ANQUETIL-DUPERRON, Abraham Hyacinthe

ANQUETIL-DUPERRON, Abraham Hyacinthe. Paris 7.12.1731 — Paris 18.1.1805. French Orientalist, Pioneer of Iranian and Indian Studies. Travelled in India 1755-61, then member of the A.I.B.L. in Paris. He was son of a spice merchant from Paris and brother of historian Louis-Pierre Anquetil (1723-1806). He studied as a pupil of the Jansenist bishop de Caylus in Paris and among Dutch Jansenists, learning, among other things, Oriental languages. Back in Paris he is said to have seen in the Royal Library an Avestic fragment borrowed from Oxford, which nobody could read, and decided to solve its secret. Leaving Paris in 7.11.1754, he arrived in Pondichéry in 10.8.1755. He was able to find patrons and got, in addition to the small scholarship of the Royal Library, a grant from the governor general for studying Oriental languages. For a while he studied Persian and Tamil and had some problems with his health. In 1756 he went to Chandernagore and learnt Bengali. In the be­ginning of the Seven Years’ War he served a short time in the army, but quarreled with his officers and left.

Travelling by land to Pondichéry he arrived after three months in 10.8.1757. In the winter he proceeded by sea, visited Kerala, and went from Goa to Pune and Elura, where he was the first to describe the cave temples (later he also saw and described those of Elephanta), and further to Surat, where his brother, E.-J. Anquetil de Briancourt (1727–II) was the vice-director of the French factory (then director and 1773-78 French consul). As an unscrupulous, quarrelsome and charming person AD alternately quarreled with and made use of the Europeans and the Parsis of the town, and making good use of the party division of the Parsis and even of blackmail he secured manuscripts and good teachers, the cousins Darab and Kaus.

A period of intensive work, 30.3.1759–10.1.1760, produced the first French translation of the Avesta. A-D left Surat in 15.3.1761 and arrived 8 months later in Portsmouth. First interned, he then visited Oxford to study local Parsi MSS. and arrived in Paris in March 1762. He remained the rest of his life in Paris living in a rather humble position concentrating on his studies and working as interpreter of Oriental languages at Royal Library. From 1756 correspondent and from 1763 full member of the A.I.B.L. As a royalist he lost his position during the revolution. In 1804 he was invited to the new Academy, but declined to give the oath of loyalty to the emperor.

The Zend-Avesta roused a great controversy, where A-D was even accused of forging his text. Among critics were Diderot, Voltaire, Melchior von Grimm and the young —> William Jones, among defenders Herder, J. de Guignes, Heeren and Tychsen. Arguments were rarely much to the point. Some later critics (—> v. Bohlen still in 1831) attempted to explain Avesta as a kind of corrupted Sanskrit. Definitely the controversy was decided in favour of A-D and the Avesta by Rask (1826) and Burnouf (1833).

During his late years A-D has been described as a political utopist and a paranoiac, but his scholarly work was still quite acceptable according to the standards of the time.

Publications: Le Zend-Avesta. 1–3. P. 1762–69. French transl. with a “Discours pré­liminaire” of 500 p. including a description of his travels, and various appendices. German transl. by Kleuker, Riga 1775, and of Vol. 1 by J. G. Purmann 1776.

Legislation orientale. Amsterdam 1778; Recherches historiques et géographiques sur l’Inde. B. 1786 (modern history & geogr.); Dignité du commerce et de l’état commerçant. 1789; L’Inde en rapport avec Europe. 1798.

Transl. from Persian: Oupnek’hat. Id est secretum tegendum. 1-2. Argentorati 1801-02 (analysis by A. Weber, Ind. St. 1-2 & 9, German transl. by F. Mischelin 1882); transl. with notes: Voyage de Paulin de Saint-Barthélemy aux Indes Orientales. 1808.

Sources: *H. Beveridge, “A. du Perron”, Calc. Review 103, 1896, 284-305; A. Boës, Lex. gramm. 1996, 30f.; Dacier, Hist. & Mém. de l’Inst. de France 3, 1818, 146-170; K. Karttunen “Anquetil Duperron — Zarathuštran löytäjä” in O. Kantokorpi (ed.), Matka-arkku, Helsinki 1982, 9-20; R. Schwab, Anquetil-Duperron. Sa vie. 8+240 p. P. 1934; *Wikipedia (with picture).


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