned, the reader may trust himself freely to the impression that he has before him an anthology which was probably composed with as fervent a desire to benefit the spiritual and moral natures of those to
whom it was addressed as any which the world had yet seen. Nay, he may provisionally accept the opinion that nowhere else are such traces of intelligent religious earnestness to be found as existing at the period of the Gâthas or before them, save in the Semitic scriptures.
As to their speculative depth; wherever theosophical speculation is put into words, the evidence of their grasp and subjectivity becomes positive. As the extent of documents necessarily produces a certain impression upon the mind of an investigator, it must not be forgotten that the Gâthas were in all probability many times more voluminous than the fragments which now remain to us. The historian may argue from what has survived to what once existed, and the inevitable conclusion is imposing.
For additional details see the Introduction, and the summaries at the head of each Gâtha and chapter.
This Gâtha, consisting of seven chapters of the Yasna (XXVIII-XXXIV), takes its name from the similarity of its metre to that of the Ahuna-vairya formula which also occurs before it in the Yasna. It is composed of homogeneous material. but as its material is also homogeneous with that of the other Gâthas, it probably owes its existence as a group of sections to its metrical form. Its lines were intended to number sixteen syllables, and they are put together in stanzas of three. It is all very ancient and probably nearly all original with Zarathustra himself, though parts seem to be put into the mouths of his immediate associates and disciples. Whether any persons existed in the immediate circle of the sage capable of composing hymns like these unaided, is of course a question; but that some were able to put poetical matter together under his guidance or inspiration seems certain.
An analysis and general summary is placed before each chapter as more convenient than massing them all together. The reader is reminded that the rhythm of the original, so far as it could be reasonably conjectured, is somewhat imitated in parts of the translations.