A review of Ryder’s translation of the Panchatantra
Arthur W. Ryder’s translation of the Pancha-tantra (Five-principles) is a book I am enamored with. The Panchatantra is a collection of old Sanskrit stories compiled sometime before Christ by Vishnu Sharma. The book seeks to ask and answer the question: ‘What are the means to a happy, joyful and content life?’ Its results are in the form of poems and tales with animals as characters. Panchatantra’s tales have subtales that illustrate individual points. The book provides strategies for success, instead of formulas. However, one has to learn the art of aptly applying Panchatantra’s strategies.
The Panchatantra is a discussion of the important aspects of life. Based on the titles of the chapters from Panchatantra, we can say that the important things in life are: friends, strife and resolution, gain of wealth and the right course of action. First, a large number of poems are devoted to how a person should select and maintain friends. Good friends are trustworthy and dependable, whereas, foolish and cunning friends can lead to fatal results. Next, it pays to be clever and outmaneuver your enemies, i.e. recourse to deceit is acceptable as wise conduct in war. Last, gain of wealth and benefits is important. They can be easily lost through foolish action. In Ryder’s opinion, as stated in his introduction to the book, the keys to happiness given in the book are: resolute action towards chosen goals, company of good friends, and fulfilling work. The rest of the things in life are necessary, but are not worthy of relentless pursuit.
In my opinion, Ryder does a great job of writing poems which rhyme. However, I do not like names such as ‘Increase’ or ‘Smart’ for a person or an animal. Sanskrit names with translations as a footnote would have been my choice. In any case, I believe that many will benefit from a careful reading of the translation of the Panchatantra.