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In harmony with his hero's quest through ancient religions and scenes of imagined antiquity, the story of Siddhartha is told in the style of an ancient saga or epic. The language has been compared with translations from the Sanskrit and Pali languages of the Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. Hermann Hesse read these translated texts when he undertook intensive studies in Indian religious literature during his psychoanalysis. An influence more familiar to Hesse's Western readers is the Bible, which was central to the daily life of the pious Christian household of Hesse's childhood.
All three of these sources share the qualities of a literature that was passed on by word of mouth for centuries before it was written down. You will find here the singing rhythms, the repetition of phrases, and the poetic chants and prayers of storytellers and preachers. Most listeners in ancient times were illiterate, and the rhythmic language and repetitious patterns of sentence structure were aids to memory.
These stylistic devices had another effect, that of a dreamlike, almost hypnotic experience for their listeners. For English-speaking readers the closest approximation of this style is the King James Version of the Bible. Try reading some passages from Siddhartha aloud and see-or rather, hear-for yourself the trancelike and yet deeply moving rhythms of the work. The translation by Hilda Rosner, first published in 1951 (New Directions), was widely praised for its fidelity to the original and for its beauty.
Can you identify the stylistic elements that make it poetic and songlike? Consider these few sentences from the passage in which Siddhartha discovers the natural world:
All this had always been and he had never seen it; he was never present. Now he was present and belonged to it. Through his eyes he saw light and shadows; through his mind he was aware of moon and stars.
And this, with its triple phrasing:
...and the river's voice was full of longing, full of smarting woe, full of insatiable desire.
Another quality appears in the dialogues between Siddhartha and the merchant Kamaswami, notably in the job interview. The speech is simple and direct, but it has elements of the riddles posed in ancient legends, to which the hero always has a ready answer.
It also recalls the debates of learned religious men who discuss and analyze the meaning of each word and phrase in the scriptures-like the rabbis in their commentaries on the Old Testament, the Talmud. The Hindu scriptures also had their volumes of commentaries, the Upanishads. Note the riddle-like questions and answers in Siddhartha's conversations with Kamaswami, and the argument that Siddhartha presents to the Buddha in the grove.