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A Tocharian tale from the Silk Road: A philological account of The Painter and the Mechanical Maiden and its resonances with the Western canon

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2020



This article analyses philological and literary aspects of a jātaka tale with a pygmalionesque motif involving a craftsman who falls in love with a non-human woman. This tale circulated along the Silk Road in at least six different versions: two original Sanskrit versions; one Tibetan translation from the Sanskrit source; one Tocharian adaptation; and two Chinese translations that also adapt the work to a smaller degree than the Tocharian version. By analysing the textual contexts and the content of the tale in all its alterations, this article shows that the two versions that differ most from the others, the Tocharian and the older Chinese version, are closely related to each other. Further analysis of the Tocharian version situates the tale among its literary kin. An analysis of the formulaic elements of the Tocharian tale indicates possible relations to Chinese chu-kung-tiao and pien-wen genres. The article also suggests the Tibetan lha mo as a link between Indian prosimetric campū style and the two Chinese genres. Finally, the analysis of the cluster of motifs in the tale is paralleled with canonical Western texts by Ovid and E. T. A. Hoffmann, opening fruitful venues for literary scholarship regarding human-like objects.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Asiatic Society 2020

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