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Eugène Burnouf

Eugène Burnouf
Born(1801-04-08)April 8, 1801
Paris, France
DiedMay 28, 1852(1852-05-28) (aged 51)

Eugène Burnouf (French pronunciation: [øʒɛn byʁnuf]; April 8, 1801 – May 28, 1852) was a French scholar, an Indologist and orientalist. His notable works include a study of Sanskrit literature, translation of the Hindu text Bhagavata Purana and Buddhist text Lotus Sutra. He wrote a foundational text on Buddhism and also made significant contributions to the deciphering of Old Persian cuneiform.


He was born in Paris. His father, Professor Jean-Louis Burnouf (1775–1844), was a classical scholar of high reputation, and the author, among other works, of an excellent translation of Tacitus (6 vols., 1827–1833). Eugène Burnouf published in 1826 an Essai sur le Pali ..., written in collaboration with Christian Lassen; and in the following year Observations grammaticales sur quelques passages de l'essai sur le Pali.[1]

The next great work he undertook was the deciphering of the Avesta manuscripts brought to France by Anquetil-Duperron. By his research a knowledge of the Avestan language was first brought into the scientific world of Europe. He caused the Vendidad Sade, to be lithographed with the utmost care from the manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale, and published it in folio parts, 1829–1843.[1]

From 1833 to 1835 he published his Commentaire sur le Yaçna, l'un des livres liturgiques des Parses.[1]

At about the same time in his life, Eugène Burnouf made significant contributions to the deciphering of Old Persian cuneiform. Copies of cuneiform inscriptions from Persepolis had been published by Carsten Niebuhr many years earlier in 1778 and some preliminary inferences had already been made by other scholars such as Georg Friedrich Grotefend about these Persian inscriptions. In 1836, Eugène Burnouf discovered that the first of the inscriptions contained a list of the satrapies of Darius. With this clue in his hand, he was able to identify and publish an alphabet of thirty letters, most of which he had correctly deciphered.[2][3][4]

A month earlier, Burnouf's friend Professor Christian Lassen of Bonn, had also published a work on "The Old Persian Cuneiform Inscriptions of Persepolis".[4][5] He and Burnouf had been in frequent correspondence, and (Burnouf's?) claim to have independently detected the names of the satrapies, and thereby to have fixed the values of the Persian characters, was in consequence fiercely attacked. However, whatever his obligations to Burnouf may have been, according to Sayce, Lassen's "contributions to the decipherment of the inscriptions were numerous and important."[3]

A year later in 1837, Henry Rawlinson had made a copy of the much longer Behistun inscriptions in Persia. Carved in the reign of King Darius of Persia (522 BC–486 BC), the inscriptions consisted of identical texts in the three official languages of the empire: Old Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite. Rawlinson sent a translation of the opening paragraphs to the Royal Asiatic Society. Before this paper was published, however, the works of Lassen and Burnouf reached him, prompting a series of revisions and a delay in publication. In 1847 the first part of Rawlinson's Memoir was published, followed by the second part in 1849.[6] The task of deciphering the Persian cuneiform texts was virtually accomplished.[3]

Eugène Burnouf received many Sanskrit texts from Indologist and anthropologist Brian Houghton Hodgson.[7] He published the Sanskrit text and French translation of the Bhagavata Purana ou histoire poétique de Krichna in three folio volumes (1840–1847). His last works were Introduction à l'histoire du Bouddhisme indien (1844), and a translation of Le lotus de la bonne loi (The Lotus Sutra, 1852).[1][8] According to Jonathan Silk, Burnouf can be regarded as "the founding father of modern Buddhist scientific studies."[9]

He had been for twenty years a member of the Academie des Inscriptions and professor of Sanskrit in the Collège de France. "Introduction à l'Histoire du Bouddhisme Indien"[1] is recognized as an introduction to Buddhist metaphysics which influenced many French occultists in the nineteenth century for whom indianism and Sanskrit texts were a source of inspiration.

See a notice of Burnouf's works by Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire, prefixed to the second edition (1876) of the Introduction à l'histoire du Bouddhisme indien; also Naudet, Notice historique sur MM. Burnouf, père et fils, in Mémoires de l'Académie des Inscriptions. A list of his valuable contributions to the Journal asiatique and of his manuscript writings, is given in the appendix to the Choix de lettres d'Eugène Burnouf (1891).[1]

His cousin Emile-Louis Burnouf (1821–1907) continued his work on Sanskrit language.[citation needed]


  • Essai sur le Pali (1826)
  • Vendidad Sade, l'un des livres de Zoroastre (1829–1843)
  • Commentaire sur le Yaçna, l'un des livres liturgiques des Parses (1833–1835)[1]
  • Mémoire sur les inscriptions cunéiformes (1838)
  • Bhâgavata Purâna ou histoire poétique de Krichna (3 volumes, 1840–1847)[1]
  • Introduction à l'histoire du Bouddhisme indien (1844 ; 1876)[1]
  • Le Lotus de la bonne loi,[1] traduit du sanscrit, accompagné d'un commentaire et de vingt et un mémoires relatifs au buddhisme (Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, 1852). Reprint: Librairie d'Amérique et d'Orient A. Maisonneuve, Paris, 1973.
  • Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā, la Perfection de sagesse en huit mille stances, traduite par Eugène Burnouf (1801-1852), éditée par Guillaume Ducoeur, Université de Strasbourg, 2022.
  • Eugène Burnouf (1801-1852) et les études indo-iranologiques, actes de la Journée d'étude d'Urville (28 mai 2022) suivis des Lalitavistara (chap. 1-2) et Kāraṇḍavyūha traduits par E. Burnouf, édités par Guillaume Ducoeur, Université de Strasbourg, 2022.
  • Eugène Burnouf (in French) .

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Chisholm 1911, p. 855.
  2. ^ Burnouf, Eugène (1836). Mémoire sur deux Inscriptions Cunéiformes trouvées près d'Hamadan et qui font partie des papiers du Dr. Schulz [Memoir on two cuneiform inscriptions [that were] found near Hamadan and that form part of the papers of Dr. Schulz] (in French). Paris, France: Imprimerie Royale.
  3. ^ a b c Sayce, Rev. A. H., Professor of Assyriology, Oxford, "The Archaeology of the Cuneiform Inscriptions", Second Edition-revised, 1908, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, Brighton, New York; at pp 9–16 Not in copyright
  4. ^ a b Prichard, James Cowles, "Researches Into the Physical History of Mankind", 3rd Ed., Vol IV, 1844, Sherwood, Gilbert and Piper, London, at pages 30-31
  5. ^ Lassen, Christian (1836). Die Altpersischen Keil-Inschriften von Persepolis. Entzifferung des Alphabets und Erklärung des Inhalts [The Old-Persian cuneiform inscriptions of Persepolis. Decipherment of the alphabet and explanation of its content.] (in German). Bonn, (Germany): Eduard Weber.
  6. ^ Rawlinson Henry 1847 "The Persian Cuneiform Inscription at Behistun, decyphered and translated; with a Memoir on Persian Cuneiform Inscriptions in general, and on that of Behistun in Particular", The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol X. It seems that various parts of this paper formed Vol X of this journal. The final part III comprised chapters IV (Analysis of the Persian Inscriptions of Behistunand) and V (Copies and Translations of the Persian Cuneiform Inscriptions of Persepolis, Hamadan, and Van), pp. 187-349.
  7. ^ Davidson, Ronald M. (2008). "Studies in Dhāraṇī Literature I: Revisiting the Meaning of the Term Dhāraṇī". Journal of Indian Philosophy. 37 (2). Springer Nature: 97–147. doi:10.1007/s10781-008-9054-8. S2CID 171060516.
  8. ^ Akira Yuyama (2000), Eugene Burnouf: The Background to his Research into the Lotus Sutra, Bibliotheca Philologica et Philosophica Buddhica, Vol. III, The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Tokyo 1998, pp. 61-77. ISBN 4-9980622-2-0
  9. ^ Silk, Jonathan (2012). Review: "A Missed Opportunity: Introduction to the History of Indian Buddhism by Eugene Burnouf. Translated by Katia Buffetrille and Donald Lopez. University of Chicago Press 2010." History of Religions 51 (3), 262


  • Delisle, Laure Burnouf: Choix de lettres d'Eugene Burnouf. Suivi d'une bibliographie, Paris: H. Champion (1891) Internet Archive
  • Burnouf, Eugène (trad.): Le lotus de la bonne loi traduit du sanscrit, accompagné d'un commentaire et de vingt et un mémoires relatifs au buddhisme. Paris : Maisonneuve frères 1925. Internet Archive (PDF 34,9 MB)
  • Burnouf, Eugène: Legends of Indian Buddhism; New York, Dutton 1911. Internet Archive
  • Burnouf, Eugène: Introduction à l'histoire du buddhisme indien, Paris: Imprimerie royale1844. Internet Archive


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Eugène Burnouf
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