cover image Ardor


Roberto Calasso, trans. from the Italian by Richard Dixon. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30 (432p) ISBN 978-0-374-18231-1

Calasso follows 2012’s La folie Baudelaire with the seventh installment of an ongoing work, continuing in some measure the investigations of his marvelous Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India (1998). Calasso takes the reader on a tour through the Vedic literature of India, especially the Satapatha Brahmana, an 8th century B.C.E. commentary on the Vedic rites. The desire for the self (atman) to become one with the divine (brahman) is, he points out in this careful, thoughtful, and detailed exploration, at the center of Vedic life. In the Vedas, sacrifice and the rituals that accompany it are the avenue which one travels to become divine: “The sacrifice is a journey—linked to a destruction. A journey from a visible place to an invisible place, and back.” Soma, the intoxicating drink at the center of these rituals, enhances individuals’ ability to achieve immortality and communicate with the gods; it enhances their ardor: “If soma is desired just as much by gods as by men, it will also become their factor in common. Only in rapture can gods and men communicate.” Richard Dixon’s supple and elegant translation brings Calasso’s poetic meditations to life. Readers will return again and again for wisdom and insight. Illus. (Nov.)