BENFEY, Theodor

BENFEY, Theodor. Nörten bei Göttingen 28.1.1809 — Göttingen 26.6.1881. German Indologist and IE Scholar. Professor in Göttingen. Born in a Jewish family, took Christianity in 1848. School and studies (1824–) in Göttingen and Munich, mostly classical philology. Ph.D. 1826. Then private tutor in Frankfurt, where he met L. Poley. Started Sanskrit on account of a wage (Windisch), learnt the language from books. Planned a career in comparative linguistics, but at that time his Jewish back­ground was still a serious obstacle. In 1832-34 in Heidelberg trying without avail to get a docentship. From 1834 PD at Göttingen, but only in 1848 ao. and 1862 full Professor as his Jewish background made the university loth to promote him. Married 1840, had one son and four daughters.

Benfey was a comparativist, who started as classical scholar and only in the 1830s interested in Indology. He became soon known as a skilled etymologist, who criticized Bopp and appreciated v. Schlegel. He studied deeply on the Vedas and Pāṇini, and wrote the best account of ancient India before Lassen. He discussed the history of Sanskrit supposing that it had become a dead language c. 800–500 BCE, and was then used as a literary language by the Brahmans since the 3rd century BCE. He was one of the pioneers of Pañcatantra studies, who derived the origin of all fables in Buddhist India and supposed that the early Western translations presented a more authentic text than the extant Pañcatantra recensions. He edited the Sāmaveda (not an ed. princeps, that was published by Stevenson) and started a scholarly translation of the Rigveda. He also wrote on the history of linguistics.

He was a famous teacher, among whose students were e.g. Bezzenberger, Budenz, Bühler, Fick, Haug, Justi, L. Lange, Leo Meyer, Nöldeke, Peile, Senart, and Wackernagel.

Publications: diss. De Liguris. 1826; diss. pro venia legendi Observationes ad Anacr. fragmenta. 1829 — both manuscripts; Terenz: Komödien in Versmass der Urschrift übersetzt. 532 p. St. 1837; Über das Verhältnis der Ægyptischen Sprache zum Semitischen Sprachstamm. 16+367 p. Lp. 1844; with M. A. Stern, Über die Monatsnamen einiger alten Völker. 6+234 p. B. 1836

Griechisches Wurzel-Lexicon. 1-2. B. 1839-1842.

– “Indien”, in Allgemeine Encyclopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste … hrsg. von J. C. Ersch und J. G. Gruber. Zweite Section, 17. Theil. Lp. 1840, 1–346.

Die Persischen Keilinschriften mit Uebersetzung und Glossar. 126 p. Lp. 1847.

Die Hymnen des Sāmaveda hrsg. mit Uebersetzung und Glossar. 66+290+309 p. Lp. 1848; beginning of a translation of the Rigveda (1,1-130) in Orient und Occident 1862-64, and BB 7; “Index zu den Harmonien und Discrepanzen in Th. Benfey’s Ausgabe des Sâmaveda”, ISt 3, 1855, 163-226.

Handbuch der Sankrit-Sprache. 1-2. (1. Vollständige Grammatik der Sankrit-Sprache. 449 p.; 2:1-2. Chrestomathie und Glossar. 329+374 p.) Lp. 1852 & Heidelberg 1853-54; Kurze Sanskrit-Grammatik zum Gebrauch für Anfänger. 360 p. Lp. 1855, English transl. A Practical Grammar of the Sanskrit Language. L. 1863; A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. 1145 p. L. 1866; Einleitung in die Grammatik der vedischen Sprache. I. Die Saṁhitā-Text. 1874.

Pantschatantra. Fünf Bücher indischer Fabeln, Märchen und Erzählungen. Aus dem Sanskrit übers. u. mit Einleitung u. Anm. 1-2. 1218 p. Lp. 1859; “Einleitung” on Bickel’s edition of the Syrian Pañcatantra. 1876.

– “Über ri, rî und li”, Or. & Occ. 3, 1865, 1-77, 193-256; “Über die Entstehung und Verwendung der im Sanskrit mit r anlautenden Personalendungen”, AGGW 15, 1871, 87-155; Einleitung in die Grammatik der vedischen Sprache. 1. Göttingen 1874 (also in AGGW 19, 1874, 133-172).

Geschichte des Sprachwissenschaft und Orientalischen Philologie in Deutschland. 847 p. München 1869.

– “Ueber einige Plural-bildungen des Indogermanischen Verbums”, AGGW 13, 1868 (1867), 39-84; “Ueber die Entstehung und die Formen des Indogermanischen Optativs (Potential) sowir über das Futurum auf sanskritisch syâmi u.s.w.”, AGGW 16, 1871, 135-200; “Die Quantitätsverschiedenheiten in der Saṁhitâ und Pada-Texten der Veden”, AGGW 1874-81 (nearly 500 p.), and other articles on Vedic grammar, numerous other articles (often quite long) and reviews in AGGW, Ausland, GGA, KZ, NGGW, and especially in his own Orient und Occident 1862-64. Published himself collections Vedica und Verwandtes. Strassburg & L. 1877; and Vedica und Linguistica. Strassburg & L. 1880; and A. Bezzenberger edited his Kleinere Schriften. 1-2. 342+200 & 238+156 p. B. 1890-92.

Die Reise der drei Söhne des Königs von Serendippo, aus dem italienischen über­setzt. Ed by R. Fick & A. Hilka. 178 p. FF Communications 98. Helsinki 1932.

Sources: *Meta Benfey, Theodor Benfey. Zum Andenken für seine kinder und Enkel. B. 1909; A. Bezzenberger, A.D.B. 46, 358f. & *BB 8, 1884, 234-245; *v. Prantl, SBaAW 1882:1, 396-400; *R. Schmitt, Lex. Gramm. 1996, 91f.; Windisch 158-164 & 222-234; JRAS 14, 1882, Proc. xvii-xxi (with a short bibliography); briefly Wikipedia (with photo).

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