Christian Lassen
Christian Lassen was a Norwegian
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

Oriental studies
Oriental studies is the academic field of study that embraces Near Eastern and Far Eastern societies and cultures, languages, peoples, history and archaeology; in recent years the subject has often been turned into the newer terms of Asian studies and Middle Eastern studies...



He was born at Bergen, Norway. Having received a university education at Oslo
Oslo is a municipality, as well as the capital and most populous city in Norway. As a municipality , it was established on 1 January 1838. Founded around 1048 by King Harald III of Norway, the city was largely destroyed by fire in 1624. The city was moved under the reign of Denmark–Norway's King...

, he went to Germany and continued his studies at the University of Heidelberg and the University of Bonn
University of Bonn
The University of Bonn is a public research university located in Bonn, Germany. Founded in its present form in 1818, as the linear successor of earlier academic institutions, the University of Bonn is today one of the leading universities in Germany. The University of Bonn offers a large number...

. In Bonn, Lassen acquired a sound knowledge of Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

. He spent three years in Paris and London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, engaged in copying and collating manuscripts, and collecting materials for future research, especially with reference to Hindu
Hindu refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" is also attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion...

 drama and philosophy. During this period he published, jointly with Eugène Burnouf
Eugène Burnouf
Eugène Burnouf was an eminent French scholar and orientalist who made significant contributions to the deciphering of Old Persian cuneiform....

, his first work, Essai sur le Pâli (Paris, 1826).

On his return to Bonn he studied Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

, and took the degree of Ph.D., his dissertation discussing the Arabic notices of the geography of the Punjab
Punjab region
The Punjab , also spelled Panjab |water]]s"), is a geographical region straddling the border between Pakistan and India which includes Punjab province in Pakistan and the states of the Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh and some northern parts of the National Capital Territory of Delhi...

 (Commentario geographica historica de Pentapotamia Indica, Bonn, 1827). Soon after he was admitted Privatdozent
Privatdozent or Private lecturer is a title conferred in some European university systems, especially in German-speaking countries, for someone who pursues an academic career and holds all formal qualifications to become a tenured university professor...

, and in 1830 was appointed extraordinary and in 1840 ordinary professor of Old Indian language and literature. In spite of a tempting offer from Copenhagen
Copenhagen is the capital and largest city of Denmark, with an urban population of 1,199,224 and a metropolitan population of 1,930,260 . With the completion of the transnational Øresund Bridge in 2000, Copenhagen has become the centre of the increasingly integrating Øresund Region...

, in 1841, Lassen remained faithful to the university of his adoption to the end of his life. He died at Bonn, having been affected with almost total blindness for many years. As early as 1864 he was allowed to give up lecturing.


In 1829-1831 he brought out, in conjunction with August Wilhelm von Schlegel
August Wilhelm von Schlegel
August Wilhelm Schlegel was a German poet, translator, critic, and a foremost leader of German Romanticism. His translations of Shakespeare made the English dramatist's works into German classics.-Life and work:Schlegel was born at Hanover, where his father, Johann Adolf Schlegel, was a Lutheran...

, a critical annotated edition of the Hitopadeśa. The appearance of this edition marks the starting-point of the critical study of Sanskrit literature. At the same time Lassen assisted von Schlegel in editing and translating the first two cantos of the epic Rāmāyana (1829-1838). In 1832 he brought out the text of the first act of Bhavabhuti
Bhavabhuti was an 8th century scholar of India noted for his plays and poetry, written in Sanskrit. His plays are considered equivalent to the works of Kalidasa...

's drama, Mālatīmādhava, and a complete edition, with a Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 translation, of the Sānkhya-kārikā. In 1837 followed his edition and translation of Jayadeva's charming lyrical drama, Gītagovinda and his Institutiones linguae Pracriticae.

His Anthologia Sanscritica, which came out the following year, contained several hitherto unpublished texts, and did much to stimulate the study of Sanskrit in German universities. In 1846 Lassen brought out an improved edition of Schlegel's text and translation of the "Bhagavad Gita
Bhagavad Gita
The ' , also more simply known as Gita, is a 700-verse Hindu scripture that is part of the ancient Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata, but is frequently treated as a freestanding text, and in particular, as an Upanishad in its own right, one of the several books that constitute general Vedic tradition...


As well as the study of Indian languages, he was a scientific pioneer in other fields of philological inquiry. In his Beiträge zur Deutung der Eugubinischen Tafeln (1833) he prepared the way for the correct interpretation of the Umbria
Umbria is a region of modern central Italy. It is one of the smallest Italian regions and the only peninsular region that is landlocked.Its capital is Perugia.Assisi and Norcia are historical towns associated with St. Francis of Assisi, and St...

n inscriptions; and the Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes (7 vols., 1837-1850), started and largely conducted by him, contains, among other valuable papers from his pen, grammatical sketches of the Beluchi and Brahui languages, and an essay on the Lycian inscriptions.

Soon after the appearance of Burnouf's Commentaire sur le Yacna (1833), Lassen also directed his attention to the Zend language, and to Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

ian studies generally; and in Die altpersischen Keilinschriften von Persepolis (1836) he first made known the true character of the Old Persian cuneiform inscriptions, thereby anticipating, by one month, Burnouf's Mémoire on the same subject, while Sir Henry Rawlinson's famous memoir on the Behistun Inscription
Behistun Inscription
The Behistun Inscription The Behistun Inscription The Behistun Inscription (also Bistun or Bisutun, Modern Persian: بیستون The Behistun Inscription (also Bistun or Bisutun, Modern Persian: بیستون...

, though drawn up in Persia, independently of contemporaneous European research, at about the same time, did not reach the Royal Asiatic Society until three years later.

Subsequently Lassen published, in the sixth volume of his journal (1845), a collection of all the Old Persian cuneiform inscriptions known up to that date. He also was the first scholar in Europe who took up, with signal success, the decipherment of the newly-discovered Bactrian coins, which furnished him the materials for Zur Geschichte der griechischen und indoskythsschen Könige in Bakterien, Kabul, und Indien (1838).

He contemplated bringing out a critical edition of the Vendidad; but, after publishing the first five fargards (1852), he felt that his whole energies were required for the successful accomplishment of the great undertaking of his life—his Indische Altertumskunde. In this work—completed in four volumes, published respectively in 1847 (2nd ed., 1867), 1849 (2nd ed., 1874), 1858 and 1861—which forms one of the greatest monuments of untiring industry and critical scholarship, everything that could be gathered from native and foreign sources, relative to the political, social and intellectual development of India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...


See also

  • “Christian Lassen,” Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie
    Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie
    Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie is one of the most important and most comprehensive biographical reference works in the German language....

    , Band 17, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1883, S. 784–788.
  • “Christian Lassen,” Meyers Konversations-Lexikon
    Meyers Konversations-Lexikon
    Meyers Konversations-Lexikon or Meyers Lexikon was a major German encyclopedia that existed in various editions, and several titles, from 1839 until 1984, when it merged with the Brockhaus encyclopedia....

    , 4. Auflage von 1888–1890.
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