From what extraordinary quarters the arguments in support of a more modern date of the Vedic hymns are sometimes fetched has been shown lately in a book otherwise full of learning the Vedische Studien by Pischel and Geldner (1889). I agree with these two scholars on many points and with regard to the right system of interpretation which they think ought to be applied to the hymns of the Rig-veda there is nothing which they will not find fully confirmed by what I have written on the subject during the last forty years. But with regard to the general character of the civilization reflected in these hymns I differ from them considerably. That the Aryan settlers in India as represented to us in the Vedic hymns were neither mere savages mere sons of nature as they are called nor even mere hunters or nomads I tried to show in my first essay on Aryan Civilization1 published in 1856. Nor do I think that anybody has questioned the fact that they lived in villages or hamlets. Whether we should translate the word pur by town seemed doubtful because in the Veda pur is always spoken of as a stronghold rather than as an inhabited camp. How easily however a camp may grow into a town we see from the many names of towns ending in castra. But in the absence of any allusions to streets and market-places inside the pur it certainly seemed safer not to translate that word by town in Vedic poetry. Besides even at present nine-tenths of the population of India live in villages and yet we should not hesitate to call them civilized.
Pischel and Geldner's ‘Vedische Studien.’
That the Vedic poets knew the sea I have been myself the first to maintain and I hope to prove. That they knew salt is more difficult to establish but that as Pischel and Geldner maintain they knew the art of writing has never been proved and would run counter to all we know of the historical progress of alphabetic writing in India and in Asia in general. There is not one atom of evidence in support of such an assertion;—at all events neither Professor Pischel nor Professor Geldner has brought forward a single fact in support of their opinion.
It is perfectly true as they allege that some of the Vedic poets are very greedy. But is gold-hunger peculiar to an advanced civilization only? Gold had been named before the Aryan family broke up2 and so long as we know anything of ancient people we find them searching for gold ornamenting themselves with gold and defending their meum against all intruders.
Professors Pischel and Geldner seem still to be under the influence of Rousseau's ideas as to the simplicity and purity and innocence of primitive man. Because the Vedic poets barter with their gods because they curse the rich who will not give them their proper reward because they hate their rivals they are represented as modern.
It used to be said that because the people of the Veda recognised the sanctity of marriage and because they bad elaborated names for several degrees of relationship therefore they could not be considered as representing a very primitive stage of civilization. Now we are told on the contrary that because we find in the Veda traces of a freer and unlawful intercourse between men and women because we hear of female slaves and of Aspasias therefore the Vedic Indians must have reached the very summit of civilization and could no longer be looked upon as representing a very early stage in the history of our own the Aryan race.
I think we have every right to say that the recognition of marriage as a solemn and sacred and binding act marks everywhere an epoch in the progress of humanity; but that epoch lies far beyond the beginning of what we call history in the ordinary sense of that word. What has somewhat euphemistically been called by Sir John Lubbock Communal Marriage is a mere postulate of the anthropologist and unknown to the student of historical records except under very different names. To say that bigamy trigamy and polygamy are peculiar to an advanced civilization is a libel on history. It certainly does not help the scholar to fix the chronology of the Vedic age. We find in the Veda a full list of all the vices to which poor humanity is liable murder plunder theft gambling drinking running into debt fraud and perjury; but to say that these vices are of modern date is I am afraid a view too charitable to the past and not quite fair to the present.
From the book: