Mustafa Ali ENGL-2210 Essay 1 September 27, 2004 The Use of Repetition as a Rhetorical Device in Ancient Religious Texts
Most works of literature die out over time, but ancient religious texts associated with the major religions of the world continue to provide moral and spiritual guidance to billions of people around the world. Works such as the Bible, the Qur’an and the Bhagavad Gita have inspired philosophical elites and illiterates alike, and have even helped shape the political map of the world. It would have been difficult for these ancient religious texts to command longstanding influence without powerful rhetoric that would convince the audience to remember the teachings and pass ...view middle of the document...
With successful oral delivery of paramount importance, it is easy to understand why the Bhagavad Gita and other ancient religious texts exhibit strong oral rhetorical techniques. For instance, English translator Stephen Mitchell notes that the Gita uses a loose three-beat line as its rhythm (Beliefnet). The text also addresses abstract philosophical dilemmas as a physical conversation between warrior Arjuna and Lord Krishna upon a battlefield. Mahatma Gandhi, who was deeply influenced by the teachings of The Bhagavad Gita, explains the use of this dialectic: “with the image of the physical battlefield, Gita makes the ongoing spiritual battle of life clear to us” (Painadath 306). Perhaps even more interesting, however, is the Gita’s methodical and sometimes subtle use of repetition to help in both the oral delivery and understanding of the teachings. Some repetitions in the Gita help audiences of different backgrounds to understand the teachings. Other repetitions in the text convey and reinforce important teachings that might otherwise be missed during oral delivery. Still other poetic repetitions make the text more coherent by linking sections together. Finally, the Gita uses subtle mnemonic repetitions that make it easier to memorize the religious text and spread it further. Careful study of each of these forms of repetitions in the Gita as rhetorical devices can help us understand how ancient religious texts spread their didactic message so effectively. One way that the Bhagavad Gita uses repetition as a rhetorical device is by reiterating the same teaching in multiple ways in order to cater to different audiences. Recognizing that philosophers and “men of discipline” understand issues differently, the Gita conveys its basic teachings for the two audiences separately. The Gita even addresses this repetition explicitly: when Arjuna finds paradox between the two types of teachings, Lord Krishna opens the third chapter by explaining his use of repetition:
Earlier I taught the twofold basis of good in this world – for philosophers, disciplined knowledge; for men of discipline, action. (Gita 3.3)
Lord Krishna comforts Arjuna that discipline in both philosophy and action are important, but individuals who perform their personal dharma (duty) – whether it is philosophical or actionoriented - in effect sustain the laws of the world (Feuerstein 155). By separately addressing each of the two audiences, the Gita uses repetition to deliver its didactic message to a wider spectrum of the audience. The use of such repetition is not restricted to the Gita. In Macbeth, Shakespeare uses repetition to oblige both the sophisticated and the illiterate of his audience when he follows the line “the multitudinous seas incarnadine” with its plain-English equivalent “the green one red” (Watson 613-629). Using repetitions to address multiple audiences clearly shows that the Bhagavad Gita actively sought to deliver its...