Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Gaspare Gorresio

Most Indians have heard of the many English Orientalists like William Jones (responsible for the classification of the Indo-European language group) or Richard Burton who translated the One Thousand and One Nights. Few, however, would have heard of the Italian Prof. Gaspare Gorresio, who occupied the first chair of Sanskrit at the University of Torino (Turin). Neither would I have heard of him, if it hasn't been for the fact that a colleague handed me the collected Prefaces of each of the books, of Prof. Gorresio's definitive edition of the Valmiki Ramayana. The ever reliable Wikipedia fails miserably in this regard, though there is some more information in the Italian version of Wikipedia on this entry. The Italian Embassy, Delhi web page also contains some basic information about Gorresio.

The first complete printed edition of the Valmiki Ramayana (as well as a translation into Italian) was published in Paris during 1843-1867. After several years of study under the great French Sanskritist E. Burnouf, Gorresio undertook to compile a critical edition of the monumental Sanskrit poem, the Ramayana in the original Sanskrit, together with an Italian translation. Of the two existing collection of manuscripts, the Northern and the Bengali or Gauda, he chose the Gauda because it was believed to be more ancient and also considered superior in artistic merit. The first volume was published in 1843 and the remaining six volumes were completed by 1867. The critical edition along with the Italian translation formed an opus of 12 volumes which took Gorresio 30 years to finish. This edition was published by the Imprimerie Nationale in Paris, with Devanagari characters specially made for the occasion.

In the 1980's, The Indian Heritage Trust reprinted this edition of the Ramayana, along with the publication of the volume of Prefaces, which for the first time was translated into English by Prof. Oscar Botto, the present successor to Prof. Gorresio in the Sanskrit Chair at the University of Torino. This is the volume which is now lying on my table and from which I have gleaned these salient facts.

Unfortunately this volume of Prefaces is no longer easily available. The original Ramayana of Gorresio is however available from Samata Books though I have not tried to get it for myself. In a sense, the book of Prefaces provides a pleasant introduction to the origins, sources, historicity and mythological origins of the Valmiki Ramayana, (though his insistence on dating the historicity of the Ramayana to the 13th century BCE and claiming that Valmiki and Rama were contemporaries, are, I think no longer tenable). The only place I have found it is on Amazon where it is available at an exorbitant price.

I am indebted to K. N. Raghavan for introducing me to Gorresio and his writings.


AmOK said...

As your devoted follower and reader, OLO, I am straining to understand the relevance of this post. Italian is spoken by a few people -- say a hundred million -- and Sanskrit by even fewer, say fifteen thousand. With a world population exceeding 6.5 billion and growing by the second -- why is this important for all your devotees? Pray tell.

Rahul Basu said...

Ah! That dreaded word -- relevance! Would you like to also commercially exploit this information?

Somethings are surely interesting per se; for example the fact that the definitive Sanksrit edition of the Valmiki Ramayan was first transcribed from original sources by an Italian Professor of Sanskrit. Or for that matter, its origins in the age of classical sanskrit. We don't have to believe in the divinity of Ram or any of the other characters, to be interested in the origins and historicity of stories written thousands of years ago, which have become such an intrinsic part of our culture. Ditto for the Mahabharata. I think these are fascinating stories in their own right, written way back in the mists of time, like Homer's Odysssey, and therein lies their 'relevance'.

For that matter, all matter is made up of quarks and leptons. What use is this information in our daily lives? None, at all. In fact I suspect that a fairly large fraction of your 6.5 billion are not even aware of this. You could take a Holmesian point of view of not cluttering up your brain with useless information (he claimed he didn't even know the earth goes around the sun) but surely one would be intellectually impoverished by such an attitude?

AmOK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AmOK said...

I do take the Holmesian view, let us assume for the moment -- or better still, the Arjun-ian view. Indeed humanities are having a hard time these days.

As for your quarks and leptons, do they "matter"? Taking the conservative point of view, if we got along without quarks and leptons until recently, we never needed them in the first place.

Certain people do benefit from the quarks and leptons though -- the ones who understand these, make more of these and search for these. We, the people, fund them as we believe (this is the key word) that this will help us all in the long run. As will the humanities, you say. Some believe. Others seek relevance.

OLO, dare I further your boundless frontiers of knowledge with a reference to your favourite source?

AmOK said...

And yes -- I thought you may like this feature.