European Centre for Zoroastrian Studies

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The Poetry of Zoroaster: Marvels of Mind

A short summary of the talk made by Martin Schwarz the Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Stanford University in USA, on March the 26, 2003

Around 1200 B.C. Zarathustra composed 17 individual poems, called “the Gathas” that means “ Songs”. For that he used five metrical structures. These songs-poems form the very basis of the Zoroastrian existential philosophy.

The structure of the Gatha poems includes concentric (ring) compositions - first stanza rhyming with the third stanza. Zarathushtra could create a poem backwards, and from the middle outwards, recasting the material from one poem to another. He may have left a poem unfinished, then come back to it after some time (a day, a month) and add to it. An example of this (mirror schema) was the use of the word "isa" (meaning sun) in Y. 50.1 and Y. 50.11 to symmetrically link the poem. Y.32 stage 1 is linked with later stages with the word for messenger (another word for happiness). The first half of Y.46 was a complete poem when Zarathushtra does not have a patron (he hoped to obtain a patron), and he tells Ahuramazda "if you cannot gratify me, how can I gratify you".

Prof. Schwartz, said that these structures are like railroad tracks, and you can go from stanza to stanza using these tracks. Along these tracks develops theology, eschatology, etc. Y.46 generates Y.32; Y.46.19 -> Y.32.7 ; Y.46.18 -> Y.32.8 ; Y.32 -> Y.49 ; Y.32.1-2 -> Y.449.7-8 ;

In Y.46 the (Chinvat) Bridge is in the middle of the poem.

He also talked about the "mah" "wah" pattern that occurs and alternates in a series of poems. For example, manah vohu and vohu manah in Y.32 (based on Y.46) in which Zarathushtra undergoes a change in attitude from confidence to some doubt. Also in Y.33 where practically every word is alternately "ah" "wah". After Y.46 all (even his enemies) want to join Zarathushtra in worshipping Ahuramazda in Y.32.2. The "ah" "wah" is seen in "Asha Vahishta" and the "ah" "mah" in "Ahura Mazda". Also, the linkages of stanzas relate to linkages in the theological realm. "To those did the Lord of Wisdom ( Ahuramazda), who is committed with Good Mind and is the Boon Associate of sunny rightness, respond from (His) Dominion".

In Y.49.7 Zarathushtra praises the lineage of his patron (King Vishtaspa) and tells Ahuramazda to make the blissful connection. Zarathushtra uses these words like a deck of cards and shuffles them as needed.

According to Prof. Schwartz, Zarathushtra's followers were intelligent people who were interested in understanding the different issues. He mentioned that the original concept was Bliss of Ahuramazda, and the original word was "Brazma" or "Vrazma". In one place, this word is not directly seen, but in reciting the stanza the first letter of each word combines to form VRAZMA. Zarathushtra has a very complex concept on how the soul of the righteous links up to heaven.

Prof. Schwartz said in summarizing, that we can reconstruct how the poems were composed; we can trace the life experiences of the poet, other milestones, how he combines poems with complex sound structures and his theology. Zarathushtra was a real person whose ideas could be understood simply or complexly. Zarathushtra was not a run-of-the-mill poet-priest. Some people (intelligentsia) wanted to see some complexity in order to be impressed, so he also provided that.

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