The chariot of song

Evidence for the chariot image is limited to Graeco-Aryan, except for its currency in the Latin poets, where the same consideration applies as in the case of the ship.49 In the Rigveda it occurs frequently. In several passages it is a straightforward symbol of the poet's craftsmanship:

49 Cf. F. Edgerton, 'The metaphor of the car in the Rigvedic ritual', AJP 40 (1919), 175-93; Durante (1958), 9-11, 13 f. ~ (1976), 129-33; Campanile (1977), 35 f.; for Greek, Nunlist (1998), 255-64; for Latin poets, E. J. Kenney as above (n. 47).

asma id u stomam sam hinomi ratham na tasteva tatsinaya.

For him I deliver the praise-song as a joiner does a chariot to him who commissioned it. (1. 61. 4)

ima brahmam ... yaa taksama ratham iva.

These prayers which we have built like chariots. (5. 73. 10)

Similarly 1. 94. 1, 130. 6; 5. 2. 11, 29. 15; 10. 39. 14.

In other places the poets imagine the car being harnessed and set in motion. Sometimes they are in competition for a prize, and the poetic contest is likened to a chariot race:

Ile Agnim suavasam namobhir ... rathair iva pra bhare vajayadbhih; pradaksinin Marutam stomam rdhyam. I call on Agni the gracious with homage .. . As if with racing chariots I am borne onward;

with him on my right hand may I make a success of the Maruts' praise-song.

Cf. 2. 31. 1-4; 5. 66. 3; 7. 24. 5; 8. 3. 15, 80. 4-8; 10. 26. 1/9. It is not necessarily the poet who rides in the car. In 2. 18. 1-7 the poet harnesses the horses to the chariot and urges Indra to mount it and come in it, and similarly in 3. 35. 4. In 5. 61. 17 the goddess Night is besought to convey the poet's praise-song to his patron, 'like a charioteer'.

Chariot imagery appears twice in the Gathas. At Y. 50. 6 f. Zarathushtra prays:

may He who gives wisdom to be the charioteer of my tongue teach me his rules with good thought.

And I will yoke you the swiftest steeds, ones widely victorious in your laudation,

Wise One, in truth sturdy with good thought:

ride ye with them, and may ye be there for my succour.

Here are combined three of the concepts seen in the Vedic passages: the hymn as a chariot to be guided, the chariot-team as a contender for victory, and its yoking by the poet for the god to ride in. At 30. 10 the prophet declares that when his religion triumphs, 'the swiftest (steeds) will be yoked from the fair dwelling of Good Thought, of the Wise One, and of Truth, and they will win good fame'.

In the Greek poets the chariot is usually identified as that of the Muse or Muses. Empedocles (fr. 3. 5 Diels-Kranz) asks her to drive it 'from (the dwelling-place of) Piety', which makes a curious parallel to the last Gathic passage. Bacchylides (5. 176 f.) calls on her to halt 'the well-made car' when he wants to make a transition. Pindar sees himself as travelling in it (Ol. 9. 81, cf. Isth. 2. 1 f.); it is yoked by his patron (Pyth. 10. 65); it speeds on to celebrate the athlete's victory (Isth. 8. 61).50

A more elaborate picture is developed in the proem of Parmenides' philosophical apocalypse (fr. 1. 1-25 D.-K.). The poet is borne along on a car drawn by mares that take him as far as his desire reaches. Sun-maidens show him the way on the path that leads the enlightened man anywhere. This perhaps draws on a distinctive strand of mystic tradition that grew out of the more general theory of poetic charioteering. It finds its closest parallel not in the Veda but in the Romayana (3. 33. 19 f., cf. 6, 10; 46. 6; 49. 14), where it is explained that those who have conquered higher worlds by asceticism possess chariots that fly where one desires.

The Greeks had a musical form associated with dactylic rhythm and called the Chariot Nome, ap/dreios vo/os; it is said to have been used by Stesichorus and invented by the piper Olympus. The term goes back in any case to the fifth century bce.51 It may have been coined to describe the bucketing rhythm of dactylo-epitrite lyric. But it can hardly be dissociated from the idea of the poet's chariot of song. Neither can the term neZos 'pedestrian', which in the fifth century was used as the antithesis of 'sung, melodic' and subsequently came to designate prose discourse as opposed to verse.52 'On foot' must have been meant to contrast with 'on horseback' or 'in a conveyance'.

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