After the arrival of Alexander the Great in the 4th BCE, India was in permanent relation with the Mediterranean world. When Rome conquered Egypt and took a special interest in the routes to India, the subcontinent and its inhabitants played a key role as an economic and cultural reference in a globalized world stretching from Western Europe and North Africa to China. In an Indian scenario full of ideological and religious pluralism, interactions, learning and creations, adaptation of new concepts and technological and artistic transfer were an essential part of the emerging cultural and social transfer were an essential part of the emerging cultural and social realities. This book, based on a previous publication Spanish, defends that in the Mahabharata – one of the most profound, captivating and richest stories of human history and, without a doubt, the most vivid of the world’s epics – Greek mythological and epic materials were systematically employed. The employment of these materials by no means takes away from the work’s authenticity, instead quite the contrary. The work was no doubt original, new and loaded with significance for the society that gave it birth, for those societies which follow, and to those which, by no accident, the work helped to shape, The acceptance of the intelligent and creative use of Greek materials in the Mahabharata to cover specific artistic and ideological goals does not imply any demerit for their author or authors. On the contrary, it is merely the discovery of an unknown facet of its genius.
Fernando Wulff Alonso is Professor of Ancient History in the University of Malaga, Spain. His research deals with different perspectives and themes of the Ancient world and its contemporary uses. He has published books and articles in different European countries and Journals on the impact of Rome on Rome on subject societies, gender, mythology and epics, modern historiography and the role of Ancient history in the construction of collective identities. One of the main lines of his research is the study of exchange processes and human interactions throughout history, and its impact on the creation and recreation of societies and cultures. Dr. Wulff Alonso has focused his research in the last years in the study of the Mahabharata in the context of his interest in world epics and mythology from the perspective of gender and power relations.
It is perhaps an integral part of the human condition to feel theground beneath our feet as much firmer than it actually is, fromwhich human societies have frequently gazed at themselves, and atothers, with rigid and static perspectives as though bound to arelationship marked by immobility and mistrust. This is perhapsintimately related to the general proclivity of having defined, distinctsocial groups, particularly one’s own, in terms of opposition, oftenhostile terms, in regard to other groups.
Nevertheless, there is nothing further from the authentic historyof the world than those representations of humanity as anaccumulation of cultures, or of countries constituted asincommunicable and impermeable realities that have descendedthrough the centuries untainted by means of adapting the exotic totheir particular realities, and therefore imagined with an identitydepicted as permanent and fixed.
The few thousand-year-old history of the human race, just as themuch shorter history of urban societies and the written tradition, is astory of encounters, of exchanges, and the formation, alteration anddisappearance of those specific groupings of people and theirlegacies which we call cultures or societies. Progress is the fruit ofour Capacity to create, to work together, to accept and reinterpret allthat has been discovered and all that has been learned. That is thehuman adventure; it is the only firm ground upon which we cantread without fear of error.
What we are suggesting here is seated in this perspective. It is adiscovery that was brought to light in the middle of variouscomparative studies concerning mythologies and epics. Thesestudies, to which a good portion of the last twenty five years of myacademic work have been dedicated, were undertaken from theanalytic vantage of power and gender. While finalizing amonograph about the Mahabharata, which was part of a moregeneral project coming to a close, a number of interestingconnections arose that, for the most part, had not been seen, or hadnot received enough attention as a whole, or had not beencompletely mapped out. Then an idea, which will hopefully prove tobe more than a mere hypothesis, took shape: essentially, in theMahabharata—one of the most profound, captivating and richeststories of human history, the most extensive existent epic, one of thebest known, and, without a doubt, most vivid of the world’s epics—Greek mythological and epic materials were systematicallyemployed, of which the /liad represents the most predominant, themost pivotal role. Moreover, as another one of our principalconclusions, we will also suggest that the author (or authors) of theMahabharata composed the work on account of having a completewrittén index of a variety of Greek materials on hand which wereused for the main body of the book.
Yet another conclusion ushered in on the coattails of the firstmust be addressed: the employment of Greek materials by no meanstakes away from the work’s authenticity, instead quite the contrary.The work was no doubt original, new and loaded with significancefor the society that gave it birth, for those societies which follow,and to those which, by no accident, the work helped to shape.
As we will see, the same complexity and variation in theutilization of Greek materials, which puts Greek sources separatedby centuries into play, the form itself of that utilization, which isstructural and exceeds all partial aspects, and even the fact that allthis implies written sources—or more directly: a well stockedlibrary—also leads one to obviate the possibility that theinterpretation’s inverse, the Greek use of Indian sources, such asthose some authors of the 19'' century defended, could be faithfullyrendered.
After the arrival of Alexander the Great, India was in permanentrelation with the Mediterranean world. When Rome conqueredEgypt and took a special interest in the routes to India, theSubcontinent played a key role as an economic and culturalreference in a globalized world full of connections stretching fromWestern Europe and North Africa to China. In the context of theseperspectives, it is not at all surprising that it was precisely in Egypt,the main point of contact between the Mediterranean world and theSubcontinent, where Christianity first developed asceticism andmonasticism.
In an Indian scenario full of ideological and religious pluralism,interactions, learning, creations and re-workings, adaptation of newconcepts and technological and artistic transfer were an essentialpart of the emerging cultural and social realities.
The acceptance of the intelligent and creative use that the authoror authors of the Mahabharata made of Greek materials to covertheir specific artistic and ideological goals does not imply anydemerit. On the contrary, it is merely the discovery of an unknownfacet of their genius.
In the years since the first edition of this book, it became apparentthat some of the predictions that were to be expected before itspublication were fulfilled, both in the interest it has aroused and in thedifficulties in accepting its content. Without departing from purelyscientific concerns, the central hypothesis of this book, that theMahabharata was built ab ovo with the help of Greco-Romanmaterials, that there are significant parallels between the Mahabharataand Greco-Roman texts, because an author or team had access toGreco-Roman materials around the change of era and built theMahabharata with these and other materials, fundamentally confrontsfour previous hypotheses, that formed the core of the dominantparadigm on the field for more than a century.
In the years straddling the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, theWestern scientific community -academics, symposiums, journals,academic publications, collective works, etc.- defined that paradigmwith precision: 1) The Mahabharata was the fruit of a long process ofaccretion, not a unitary work. 2) Its base was a traditional oral epicgenre, 3) It was created (basically or wholly) prior to the arrival ofAlexander the Great to India. 4) Both in the Mahabharata, like inIndian literature in general, there are no signs of use of Greco-Romanmaterials.
As a typical dominant paradigm, this perspective has been directingresearch agendas, organizations, publications and careers, and at thesame time inhibiting alternative perspectives, trying to marginalizescholars and works, to present itself as a kind of natural and selfevident perspective, to domesticate difficult or contradictory evidenceand, in particular, to make it difficult or impossible to conceive of theproblem in other than the acceptable, orthodox, terms.
Authors like V. Pisani, M. Biardeau or, in particular, A. Hiltebeitelare good examples of how critics to the first three points could buildalternative hypothesis and highlight the chain of unproven assumptionsunderlying the prevailing view (the time sequence of the compositionprocesses, the epic’s various layers and interpolations, multiple authorsfrom diverse social backgrounds restructuring the work, transition froman oral to a written tradition, existence of a previous epic tradition...).Concurrently, criticism and, in particular, a deafening silenceconfronting their opinions, and the rarity of serious attempts atconstructive dialogue are also good examples of a characteristicresistance to new points of view.
It was obvious that the fourth point could not have expected adifferent reception. It is an interesting paradox that the virtual ban onthe idea of the use of Greco-Roman materials by writers in theSubcontinent was somewhat subsequent to the discovery of ''Greco-Buddhist art'', which at the same time involved the impact of therealization of such Greco-Roman presence and influence, and the needto isolate it in order to maintain the theoretical status quo. That needwas felt both by Western scholars, who would not easily admit to thepossibility of an ''Indian soul'' accepting the sophistication of Classicalart —in particular right in the middle of the ascertainment of the failureof British imperialism in India- and by Indian scholars, who would noteasily accept the stain of a substantial impact of the (supposed)ancestors of Western colonialists in such a foundational moment ofwhat they felt as their own and particular culture.
Leaving ideological positions aside -if that is possible- thewidespread lack of knowledge concerning developments in thearchaeology and history of the Subcontinent and Bactria during recentdecades, and in its connections to the Mediterranean world, could notbut delay any serious recognition of the possibility of significantcultural interchange. Perhaps it has been more a kind of surprise to seein some after-lecture discussions problems generated by difficulties inunderstanding the complex variability of human history, the unlimitedvariations of answers by its protagonists, and the enormous gaps in ourknowledge of Ancient India, a fact represented, for instance, by a wellknown scholar who assured us that he could not imagine in whichhistorical Indian context the facts contemplated in this hypothesis couldhave taken place.
Another important difficulty is related to the kind of approachintended here, which is entirely traditional, just as this book is not justtraditional, but too traditional for our times. Although there is room leftfor historiographical and historical questions, including reflections onthe meaning of the work, as well as for the necessary interculturalapproach and other theoretical and methodological questions, itsprincipal aim is to prove its main hypothesis. After nigh on forty yearsstudying, and teaching on, cultural contact and exchanges, ethnogeneticprocesses, identities and interactions, and on the need to changenationalistic and essentialist theoretical frameworks to clear the way fornew perspectives, I did not feel the need to delve into those questions,not to mention the need to gain approval and acceptance through theuse of the, already relatively, new passwords of intellectual modernity,Or post-modernity, like post-colonialism, contestation, discursiveexperience, economic, cultural, and linguistic power, colonial politicsof knowledge, subalternity, mechanics of discrimination or hegemonicdiscourse; and not just because the processes dealt here have to do withsituations which only occasionally, if at all, could be understood as''colonialism''.
However, if it sounds logical that the hypothesis that theMahabharata had been built with the help of Greco-Roman materialscan only be substantiated with sufficient evidence, the, so to speak,encyclopaedic and perhaps arid character of this book can createadditional difficulties. These include the need to follow at the sametime complex Greco-Roman and Mahabharata stories and to takeaccount of all the stories and parallels dealt with, without the help of,for instance, diagrams and tables which, incidentally, would have madea huge book of the present big enough book.
Concurrently, the need for supporting evidence has subordinatedother possible explanatory resources, so that the amount of stories didnot leave room for two possible developments, which could have madeeasier the understanding of the main hypothesis. The first is the scarcityof references to the way the author of the Mahabharata would havecomposed the whole story and woven together its component parts onthe basis of the previous Greco-Roman and Indian scaffoldings. If it istrue, as noted by Alf Hiltebeitel ' in reference to the Iliad, that:''Wulff’s approach thus does away with the need to search for one-to-one correspondences between Greek and Indian characters and scenes,which has been the defeating self-limitation that has stymied studiesthat sought to relate the Iliad and the Mahabharata asderiving from some common source or sources, then othercorrespondences and processes must be subject to analysis andexplanation''.
The second is the absence of an explanation of the methodologicaltools employed in the text, those keys which would let discriminatebetween the main thesis and alternative answers. An excessive relianceon the immediate impact of evidence on the reader -in particularacademic readers is never advisable.
I wonder whether some remarks, even in a cursory way, on thisdirection could be useful here for the reader of this re-edition, andcould offer some additional instruments for better understanding the'Hiltebeitel, A. (in press), ''The Mahabharata and Hubris in the Greek Epic Cycle'',paper presented in the 16'' World Sanskrit Conference, June 28, 2015, Bangkok.
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