Gendering speakers in the Sattasaī

Today’s prātaraśanaprayōgaḥ (that is, ‘breakfast experiment,’ a phrase that has apparently been trademarked by Mark Liberman at Language Log): how many verses in the Sattasaī, the famous anthology of Prakrit poetry, are put into the mouths of male speakers, and how many are put into the mouths of female speakers?

Although some verses give us pretty obvious hints (the speaker refers to herself with masculine or feminine pronouns, for example), most verses can be read in a variety of different ways. I took Gaṅgādhara’s commentary (16th century?) as a baseline, because he actually goes out of his way to identify the speaker for every single verse in the anthology. The same is not true of Bhuvanapāla (11th century), who only provides this information on occasion. Clearly not all readers of the Sattasaī were interested in ‘reading for gender.’

I had the impression that the majority of the verses are spoken by women, or at least interpreted as such by Gaṅgādhara. But in my Prakrit class I mistakenly suggested that every verse could be assigned to a female speaker: not only are there verses which almost require us to identify the speaker as a man (where ‘man’ is basically defined in terms of the text as someone who has sexual relationships with women), but there are quite a number of verses that could well by put into the mouth of a female friend (sakhī), messenger (dūtī), or procuress (kuṭṭanī) but are nevertheless ascribed to a male character, most often the ‘sophisticate’ (nāgarikaḥ).

I looked at Gaṅgādhara’s identifications for all of the verses in the third century (201–300 in Weber’s edition), and found that roughly three quarters were imagined by Gaṅgādhara to be spoken by a woman: