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Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult
Jamison, Stephanie W
Journal of the American Oriental Society; Jul-Sep 2007; 127, 3; ProQuest Research Library
pg. 364
364 Journal of the American Oriental Society 127.3 (2007)
Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult. By ROGER D. WOODARD. Urbana: UNIVERSITY
OF ILLINOIS PREss, 2006. Pp. xiv + 296.
The title of this book is best read backwards to get an accurate sense of its focus and contents, for
it concerns primarily the structure and details of Roman cult, for which various comparanda are iden-
tified in Vedic ritual texts, and the whole set within an Indo-European context from which the materials
in the two traditions are presumed by the author to have been inherited. The Roman material sets the
agenda and provides the entire framework, even though the title promises a more balanced treatment of
the Indic and Italic materials, and the book is therefore less relevant to the readership of this journal
than its title suggests. Due to the limitations of my own knowledge and of the subject matter of lAOS,
I will confine my comments to the Indic side, though readers should keep in mind that the Roman
side is far more substantial.
The other words in the title, "sacred space" and "cult," participate in an intertwined and often
ingenious set of arguments, in which the cui tic practices of ancient Rome are interpreted as inscribing
and defining various sacred spaces, which are then compared with the geography of the Vedic ritual
ground and in turn with the cultic practices that take place therein. The most ingenious part of the argu-
ment is the equation of the microcosm of Vedic sacred space with what we might call the mesocosm
of Roman space, for the author considers all of the city of Rome proper and its environs as sacred
geography, with the smaller space of the city corresponding to the smaller devayajana of the simpler
srauta rituals, while the area around Rome (especially the Ager Romanus) corresponds to the enlarged
ritual ground, the mahavedi, of more elaborate rites. Woodard argues for these correspondences through
a consideration both of landmarks and of ritual performances in and movements through both sets of
spaces. Clearly this is a bold hypothesis, or set of hypotheses: the difference in scale between the Roman
and the Vedic spaces is huge, and this difference in scale magnifies the difficulties of each equation of
detail already entailed by the chronological, geographical, and cultural differences between ancient
India and ancient Rome.
Such an approach is of course a familiar one in modern Indo-European scholarship, practiced for
many decades with great daring and great skill by Georges Dumezil, and indeed Woodard works within
a Dumezilian model of tripartition, though he is not as constrained by it as some of Dumezil's epigones.
At their best, such works aim not so much at proving their hypotheses as at providing a stimulating,
thought-provoking, and structured account of what can appear to be random and inexplicable details
in the synchronic system, a way of thinking "outside the box" of a single culture, as it were. Woodard
certainly succeeds in this aim, but he might have come closer to providing not merely a stimulating
account, but also a convincing one, if he had treated the Vedic materials with more care.
The major problem with his approach is that, though he provides a meticulous, exhaustively
detailed, and structurally informed account of the Roman cultic materials (insofar as I am able to
judge), he uses Vedic (and later Hindu) materials as a sort of grabbag, a collection of curious practices
and cui tic elements from which he can pull out a comparandum for whatever is bothering him in
Rome. The Indic texts seem to form an achronic assemblage for him, with details sometimes plucked
from relatively late practices whose antecedents were demonstrably different. This problem surfaces
early on: the first major equation he makes between Italy and India is identifying the Roman god
Terminus, "the boundary god," with the Siva liJiga (pp. 60-64), a cultic element needless to say not
present in Vedic religion. He argues later (66ff.) that the Siva liJiga has a Vedic antecedent in the
yiipa, the post to which the sacrificial animal is tethered, but provides no real evidence for their con-
nection. By dissolving these two distinct elements from two distinct layers of Indian religion into one,
he can then avail himself of the characteristics of either to make points about any stone, post, or other
upright feature in Roman cult. Even within Vedic ritual the achronic approach causes problems. For
example, one of the features that supposedly binds the Roman Arval rites to the Vedic Soma Sacrifice
is that the former involves distribution of gifts at midday, while at the latter the d a k ~ i Q a s or "priestly
gifts" are given at the Midday Pressing (e.g., p. 181). But it is clear that this Vedic temporal location
is secondary: in the Rig Veda the d a k ~ i Q a is always associated with Dawn and the Morning Pressing.
Woodard also has a tendency to interpret general characteristics of Vedic cult as highly specific to
particular elements in it. To return to the yiipa, beginning on p. 81 (and frequently throughout the
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
Reviews of Books 365
book), he makes much of the fact that the yiipa is associated with fecundity and prosperity, for him a
striking link to the Roman Terminus. But everything in Vedic ritual is thus associated; it would only
be striking if the yiipa didn't share in these associations. In the same vein, when what seem to me to be
fairly general or even universal features show up in both the Vedic and the Roman rite, he uses these
features as arguments for their relationship: e.g., that both the Soma Sacrifice and the Arval rites have
three meals during the day (p. 172) or that after the ritual is over, the participants leave (p. 225).
Clearly the author has applied himself to the study of the voluminous and often unwieldy materials
on Vedic srauta ritual, and it is exceedingly gratifying that scholars outside of the narrow realm of Vedic
studies are now taking note and making use of these texts. (Dumezil himself generally confined himself
to the epics and other narrative texts.) I hope it doesn't seem ungrateful to ask for an even stronger
engagement with the Indic materials. Factual lapses like the ones noted (and others, e.g., that there is
a text called the Yajur Veda [po 67], that the Asvins are the sons of [po 168]) fail to inspire com-
plete confidence. Moreover, the fact that he often relies on secondary sources (such as Keith or Gonda)
and that the Sanskrit text is very seldom quoted, and when it is, accented texts appear without accents,
makes the imbalance between the Vedic and the Roman sections all the more clear, for he is always
careful to cite the Latin in extenso and to base his discussions on these primary texts. Such flaws under-
cut some of the very good and striking equations Woodard does make and may make the reader less
susceptible to persuasion. This would be a pity, because Woodard's painstaking attention to the Roman
ritual and his ambitious attempt to bring in Vedic materials produce an account of the former with many
appealing features.
I would like to register one technical complaint: like many other current scholars the author system-
atically cites secondary literature by reprint date. For those who know, it is merely startling to come
across, say, Keith's 1998(!) Religion and Philosophy of the Vedas and (first published
1925) or Griffith's 1990(!) Yajurveda Sal'f'lhitii (first published 1899 as The Hymns of the Yajur Veda)
[the original publication dates are not recoverable from the bibliography], but readers outside the field-
the majority presumably, since this book is of more relevance to Latinists than to Vedicists-will be
misled into thinking that the former is a modem treatment of the religious system of ancient India
and the latter an up-to-date translation of an early text (the Viijasaneyi Sal'f'lhitii, by the way, not the
mischaracterized Yajur Veda).
The Dhivehi Language: A Descriptive and Historical Grammar of Dhivehi and Its Dialects. 2 vols.
By SONIA FRITZ. Beitrage zur Siidasien-Institute Universitat Heidelberg, vol. 191. Wiirzburg:
ERGON VERLAG, 2002. Pp. xvi + 270, vi + 280. €75.
Dhivehi (Maldivian) 1 is the language of the Maldive Republic. It is also spoken on the island of
Minocoy as Mahl. Dhivehi is an Indo-Aryan language, and its closest relative is Sinhala of Sri Lanka,
so that they form the southernmost branch of the family, to which Fritz gives the name "Insular Indo-
Aryan." This is a reasonable and useful designation worth adopting, perhaps expanded to "Southern
Insular Indo-Aryan" to indicate the geographical location more fully and emphasize the separation
from the northern IA languages.
Until quite recently there was relatively little linguistic information available on Dhivehi, and Fritz
provides a brief summary, stating (p. 8)
I. Dhivehi lacks an aspirated consonant series, and the -h in dh- does not represent an aspirated consonant, but
a diacritic device in the official Maldive Republic romanization to indicate a dental versus a retroflex stop. Fritz
uses this in referring to the language, but examples are given in transcription.

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