KATE MILNER RABB
TO MY MOTHER.
This volume is intended for an introduction to the study of the epics.
While the simplicity and directness of the epic style seem to make such a
book unnecessary the fact that to many persons of literary tastes some of
these great poems are inaccessible and that to many more the pleasure of
exploring for themselves "the realms of gold" is rendered impossible by
the cares of business has seemed sufficient excuse for its being. Though
the beauty of the original is of necessity lost in a condensation of this
kind an endeavor has been made to preserve the characteristic epithets
and to retain what Mr. Arnold called "the simple truth about the matter of
the poem." It is believed that the sketch prefacing each story giving
briefly the length versification and history of the poem will have its
value to those readers who have not access to the epics and that the
selections following the story each recounting a complete incident will
give a better idea of the epic than could be formed from passages
scattered through the text.
The epic originated among tribes of barbarians who deified departed
heroes and recited legends in praise of their deeds. As the hymn
developed the chorus and strophe were dropped and the narrative only was
preserved. The word "epic" was used simply to distinguish the narrative
poem which was recited from the lyric which was sung and from the
dramatic which was acted.
As the nation passed from childhood to youth the legends of the hero that
each wandering minstrel had changed to suit his fancy were collected and
fused into one by some great poet who by his power of unification made
this written epic his own.
This is the origin of the Hindu epics the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey" the
"Kalevala" the "Shah-Nameh" "Beowulf" the "Nibelungen Lied" the "Cid"
and the "Song of Roland."
The conditions for the production of the primitive epic exist but once in
a nation's growth. Its later epics must be written on subjects of national
importance chosen by the poet who arranges and embellishes his material
according to the rules of the primitive epic. To this class belong the
"Aeneid" the "Jerusalem Delivered" and the "Lusiad." Dante's poem is
broader for it is the epic of mediaeval Christianity. Milton likewise
sought "higher argument" than
"Wars hitherto the only argument
and crystallized the religious beliefs of his time in "Paradise Lost."
The characteristics both of the primitive and the modern epic are their
uniform metre simplicity of construction concentration of action into a
short time and the use of episode and dialogue. The main difference lies
in the impersonality of the primitive epic whose author has so skillfully
hidden himself behind his work that as some one has said of Homer "his
heroes are immortal but his own existence is doubtful."
Although the historical events chronicled in the epics have in every case
been so distorted by the fancy of the poets that they cannot be accepted
as history the epics are storehouses of information concerning ancient
manners and customs religious beliefs forms of government treatment of
women and habits of feeling.
Constructed upon the noblest principles of art and pervaded by the
eternal calm of the immortals these poems have an especial value to us
who have scarcely yet realized that poetry is an art and are feverish
from the unrest of our time. If by the help of this volume any reader be
enabled to find a portion of the wisdom that is hidden in these mines its
purpose will have been accomplished.
My thanks are due to Mr. John A. Wilstach for the use of selections from
his translation of the "Divine Comedy;" to Prof. J. M. Crawford for the
use of selections from his translation of the "Kalevala;" to Henry Holt &
Co. for the use of selections from Rabillon's translation of "La Chanson
de Roland;" to Roberts Brothers for the use of selections from Edwin
Arnold's "Indian Idylls;" to Prof. J. C. Hall for the use of selections
from his translation of "Beowulf;" and to A. C. Armstrong & Son for the
use of selections from Conington's Translation of the "Aeneid." The
selections from the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey" are used with the permission
of and by special arrangement with Houghton Mifflin & Co. publishers of
Bryant's translations of the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey." Special thanks are
due to Miss Eliza G. Browning of the Public Library of Indianapolis to
Miss Florence Hughes of the Library of Indiana University and to Miss
Charity Dye of Indianapolis.
K. M. R.
INDIANAPOLIS IND. September 1896.
THE HINDU EPIC: THE RAMAYANA
THE HINDU EPIC: THE MAHA-BHARATA
THE GREEK EPIC: THE ILIAD
THE GREEK EPIC: THE ODYSSEY
THE FINNISH EPIC: THE KALEVALA
THE ROMAN EPIC: THE AENEID
THE SAXON EPIC: BEOWULF
THE GERMAN EPIC: THE NIBELUNGEN LIED
THE FRENCH EPIC: THE SONG OF ROLAND
THE PERSIAN EPIC: THE SHAH-NAMEH
THE SPANISH EPIC: THE POEM OF THE CID
THE ITALIAN EPIC: THE DIVINE COMEDY
THE ITALIAN EPIC: THE ORLANDO FURIOSO
THE PORTUGUESE EPIC: THE LUSIAD
THE ITALIAN EPIC: THE JERUSALEM DELIVERED
THE ENGLISH EPIC: PARADISE LOST
THE ENGLISH EPIC: PARADISE REGAINED
FROM THE RAMAYANA: TRANSLATOR
The Descent of the Ganges ... _Milman_
The Death of Yajnadatta ... "
FROM THE MAHA-BHARATA:
Savitri; or Love and Death ... _Arnold_
The Great Journey ... "
FROM THE ILIAD:
Helen at the Scaean Gates ... _Bryant_
The Parting of Hector and Andromache ... "
FROM THE ODYSSEY:
The Palace of Alcinoues ... _Bryant_
The Bending of the Bow ... "
FROM THE KALEVALA:
Ilmarinen's Wedding Feast ... _Crawford_
The Birth of the Harp ... "
FROM THE AENEID:
Nisus and Euryalus ... _Conington_
Grendel's Mother ... _Hall_
FROM THE NIBELUNGEN LIED:
How Brunhild was received at Worms ... _Lettsom_
How Margrave Ruedeger was slain ... "
FROM THE SONG OF ROLAND:
The Horn ... _Rabillon_
Roland's Death ... "
FROM THE SHAH-NAMEH:
The Rajah of India sends a Chessboard
to Nushirvan _Robinson_
Zal and Rudabeh "
FROM THE POEM OF THE CID:
Count Raymond and My Cid _Ormsby_
My Cid's Triumph "
FROM THE DIVINE COMEDY:
Count Ugolino _Wilstach_
Buonconte di Montefeltro "
Beatrice descending from Heaven "
The Exquisite Beauty of Beatrice "
FROM THE ORLANDO FURIOSO:
The Death of Zerbino _Rose_
FROM THE LUSIAD:
Inez de Castro _Mickle_
The Spirit of the Cape "
FROM THE JERUSALEM DELIVERED:
Sophronia and Olindo _Wiffen_
FROM PARADISE LOST:
Apostrophe to Light
FROM PARADISE REGAINED:
The Temptation of the Vision of the Kingdoms of the Earth
"He who sings and hears this poem continually has attained to the
highest state of enjoyment and will finally be equal to the gods."
The Ramayana the Hindu Iliad is variously ascribed to the fifth third
and first centuries B.C. its many interpolations making it almost
impossible to determine its age by internal evidence. Its authorship is
unknown but according to legend it was sung by Kuca and Lava the sons of
Rama to whom it was taught by Valmiki. Of the three versions now extant
one is attributed to Valmiki another to Tuli Das and a third to Vyasa.
Its historical basis almost lost in the innumerable episodes and
grotesque imaginings of the Hindu is probably the conquest of southern
India and Ceylon by the Aryans.
The Ramayana is written in the Sanskrit language is divided into seven
books or sections and contains fifty thousand lines the English
translation of which by Griffith occupies five volumes.
The hero Rama is still an object of worship in India the route of his
wanderings being each year trodden by devout pilgrims. The poem is not a
mere literary monument--it is a part of the actual religion of the Hindu
and is held in such reverence that the mere reading or hearing of it or
certain passages of it is believed to free from sin and grant his every
desire to the reader or hearer.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND CRITICISM THE RAMAYANA.
G. W. Cox's Mythology and Folklore 1881 p. 313;
John Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology Religion
Geography History and Literature 1879;
Sir William Jones on the Literature of the Hindus (in his Works vol. iv.);
Maj.-Gen. Vans Kennedy's Researches into Hindu Mythology 1831;
James Mill's History of British India 1840 vol. ii. pp. 47-123;
F. Max Mueller's Ancient Sanskrit Literature 1859;
E. A. Reed's Hindu Literature 1891 pp. 153-271;
Albrecht Weber's History of Indian Literature 1878 pp. 191-195;
J. T. Wheeler's History of India 4 vols. 1876 vol. ii.;
Sir Monier Williams's Indian Wisdom 1863 Indian Epic Poetry 1863;
Article on Sanskrit Literature in Encyclopaedia Britannica;
R. M. Gust's The Ramayana: a Sanskrit Epic (in his Linguistic and Oriental
Essays 1880 p. 56);
T. Goldstuecker's Ramayana (in his Literary Remains 1879 vol. i.
C. J. Stone's Cradleland of Arts and Creeds 1880 pp. 11-21;
Albrecht Weber's On the Ramayana 1870; Westminster Review
1849 vol. 1. p. 34;
J. C. Oman's Great Indian Epics 1874 pp. 13-81.
STANDARD ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS THE RAMAYANA.
The Ramayana Tr. by R. T. H. Griffith 5 vols. 1870-1874 (Follows Bombay
ed. Translated into metre of "Lady of the Lake");
Extracts from the Ramayana Tr. by Sir William Jones (in his Works
Iliad of the East F. Richardson 1873 (Popular translations of a set of
legends from the Ramayana);
The Ramayana translated into English Prose edited and published by
Naumatha Nath Dutt 7 vols. Calcutta 1890-1894.
THE STORY OF THE RAMAYANA.
Brahma creator of the universe though all powerful could not revoke a
promise once made. For this reason Ravana the demon god of Ceylon stood
on his head in the midst of five fires for ten thousand years and at the
end of that time boldly demanded of Brahma as a reward that he should not
be slain by gods demons or genii. He also requested the gift of nine
other heads and eighteen additional arms and hands.
These having been granted he began by the aid of his evil spirits the
Rakshasas to lay waste the earth and to do violence to the good
especially to the priests.
At the time when Ravana's outrages were spreading terror throughout the
land and Brahma looking down from his throne shuddered to see the
monster he had gifted with such fell power there reigned in Ayodhya now
the city of Oude a good and wise raja Dasaratha who had reigned over
the splendid city for nine thousand years without once growing weary. He
had but one grief--that he was childless--and at the opening of the
story he was preparing to make the great sacrifice Asva-medha to
propitiate the gods that they might give him a son.
The gods well pleased bore his request to Brahma in person and
incidentally preferred a request that he provide some means of destroying
the monster Ravana that was working such woe among their priests and
disturbing their sacrifices.
Brahma granted the first request and cudgeling his brains for a device
to destroy Ravana bethought himself that while he had promised that
neither gods genii nor demons should slay him he had said nothing of
man. He accordingly led the appealing gods to Vishnu who proclaimed that
the monster should be slain by men and monkeys and that he would himself
be re-incarnated as the eldest son of Dasaratha and in this form compass
the death of Ravana.
In course of time as a reward for his performance of the great sacrifice
four sons were born to Dasaratha Rama by Kausalya his oldest wife
Bharata whose mother was Kaikeyi and twin sons Lakshmana and Satrughna
whose mother was Sumitra.
Rama the incarnation of Vishnu destined to destroy Ravana grew daily in
grace beauty and strength. When he was but sixteen years old having
been sent for by a sage to destroy the demons who were disturbing the
forest hermits in their religious rites he departed unattended save by
his brother Lakshmana and a guide into the pathless forests where he
successfully overcame the terrible Rakshasa Tarika and conveyed her body
to the grateful sage.
While he was journeying through the forests destroying countless
Rakshasas he chanced to pass near the kingdom of Mithila and heard that
its king Janaka had offered his peerless daughter Sita in marriage to
the man who could bend the mighty bow of Siva the destroyer which since
its owner's death had been kept at Janaka's court.
Rama at once determined to accomplish the feat which had been essayed in
vain by so many suitors. When he presented himself at court Janaka was at
once won by his youth and beauty; and when the mighty bow resting upon an
eight-wheeled car was drawn in by five thousand men and Rama without
apparent effort bent it until it broke he gladly gave him his beautiful
daughter and after the splendid wedding ceremonies were over loaded the
happy pair with presents to carry back to Ayodhya.
When Dasaratha who had attended the marriage of his son at Mithila
returned home he began to feel weary of reigning and bethought himself
of the ancient Hindu custom of making the eldest son and heir apparent a
Yuva-Raja--that is appointing him assistant king. Rama deserved this
honor and would moreover be of great assistance to him.
His happy people received the announcement of his intention with delight;
the priests approved of it as well and the whole city was in the midst of
the most splendid preparations for the ceremony when it occurred to
Dasaratha that all he lacked was the congratulations of his youngest and
favorite wife Kaikeyi on this great event. The well-watered streets and
the garlanded houses had already aroused the suspicions of
Kaikeyi--suspicions speedily confirmed by the report of her maid. Angered
and jealous because the son of Kausalya and not her darling Bharata at
that time absent from the city was to be made Yuva-Raja she fled to the
"Chamber of Sorrows" and was there found by the old Raja.
Though Kaikeyi was his youngest and most beautiful wife her tears
threats and entreaties would have been of no avail had she not recalled
that months before the old Raja in gratitude for her devoted nursing
during his illness had granted her two promises. She now demanded the
fulfilment of these before she would consent to smile upon him and the
consent won she required him first to appoint Bharata Yuva-Raja; and
second to exile Rama for fourteen years to the terrible forest of
The promise of a Hindu once given cannot be revoked. In spite of the
grief of the old Raja of Kausalya his old wife and of all the people
who were at the point of revolt at the sudden disgrace of their favorite
prince the terrible news was announced to Rama and he declared himself
ready to go to save his father from dishonor.
He purposed to go alone but Sita would not suffer herself to be thus
deserted. Life without him she pleaded was worse than death; and so
eloquent was her grief at the thought of parting that she was at last
permitted to don the rough garment of bark provided by the malicious
The people of Ayodhya determined to share the fate of their favorites
accompanied them from the city their tears laying the dust raised by
Rama's chariot wheels. But when sleep overcame them Rama Sita and
Lakshmana escaped from them dismissed their charioteer and crossing the
Ganges made their way to the mountain of Citra-kuta where they took up
No more beautiful place could be imagined. Flowers of every kind
delicious fruits and on every side the most pleasing prospects together
with perfect love made their hermitage a paradise on earth. Here the
exiles led an idyllic existence until sought out by Bharata who learning
from his mother on his return home the ruin she had wrought in the Raj
had indignantly spurned her and hastened to Dandaka. The old Raja had
died from grief soon after the departure of the exiles and Bharata now
demanded that Rama should return to Ayodhya and become Raja as was his
right as eldest son.
When Rama refused to do this until the end of his fourteen years of exile
Bharata vowed that for fourteen years he would wear the garb of a devotee
and live outside the city committing the management of the Raj to a pair
of golden sandals which he took from Rama's feet. All the affairs of state
would be transacted under the authority of the sandals and Bharata while
ruling the Raj would pay homage to them.
Soon after the departure of Bharata the exiles were warned to depart from
their home on Citra-kuta and seek a safer hermitage for terrible
rakshasas filled this part of the forest. They accordingly sought the
abode of Atri the hermit whose wife Anasuya was so pleased with Sita's
piety and devotion to her husband that she bestowed upon her the crown of
immortal youth and beauty. They soon found a new abode in the forest of
Pancarati on the banks of the river Godavari where Lakshmana erected a
spacious bamboo house.