The greatness of the drama akuntal lies in its tremendous lyric power. The play was originally written in a combination of verse and prose, a form that most modern translators from the original Sanskrit have tried to emulate, although not always successfully. While almost nothing is known of the playwright, Klidsa, legend has it that he was the son of a good family of high caste, but that he was abandoned as a baby and reared as a common laborer. In spite of that handicap, says the legend, he became a great poet and dramatist as well as the favorite of an Indian princess.
The story of akuntal stems from an ancient Hindu legend recounted in book 1 of the Mahabharata (200 b.c.e.-200 c.e.). When Klidsa dramatized this well-known legend, he was not presenting an unfamiliar tale but artfully retelling an old one. Greek writers had Homer’s Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e.; English translation, 1611) and Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.; English translation, 1614) for their sources; Indian writers went to the two great Hindu epics, the Mahabharata (c. 400 b.c.e.-200 c.e.) and the Ramayana (c. 500 b.c.e.) for theirs. In the West and in the East, writers usually adhered to the main story lines of the originals but varied the...
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