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Reading Sanskrit Love Poetry Today: Before and After Theory

This presentation will spotlight some famous Sanskrit and Prakrit love poems, read and interpreted today in English translation. The first step in this hermeneutical journey will be a prima facie interpretation, carried out from a naïve perspective, in the attempt to “understand” without the cultural burden of the literary and intellectual tradition that originated those very poems. The second step will be a deep dive into South Asian poetic theory, with the introduction and the analysis of some crucial aesthetic concepts (rasa, alaṃkāra, dhvani) as well as some heated debates concerning their usefulness and application to the poetical examples they are supposed to elucidate. The third and final step will be an attempt at re-reading the verses presented earlier on, now with the awareness of their cultural background and the range of differing interpretations they have inspired. By actively merging our initial impressions with the interpretations given by centuries of literary history, our final understanding will hopefully embody a veritable fusion of horizons, the sum total of our vitally present concerns, and the piercing insights from pre-modern South Asia.

About the speaker

Daniele Cuneo is ‘maître de conférences’ (Associate Professor) in Sanskrit and Indian Civilization at the Université Sorbonne nouvelle, Paris. After obtaining his PhD at the University of Rome “La Sapienza” under the direction of Raffaele Torella, he worked and taught at the three prestigious universities of Vienna, Cambridge, and Leiden. His main areas of research are Sanskrit aesthetics, Philosophy of Language, Tamil Culture, and South Asian Manuscript Studies. His publications include several articles on Indian aesthetics and philosophy, Italian translations of the Mānavadharmaśāstra, the seminal work on Sanskrit jurisprudence, and of the Muttoḷḷāyiram, a celebrated collection of Tamil poems from the mid-first millennium, and numerous contributions to the digital catalogue of the Sanskrit manuscript collections at the Cambridge University Library. His current projects focus on the edition, translation, interpretation, and study of several Sanskrit texts from late medieval Kashmir (Mukula’s Abhidhāvttamātkā, the unpublished commentary by Sahadeva on Vāmana’s work, and Mammaṭa’s Śabdavyāpāravicāra).


Thursday, 8 June 2023 at 19:00


Lecture Room, 4/Floor, The Siam Society


Members and Students — Free of charge
Non-Members — THB 200

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