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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

What Ten Young Men Did


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To purchase What Ten Young Men Did

Title: What Ten Young Men Did
Author: Daṇḍin
Genre: Novel
Written: ca. 6th century (Eng. 2005)
Length: 575 pages
Original in: Sanskrit
Availability: What Ten Young Men Did - US
Daśakumāracarita of Dandin (M.R.Kale edition) - US
What Ten Young Men Did - UK
What Ten Young Men Did - Canada
Histoire des dix princes - France
Die Abenteuer der zehn Prinzen - Deutschland
I dieci principi - Italia
Historia de diez príncipes - España
  • Sanskrit title: दशकुमारचरित
  • Translated by Isabelle Onians
  • Foreword by Kiran Nagarkar (in second edition) [pdf]
  • Previously translated as Hindoo Tales: Or, the Adventures of Ten Princes by P.W.Jacob (1873), Daśakumāracarita of Dandin by M.R.Kale (bilingual edition), Dandin's Dasha-kumara-charita: The ten princes by Arthur W. Ryder (1927), Tales of the Ten Princes by A.N.D.Haskar (1995)

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Our Assessment:

B : fine stories, if somewhat uneven

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 19/6/2009 Aditya Behl

  From the Reviews:
  • "In these pages appear lusty princes and abstemious hermits, gorgeous damsels who must be won, courtesans and merchants, trickery and magic and thievery, all the people and situations of life in an outward-looking and cosmopolitan culture that is shaped as much by its inherent geography as by sea-voyaging and international trade." - Aditya Behl, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       What Ten Young Men Did is an unusual work of Sanskrit literature in that it is written in prose, Daṇḍin's work resembling a novel -- or at least a collection of connected stories, like the Decameron or The Canterbury Tales. It is complete, too -- but not entirely as Daṇḍin's work: the first five chapters, and the final two are; "secondary paraphrases of the missing sections of his original work", and only the middle eight chapters are original; as translator Onians notes when the sixth chapter of the work -- where the text becomes Daṇḍin's original -- is reached: "The language changes abruptly, with a far more sophisticated style from here on".
       The opening chapters are known as the पूर्वपीठिका -- nicely translated by Onians as the: 'Postscript Beginning'. If not as stylish as Daṇḍin's own writing, it does begin with a nice tribute (though Onians notes: "There is no reason to think that these verses belong to the oldest layer of the text"):

       शतधृतिभवनाम्भोरुहो नालदण्डः
       स्त्रिभुवनविजयस्तम्भदण्डो ऽङ्घ्रिदण्डः
       वितरतु विबुधद्वेषिणां कालदण्डः
       Even without Sanskrit, you can recognize the line-ending repetitions of 'दण्डः' -- 'daṇḍa' -- with which Vishnu is evoked here, a reference of course to the author's name.
       What Ten Young Men Did begins with Raja·hamsa, a great king, being defeated and losing his kingdom. While in exile he has a son, Raja·váhana, and several of his ministers also have sons -- ten boys who grow up together as close friends.
       Raja·váhana is the first to be pulled into an adventure -- but, when he returns: "Once outside, however, he did not find his friends, but had to wander the earth". Coming across first one, then another of his friends, they recount the adventures they have had in the meantime; ultimately, the whole lot is reassembled, and each in turn has told their story, a chapter for each save Raja·váhana, whose tale is spread across two, one in the 'Postscript Beginning'-part, one in the Dasha-kumára-chárita-proper (i.e. what Daṇḍin wrote).
       The men's different experiences make for a wide range of adventure, with varieties of combat, deceit, and romance. Several are reunited with their long lost parents or caregivers -- though the convenient reunions are sometimes just a bit too simply presented , as in the case where one of the men explains:
It is a very long story. Never mind. The point is that I am that boy.
       The young men generally find love -- though often accompanied by trouble. Enjoyably, morality doesn't get too much in the way of many things, and there's a lot of humor to many of the situations. There are stories within stories, too, making for a book of fast-paced sequences and rapid shifts.
       One horrifyingly amusing tale tells of a place where there was a drought for twelve years, with less and less to eat, leading to terrible conditions. So, for example:
     The aforementioned householders first used up all their stores of grain, before consuming in turn goats and sheep, their stock of buffalo, their herd of cows, their female and male slaves, their children, and then the wives of the eldest and middle brother.
       When they decide that next in line is the youngest brother's wife, he flees with her. Along the way he comes across: "a man writhing on his back, his hands, feet, ears and nose all amputated", and takes him along as well and nurses him back to health. Then one day, when he goes off hunting deer, his ungrateful wife:
wanted to enjoy herself and attended on the other man, now well fed and abounding in precious bodily fluids. Although he rebuffed her, she forcefully had her way. When her husband returned he asked for water, but she said:
     "Draw some from the well to drink. My head is splitting with a headache."
     With which she tossed before him bucket and rope. Then, when he was drawing water from the well, she was behind him in a moment, and pushed him in.
       (Someone actually manages to save him from the well, but his wife runs into him again and promptly tries to do her worst again .....)
       Among the characters the young men meet are those espousing philosophies supporting dubious lifestyles -- such as touting the benefits of drinking alcohol:
The inflation of one's ego banishes every last trouble. Moreover, by inflaming lust for women, drinking kindles the power to enjoy the ladies. Effacing the memory of crimes committed, it extracts the thorns of remorse from one's mind. Through free talk that shouts guilelessness, drinking feeds trust, and because it is the opposite of selfishness it brings unadulterated joy.
       The action does move rather rapidly in many of the scenes: one young man wants to assist a damsel in distress who was long promised to another but now that he is impoverished is to be handed over in marriage to: "some caravan merchant called Artha·pati, 'Lord of commodities,' by name and nature". The young man hijacks a rutting elephant -- who, for good measure, gores the mahout they drag off him, so that:
With the man's intestines twisted like a creeper around his branch-like tusks, he then smashed through the the band of guards. Still on the same elephant, we demolished Artha·pati's house. After that we rode of to an overgrown garden where we wre able to dismount by grabbing hold of a tree branch. Once home, we bathed and lay down on our beds.
       Which is a bit anti-climactic (though also not the end of this particular adventure), or at least very abrupt -- as are many of the novel's tales.
       What Ten Young Men Did is also famous for one of the chapters, as its narrator, Mantra·gupta, has a slight problem:
That man half covered his face with his lotus-like hands before beginning his own story. For his ruby lips were in an agony of agitation, perforated with bite marks that his beloved had bestowed in her forceful love-play. Hence he was compelled to speak without using the labial sounds: p, b, and m.
       Translator Onians gamely and impressively plays along with this lipogrammatic presentation -- right to the chapter's end, where she sighs with relief in her note: "All these labials, at last ! And a hint of self-congratulation on the part of our author ?" (as the text has: "prince Raja·váhana and all their friends applaud Mantra·gupta's skill").
       What Ten Young Men Did does offer many entertaining stories and bits, but it is an uneven, and unevenly paced, collection, more impressive in its parts than as a whole. Still, there's a lot here to enjoy, and some nicely wicked humor (without particularly much moralizing to counter-balance it).
       [Note: This is a volume in the Clay Sanskrit Library. While bilingual, the Sanskrit text is not printed in the traditional devanāgarī script, but rather Roman/Latin letters (unlike, for example, the M.R.Kale editions of Sanskrit texts). This can take some getting used to, but is relatively straightforward; usefully, also, this allows for the divisions of compound words (samāsa) to be indicated throughout.]

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 January 2018

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What Ten Young Men Did: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Daṇḍin (दण्डी) lived in the 6th or 7th century.

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