Friday, October 07, 2016

Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron

I HAVE TO ADMIT I'VE NEVER HEARD OF HIM: This Fascinating Figure Was The Original Indiana Jones (The Foundation for Economic Education, ValueWalk).
Anquetil – This Fascinating Figure Was The Original Indiana Jones

Before Indiana Jones and Lawrence of Arabia came Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron. Born in 1731, Anquetil was the original Orientalist-adventurer: a European scholarly expert of Asian culture who also embodied bold, heroic action in the field.

His speciality was the roots of ancient religions in Asia. He was the first European to translate the Avesta, a millennia-old collection of scriptures central to Zoroastrianism, the ancient faith of pre-Islamic Persia. In order to learn to read the 2,000-year-old form of Persian in which the Avesta was written, Anquetil travelled across India for six years, from 1755. For much of that time, he lived in the port of Surat, studying among the Parsis, a community of Zoroastrians who had fled their ancestral home in Persia centuries before.

Published in 1771, Anquetil’s translation of the Avesta caused a sensation. Most Europeans still considered the Hebrew scriptures to be the most ancient and reliable religious text. Anquetil’s translation confronted Europeans with Zoroastrian scriptures that were ancient and independent of Biblical traditions. He raised unsettling questions about the history and uniqueness of Christianity, and revolutionised European thinking about religion.

But Anquetil’s most lasting achievement might be his particular brand of self-promotion as the Orientalist-adventurer. In a set of memoirs presented as a companion to his translation of the Avesta, he portrayed himself as a fearless man of action, a hunter of esoteric knowledge facing dangers from man-eating beasts to lustful princes. With time, Anquetil’s fame gradually faded. But the image of the Orientalist-hero that he pioneered not only endured, but grew into a celebrated and symbolic archetype of Western culture.

If the details in this article are correct (and I can't vouch for them), Anquetil does sound rather like Indy, including sharing his worst excesses.