Title: How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics
Author: Calvert Watkins
Synopsis: In How to Kill a Dragon Calvert Watkins follows the continuum of poetic formulae in Indo-European languages, from Old Hittite to medieval Irish.
Review: This book is a masterwork from one of the last of the Indo-European philologists. The book is made up of seven parts and 59 chapters.
In the first four chapters the author sets up the stage for the comparative method. He gives a good background for it and explains how it is used. He also tells us the sources and texts he is using for his analysis in the book.
The next two chapters (5-6) discuss concepts that are very important to most pagan (I doubt the author intended them to be but there you have it), the concepts are the reconstructable ideology of the spoken word in Indo-European society, its ability to effect the real world and its preservation across time and just how specific it is.
Chapters 7-11 are a very interesting analysis of selected texts from Greek, Indic, Celtic, Italic, and Anatolian. And the four chapters after that (12-16) are all about grammar and common traditions in Vedic and other languages.
Part three in its entirety looks at the Indo-European antiquity of a liturgical style which alternates between prose and metrical verses of the Greek and Indic type. What is interesting here is that he uses prayers from Ireland to India and the Horse-sacrifice.
From part four to part seven the author discusses (or argues for) a common Indo-European myth theme which is that of serpent or dragon slaying.
This book is a very dense read and if you are used to your books having pictures or being colorful, well this book only has formulas. I’m not a linguist, and so I didn’t get everything that the author presented but I understood most of it. I especially loved the fact that he looks at Ireland among the places he uses for his sources and texts, and I loved read about it being compared to Greek, Indic, Italic and Anatolian texts.
This book is worth the read if you are interested in languages, but especially the Indo-European branch. It is worth the read if you want to learn about the comparative method in linguistics. And it is worth the read to see the power of the word and how it translates and shapes people and how people shape it too.
This is a book to be kept near at times and certain parts of it read and re-read. It is a reference book well worth having if you are interested in linguistics and comparison of certain myths and linguistics.