Greek influence on Sanskrit?

Apollodorus

Member
English UK
Greetings to all.

Greek influence on Indian art is well attested and, apparently, it also extends to Indian philosophy.

But according to some sources there is also some Greek influence on Indian language.

One Sanskrit word of Greek origin that I’ve found cited as an example is सुनफा:

सुनफा sunapha a particular planetary configuration < Greek συναφή synaphe conjunction, union

Question 1: Do the words below belong to the same category?

सेवन sevana worship < Greek θεοσέβεια theosebia service of God, religion

ध्यान dhyana meditation < Greek διάνοια dianoia thought, thinking

Question 2: Are there any other known examples especially from the field of religion/philosophy?

Many thanks.
 
  • desi4life

    Senior Member
    English
    Sanskrit सेवन sevana and ध्यान dhyāna are not borrowed from or influenced by Greek, but सुनफा sunaphā is a loanword from Greek. Thomas Burrow discusses Greek loanwords to Sanskrit in his book, “The Sanskrit Language”, found here (pp. 387-388).
     
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    Apollodorus

    Member
    English UK
    Sanskrit सेवन sevana and ध्यान dhyāna are not borrowed from or influenced by Greek, but सुनफा sunaphā is a loanword from Greek. Thomas Burrow discusses Greek loanwords to Sanskrit in his book, “The Sanskrit Language”, found here (pp. 387-388).

    Thanks for that.

    Western influence on India seems to have had three major sources: Iranian, Greek and Semitic.

    As regards Greek influence, contact between Greek and Indian philosophy may have already been established before the eastern conquests of Alexander the Great.

    A second wave took place after Alexander, when Greek influence on Indian religious art intensified, e.g., statues of Buddha wearing what looks like a Greek philosopher’s robe and the appearance of Greek-style sky and water nymphs in Buddhist and Hindu temple art.

    (See Wikipedia article “Hellenistic influence on Indian art”.)

    A third wave seems to have taken place in the early centuries of the Christian Era, when elements of Late Platonic and Platonic-influenced Christian mysticism passed into local Indian traditions, so that by the 8th-9th centuries we find Indian philosophical and mystical works strongly reminiscent of Plotinus and the Greek Church Fathers.

    (I think the Shaiva tradition of Kashmir a.k.a. Kashmir Shaivism is of particular interest.)

    The word सुनफा sunapha (pronounced as soonaphaa with aspirated p) seems to occur in the sense of “union of the soul with God” in the 8th century Ishvara Gitā (The Song of the Lord) which is the first 11 chapters of part II of the Kurma Purāna, transliterated Sanskrit text at web.archive.org

    This seems to be identical with Greek συναφή synaphe which was used in the same sense by Plotinus and other Greek philosophers:

    Olivier Lacombe, “Note sur Plotin et la pensée indienne,” Annuaire de l’Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Sciences religieuses, Paris, 1950-51, pp. 3-17

    According to M Winternitz, the 6th-century astronomer Varāhamihira wrote a work called Brhajjātaka which was also known as Horāshāstra i.e., Science of Horā/Horoscope, where horā (I think he means “ὥρα”) is a Greek word.

    होरा horā < Greek ὥρα hora:

    Moriz Winternitz, Geschichte der indischen Literatur, 3 Bände, Leipzig 1905-1922, III, p. 569, text available at archive.org

    I found this doing some online research on Greek philosophy but I’m assuming there are more recent/better sources.
     

    desi4life

    Senior Member
    English
    What is your source for local Indian traditions, such as Kashmir Shaivism, being influenced by Christian mysticism? I’ve never read anything about that.

    सुनफा is pronounced with a short “u” not a long vowel “oo”.

    Edit 1: Western influence on India has had multiple major sources: Iranian, Greek, and Semitic (as you stated), plus Turkic, Germanic (English), and Romance (Portuguese, French).

    Edit 2: @Au101 and @Dib have a good knowledge of Sanskrit and might be able to contribute to the topic.
     
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    Apollodorus

    Member
    English UK
    होरा horā astrology < Greek ὥρα hora hour, period of time, degree of the zodiac

    Sorry, I couldn't think of alternative ways of transliterating Sanskrit short u in English. So, maybe we can say "short English /oo/"?

    I think sunapha and hora suggest the possibility of more extensive influence than is commonly assumed, especially when we also consider the influence on art, etc.

    I'm currently unable to access the sources on Kashmir Shaivism, but will post more as soon as I get a chance. I assumed others were aware of this particular subject, hence my original query here.

    However, early Christianity shows Platonic influence so maybe for the time being we can look into Platonic or Hellenistic influence on Indian philosophy/religion as a background/context for the discussion.

    Of course, influence could have occurred in both directions. So, if we start with similarities first and leave the direction of influence for later, there are quite a few examples.

    The tripartite division of the soul into distinct psychological aspects/functions.

    Greek:

    έπιθυμητικόν epithymetikon sensual aspect

    θυμός thymos emotional aspect

    λογιστικόν logistikon intellectual aspect

    Indian:

    मनस् manas sensual aspect

    अहंकार ahamkara emotional aspect

    बुद्धि buddhi intellectual aspect

    The concept of a higher inner soul/man - Greek νοῦς nous, Indian पुरुष purusha - that is connected downwards with the body-mind complex and upwards with God. See Plotinus, et al.

    So, as a starting point, there seems to be substantial overlap of vocabulary/philosophical concepts that can't be explained by mere accident.

    I remember reading that Hellenistic philosophers went to India in the early centuries of the current era. If I'm not mistaken Joseph Campbell mentions this in The Masks of God.
     
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    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I cannot speak with authority on the etymology, but I did look up "dhyana" and see that it comes from the root "dhi" which is found in the Vedas which were being composed during the Greek Dark Ages.

    When it comes to philosophy and religion, not necessarily always separable, there are a number of possibilities:

    · The Greeks influenced the Indians more than the Indians influenced the Greeks.
    · The Indians influenced the Greeks more than the Greeks influenced the Indians.
    · They influenced each other more or less equally.
    · There was little or no influence and any similarities are coincidental.

    Neither Greek nor Indian philosophy/religion was monolithic. For example, Parmenides said that nothing changes and Heraclitus that everything is in a state of flux. Similar oppositions can be found in Indian thought. Given such diversity it is not surprising if some ideas match. That the mystical elements are similar is not surprising since mysticism is the direct personal apprehension of the oneness or interconnectedness of all things.

    Without wishing to suggest that Apollodorus actually believes it, the very way his question is posed tends to suggest that the influence must have moved from West to East. There is a general feeling in "the West" that everything began with the Greeks. Whilst the Greeks were amazing not everything they did arose ex nihilo and just because they appear to have thought of something first does not mean it was not thought of independently elsewhere.

    The Ancient Indians were just as amazing as the Ancient Greeks.

    EDIT: The above posted before reading post 5.
     

    Apollodorus

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    Without wishing to suggest that Apollodorus actually believes it, the very way his question is posed tends to suggest that the influence must have moved from West to East. There is a general feeling in "the West" that everything began with the Greeks.

    I think if we are to have an objective discussion, "national pride" is best left outside by all participants. Otherwise, we might as well forget it.

    If scholars have concluded that a Sanskrit word has a Greek derivation, then it isn't for us to deny it.

    As a preliminary consideration, I think it should be borne in mind that the eastern part of the Roman Empire was heavily influenced by Greek language and culture, including philosophy and this influence can be seen in early Christianity.

    The apostle Paul who died c. 62-64 CE was born in Greek-speaking Κιλικία Cilicia and was sufficiently familiar with Greek philosophy and language to converse with the philosophers of Athens (Acts 17:16-34).

    (See G. Scott Gleaves, Did Jesus Speak Greek? The Emerging Evidence of Greek Dominance In First-Century Palestine, Cambridge, 2015.)

    Many of the founders of the Christian Church (Church Fathers) had been Hellenistic philosophers or had at least studied some Greek philosophy - which was part of higher education in the Roman Empire.

    Church Fathers from Justin Martyr (c. 150 CE) onwards recount studying Platonism or quote from Platonic works.

    St Augustine (354-430) wrote: “By reading these books of the Platonists I had been prompted to look for truth as something incorporeal, and I caught sight of your invisible nature [… ] So, I seized eagerly upon the venerable writings inspired by your Holy Spirit, especially those of the apostle Paul …” (Confessions, Book VII 20-21).

    Christianity did spread eastwards and reached India and China in the early centuries of the current era. So, we can’t be too surprised to see some Western influence of the Hellenistic/Christian type on Indian philosophy and religion.

    Now, when you read books like Abhinavagupta: An Historical and Philosophical Study by K. C. Pandey, you can’t help noticing the many parallels to Platonic teachings.

    Incidentally, Kashmiri Shaivism in the monistic tradition of Abhinavagupta flourished from the 9th to the 13th centuries so it would be later than the Platonic tradition of Plotinus (205-270), for example.

    To revert to sunapha. How do we explain the occurrence of the earlier Platonic term συναφή synaphe (Sanskrit सुनफा sunaphā) in the later Indian work Ishvara Gitā (ईश्वर गीता)?

    Presumably, the word was known to a wider Indian audience?

    But where did the author get it from and what else did he take from that source?

    What was this Greek term doing in a Sanskrit text to begin with?
     
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    Apollodorus

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    I cannot speak with authority on the etymology, but I did look up "dhyana" and see that it comes from the root "dhi" which is found in the Vedas which were being composed during the Greek Dark Ages.

    If you don't mind, I think phrases like "Greek Dark Ages" ought to be avoided. They don't really contribute to establishing the etymology of words.

    Both Greek and Sanskrit are Indo-European languages. A Sanskrit word may or may not have a common Indo-European root as a Greek one. This has no bearing on the etymology of either of them. I merely noticed the similarity and I asked those who know more than me.

    If Greek διάνοια dianoia comes from Sanskrit dhyana that's fine by me. But I don't think this has been established yet. So, we can leave this word alone for now.
     
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    Apollodorus

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    Burrow says “Occasionally, words were introduced from outside India, e. g. from Greek (hora ‘hour’) but these were always rare” […] “The Greek rule in N. W. India was responsible for the introduction of a few Greek words e.g., khalina - ‘bridle’ […] In addition, there are learned borrowings in the field of astronomy, e. g. jamitra …”

    However, words don’t exist in a cultural vacuum. Therefore, even if Greek introductions are “rare” they may still point to broader cultural influences that are attested, for example, in the field of religious art where Greek influence was quite extensive (see the Wikipedia article).

    Apparently, Greeks were even mentioned in the Mahabharata and other Sanskrit texts as Yavanas (Ionians), यवन. The word seems to have passed into Persian and Turkish as "yunani" and "yunanli" (cf. "yaban"?).
     
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    Apollodorus

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    Incidentally, the Greeks were not racist. They were quite happy to admit that some of their knowledge was borrowed from others, e. g. the Egyptians.

    At the same time, however, they had an outstanding civilisation that was highly advanced in science and technology, not just in philosophy. Looking at the Antikythera Mechanism – an intricate 205 BC “mechanical computer” used to determine planetary cycles – we get an idea as to what Greeks were capable of.

    And, of course, the Greeks had a great empire stretching from Egypt to India in addition to colonies in Italy and elsewhere.

    Several cities named after Alexander the Great were founded in the area, such as Alexandria in Arachosia (Αλεξάνδρεια Αραχωσίας) in Afghanistan (modern Kandahar) and even in India, e.g. Alexandria on the Indus (Ἀλεξάνδρεια η εν Ἰνδός) and Alexandria Bucephalous (Βουκέφαλος Αλεξάνδρεια or Βουκέφαλα).

    So, Greeks weren’t some “unknown entities”, they were next-door neighbours with a culture and civilisation that was sufficiently impressive for Indians to allow themselves to be influenced by it.
     
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    Apollodorus

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    Apparently, there was even a Greek-derived medical tradition in India known as Unani (Yunani, i.e., Greek) medicine. See “The impact of ancient Greek medicine in India: the birth of Unani medicine” by Effie Poulakou-Rebelakou, Marianna Karamanou and Androutsos George.

    I think there is a Wikipedia article on it as well.

    I’m not saying that influence always flows exclusively from West to East, but in such cases where Western (Greek) influence can be established, it should be duly acknowledged.

    In any case, the evidence suggests that Greek influence – either direct or through the medium of Christian or Muslim currents – goes quite a bit beyond art.
     

    Apollodorus

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    Incidentally, we can also identify Greek influence on philosophical and spiritual currents in Islam.

    For example, we find isolated words like falsafa from Greek φιλοσοφία philosophia and karamat from Greek χαρίσματα charismata.

    However, these isolated words point to broader influence.

    When we take a closer look, we find that there was extensive borrowing from Hellenistic/Christian sources and we can clearly identify striking parallels at the level of vocabulary (concepts and technical terms) as well as practice in spiritual currents within Islam such as Sufism, that can’t be explained away as accidental.

    Louis Massignon, Essay on the Origins of the Technical Language of Islamic Mysticism.
    Fred Donner, Narratives of Islamic Origins.
    Margaret Smith, The Way of the Mystics: The Early Christian Mystics and the Rise of the Sufis.
    Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity.
    Lloyd Ridgeon, The Cambridge Companion to Sufism.

    A. Uzdavinys in The Golden Chain: An Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy relates that in the 6th century CE Damascius (Δαμάσκιος), the last head of the Platonic Academy at Athens, and other Platonists moved to the court of the Persian Emperor Khusro I Anushirvan and later to Harran (Greek Κάρραι Charrae which was also known as Ελληνόπολις Hellenopolis).

    The author points out that “it is well established that the School of Harran played a crucial role in the transmission of Hellenic theology, philosophy, theurgy – as well as certain Hermetic doctrines – to the Arab world”.

    Greek/Hellenistic influence on Indian traditions seems to be less extensive than on Islamic ones but it’s still there if we look.
     
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    berndf

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    I think if we are to have an objective discussion, "national pride" is best left outside by all participants. Otherwise, we might as well forget it.
    Very true. Yet you seem to be the only person in this dicussion who can't stop it.
    If you don't mind, I think phrases like "Greek Dark Ages" ought to be avoided. They don't really contribute to establishing the etymology of words.
    That is a well intruduced term with a clear definition. And it is clear that this is a perod in Greek history when any far reaching cultural influence is extremely unlikely.
     

    Apollodorus

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    That is a well intruduced term with a clear definition. And it is clear that this is a perod in Greek history when any far reaching cultural influence is extremely unlikely.

    Sure. However, it isn't the period I'm talking about here.

    Greek words like "sunaphe" and "hora" in Sanskrit texts are not from the "Greek Dark Ages".

    Therefore, I'm talking about the period when Greek influence, e.g. on Indian art is well attested, i.e. the centuries after the Alexandrian conquests into the early Middle Ages which I wouldn't refer to as "Greek Dark Ages".

    The Wikipedia defines the Greek Dark Ages as "the period of Greek history from the end of the Mycenaean palatial civilization around 1100 BC to the beginning of Archaic age around 750 BC."

    The period I'm talking about is centuries after the "Greek Dark Ages".

    As pointed out in my second post, the Hora Shastra where Greek "hora" occurs is a 6th century CE/AD work and Ishvara Gita which has "sunaphe" is 8th century CE/AD. That's about one thousand years after the Greek Dark Ages.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    The period I'm talking about is centuries after the "Greek Dark Ages"
    Well, yes. That was exactly @Hulalessar's argument which you chose to ignore because you were upset by the term. If a word, term, concept or tradition has a demonstrably older history in Sanskrit then such similarity cannot be construed as proof of Greek influence.
     

    Apollodorus

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    If a word, term, concept or tradition has a demonstrably older history in Sanskrit then such similarity cannot be construed as proof of Greek influence.

    I never disputed that.

    What I actually said was that references to the Greek Dark Ages "don't really contribute to establishing the etymology of words", meaning words like those under discussion that are well outside the Greek Dark Ages.

    By the way, despite my user name I'm not Greek so I couldn't have been "upset" by the term. I simply objected to it because it seemed anachronistic in terms of the period under discussion.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    What I actually said was that references to the Greek Dark Ages "don't really contribute to establishing the etymology of words", meaning words like those under discussion that are well outside the Greek Dark Ages.
    On the contrary. If there were attestations in Vedic that are demonstrably older than the period you are talking about then much of what you said would be meaningless and therefore you should address and not dismiss the argument.

    the period under discussion.
    That is might be part of the problem, to which he wanted to alert you. You are looking only on a relatively late period ignoring the long literary, artistic and philosophical history of Indic speaking civilizations that had existed at that time already.
     
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    Apollodorus

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    You are looking only on a relatively late period ignoring the long literary, artistic and philosophical history of Indic speaking civilizations that had existed at that time already.

    Well, the fact that a civilisation already exists, doesn't mean that it can't borrow from others. Sanskrit did borrow "synaphe" and "hora", did it not?

    The way I see it, etymological studies isn’t an exact science and establishing the origin of a word can be problematic especially where corroborative historical evidence is lacking.

    Even in cultural terms we find some striking parallels.

    For example, the so-called “parable of the chariot” in which the Indian version has the horses standing for the senses, the chariot for the body, the charioteer for the intellect and the rider for the soul (Katha Upanishad).

    An almost identical version is found in Greek writers like Parmenides, Xenophon and Plato.

    In this case, we may be inclined to look on the Katha as earlier and therefore as the source. However, other explanations are also possible even though they don’t constitute “proof”.

    Both instances may depend on an even earlier source, possibly somewhere where war chariots were first used before they were introduced into India and Greece (Anatolia/Sumer?).

    Personally, when I think of early Greek philosophers I tend to think of Egyptian, not Indian, influence.

    Some interaction with India can’t be ruled out, but Egypt – a country with plenty of war chariots and a long-established civilisation – was just across the sea and in some cases, e.g. Pythagoras, tradition has it that certain “secret knowledge” was obtained by him from Egypt.

    This is why I thought it would be best to focus on a more recent period like early Middle Ages where more concrete evidence can (hopefully) be found. Of course, I may be wrong.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Well, the fact that a civilisation already exists, doesn't mean that it can't borrow from others.
    Of course not. But the first check is always to look at the earliest attestation in the language itself and only then start pondering about possible loans based on the time frame of that earliest attestation.

    We are not criticizing your results (my knowledge of Sanskrit is limited and others said this too). We are criticizing your methodology. Your are trying to establish a theory by accumulation of coincidences and ignore any cross checks. This way you can prove virtually anything.
     
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    Apollodorus

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    Your are trying to establish a theory by accumulation of coincidences and ignore any cross checks. This way you can prove virtually anything.

    I don't think it was anything like a theory. I think I said "preliminary observation or consideration" which was intended as a historical and cultural background to the actual discussion/investigation.

    As I said, in the "parable of the chariot" example, we could perhaps say that an Indian origin seems likely. However, that doesn't amount to proof.

    There is Egyptian influence on Greek religion and philosophy which is acknowledged even by Greek sources. It goes back to Minoan times due to geographic proximity, trade links, etc.

    Therefore, it would be wrong to surmise that Greeks had to wait for contact with Indians in order to acquire "advanced" philosophical concepts and I haven't seen any evidence that this was the case.

    If the knowledge borrowed from Egypt was "secret" as the sources claim, then there is no way we can ever establish what it consisted in. We can only assume that the Greeks weren't entirely ignorant in these matters. Indeed, their very interest in Egyptian knowledge suggests that they already knew something which prompted them to try and learn more.

    This is why I felt it might be worthwhile to start with more concrete evidence, like sunaphe and hora.

    Were these words borrowed (1) just for the sake of it, (2) by accident or (3) did they come with some other forms of influence?

    The fact that Varāhamihira called his work "The Science of Hora" (Hora Shastra) suggests to me that more than just the word was borrowed.

    It doesn't constitute "proof" and it isn't a "theory" either, it's just a line of enquiry, nothing else. If somebody would like to suggest a different one, I am of course more than willing to consider it. That's the whole point of the thread.

    I think the main difficulty is that a topic of this kind tends to require specialised knowledge from various disciplines. So, for the time being, all we can do is to offer suggestions and see what comes out of it - if anything.
     

    Apollodorus

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    As an aside, I must confess that I’m not very good at expressing myself in writing. I very much prefer face-to-face communication. But I shall endeavour to improve my style.

    In my experience, borrowed words don’t always come on their own and isolated from all context, like some lone balloon floating in the sky.

    That’s why I gave the example of Arabic “falsafa” and “karamat", above.

    On the face of it, you might be tempted to think that the Arabs borrowed “falsafa” simply because they didn’t have a word for philosophy and because the Greeks at the time were masters in that field. A bit like we might give a Greek (or Latin) name to a particular academic discipline today.

    However, if you dig a bit deeper you will find a whole philosophical system behind the term “falsafa” that early Arab writers had no problem admitting they had borrowed from the Greeks. In fact, being conversant with Greek science and philosophy was a matter of scholarly prestige.

    It was sometime in the 11th century that Muslim authorities felt that philosophy might lead to criticism of Islam (which in some cases it did) and official attitudes began to change from that point. Admitting Greek influence was no longer considered politically correct. But this didn’t change anything about the historical fact.

    So, bearing in mind the “falsafa” experience, my gut feeling was that there might be a bit more to Sanskrit sunaphā and horā than meets the eye. I now believe that this can be shown to be the case.

    I don’t know how much of the astrology in the Horā Shastra was borrowed from the Greeks but it looks like the Indians borrowed quite a bit from the Babylonians and the Greeks.

    I found a very helpful statement by Nicolas Campion of the University of Wales. He writes that Hellenistic astrology drew on Mesopotamian and Egyptian traditions in the second and first millennia BC and only began to decline in the West under Christianity.

    However, “... it survived in Persia, exerted a powerful influence on Indian astrology, and was transmitted to the Islamic world…” (“Astrology in Ancient Greek and Roman Culture”, 23 May 2019, Oxford Research Encyclopedias).

    Also:

    “Greek astronomical ideas began to enter India in the 4th century BCE” (“Indian Astronomy”, Wikipedia article).

    Varahamihira himself, the author of the Hora Shastra, apparently complimented the Greeks on their science of astronomy and another Sanskrit text, Gargi Samhita, states:

    “The Yavanas (Greeks) are barbarians/foreigners, yet the science of astronomy originated with them”

    Satyendra Nath Naskar, Foreign Impact on Indian Life and Culture (c. 326 B.C. to c. 300 A.D.), 1996, pp. 56-7.

    So, it would appear that Greek astronomy and astrology did have some influence on India and this allows us to see the seemingly unremarkable Greek loanword “horā” in a rather different light.

    In other words, we may have thrown some light on an obscure corner of our common history or collective memory. And this can’t be a bad thing.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I think you have lost us all by now. This is supposed to be a discussion and constant accumulation of notes and side notes and additions to side notes makes it next to impossible keep any meaningful conversation going.

    Sometimes less is more.

    If course Indian and Geek cultures have influenced each other over the centuries. That is hardly news and goes both ways. I can see less and less what your point is.
     

    Apollodorus

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    If course Indian and Geek cultures have influenced each other over the centuries. That is hardly news and goes both ways.

    Well, by that reasoning we can't discuss anything.

    I do agree that sometimes "less is more". However, I've found that if I don't provide additional information, half of the time people tend to ask "what's your proof?". Hence I provided some additional data as a basis for the discussion.

    I thought on a forum on etymology and the history of languages this might be of interest. But I could be wrong, of course.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I thought on a forum on etymology and the history of languages this might be of interest. But I could be wrong, of course.
    If you want to know if there was influence at all then the answer is "yes" and we are done. If you want to discuss were exactly then we have to discuss those cases but you cannot dump myriads of unrelated things on us. How should be possibly have a discussion on that? In other sub forums of WRF, this thread would have been deleted immediately as "multi topic" (and that is forbidden). IN the etymology forum be allow more general question but you are definitely stretching it.

    And when we discuss the etymology of individual words then we have to abide to standard (and common sense) methodology: Trace each word back to its oldest attested forms and then compare them. Of course we might find that the evolution of words might be influenced by later loans or that those later loan may have replaced native words. A lot may have happened. But looking only on relatively young periods and argue with similarities at that development stage alone doesn't make much sens. But then each word has its own history thet needs to be explored individually. We cannot just collect possible supportive evidence do a tick behind it without investigating further and then hope that quantity (of ticks) will at some point turn into quality.
     
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    Apollodorus

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    The way I see it, language is an expression of culture. My intention was to discuss the connections between etymology, language and culture with special reference to Greek words in the Sanskrit language which I think is a very interesting subject.

    Otherwise said, how many Greek words are there in the Sanskrit language and what is their historical and cultural significance?

    I do agree that it may be seen as "multi topic" but the topics involved are closely interrelated and the alternative would be to start lots of threads on lots of different forums which seems to defeat the object. Hence I was trying to condense as much as possible into one thread.

    But if you're saying that I can't do that or that this is the wrong forum, then I'll just look for another forum. It's not a problem. It wasn't my intention to cause offence.
     

    Apollodorus

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    Well, I find that every time I bring up the subject of Greek influence on Indian culture some people tend to keep reminding me that there was influence in both directions as if this was some kind of offensive topic that I'd better not even mention. Though, of course, I could be wrong.

    Anyway, as I said, I personally find this a very interesting subject and I don't think I'm the only one.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Well, I find that every time I bring up the subject of Greek influence on Indian culture some people tend to keep reminding me that there was influence in both directions as if this was some kind of offensive topic that I'd better not even mention. Though, of course, I could be wrong.

    Anyway, as I said, I personally find this a very interesting subject and I don't think I'm the only one.

    The subject certainly interests me.

    If people are reminding you that there was influence in both directions it is probably because you pose your questions in terms of Greek influence on Indian culture.

    When it come to Greek influence on Sanskrit both what you have said and the articles referred to suggest it was minimal, restricted to a few words acquired from trading and to various terms in astronomy. As to astronomy, I looked at the Wikipedia article on Varāhamihira and it says that he learned Greek.

    When it comes to the exchange of ideas and beliefs the main difficulty is that we are talking about a very long period. Heraclitus and Varāhamihira have come up in this thread but more than a millennium separates them. Going back to the earliest times, a significant problem is that on the one hand no one knows exactly when the earliest Upanishads were composed and on the other there is no direct evidence of what the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers, and indeed many later Greek philosophers, actually said. So asking either: "What influence did the Upanishads have on pre-Socratic Greek philosophy?" or: "What influence did pre-Socratic Greek philosophy have on the Upanishads?" is going to be difficult, if not impossible, to answer with any degree of certainty.

    Even if similar ideas can be shown the possibility that they were developed independently cannot be ruled out. Consider for example that in Greek "logos" has been used to cover many different concepts and in Chinese "tao" has a wide range of meanings. Both "logos" and "tao" can be said to have one meaning approaching something like "the ground of being from which all phenomena arise". No one seriously suggests that Ancient Greek philosophy had any influence on Ancient Chinese philosophy or vice versa. You have to be careful in suggesting that if two belief systems share a concept that one must have influenced the other and even more careful if suggesting which way the influence went. We know that some Ancient Greek philosophers went to India and returned home. What we do not know is the extent to which the Greeks left their ideas in India or what Indian ideas they brought back and disseminated. No system of thought starts in a complete vacuum. A thinker will take on, modify or reject the ideas of others. It does not really matter whether the "others" were local or not.

    What needs to be avoided is "orientalism" in the sense of the condescending belief that "the East" is and always has been less developed than "the West". If you ask: "What is the Greek influence on Sanskrit?" rather than: "What influence did Greek and Sanskrit have on each other?" you risk being accused of orientalism.
     

    Apollodorus

    Member
    English UK
    If you ask: "What is the Greek influence on Sanskrit?" rather than: "What influence did Greek and Sanskrit have on each other?" you risk being accused of orientalism.

    That's exactly where the problem is. Bringing politics into academic discussion can only serve to stifle debate and suppress historical facts.

    By that reasoning, you can't discuss European language/culture/history unless you also discuss China, South America and Australia. I doubt that "Occidentalism" is the right answer to Orientalism.

    The implication is that the Indian author I cited above, Satyendra Nath Naskar, who wrote Foreign Impact on Indian Life and Culture, should be arrested and charged with the crime of "Orientalism".

    I do agree with most of your post, though. And of course I don't mind in the least if there turns out to be some Indian influence on Greek philosophy or whatever.

    It just seems a shame that politics can't be kept out of this. But that's they way the cookie crumbles, I suppose ...
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    What needs to be avoided is "orientalism" in the sense of the condescending belief that "the East" is and always has been less developed than "the West". If you ask: "What is the Greek influence on Sanskrit?" rather than: "What influence did Greek and Sanskrit have on each other?" you risk being accused of orientalism.
    I wouldn't focus on the political aspect. Systematically attributing similarities to Greek to Indic influence rather than approaching each case with an open mind (Greek->Indic or Indic->Greek or common influence by a third culture like Babylonian, or simple coincidence/coevolution) induces a confirmation bias that can easily lead to very wrong theories without noticing.
     

    Apollodorus

    Member
    English UK
    confirmation bias that can easily lead to very wrong theories without noticing.

    Genuine theories tend to be based on evidence and need to be shown to be right or likely to be right. Otherwise, they would be more accurately designated "conspiracy theories". I doubt there is any danger of that happening here.

    Personally, I would tend to start with the facts, e.g. parallels, and then look into the issue of interchange or diffusion.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I wouldn't focus on the political aspect. Systematically attributing similarities to Greek to Indic influence rather than approaching each case with an open mind (Greek->Indic or Indic->Greek or common influence by a third culture like Babylonian, or simple coincidence/coevolution) induces a confirmation bias that can easily lead to very wrong theories without noticing.

    I was essentially responding to Apollodorus' "complaint" in post 27 by suggesting that that way he poses his questions may unwittingly give the impression that a confirmation bias has already arisen. If a response to one of his questions is that it is bringing in politics is it not the form of the question which has allowed the responder to make the observation?
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Genuine theories tend to be based on evidence and need to be shown to be right or likely to be right. Otherwise, they would be more accurately designated "conspiracy theories". I doubt there is any danger of that happening here.

    Personally, I would tend to start with the facts, e.g. parallels, and then look into the issue of interchange or diffusion.

    I do not disagree with any of that. The problem for everyone, however open-minded they are, is that facts are rarely approached without at least some idea of what they are expected to reveal. If you did not have some sort of idea, however inchoate, you probably would not want to be looking at the facts. "There are no facts only opinions" (Nietsche) may be an exaggeration, but it is an aphorism worth keeping at the forefront of your mind.
     

    Apollodorus

    Member
    English UK
    I fully agree.

    And I think there is also the question as to what constitutes "wrong theory".

    Theories are usually wrong i.e contrary to factual evidence in scientific terms.

    But they can also be "wrong" on political grounds.

    Given that so far no theory or even working hypothesis has been formulated, it seems a bit premature to worry about "wrong theories".
     

    Apollodorus

    Member
    English UK
    The way I see it, I’ve introduced the topic and I’ve provided some data for consideration.

    What should normally follow would be for other participants to provide their own material, advance arguments and make suggestions.

    As far as theories are concerned, participants normally make suggestions, propose a working hypothesis and then see if an evidence-based theory can be formulated.

    But that will never happen if we worry in advance about “wrong theories” even when none have been yet proposed.

    BTW I would like to thank Desi4life and Hullalessar for their contributions. I found the link provided by Desi4life particularly helpful.
     

    Apollodorus

    Member
    English UK
    The subject certainly interests me.

    I think we've solved a good bit of the mystery.

    These are the words:

    Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary:

    होरा [horā] f. (fr. Gk. ὥρα) an hour (the 24th part of an Aho-rātra); the half of a zodiacal sign; horoscope or horoscopy
    सुनफा [sunaphā] f. (= Gk. συναφή; cf. अनफा) a partic. configuration of the planets (when any one of the planets, except the Sun, occupies a secondary position, to the moon),

    And this is how they got there:

    J Campbell identifies several waves of Greek contact with India:

    One following Alexander the Great’s conquest of Afghanistan in 327 BC; one from the Hellenized Roman Empire following sea trade routes, in the first centuries CE; and learned refugees (Greeks and others from the Hellenized eastern parts of the Roman Empire) who took refuge in India after the imposition of Christianity, c. 400 CE.

    J Campbell, Oriental Mythology, The Masks of God, Vol. II, p. 289

    In addition, several Greek texts on astrology and astrological poetry were translated into Sanskrit between the second and fifth centuries CE.

    Moriz Winternitz, History of Indian Literature (Geschichte der indischen Literatur), Vol III, p. 570.

    David Pingree, “Astronomy and Astrology in India and Iran”, Isis, Vol. 54, No. 2 (Jun. 1963), pp. 229-246
     
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