How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics
Oxford University Press, 1995 - 613 pages
In How to Kill a Dragon Calvert Watkins follows the continuum of poetic formulae in Indo-European languages, from Old Hittite to medieval Irish. He uses the comparative method to reconstruct traditional poetic formulae of considerable complexity that stretch as far back as the original common language. Thus, Watkins reveals the antiquity and tenacity of the Indo-European poetic tradition.
Watkins begins this study with an introduction to the field of comparative Indo-European poetics; he explores the Saussurian notions of synchrony and diachrony, and locates the various Indo-European traditions and ideologies of the spoken word. Further, his overview presents case studies on the forms of verbal art, with selected texts drawn from Indic, Iranian, Greek, Latin, Hittite, Armenian, Celtic, and Germanic languages.
In the remainder of the book, Watkins examines in detail the structure of the dragon/serpent-slaying myths, which recur in various guises throughout the Indo-European poetic tradition. He finds the "signature" formula for the myth--the divine hero who slays the serpent or overcomes adversaries--occurs in the same linguistic form in a wide range of sources and over millennia, including Old and Middle Iranian holy books, Greek epic, Celtic and Germanic sagas, down to Armenian oral folk epic of the last century. Watkins argues that this formula is the vehicle for the central theme of a proto-text, and a central part of the symbolic culture of speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language: the relation of humans to their universe, the values and expectations of their society. Therefore, he further argues, poetry was a social necessity for Indo- European society, where the poet could confer on patrons what they and their culture valued above all else: "imperishable fame."
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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - jsburbidge - LibraryThing
A careful , painstaking and thoroughgoing look at reconstructed Indo-European poetics (and, to some degree, culture) based on the formulaic level rather than the simple word level. Watkins deals with ... Read full review
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Achilles adversary Agni alliteration Anatolian ancient archaic attested Bacchylides basic formula Benveniste Beowulf caesura Celtic century B.C. cited cognate collocation Common Indo-Iranian Compare compound culture death dhim diachronic dragon dragon-slaying echo epic epithet equation etymological figure example expression formula function Germanic gods grammatical figure Greek Herakles HERO SLAY Hesiod Hittite Homeric hymn identical indexical Indo Indo-European languages Indo-European poetic Indo-Iranian Indra inherited Iranian KAéog killed Latin lexical linguistic Luvian MARROW merism metrical monster Mycenean myth narration Note Odysseus Old English Old Irish Old Norse parallel passage phonetic figure Pindar poem poet poetry prayer prose proto-language reconstruction rhyme Rigveda ritual root ghen semantic sequence slain SLAY ghen slayer slew the serpent Stesichorus strophe strophic stylistic figure syllable syntactic Tarentum terh thee thematic theme Toporov translation Typhoeus Umbrian variant Vedic verb phrase verbal verse victory Vrtra Watkins WEAPON word order Zeus