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Indo-European Mythology 1, Requirement 1

List and discuss the major primary sources for the mythology of three Indo-European cultures, including their dates of origin and authorship (if known). Discuss any important factors that may cause problems in interpreting these sources, such as the existence of multiple revisions, or the presence of Christian or other outside influences in surviving texts. (minimum 300 words)

In Vedism, we find that our mythological sources are fairly straightforward. There are the samhitas of the four Vedas: The Rgveda, which is used for recitation; the Sama-Veda, which is used for chanting; the Yajur-Veda, which is used for liturgy; and the Atherva-Veda, which is named for a kind of priest. Often, there are a variety of sources that comment on and conflict with the original four Vedas that have to be contended with, and these sutras, upanisads, and other doctrines (darsana-) often introduce strong judgments of the original Vedas, and bring in radically departed views of the same texts. As Phuvel points out, "classical Hinduism. . . is worlds removed from the cultures of the early Vedic period." (Phuvel, 46) This causes serious issues when we consider that nearly every translation that has recently been done of these works has had a Hindu influence, and generally makes the translations unreliable. 

From Indo-Iranian, we have the Avesta, written, it is said, by Zarathustra and possibly also by others later. Generally, we look at this piece as being set down before the sixth century BC. (Phuvel, 96) The primary issue here regarding the source is that only about twenty-five percent of the work survives in three major divisions: Yasna, which regards the cult or liturgy; the Yasts, or sacrificial hymns addressed to deities; and the Videvdat, or "Anti-Demon Law" (the only complete book). A good amount of secondary literature survives, including the Denkart ("Work of Religion") and the Bundahisn ("Foundation, Creation").

Ancient Greece, of course, is what most of us think immediately upon hearing the word "myth". Because of the status of Greek mythology as something "learned" (this growing out of the Roman idea that to know Greek is to be educated), it has always been better translated than its counterparts in Indo-Iran and the Vedic world, both of which saw major opposition and change from the groups that replaced them (Islam and Hinduism, respectively), and so we can worry less about the filters of the people who transmitted them to us and more about the actual content. Primary sources include the Illiad and Odyssey (composed as early as 800 BC), the Theogony and Works and Days of Hesiod, the Odes of Pindar, and many others.


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