SOAS University of London

South Asia Section, School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics

Ms Maddalena Italia

BA Classics (Milan), MA Classics (Milan), MA South Asia (SOAS)


Maddalena Italia
Ms Maddalena Italia
Email address:
Thesis title:
The Erotic Untranslatable: The Modern Reception of Sanskrit Love Poetry in the West and in India
Year of Study:
Internal Supervisors


Maddalena started her Sanskrit studies in 2008, during her BA in Classics at Milan University. She continued studying Sanskrit language and literature throughout her MA in Classics (Milan University) and her MA in Languages and Cultures of South Asia (SOAS). Her first MA dissertation focused on the Sanskrit figure of speech śleṣa (“Śleṣa, or 'double meaning': traces of stylistic continuity from the Ṛgveda to Sanskrit kāvya literature”). Her SOAS Master's dissertation (“Non-verbal communication in Sanskrit kāvya literature: an emic perspective”) dealt with the theoretical frameworks through which literary body language is analysed in Sanskrit systematic thought on drama and literature (nāṭya- and alaṅkāraśāstra).

In June 2018, Maddalena successfully defended her PhD thesis, titled “The Erotic Untranslatable: The Modern Reception of Sanskrit Love Poetry in The West and in India”.

Maddalena began teaching Sanskrit in 2014 at SOAS (University of London), while working on her doctorate degree. For two academic years (2014-15 and 2015-16), it was her task and pleasure to introduce BA and MA students to the intricacies of Sanskrit grammar. In 2017, Maddalena moved on to adult teaching at the SOAS Language Centre and at City Lit (London).

PhD Research

"My doctoral research aims to offer new insights and a better understanding of the history of the modern reception of Sanskrit erotic poetry. In my PhD thesis, I analyse and compare commentaries and translations of Sanskrit erotic poetry produced by Western and Indian translators, poets, and philologists throughout the nineteenth and the first decades of the twentieth century.
My corpus includes modern commentaries and renderings of three collections of erotic stanzas composed in Sanskrit between the fifth and the late eleventh century: Bhartṛhari’s Śṛṅgāraśataka (“A hundred verses on love”); Amaru’s Amaruśataka (“The hundred verses of Amaru”); and Bilhaṇa’s Caurapañcāśikā (“The fifty verses of a thief”).
The aim of my work is to reconstruct – and think critically about – the histories of these texts as they were translated and commented upon by both professional Sanskritists and non-scholarly translators. My thesis focuses on the creative and hermeneutic potential of the intertextual and inter-lingual connections that such Sanskrit texts activated. Indeed, modern translators and exegetes – whether scholars or amateurs – endlessly compared or ‘contaminated’ these specimens of Indian poetry with Greek and Roman classics, or with literary masterpieces of the modern national languages of Europe. While there is a ‘dark’ side to this practice of drawing connections, correspondences, and equivalences (as nuances tended to be lost in the process of recursive comparison), I contend that the comparative and combinatory process that produced each modern translation (whether first- or second-hand), free interpretation or even pseudo-translation brings to the surface the creative rather than polluting force of this ‘translational encrustation’. For it is often the hybrid – if not outright spurious – details of these modern versions that turned such texts into new, long-lived and newly translatable originals.

The translations, second-hand translations, pseudo-translations, and commentaries that I focus on are: A. L. Apudy (i.e. Antoine-Léonard de Chézy) [& Amaru], 1831. Anthologie érotique d'Amarou: texte sanscrit, traduction, notes et gloses. Paris: Dondey-Dupré père et fils; Peter von Bohlen [& Bhartṛhari; & Bilhaṇa], 1833. Bhartriharis sententiae et carmen quod Chauri nomine circumfertur eroticum. Berlin: Dümmler; Hippolyte Fauche [& Bhartṛhari; & Bilhaṇa], 1852. Bhartrihari et Tchaaura, ou la Pantchaçika du second et les Sentences érotiques, morales et ascétiques du premier, expliquées du sanscrit en français, pour la première fois. Paris: A. Frank; Sir Edwin Arnold [& Bilhaṇa], 1896.The Chaurapanchâsika: An Indian Love-lament. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & co.; Giuseppe de Lorenzo [& Bilhaṇa], 1925. Il canto del ladro d'amore (Caurisuratapancasika): traduzione dal sanscrito, con introduzione e note. Napoli: Ricciardi; Edward Powys Mathers [& Bilhaṇa], 1919. Black Marigolds. Oxford: Blackwell; Edward Powys Mathers [& Amaru], 1928. Amores of Amaru, in Eastern Love, vol. 5. London: John Rodker for Subscribers; Franz Toussaint [& Amaru], 1927. L'Amour fardé, traduit du sanscrit. Paris: Flammarion; Gopinath Purohit [& Bhartṛhari], 1896. The Nîtiśataka, Śringâraśataka, and Vairâgyaśataka of Bhartrihari, edited with Hindi and English translations, copious critical and explanatory notes, parallel thoughts from numerous authors. Bombay: Khemraj Shrikrishnadas."


  • Italia, M. (2011). Book review of “Yigal Bronner, Extreme Poetry: The South Asian Movement of Simultaneous Narration”. Pandanus ’11: Nature in Literature, Art, Myth and Ritual 5 (1): 152-6.


  • "Oriental poetry by Western poets: ‘translations’ from the Sanskrit in Mark Van Doren’s An Anthology of World Poetry (1928)". Paper presented at the workshop "The West-Eastern Lyric Modernist Poetry between Asia and Europe" held at SOAS, London, 17th November 2017.
  • “Translation immoral? Sanskrit erotic poetry ‘for subscribers only’”. Paper presented within the roundtable “Translation Impossible: The Ethics, Politics and Pragmatics of Radical Literary Translation”, chaired by Matthew Pritchard and Carola Lorea and held at the Tenth International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS 10), Chiang Mai, 20th-23rd July 2017.
  • “Translating Sanskrit erotic poetry 'for the delight of the general lover of the Muse': Edwin Arnold’s Indian Love Lament (Caurapañcāśikā)”. Paper presented within the roundtable “Present Absence: World Literature and Book Circulation in the Nineteenth Century” organised by Prof Francesca Orsini and held at the 2017 MLA Convention, Philadelphia, 5th-8th January 2017.
  • “Against the Sanskrit Canon? Classicism, Anti-Classicism and the Erotic in Colonial North India”. Paper presented at the 7th Coffee Break Conference, Leiden, 8th-10th September 2016. (At this conference, I organised and chaired the panel “Bridging Stylistic and Moral Distances: The Translation and Reception of Pre-Modern, Non-Western Erotic Literature”.)
  • “The many lives of a Sanskrit love poem”. Paper presented at the conference Reading the World: Challenging the Dynamics of Canon Formations hosted by the Institute of English Studies (Senate House), London, 3rd December 2015.
  • “When words say what words can’t (or mustn’t) say: non-verbal communication in Sanskrit kāvya and aesthetic theories”. Paper presented at the Seventh International Indological Graduate Research Symposium (IIGRS 7) held at the University of Leiden, 15th-17th October 2015.
  • “Latinizing (and Grecizing) Sanskrit Erotic Poetry: Nineteenth-Century Philology and the Continuum Śṛṅgāra-Eros-Amor”. Paper presented at the conference Erotic Literature: Adaptation and Translation in Europe and Asia organized by the CRASSH (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities), Cambridge, 29th-30th June 2015.
  • “Śṛṅgāra, Amor, Eros: Nineteenth Century Latin Translations of Sanskrit Erotic Poetry”. Paper presented at the Sixth International Indological Graduate Research Symposium (IIGRS 6) held at the University of Hamburg, 6th-8th October 2014.