How to Kill A Dragon

How to Kill A Dragon : Aspects of Indo-European Poetics

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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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Product details

  • Paperback | 630 pages
  • 149.86 x 231.14 x 45.72mm | 771.1g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195144139
  • 9780195144130
  • 499,233

Review quote

"...the sheer mass of the learning in this landmark book by Watkins is overwhelming....the whole book is full of stimulating ideas....We owe a debt of gratitude to Watkins for this massive - and masterly - synthesis of traditional poetics in the Indo-European tradition."-Journal of American Folklore "Watkins builds a compelling case for his interpretations....This work is richly illustrated with examples from relevant literature, with all passages presented both in the original and in translation."-Diachronica "...[this] rewarding book crowns many decades of thorough and ofter brillant linguistic research."-Religious Studies Review "This book is an inspiring introduction to the problems and techniques of comparative Indo-European poetics and at the same time a major contribution to that field...It is both delightfully entertaining and a very important work..."-The Classical Journal "The at once an impressive summation of what has gone before and a bold step forward into new waters...In its methodology, in its breadth, Watkins' book can only be termed a tour de force."-Journal of the American Oriental Society " attests to an extraordinary erudition and unique command of the major ancient IE languages; it contains innumerable original insights and fascinating notes on religion and mythology; it is well written and develops its argument step by step with growing conviction and clarity; altogether, a challenging and stimulating work!"-The Journal of Indo-European Studies since Watkins writes in English, and very readably (exotic material is regularly translated), he will surely dominate Anglophone perceptions of the field ... This is a magnificent work. * N.J.Allen *
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69 ratings
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3 17% (12)
2 4% (3)
1 1% (1)
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