- 46 -
not generated since perhaps the days of the Max Muller-Andrew Lang disputes of the last century. In the past few years alone a number of books, papers and collected products of symposia on the subject of myth have been published.
A good deal of attention has been directed towards India. This is quite natural. In the Vedic literature we find some of the oldest recorded myth ot any of the so-called Indo-European peoples, and in Indian texts in general we find what is perhaps the most extensive, and certainly continuous, mythological traditions in the world.
Inquiry into Indian myth is potentially highly rewarding. However, there are a number of obstacles to fully profitable investigation, parties ularly on the level of comparative studies. Central to these difficulties, whether one wishes to acknowledge the problem or not, is the question of text. It is one thing to say that such-and-such Purana says such and such on the subject of a certain mythical figure or to "re^-tell" or summarize a given myth or version; it is quite another to come to terms with what are often crude, corrupt, and obscure passages. Any real approach to proper interpretation requires painstaking work and, in many instances, must await the appearance of a critical edition. The point is that it is by no means always clear what a myth is trying to say -- in a literal sense.
Another problem is the dearth of work which scientifically traces developments of major mythical "cycles11 in India itself. Too often questions of how and why a myth developed certain features or why a myth was developed and perpetuated are ignored. In the absence of such work, it is easy to evaluate improperly a given element or myth.
These are problems in which I am keenly interested and to which I have lately been devoting my research. They are not, however, problems which I have hopes or space to solve here. I have only tried to suggest certain of the issues at stake in the study of myth in traditional India. It is with these issues in mind that I have selected the present passage for translation. By consideration of this elaborate episode and others like it, I believe new dimensions may be added to the study of epic and Puranic mythology.
It was not randomly that I chose above to compare work in Sanskrit literature with that in Indian mythology. The relation between the two, or, I should say, one of the relations between the two, is very clear and goes virtually without saying. I refer to the fact that an overwhelming number of literary works in Sanskrit have taken their imagery, characters, and, above all, themes, from epic and Puranic mythology. The point need not be belabored; reflection on the themes of the major works of Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Bharavi, etc., will suffice to confirm it. Like their counterparts in Classical Greece and modern Ireland, the poets and dramatists of Ancient India took their inspiration frequently from the epic-mythical traditions of their countries. Thus, it was the mythic*figure, whether epic prince, celestial nymph, or the Supreme Lord of the universe, that was considered the fittest subject of poetry and drama,