- Persian Carpet
- Detail — “The Raven Addresses the Assembled Animals”
Circa 1590, ascribed to Miskin. British Museum, London.
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”.
Calvert Watkins is now Professor-in-Residence, Department of Classics and Program in Indo-European Studies, UCLA. He lives in Los Angeles. He is interested in the Linguistics and the Poetics of all the earlier Indo-European languges and societies, particularly Greek, Latin and Italic, Celtic, especially Early Irish, Anatolian, especially Hittite and Luvian, Vedic Indic, and Old Iranian; historical linguistic theory and method; and Indo-European genetic comparative literature.
How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics
Oxford University Press, USA; New Ed edition (May 17, 2001)