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The Zend Avesta, Part I (SBE04), James Darmesteter, tr. [1880], at



THE peace did not last long, and a year after the death of Burnouf a new controversy broke out, which still continues, the battle of the methods, that is, the dispute between those who, to interpret the Avesta, rely chiefly or exclusively on tradition, and those who rely only on comparison with the Vedas. The cause of the rupture was the rapid progress made in the knowledge of the Vedic language and literature: the deeper one penetrated into that oldest form of Indian words and thoughts, the more striking appeared its close affinity with the Avesta words and thoughts. Many a mysterious line in the

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[paragraph continues] Avesta received an unlooked-for light from the poems of the Indian Rishis, and the long-forgotten past and the origin of many gods and heroes, whom the Parsi worships and extols without knowing who they were and whence they came, were suddenly revealed by the Vedas. Emboldened by its bright discoveries, the comparative method took pity on its slower and less brilliant rival, which was then making its first attempts to unravel the Pahlavi traditional books. Is it worth while, said the Vedic scholars 1, to try slowly and painfully to extract the secret of the old book from that uncouth literature? Nay, is there any hope that its secret is there? Translating the Avesta in accordance with the Pahlavi is not translating the Avesta, but only translating the Pahlavi version, which, wherever it has been deciphered, is found to wander strangely from the true meaning of the original text. Tradition, as a rule, is wont to enforce the ideas of its own ages into the books of past ages, From the time when the Avesta was written to the time when it was translated, many ideas had undergone great changes: such ideas, tradition must needs either misunderstand or not understand at all, and tradition is always either new sense or nonsense. The key to the Avesta is not the Pahlavi, but the Veda. The Avesta and the Veda are two echoes of one and the same voice, the reflex of one and the same thought: the Vedas, therefore, are both the best lexicon and the best commentary to the Avesta.

The traditional school 2 replied that translating Zend by means of Sanskrit and the Avesta by means of the Vedas, because Zend and the Avesta are closely related to Sanskrit and the Vedas, is forgetting that relationship is not identity, and that what interests the Zend scholar is not to know how far Zend agrees with Sanskrit, but what it is in itself: what he seeks for in the Avesta, is the Avesta, not the Veda. Both the Vedic language and the Vedas are quite unable to teach us what became in Persia of those elements, which are common to the two systems, a thing which tradition alone can teach us. By the comparative

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method, the Zend meregha, which means 'a bird,' would assume the meaning of 'gazelle' to accord with the Sanskrit mriga; ratu, 'a part of the day,' would be extended to 'a season' out of regard for ritu; mainyu, 'a spirit,' and dahyu, 'a province,' would be degraded to 'anger' and to 'a set of thieves,' and 'the demons,' the Daêvas, would ascend from their dwelling in hell up to heaven, to meet their philological brothers, the Indian Devas. The traditional. method, as it starts from matters of facts, moves always in the field of reality; the comparative method starts from an hypothesis, moves in a vacuum, and builds up a fanciful religion and a fanciful language.

Such being the methods of the two schools, it often happened that a passage, translated by two scholars, one of each school, took so different an aspect that a layman would have been quite unable to suspect that it was one and the same passage he had read twice. Yet the divergence between the two methods is more apparent than real, and proceeds from an imperfect notion of the field in which each of them ought to work. They ought not to oppose, but assist one another, as they are not intended to instruct us about the same kind of facts, but about two kinds of facts quite different and independent. No language, no religion, that has lived long and changed much, can be understood at any moment of its development, unless we know what it became afterwards, and what it was before. The language and religion of the Avesta record but a moment in the long life of the Iranian language and thought, so that we are unable to understand them, unless we know what they became and whence they came. What they became we learn directly from tradition, since the tradition arose from the very ideas which the Avesta expresses; whence they came we learn indirectly from the Vedas, because the Vedas come from the same source as the Avesta. Therefore it cannot happen that the tradition and the Veda will really contradict one another, if we take care to ask from each only what it knows, from one the present, and the past from the other. Each method is equally right and equally efficacious, at its proper time and in its right

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place. The first place belongs to tradition, as it comes straight from the Avesta. The second inquiry, to be successful, requires infinite prudence and care: the Veda is not the past of the Avesta, as the Avesta is the past of tradition; the Avesta and Veda are not derived from one another, but from one and the same original, diversely altered in each, and, therefore, there are two stages of variation between them, whereas from the Avesta to tradition there is only one. The Veda, if first interrogated, gives no valuable evidence, as the words and gods, common to the two systems, may not have retained in both the same meaning they had in the Indo-Iranian period: they may have preserved it in one and lost it in the other, or they may have both altered it, but each in a different way. The Veda, generally speaking, cannot help in discovering matters of fact in the Avesta, but only in explaining them when discovered by tradition. If we review the discoveries made by the masters of the comparative school, it will be seen that they have in reality started, without noticing it, from facts formerly established by tradition. In fact tradition gives the materials, and comparison puts them in order. It is not possible, either to know the Avesta without the former, or to understand it without the latter.

The traditional school, and especially its indefatigable and well-deserving leader, Spiegel, made us acquainted with the nature of the old Iranian religion by gathering together all its materials; the comparative school tried to explain its growth. The traditional school published the text and the traditional. translations, and produced the first Parsi grammar, the first Pahlavi grammar, and the first translation of the Avesta which had been made since Anquetil. The danger with it is that it shows itself too apt to stop at tradition, instead of going from it to comparison. When it undertakes to expound the history of the religion, it cannot but be misled by tradition. Any living people, although its existing state of mind is but the result of various and changing states through many successive ages, yet, at any particular moment of its life, keeps the remains of its former stages of thought in order, under the control of the

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principle that is then predominant. Thus it happens that their ideas are connected together in a way which seldom agrees with their historical sequence: chronological order is lost to sight and replaced by logical order, and the past is read into the present. Comparison alone can enable us to put things in their proper place, to trace their birth, their growth, their changes, their former relations, and lead us from the logical order, which is a shadow, to the historical order, which is the substance.

The comparative school developed Indo-Iranian mythology. Roth showed after Burnouf how the epical history of Iran was derived from the same source as the myths of Vedic India, and pointed out the primitive identity of Ahura Mazda, the supreme god of Iran, with Varuna, the supreme god of the Vedic age. In the same direction Windischmann, in his 'Zoroastrian Essays' and in his studies on Mithra and Anâhita, displayed singular sagacity. But the dangers of the method came to light in the works of Haug, who, giving a definite form to a system still fluctuating, converted Mazdeism, into a religious revolution against Vedic polytheism, found historical allusions to that schism both in the Avesta and in the Veda, pointed out curses against Zoroaster in the Vedas, and, in short, transformed, as it were, the two books into historical pamphlets 1.

In the contest about the authenticity of the Avesta, one party must necessarily have been right and the other wrong; but in the present struggle the issue is not so clear, as both parties are partly right and partly wrong. Both of them, by following their principles, have rendered such services to science as seem to give each a right to cling to its own method more firmly than ever. Yet it is to be hoped that they will see at last that they must be allies, not enemies, and that their common work must be begun by the one and completed by the other.


xxvi:1 Roth, Benfey, Haug. Cf. Revue Critique, 1877, II, 81.

xxvi:2 Spiegel, Justi.

xxix:1 It would be unjust, when speaking of Haug, not to recall the invaluable services he rendered in the second part of his career, as a Pahlavi scholar. He was the first who thought of illustrating the Pahlavi in the books by the Pahlavi in the inscriptions, and thus determined the reading of the principal elements in the manuscript Pahlavi.

Next: Chapter III. The Formation of the Zend-Avesta