The Mahabharata

Wendy Doniger writes:

Many people in India believe that, because the Mahabharata — the ancient epic poem, in Sanskrit, about a disastrous fratricidal war — is such a tragic, violent book, it is dangerous to keep the whole text in your house; most people who have it stow one part of it somewhere else, just to be on the safe side. The Mahabharata, in any case, takes up quite a lot of shelf space: it contains about 75,000 verses — sometimes rounded off to 100,000 — or three million words, some 15 times the combined length of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, or seven times the Iliad and the Odyssey combined; and a hundred times more interesting…

John Smith has given it to us in parts, a manageable fragment, by far the best single-volume English translation extant. It is certainly the easiest to read, and the sparing use of notes (less than one to a page, generally cross-references) keeps it moving along, though occasionally necessitating a simplification. Flying in the face of the sexist old Italian adage that a translation, like a woman, cannot be both beautiful and faithful, this one is both meticulously accurate in its rendition of the Sanskrit and fluent in clear, graceful English sentences.

(LRB 8 October 2009)