Indo-European Poetry and Myth By M. L. West
Author: M. L. West
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publishing Year: 2007
Synopsis: The Indo-Europeans, speakers of the prehistoric parent language from which most European and some Asiatic languages are descended, most probably lived on the Eurasian steppes some five or six thousand years ago. Martin West investigates their traditional mythologies, religions, and poetries, and points to elements of common heritage. In The East Face of Helicon (1997), West showed the extent to which Homeric and other early Greek poetry was influenced by Near Eastern traditions, mainly non-Indo-European. His new book presents a foil to that work by identifying elements of more ancient, Indo-European heritage in the Greek material. Topics covered include the status of poets and poetry in Indo-European societies; meter, style, and diction; gods and other supernatural beings, from Father Sky and Mother Earth to the Sun-god and his beautiful daughter, the Thunder-god and other elemental deities, and earthly orders such as Nymphs and Elves; the forms of hymns, prayers, and incantations; conceptions about the world, its origin, mankind, death, and fate; the ideology of fame and of immortalization through poetry; the typology of the king and the hero; the hero as warrior, and the conventions of battle narrative.
Review: The Introduction to this book was very organized. In it the author gives you a timeline for the Indo-European and places them and he also talks a little about all the people who made this possible. He talks about the sources he is going to use and the methodology he will employ so by the end of the Introduction you have some background on the people he will be talking about, where he got his main sources from, and how he will arrive to where he wants to take you.
I really liked the way he described his methodology. It helps to smooth out a lot of things that the “old comparative method” doesn’t. Though in a way this is comparative mythology too.
In Chapter One we learn about the author’s definition of poetry, all about who the poet was in the Indo-European cultures, the structure of poetry and the occasions and genres of poems in the Indo-European world.
It was certainly an interesting chapter especially when the author talked about the different types of poets and all the training they had to get through to be poets, their relationship with their patrons, as well as all the different occasions poems were recited.
Chapter Two talks about the phrases used and the figures that can be seen in Indo-European poetry.
To be honest this chapter was both interesting and a bit confusing (not in a bad way) just that I had to unlearn a few things that I thought I learned correctly.
In Chapter Three we go into everything to do with the gods and goddesses. This includes what they were/are, how they were worshipped, the distinction between them and mankind, characteristics of their divinity, their names and mythical themes associated with the.
I found this chapter very informative and forms a great basis for further study of the gods both in the Indo-European sense and later if one is to go into in depth study of any of the gods of the daughter Indo-European cultures.
The Sky and Earth are the subject matter of Chapter Four. In this chapter the author talks about the Sky god and Earth goddess, their divinity, their relationship to each other and their children.
I loved how the author showed that the gods may have started out as one thing and then evolved into another. Most of the time though, this other is a small part of the first association.
Chapter Five was about the Sun and his Daughter and Dawn. There are quite a bit of motifs and associations that are put forward in this chapter.
The whole chapter made me think. I know a lot of people think that Miranda Green saw the Solar God everywhere with association with the Celts and while the author does not agree with her excesses in that respect, he does show that there is some evidence for a Sun God. Also he puts forward an interesting association of the Dawn goddess with Brigit.
More on the Gods in Chapter Six on this time it is the gods of Storm and stream.
I was really interested in reading about all the parallels and similarities between these gods.
Nymphs, gnomes, elves, dwarfs, and satyrs are just some of the deities and supernatural beings discussed in Chapter Seven.
I loved reading this chapter, I always assumed that some things were just unique to certain cultures but boy was I wrong.
Chapter Eight talks about one of my favorite subjects, hymns and spells.
I’ve always talked about how pagans should go back to the fact that the paths of Paganism are religions, and that part of that is worship and prayers. The chapter also talks about spells, magic and healing.
Cosmos and Canon is the title of Chapter Nine. In the chapter the author talks about cosmology, cosmogony, and the world wide wed.
I really can’t describe this chapter it needs to be read to be believed.
Two component of Indo-European cultures are morality and fame and they were the subjects covered in Chapter Ten.
This chapter explores the relationship between death, life, names and reputation. It really struck me how some of the concepts discussed are so similar to Arab (mostly nomadic Arab) philosophies of old.
Chapter Eleven speaks of King and Hero. The chapter looks at the King and his relationship with his Queen, with the horse with the priest and many other concepts that go with Kingship.
This chapter reminded me a lot of what I read in a book on Celtic views of Justice. It explained a lot of where the concepts in that book came from.
The final chapter of the book has to do with battle. Chapter Twelve talks of arms and the warriors who wield them.
This is a very interesting chapter to me because a lot of what we know about that Celts we know from that stand point. It is good to see where that originated.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It is one of these expensive books that are really worth every penny. I always had problems with Georges Dúmiezil’s methodology when it came to comparison but M.L. West smoothed out the rough edges for me with his tweaking of it.
West’s writing style is so easy to read and it is never dry. I keep getting the impression that I was listening to a friend talking about everyday life rather than a scholarly work, but make no mistake this is definitely a scholarly book. The information is interesting and well organized. The book just flows beautifully. It took me a bit to read it mostly because I needed to digest it. Lots of information in there to process, and I know that this is one book that I will be referring to time and again.