The Bhagavad Gita - a landmark copy

“I read the Indian poem for the first time when I was in my estate in Silesia and, while doing so, I felt a sense of overwhelming gratitude to God for having let me live to be acquainted with this work. It must be the most profound and sublime thing to be found in the world.”


Bhagavad-Gita, id est Thespesion Melos Sive almi Krishnae et Arjunae Colloquium de Rebus Divinis, Bharateae episodium.

August Wilhelm von Schlegel, translator

Bonn, 1823


The first Western appearance in Sanskrit of a world literature crown jewel.


Text in Sanskrit with Latin translation and commentary by August Wilhelm von Schlegel. 22.6 x 14.6 cm., xxvi(lacks half-title leaf), 189, [1, errata]. Rebacked half-calf, contemporary marbled boards, later marbled endpapers. Light wear to boards, corners bumped, inner hinges professionally reinforced with archival tape, textblock edges dusty, pages lightly age-toned otherwise largely crisp and clean. Overall, a sound, Very Good copy. A book well-represented in libraries, but exceptionally scarce in commerce with only this copy appearing in over 100 years of records.


“Schlegel had an outstanding knowledge of art, history, literature, architecture, anthropology, and foreign languages, which made him a decisive figure in the early development of comparative literature and modern linguistics, and with the creation of the journal Indische Bibliothek, he inaugurated the domain of Sanskrit studies in Germany. He also wrote poetry and drama; but he is mostly known for his critical writings and his brilliant translations into German of Shakespeare, which are still used today.”(Stanford)


Charles Wilkins’ 1785 English translation is notable, but this Latin translation would influence intellectual heavyweights like Wilhelm von Humboldt(his effusive praise quoted at beginning) and Hegel(who spurned much of Hinduism, yet still spent considerable energies studying and contemplating India), as well as spur other printings in multiple continental European languages.


The Bhagavad Gita, meaning “Song of God,” is a 700-verse Hindu scripture of immense poetic and philosophical depth and beauty that’s part of the epic, Mahabharata. Written circa the 2nd century BCE, it has served as the spiritual guidepost for Hindus, and since the 19th century, has influenced many in the Western world, including legends like Thoreau. But to return eastward, here are Mahatma Gandhi’s words:


“I find that solace in the Bhagavad Gita which I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount. When disappointment stares me in the face and when I am all alone and I do not see even one ray of light, I go back to the Bhagavad Gita. I find a verse here and a verse there and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies – and my life has been full of external tragedies – and if they have left no visible or indelible scar on me I owe it all to the teaching of Bhagavad Gita.”

The Bhagavad Gita - a landmark copy