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Neveleva S.L. Aspects of Poetics of the Ancient Indian Epos. The Epithet and Simile [Вопросы поэтики древнеиндийского эпоса. Эпитет и сравнение], ed. by E.Tyomkin. М., 1979.


The book deals with some questions connected with the use of two artistic devices—epithet and comparison—in the ancient Indian epos Mahabharata. Main attention is devoted to the semantics of artistic means, related to the semantics of the protagonists of the epos.

It would be expedient to single out two most general semantic categories of epithets: those describing the real distinctive features of objects (colou, material, size, age, etc.), i. e., stating epithets, and characteristics of a moral nature, or evaluating epithets. In contrast to the former, the latter can give extremely opposite characteristics of one and the same object. It is noteworthy that the majority of the so-called stating epithets is distinguished by a more complex content than an outward impression of an object including mythological, emotional, ethical and aesthetic levels, as well as the evaluation and idealization of what is described. The semantics of evaluating epithets which characterize the qualities of the epic hero-warrior and his distinctive features, which are not directly connected with heroism, poetically confirms the thesis about the multidimentionality of the content of the epos.

Speaking about constant epithet it is necessary to take into account its three basic characteristics: the frequency of its being used with a definite object, its constant character, and the importance of the distinction it expresses. The importance of a distinction is determined on the basis of a complex of the traditional ideas expressed in the monument of literature, which were partially conditioned by the theme of heroico-epic genre.

Constant epithet is opposed by situative epithet. Their distinctions are as follows: definiteness—indefiniteness of an object, constancy—Inconstancy of a distinctive feature, importance—particular character of a distinctive feature, generality — concrete character, ordinariness—uniqueness of the state of an object, independence from—connection with a concrete situation. However, despite their clear-cut distinctions, constant and situative epithets cannot be fully opposed to each other, because a definite situation in an epos is described with a definite set of epithets and stereotyped characteristics, with the number of the types of situations being finite.

The use of several epithets, aligned in chains, with one object concentrated in a small portion of t?xt (stringing of epithets) corresponds to one of the stylistic features of oral poetic speech and serves the purpose of the emotional introduction of the person or object described. The substitution of an epithet for the name of a persoi or ai object (substantivization of epithet) can have a dual character: with a maximum community of content for the entire category of objects—complete substantivization (in sentences of a proverbial type); with an individual content and the direct correlation of an epithet with the object—the turning of the epithet into an equivalent of a proper noun. The metonymical use of epithet is connected with at least two phenomena: the spreading of the synonimic series of denominations of one and the same notion and the formation, according to a metonymical model, of the basic sections of the anthropo-nymic structure of ancient Indian epos (names by relative and names-epithets). On the whole, the epithets of ancient Indian epos seem to be stylistically similar to traditional folklore epithets, and in some distinctive features of their use they show affinity to epic creations of other peoples.

Comparisons of Sanskrit epos are analysed in two aspects: formal and semantic, with a special role assigned to a systems description of the objects of comparison. The features brought out as a result of comparison make it possible to form some idea about the most important ethical and aesthetic values for epos, which reflect, to some extent, the standards of social taste. The basis of a semantic classification of the images to be met in the comparisons of Mahabharata is the singling out of the two main groups denoted as Man and Nature. The first group includes comparisons reflecting day-to-day life in all its multiformity, man's observations of himself, his behaviour, physical and psychological states with an orientation to opposing anomaly to norm; some aspects of epic outlook, including constructions of a mythological character, as well as socio-political and ethical ideas. The second group of comparisons unites the following images: skies and heavenly bodies (the sun, moon, stars, etc.), the natural power (lightning, thunder, storm clouds, wind, fire), landscape (earth, mountains, etc.), flora (forest, trees, flowers), fauna (animals, birds, insects,, fishes). The range of images used as the objects of comparison is extremely broad, embracing all essential aspects of epic being.

A number of objects of comparison have many-faceted features (Indra — a regal might, grandeur, courage, splendour, etc.). One can note both interdependent meanings of distinctive features and those which are not connected with each other (vajra — might of a blow, crushing force, and' also the force of sound). Contamination of some basic distinctions is a .specific feature of epic comparisons (and epithets): for example, lustre (radiance) and beauty, might; colour (white) and purity. Depending on the object, one and the same distinction can have a non-adequate character: lustre, strength as real features of weapon, and these very features are related to a person as a metaphor of might. The distinctive features of comparison correspond, in the niain, to the constant epithets of Mahabharata.

Contrary to the ideological one-dimensionality of the epithets revealing a more or less direct correspondence to the ethical and aesthetic aims and orientations of the epos, the epic comparisons are ideological in two aspects: their content directly reflects certain aspects of ideological outlook of the given literary monument and participates, through the features of comparison, in forming the conceptually significant value criteria of the epos. Among the factors of additional motivation of comparisons are: conceptual, which presupposes a clear-cut Ideological balance-between the object and subject parts of comparison; artistic language, when the object and subject are connected with each other by alliteration; local-contextual, when the choice of the given object of comparison is conditioned by the situation described.


Аннотация, Вместо введения, Summary, Содержание


Indian epos
Indian poetics

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