Alfred Hillebrandt Reconsidered

By Witzel, Michael | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, October-December 1992 | Go to article overview

Alfred Hillebrandt Reconsidered

Witzel, Michael, The Journal of the American Oriental Society

THE PRESENT VOLUME IS no. 28 of the by now more than thirty books of the series of collected articles, Kleine Schriften, of Indianists from the German-speaking countries.(1) In the quarter-century since its inception, this series has proven to be extremely useful in bringing together the often widely dispersed articles and reviews of those Indologists who have preceded us, as well as of a few famous contemporary scholars. This undertaking demonstrates how a comparatively small donation, in this case a legate of the late Tubingen Indologist and scholar of comparative religion, Helmut von Glasenapp, can make a considerable contribution to the development of our field. We wish that a similar institution existed in the English-speaking countries!(2)

The present volume has been edited by Rahul P. Das, of the University of Hamburg, otherwise known for his contributions to modern Indo-Aryan studies and (Vrksa-) Ayurveda. He has taken great pains, greater than usually found in this series, to make the volume comprehensive and accessible, especially by the addition of various detailed indexes. The present volume is his second in the series (the first commemorating the life and work of the Breslau Indologist W. Neisser, who was driven to suicide by the Nazis in 1941). Anyone who knows what amount of time is involved in publications of this sort will be grateful to R. P. Das for this service rendered to our field of study.

Alfred Hillebrandt (1853-1927; in the sequel, H.) was Privatdozent and then Professor of Sanskrit at Breslau(3) from 1878 onwards. His work is mainly concerned with the study of the Veda, and especially that of Vedic ritual and mythology. H.'s extensive book on Vedic mythology has recently been translated into English in India,(4) and his Rituallitteratur still is the only detailed description of the solemn Vedic ritual (as well as of the domestic rites), including also their little-studied correlation with Iran. An English translation would be quite useful even now, almost a hundred years after its publication. Hillebrandt has also edited and translated a number of texts, among them the Sankhayana Srautasutra and the Mudraraksasa, and he has written a number of studies on such topics as the appreciation of Kalidasa's work, the beginnings of Indian drama, and on old Indian politics, among which his pioneering work on the Kautiliya Arthasastra is worthy of remembrance and study. The list of his monographs contains some 25 titles (including a few more-or-less recent translations into English).

The present volume, however, presents us with a comprehensive and quite representative selection of his articles on Vedic and other Indian topics. Next to Vedic studies the book contains: problems of Sanskrit grammar and of Avestan philology,(5) articles on the history of Indian religion and philosophy, studies on the Arthasastra, and on the Indian drama. This section also includes a biographical sketch of A. F. Stenzler (1807-1887), among whose works the Elementarbuch der Sanskritsprache still is widely used in German-speaking countries. It is interesting to note that in the twenty years between its first publication in 1868 and the date of the biography, 1887, nearly 6,000 copies had been printed and sold--an indication of the great interest students and others had for Indian studies at that time, when many high school teachers wrote on Homer and Kalidasa in their Schulprogramme. However, already by the end of the eighties, when the last traces of the Romantic school had disappeared, interest in Sanskrit, too, has waned considerably, as the number of copies sold indicates.

Among Hillebrandt's papers, a number that are of historical or of lasting interest may be taken up here in some detail: his collection (1916) of notices in Sanskrit texts on the ancient materialists, a continuation of an earlier article contained in his book Alt-Indien (Breslau, 1890), 168ff., is one of the few early contributions to this still relatively little-studied subject. …

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