Stephanie W. Jamison, Poetic Self-Reference in the Rig Veda and the Persona of Zarathustra



In recent years a number of influential Avestan scholars have raised doubts about the historicity of Zarathustra and about his supposed authorship of the Old Avestan Gathas, the enigmatic hymns traditionally ascribed to him. Some of the evidence adduced has been text-internal. It has been pointed out, especially by Jean Kellens in a number of publications, that Zarathustra's name occurs in the vocative in Y 46.14, and that an apparent third-person reference to Zarathustra is conjoined with a 1st person plural pronoun in Y 28.6 ("to Zarathustra and to us"). These passages are used to argue that Zarathustra could not be the composer of the Gathas because he would neither address himself in the vocative nor conjoin his own name with a 1st person pronoun. Without taking a stand on the larger claims involved--that is, the historicity or not of Zarathustra--I will adduce parallel usages from the Rig Veda, a text whose deep similarities to the Gathas are recognized by all Indo-Iranian scholars wherever they stand on the Zarathustra question. I will show that Rigvedic poets not uncommonly use the same types of constructions that are claimed as evidence against Zarathustra as the poet of the Gathas, but with unambiguous reference to themselves. Therefore, if a case is to be made against Zarathustra's authorship of the Gathas it must be made on other grounds.