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The Hymns of Zoroaster: A New Translation of the Most Ancient Sacred Texts of Iran Paperback – 29 Oct 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: I.B.Tauris (29 Oct. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848855052
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848855052
  • Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 1.5 x 24.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 389,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'Translating the words and comprehending the meaning of Zoroaster's devotional poems is always challenging. M. L. West has produced a lucid interpretation of those ancient words. His renditions are filled with insights and empathy. This endeavour is an important contribution toward understanding more fully some of the earliest prophetic words in human history.' --Jamsheed K Choksy, Professor of Iranian Studies, History, and India Studies, Indiana University

'A thoroughly worthwhile and refreshingly readable translation of the Older Avesta, M. L. West's book will be widely welcomed, by students and general readers alike.' --Almut Hintze, Zartoshty Reader in Zoroastrianism, School of Oriental and African Studies, London

'In this new and dauntless translation of the Gathas, M. L. West resuscitates the notion of Zoroaster as the self-conscious founder of a new religion. In advancing this idea, he takes position against many modern interpreters of these extremely difficult texts. The clarity and beauty of his translation will be much welcomed by students of Zoroastrianism and by Zoroastrians themselves, while his bold interpretation will spark off welcome debate among specialists.' --Albert de Jong, Professor of Comparative Religion, Leiden University

About the Author

M. L. West is an Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and a Fellow of the British Academy. From 1974-91 he was Professor of Greek at Royal Holloway, University of London. His many books include The Orphic Poems (1983), An Introduction to Greek Metre (1987), Ancient Greek Music (1992) and Indo-European Poetry and Myth (2007).

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
West has provided a wonderful, insightful and under stable translation of the Gathas of Zarathushtra. Removing the misleading Ahura Mazda title he has allowed readers of belief and non-belief to understand the spiritual journey and prayers detailing that journey of this phenomenal Bactrian prophet. The translated texts are presented in very readable and understandable form opposite clear but concise notes on their meaning and relevance. Although a book of scholarship these translations could be equally used for recitation or indeed meditative reflection. Excellent. There is so little available on these texts in English and so little that is to date that this work is indeed a treasure. A useful parallel translation and introduction in by Humbach.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent, excellent format. You get an introduction to each poem, and a verse by verse explanation on one page with the verses in English running parallel on the other. It is all very simple and approachable. It doesn't go into deep theology or linguistics, it just tells you what you need to know.

It feels like more of a commercial product for the curious reader than something for the serious student. But this clarity and approachability are its greatest strengths. It is also a really well presented book. The cover is attractive and it is good quality.
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Format: Hardcover
These translations are an attempt by M. L. West to understand Zoroaster and his life, using the comparative Indo-European evidence to fill in blanks left empty by other translations. West is clear in his belief that Zoroaster was a real man who lived in western Afghanistan about 2600 years ago, and who composed a set of hymns (those translated in the book) while founding a religious sect using those orally-composed hymns as scripture. It was this sect and these hymns that became the dominant, but not sole, religion of Persia from the Achaemenids to the end of Sasanian rule in the wake of the Arab invasion, and it is fascinating to see how the cow-loving, compassionate, sort-of-monotheistic religion of Zoroaster became something else entirely as the needs of the Persians who had adopted it changed.

The translations of the yasnas, the hymns, are accompanied by notes by West explaining each verse and its relation both to the hymn as a whole and to the rest of Zoroaster's extant oeuvre. A Zoroastrian liturgical text is also translated. The introduction makes much of the precision of the oral mode of transmission, noting that the accuracy of the Zoroastrian priests who had memorised Zoroaster's hymns was greater than the fidelity of many manuscript traditions.

This translation is a perfect companion to the Rigveda, and I'd recommend reading each side-by-side.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars 7 reviews
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting new take on the Gathas 26 Aug. 2011
By C. Dalrymple - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
On the one hand, M. L. West is not an expert on Zoroastrianism. On the other, he is known for his expertise in Ancient Greek poetry, and his work on ancient poetic forms in general. This book came about after West studied the Gathas for his book Indo-European Poetry and Myth and decided that he saw things that other translators were missing.

This expertise in ancient poetry gives West a different perspective on the Gathas than most translators. He is not just looking at the words, but seeing forms, styles, and references that he is familiar with from Homer and the Rig Veda and using these to influence his translation. Not everything is in sync with other translations, but what would be the point if it agreed 100%?

This book is sure to provoke discussion, which is never a bad thing. However, I am hoping for a second edition with a bit more editing. In the introduction West jumps ahead of himself several times in ways that could be very confusing to someone not familiar with the subject. Additionally, in an example given of the Avestan script, the transliteration does not 100% match the script, with no explanation given as to why this is.

West's attempts to keep the translation in the same poetic forms as the original does at times make it hard to read. He accommodates by having one page be the direct translation, and the facing page a synopsis. I think I would have preferred if he had also included a free verse form, if just for ease of reading for those not used to the structures often found in translated poetry.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than I expected 1 Oct. 2011
By OneWho Ceeks - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Have been researching Zoroaster for awhile now and most translations are pretty stilted and not necessarily complete. The translations seemed very plausible and reasonable variations of other works. Was thus less taxing to look for meaning vs trying to twist things around to how we think today. Definitely keeping this for reference.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative review of Gathas 31 May 2012
By Will Jerom - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I am hardly an expert on Zoroastrianism, but upon my first reading I would give this a sold 4 stars. The scriptures of the Gathas themselves would not make much sense, but West offers an introduction and prefaces each scripture with his own commentary that gives it much more meaning. Overall one gets the sense that Zoroastrianism emerged from a pastoral community interested in religion as a foil against cattle-raiders and opponents. How it got projected to such a cosmic scale, it is not clear. The dates of Zoroastrianism are at least 2500 years old, if not older, making it one of the most ancient world religions. West's short little work offers an fascinating overview of these excerpts of Zoroastrian scripture.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars West on Gathas 4 April 2013
By henry schwab - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Martin West is the foremost living editor
of Ancient Greek text, beginning with
Hesiod. He was astute enough to
realize that the Theogony was
heavily influence by Ancient Near
Eastern texts. He has over the years
made himself a master of most, if not
all, Indo-European languages and
poetry in those langages.
His view of Zoroaster/Zarathustra
seems fresh and exciting
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars West offers a very good "translation" in the commentary proceeding each Hymn 23 Aug. 2014
By Anwar - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Well, this book is actually a bit complicated. On the one hand I suspect the translation part was written by someone other than M.L.West and it is a person or group that would rather not be identified. On the other, M.L.West offers a very good "translation" in the commentary proceeding each Hymn. Apparently, the translators of the hymns themselves were more interested in maintaining word patterns and verse form than they were in translating meaning. As a result the Hymns are utterly incoherent and even conjure the opposite meanings in many cases. It is so silly that it appears deliberately misleading. For M.L.West's part it seems as if he is quite aware of this and offers a kind of life raft in defense of the original built into this apparent sabotage. If you want a translation of the Hymns that you can utilize in Zoroastrian practice this is NOT it. It might be helpful in offering insight into OTHER translations. There is a bibliography in the back of the book to direct the reader. Thanks M.L.West.
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