Sunday, August 21, 2011

New Words From Old

Tonight under the yellow light I read by, I am learning the old anew. I learn that the word 'ginger' comes from Greek zingiberis, a transliteration of Sanskrit srngavera (from a town on the Ganges); I learn that 'pepper' comes from Greek péperi, transliterated from Sanskrit pippali (a berry); even 'sugar' is not safe, it is from Greek sákkharon, transliterated from Sanskrit sarkara (grit).

I learn that it goes further back, and even further. Most of the languages I have studied come severely altered by, or have their origins in, the obsessive-compulsive disorder that was Sanskrit. Sanskrit grammar was based on super-encoded Vedic sutra-learning which only the brilliant could master; all else was dialect, with no dialectic synthesis.

And there were indeed four Chinese pilgrims who went in search of western learning. They journeyed to their west on a quest to find authentic Buddhist scriptures. They were also separated across a period roughly from 400 AD to 671 AD. The last of these returned to Sri Vijaya to transcribe what he had learnt until 695, translating from Sanskrit to Chinese.

On page 195 of this tome I am earnestly studying, Ostler tells us that Krishna's advice to Arjuna could as easily have been given to Achilles at Troy a thousand years before or Cú Chulainn at Connacht a thousand years later. What continuity of sentiment and philosophy!

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