By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB
The Bhagavad Gita is one of the greatest jewels of world literature. Aldous Huxley said, “The Bhagavad-Gita is the most systematic statement of spiritual evolution of endowing value to mankind. It is one of the most clear and comprehensive summaries of perennial philosophy ever revealed; hence its enduring value is subject not only to India but to all of humanity”.
There are many English translations out there, but what if I told you that you could find this work in Latin? In fact, the German scholar August Wilhelm von Schlegel translated the Bhagavad Gita into the language of Cicero. What a feast for all ancient language enthusiasts!
What’s the Bhagavad Gita?
The 700-verse Bhagavad Gita appears in the fifth book of the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, which contains over a hundred thousand verses. The Gita describes the beginning of the great civil war that took place between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. When the story begins, the Pandava prince Arjuna is facing a dilemma. If the Pandavas are to be victorious in the war, Arjuna will have to kill his cousins, grandfather, and teachers. But he doesn’t have the heart to kill them, and so he asks Krishna, a reincarnation of Shiva, for advice. Krishna then convinces him to fulfill his duty as a warrior. Although it sounds like bad advice, Hindus see the Kurukshetra War as more of a spiritual battle than a physical one. The well-known sage Swami Vivekananda says:
“This Kurukshetra War is only an allegory. When we sum up its esoteric significance, it means the war which is constantly going on within man between the tendencies of good and evil.”
A Taste of the Latin Bhagavad Gita
Now, let’s take a look at the Latin translation by Schlegel. In this passage from the first chapter, the blind king Dhritarashtra, father of the Kauravas, asks his charioteer Sanjayah to describe what he sees. The sage Vyasadeva had given the king’s servant a magical ability to describe the events of the battle that is about to take place miles aways from the king’s palace. Sanjaya relays the beginning of a speech uttered by the king’s son Duryodhana:
Dhrtarastra loquitur: In campo sancto, kuruis campo, congressi proeliabundi nostrates panduidaeque, quid fecerunt, o Sanjaya?
Sanjaya loquitur: Conspecto quidem Panduidarum agmine instructo, Duryodanas illico, ad magistrum propius accdens, rex ipse sermonem edidit: “Adspice hanc pandui filiorum, o magister! Ingentem aciem, instructam a Drupadae filio, tuo discipulo sollerti. Ibi sunt heroes arcitenentes, bhimae et arhunae pares in proelio…
“Dhritarashtra said: O Sanjaya, what did the sons of Pandu and mine do when they gathered on the sacred plain of Kuruksetra, eager for battle?
“Sanjaya said: Having seen the army of the Pandavas ranged for battle, Prince Duryodhana went up to his acarya (teacher), Drona, and said: “Look, O Teacher, at this mighty army of the sons of Pandu, which has been positioned by your talented pupil, the son of Drupada.” There are in it heroes, mighty archers, equal in battle to Bhima and Arjuna: Yuyudhana, Virata, and the great warrior (mahdratha) Drupada…”
(English translation by Philippe L. De Coster)
The Latin edition of the Mahabharata is like a perfect union of two great classical languages, a real masterpiece, which I hope will be studied by scholars and students alike for generations to come!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.
Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.