Pococke’s Poppycock

April 29, 2016 § 1 Comment

PoppycockIndia in Greece, Or Truth in Mythology (Pococke, Edward)

In today’s India, politics is the answer to every puzzle.
Take the Aryan migration conundrum. Did the Aryans originate in Eastern Europe or Central Asia, and fan out into Western Europe and India 4000 years ago? Did they smash their way across Mohenjodaro and Harappa, killing many of the original settlers of India and driving the rest into the southern jungles? Was the Rg Veda composed in Helmand, Afghanistan?
It is tiresome to repeat the arguments and evidence for and against these propositions. There are linguistic, archaeological and mythological arguments in their favor; there are archaeological, DNA-based and scriptural arguments that point to an indigenous birth for Hindu civilization.
Why is this suddenly such a hot topic of national debate? The answer, as always, is politics. The debates tend to degenerate into ad hominems where one side is accused of being communists, or of being brainwashed by western propaganda, while the other side is accused of being unscientific fascists or religious nutjobs.
I read one unsatisfactory book that argued in favor of an external (Persian) origin for Indian civilization a few weeks ago; I have now balanced it out by reading an utterly ridiculous book that argues in favor of Buddhists emanating from India and colonizing Greece, Italy, Egypt, Great Britain and even Peru.
Mind you, Pococke’s premise isn’t a bad one at first glance: the Greek language does not explain the meanings of the names of the mountains, rivers and towns of Greece. Therefore, Pococke conjectures, those names must have been given them by people of another nation, speaking a different language. Using this premise, and almost nothing else, the author constructs a bewilderingly elaborate theory that would be admirable for its ambitious reach if it weren’t so patently unhistorical and  wrong. According to this theory, there was a great war in India, between the Brahmanical and Buddhistic faiths, and the losers (the Buddhists) were driven to take refuge beyond the reach of their oppressors, thus founding several civilizations around the world.
Names are Pococke’s premise, and names are the only evidence he needs. Vaguely similar sounding derivations of names from broken Sanskrit are the weapon of his choice. Thus, he derives Makedonian from ‘Magadhan’, Corinthus from ‘Kori Indus’, Persia from ‘Parasoo’ (of Parasu-rama fame), Babylon from ‘Bopalan’ (or the people of Bhopal), Scandinavian from Scanda-Nabhi (or ‘Skanda Chiefs’), Autochthons from Attac-thans (or the people of Attock), Philippos of Macedon from Bhili-pos (or ‘Bhil prince’), Argolis from ‘Argh-walas’, Saxons from ‘Saca-soono’ (or ‘sons of Sakas’), Centaurs from Kandahar, Hyperboreans from ‘Khyber-purians’, Cassiopaei from Kashyapa, Thesprotians from ‘Des-Bharatians’, the race of Inachus from the Incas of Peru, Etruscan from Turushka, Syria from Surya, Palestine from ‘Pali-stan’, the Jews or tribes of Juda/Yuda from Yadu, Argonauts from ‘argha-nath’, Dalmatia from Dalai Lama, Cronos from Karna, Triptolemos from ‘Sri-Buddha-Lamas’, Lacadaemon from ‘Ladakhi-men’, and Pythagoras from ‘Buddha-Guru’. These are all far-fetched contrivances, every one of them; just because a word in Greek can be made out of one or more similar sounding words in a different language does not imply an etymological connection, let alone an historical one. I might as well say that the word Po-cocke is derived from the Tamil term ‘Po-Kakkoos’ which broadly means, ‘Go to the toilet’. Which, as it happens, is apt advice for what ought to be done with the book, but I cannot, with a straight face, claim from this that Pococke was a severely constipated Tamilian.
  1. Sonmans, Wilhelm, d.1708; Edward Pococke (1604-1691)

    Edward Pococke (1604-1691); Bodleian Libraries; attributed to Wilhelm Sonmans: What’s in a Name?


    The only non-etymological ‘proofs’ offered by Pococke are the following:

    The Greek language is a derivative of Sanskrit, therefore Sanskrit-speaking people must have dwelt in Greece before later tribes corrupted the language
    The first act of a German on rising, was ablution (according to Tacitus). They also tied their loose braided hair with a top-knot. So Germans came from India.
    Colonel Tod says that Rajputs worship daggers. But the sword was worshipped in Athens by Attila the Hun. Hence the Rajputs were in Athens
    The grottos of Salsette, Elephantina and Ellora remind us strongly of the excavations in Egypt and Nubia, of the royal tombs at Thebes and the monument at Ipsambul; therefore they must have been built by the same people
    The story of Ullyses’ men getting imprisoned by Circe is very similar to that of Prince Vijaya’s men getting imprisoned by Kuveni; clearly, Ullyses was Buddhist.
    Celibacy, fasting, prayers for the dead, enshrined relics, holy water, incense, candles in broad day, bead rosaries for prayers, worship of saints, processions and a monastic habit – are all common to the Buddhist and Roman Catholic Church.

The first five are trivial. Resemblances in language, social behavior, hair styles, articles of worship, temple architecture, and mythical themes can be explained in fifty different ways, and do not imply a common historical origin. Some Rajput clans are related to the Huns who invaded India (but not to the Athenians who were attacked by the Huns).

The sixth is a fascinating point, possibly the most perceptive of the book, but while the reasons for the close resemblance between Buddhist and Catholic rites are to be found in the still-emerging science of how cultures, mythologies and rituals evolve and diffuse between societies, they do not even remotely suggest that the Romans were once Buddhist.

Besides everything else, the Pelasgian pre-history of Greece, if it ever took place, preceded Homer who mentions the Pelasgians, and so took place before the 9th century BC. Buddha wasn’t born before the 6th century BC. Case closed.
Contrary to Pococke’s opinion, the rivalry between the cities of Roma and Ravenna, and the parallel rivalry in Hindu theology between ‘Rama’ and ‘Ravana’, are completely unconnected except as an accident of language. I am a big fan of speculative history (at some level all historical narrative involves speculation), but when the archaeological, textual and mythological evidence is weak, similar sounding names may be little more than riddles involving bad puns.
While on the subject of riddles and names, here is an absolute doozy.
The cover of the book names the author as “E. Pococke”. The title page informs us austerely that “Edward Pococke was an English Orientalist and Biblical scholar”. The blurb on the back cover offers no further biographical detail. There is a Preface, signed “E. P.” and datelined “London, December 1851”. And that kind of makes sense, given the British Orientalist interest in Indian culture at that time, the author’s dedication to Horace Wilson (1786-1860) and his references to the writings of Colonel James Tod (1782-1835) and others of a similar vintage. An internet search for the name ‘Edward Pococke’ reveals only one prominent hit, mentioned in Wikipedia, the New World Encyclopedia, historytoday.com, and the Jewish Virtual Library, all unanimous in describing him precisely as “an English Orientalist and Biblical scholar”.
There is a small problem, however: this Edward Pococke, the one in the encyclopedias, while undoubtedly English, an Orientalist and a Biblical scholar to boot, seems to have focused on an entirely different part of the Orient: he was an eminent Hebraist and Professor of Arabic. He had no known research interests in Greece or India. Oh, and this Edward Pococke, English Orientalist and Biblical scholar, lived between 1604 and 1691, dying a good 150 years before some of the books he referenced were written.
So who really wrote ‘India in Greece’ in 1852? How come there is practically no biographical information in the internet about the 19th century Edward Pococke, who also happens to be an Orientalist? Or did someone choose to impersonate a forgotten scholar of Middle-Eastern religions? And most importantly, why was this utterly forgettable book of ridiculous unscientific theories, written by an anonymous impostor, resurrected and republished by Rupa Publications in 2015?
Like I said, in today’s India, politics is the answer to every puzzle. Figure it out yourself.

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§ One Response to Pococke’s Poppycock

  • rm says:

    Enjoyed the post. Loved the Tamilian Pococke.

    This kind of punning is also the basis of the scholarship and theories of P N Oak, who I also write about.

    I had forgotten Pococke’s point about Greek place names, that they aren’t very Greek. One reason may be that Greece was repeatedly invaded, like Britain, which also has a lot of odd place names that aren’t readily comprehensible in modern English.

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