How did ancient Iranian religion represent the wolf? Between the mythological data, the realities of the agro-pastoral world, and the symbolism of exegetical tradition, Late Antique Zoroastrianism considered the wolf as primarily a species to kill. In reality, much more than the Canis lupus hides behind the word ‘wolf ’ (Middle Persian gurg), including most nocturnal predators but also devastating illnesses, a monster whom the Savior will destroy at the end of time, and finally heretics who renounce or deform the Good Religion. However, this negative image is nuanced by the recognition of the strong ties between the she-wolf and wolf cubs, both in texts where the protective qualities of this large predator are evoked, and in iconography, namely magic seals, where one finds the image of the nourishing she-wolf, perhaps connected to perinatal magic.
Myths on the Origin of Language or on the Plurality of Languages
08.02-09.02.2017, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin
Session 1: The Tower of Babel
Hindy Najman: “The origin of language and the Tower of Babel”
Florentina Geller: “The Tower of Babel from parabiblical sources”
Session 2: Ancient Greece and Rome
Filippomaria Pontani: “Greek and Roman materials”
Comments by Glenn Most.
Session 3: Iran and India
Shervin Farridnejad: “The Language of the Gods: Some Reflections on the Origin of the Language in Zoroastrianism”
Roy Tzohar: “Language originated in dreams: Why Indian Buddhists do not have (almost) any myths about the creation of Languages”
Comments by Sonja Brentjes
Session 4: China and Inner Asia
Wolfgang Behr: “Some Ideas on the Origin of Language in Late Imperial China,” with a few words on early China”
Mårten Söderblom Saarela: “Accounts of the invention of scripts in Inner Asia”
Comments by Dagmar Schäfer
About the working group:
This working group brings together around a dozen historians and philologists with diverse kinds of linguistic expertise to discuss the relation between plurilingualism and the creation and reception of monolingual and plurilingual texts in various Eurasian societies. Through joint readings and translation the group explores how the text is affected by its origin in a plurilingual society and, conversely, the effect plurilingualism has on reading practices and on a “polyglot’s” understanding of the text (its concepts and ideals). In the past – as much as in the present – the majority of people in the world, and most probably most elite communities, were enmeshed in plurilingual practices. Elites from India to the Central Asia plains, Bengali Zamindars, Parsi businessmen, and scholarly travellers and the politically privileged inhabitants around the Mediterranean or the East Asian seas used two or more languages on a daily basis. Plurilingualism was widespread and a common response to the phenomenon of great linguistic diversity, not necessarily in the sense of language mastery, but rather in the form of effective negotiation of the immediate exigencies of communication. Seeking to better understand this dynamic, the seminar investigates topics such as the impact of filtering information through varied languages; the interplay between declarative and procedural knowledge; methods and means of classification; covert translations and covert multilingualism in monolingual texts; and scholarly ideals regarding reading, writing, and linguistic media, be they purportedly perfect or original languages or newly minted would-be rational or universal languages.
This study attempts to broaden the Judeo-Christian prism through which the rabbinic legends of Adam and Eve are frequently examined in scholarship, by offering a contextual and synoptic reading of Babylonian rabbinic traditions pertaining to the first human couple against the backdrop of the Zoroastrian and Manichaean creation myths. The findings demonstrate that, while some of the themes and motifs found in the Babylonian rabbinic tradition are continuous with the ancient Jewish and Christian heritage, others are absent from, or occupy a peripheral role in, ancient Jewish and Christian traditions and, at the same time, are reminiscent of Iranian mythology. The study posits that the syncretic tendencies that pervaded the Sasanian culture facilitated the incorporation of Zoroastrian and Manichaean themes into the Babylonian legends, which were in turn creatively repackaged and adapted to the rabbinic tradition and world-view.
The Wild Rue is a unique study of myth and magic in Iran. Bess Donaldson spent thirty years in Iran as both missionary and teacher and in this classic work she records the beliefs and superstitions of country at a time when they were increasingly under threat from the tremendous changes brought about by the Shah’s program of modernization. This earlier way of life, with its belief in angels and the evil eye, and with its age-old rituals surrounding childbirth and burial, is recounted in an informed yet highly readable text. A unique study of magic, myth and folklore with chapters on cosmology, names and numbers, snakes, dreams, talismans and signs, childbirth, angels, the evil eye, and the calendar. A classic work, long unavailable but now back in print.
Bess Allen Donaldson was an American Presbyterian missionary and teacher. She began teaching at the Iran Bethel Girl’s School in 1910, eventually becoming its principal. Bess Donaldson spent thirty years in Iran, during which time she gathered the material for The Wild Rue.