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The Charition farce (P.Oxy. III, 413) is a Greek theatre play which tells the story of a girl, Χαριτίων Charitíōn, who is held captive in a coastal kingdom of India. The only manuscript of this commedy dates back to the 2nd century BC. The text of the play has attracted some interest because it contains a few lines in an uncomprehensible language. Since these lines are spoken by the King and the other members of the royal court, some scholars have claimed they may reflect an actual language of South India, most likely a Dravidian language.

As far as I can see, Hultzsch (1904) was the first to advance a Dravidian interpretation for these lines. In particular, he thought they reflected Kannada, or some ancient dialectal variety of it, but apparently his analysis received much criticism. A few Indian scholars followed Hultzsch's path, and allegedly confirmed that the language featured in the play is either Kannada or Tulu.

That being said, I admit that I struggled to find any linguistic evidence that could justify the Dravidian intepretation. I don't have access to Hultzsch's article at the moment, so I can't judge for myself the accuracy of his claims. Honestly, while some words might look like they are Dravidian, most of them just seem gibberish to me.

Is there really evidence for a Dravidian reading of these lines? And if so, how are they interpreted? What language do they represent? Has anybody published a more recent study on this matter, maybe more up-to-date with our current knowledge of Dravidian linguistics?


References

  • Hultzsch, Eugen J. T. 1904. "Remarks on a papyrus from Oxyrhynchus". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. Jul. 1904: 399-405.
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    Don’t forget that, even if it is a Dravidian language in origin, it is likely to have been garbled by the time it made it to Greece (and/or Egypt), was written down in a play, and possibly copied by an unknown series of scribes. So it’s hardly surprising if it’s not exactly directly readable as Dravidian as it stands. Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 2:18
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    Here is the full text of Hultzsch' article.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 8:01
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    Of interest might be the "Japanese" that features in Gilbert & Sullivan's comedy, The Mikado. A much later play than The Charition Farce of course. But the Japanese words, if real at all, have been sufficiently mangled that it is hard to make head or tail of it. Of course, some attempt has been made to interpret it all the same. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 9:07

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