The sagas of the ancient Narts are to the Caucasus what Greek mythology is to Western civilization. This book presents, for the first time in the West, a wide selection of these fascinating myths preserved among four related peoples whose ancient cultures today survive by a thread. In ninety-two straightforward tales populated by extraordinary characters and exploits, by giants who humble haughty Narts, by horses and sorceresses, Nart Sagas from the Caucasus brings these cultures to life in a powerful epos.
In these colorful tales, women, not least the beautiful temptress Satanaya, the mother of all Narts, are not only fertility figures but also pillars of authority and wisdom. In one variation on a recurring theme, a shepherd, overcome with passion on observing Satanaya bathing alone, shoots a "bolt of lust" that strikes a rocka rock that gives birth to the Achilles-like Sawseruquo, or Sosruquo. With steely skin but tender knees, Sawseruquo is a man the Narts come to love and hate.
Despite a tragic history, the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykhs have retained the Nart sagas as a living tradition. The memory of their elaborate warrior culture, so richly expressed by these tales, helped them resist Tsarist imperialism in the nineteenth century, Stalinist suppression in the twentieth, and has bolstered their ongoing cultural journey into the post-Soviet future.
Because these peoples were at the crossroads of Eurasia for millennia, their myths exhibit striking parallels with the lore of ancient India, classical Greece, and pagan Scandinavia. The Nart sagas may also have formed a crucial component of the Arthurian cycle. Notes after each tale reveal these parallels; an appendix offers extensive linguistic commentary. With this book, no longer will the analysis of ancient Eurasian myth be possible without a close look at the Nart sagas. And no longer will the lover of myth be satisfied without the pleasure of having read them.
Excerpts from the Nart sagas
"The Narts were a tribe of heroes. They were huge, tall people, and their horses were also exuberant Alyps or Durduls. They were wealthy, and they also had a state. That is how the Narts lived their lives. . . ."
"The Narts were courageous, energetic, bold, and good-hearted. Thus they lived until God sent down a small swallow. . . ."
"The Narts were very cruel to one another. They were envious of one another. They disputed among themselves over who was the most courageous. But most of all they hated Sosruquo. . . . A rock gave birth to him. He is the son of a rock, illegally born a mere shepherd's son. . . ."
In a new introduction, folklorist Adrienne Mayor reflects on these tales both in terms of the fascinating warrior culture they depict and the influence they had on Greco-Roman mythology.
|Publisher:||Princeton University Press|
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About the Author
John Colarusso is professor of anthropology and modern languages and linguistics at McMaster University, and one of the world's most distinguished scholars of comparative linguistics. Adrienne Mayor is a research scholar in classics and history of science at Stanford University.
Read an Excerpt
Nart Sagas from the Caucasus
Myths and Legends from the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykhs
By John Colarusso
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2002 by Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
Saga 1 * If Our Lives Be Short, Let Our Fame Be Great
The Narts were courageous, energetic, bold, and good-hearted. Thus they lived until God sent down a small swallow.
"Do you want to be few and live a short life but have great fame and have your courage be an example for others forevermore?" asked the swallow. "Or perhaps you would prefer that there will be many of you, that your numbers will be great, that you will have whatever you wish to eat and drink, and that you will all live long lives but without ever knowing battle or glory?"
Then without calling a council, but with a reply as quick as thought itself, the Narts said, "We do not want to be like cattle. We do not want to reproduce in great numbers. We want to live with human dignity.
If our lives are to be short,
Then let our fame be great!
Let us not depart from truth!
Let fairness be our path!
Let us not know grief!
Let us live in freedom!"
In this way they chose to be small in numbers but to perform deeds of courage and boldness. This was the answer they gave to that small swallow to take back to God. And so their fame has remained undying among people. The Natuquaja are their descendants.
From GENEG, 362, recorded in Syria in Abadzakh West Circassian.
* The heroic spirit articulated here is reminiscent of the Ancient Greek concept of kleos aphthiton 'imperishable glory' [KT]. This is the first of numerous parallels between the Nart tradition and the lore and civilization of Ancient Greece. Many of these parallels may have arisen during the long period of Greek colonization of the Black Sea coast (see Ascherson 1995, 49–88).
I do not recognize the Natuquaja, the tribe referred to, as one of the historical Circassian tribes. The name seems to be a Shapsegh-derived form [na(r)t'[??]q·agye][left arrow] /nahrt[??][??]-q·a-a-gya/ with the sense of 'Nart-inal-son-conn.vowel-instr' (as a derivational suffix), literally, "the sons of the Narts." In a note Hadaghatl'a claims that this was one of the ancient Circassian tribes that lived along the Black Sea coast and that one village in this region is descended from them.
I have adopted a deep phonological representation of Circassian vowels (Kuipers 1960), whereby the neutral vowel is /[??]([[??]]), the mid, central, or front vowel is /a/ ([[??]],[ae],[a]), and the oper back vowel, which also fills syllable codas, ([a·]), is either /aa/ if it reduces when unstressed — because it arises from two /a/s — or /ah/ if it persists regardless of stress — because it seems to be patterned after the plural allomorph /-ah-/ in prefixes (/-ha-/in suffixes). Once the equivalence of persistent [a] with /ah/ has been made, I have assumed that the speaker extends this equivalence to those persistent [a]s found also in loanwords. A more conventional analysis of /I, e, a/ would be closer to the Cyrillic orthography but would ignore a host of phonological patterns that link [e] as well as /?/ with reducible [a]. For more on Circassian phonology and vowels, see the introductory remarks in Appendix A.CHAPTER 2
Saga 2 * The Tale of How Warzameg and Yimis Came to Be
It is told that the Narts had a golden tree. This was no ordinary tree, not least because it was golden. If an apple were to sprout from it in the morning, then by the evening of the same day it would have fully ripened. This same apple held within it an amazing magical power. One side of the fruit was red, and the other was white. It was said of it:
If a barren woman tastes of the white side,
Then to her will be born a daughter
With hair silken white.
If a barren woman tastes of the red side,
Then to her will be born a Nart son,
A great son, a white son,
With hair silken white.
But it came to pass that the Narts could no longer enjoy the wonders of this marvelous apple. Each time an apple would sprout forth, it would be secretly stolen in the dark of night. For a long time no one could discover this thief.
"Now, alas! What are we to do?" said the Narts as they sat together at their council. Some of the wisest among them said, "A guard must be set!" And so a guard was posted by the tree. But, alas, this effort was to no avail, for during the night the apple once again disappeared.
"We must enclose the tree within a high fence made of thorns!" others then said, and a fence of sharp thorns was built around the tree. But, alas, this too was to no avail. Once more the apple disappeared during the following night.
"Now, surely we must surround the tree with a whole band of mounted warriors!" some said, and so a mighty band of armed horsemen was set around the tree. But, alas, this too was in vain. No one was able to catch a single glimpse of the thief, not even of his feet or his footprints. And in this way the theft of the apples continued for a long time.
There was one Nart, Tatemquo, who had two sons. The elder was called Pija, the younger Pizighash. These two brothers were famous throughout the land of the Narts and beyond for their skills in battle. Their arrows never went astray; their swords never failed to slash. They came to sit guard through the night beneath the golden tree of the Narts. While they were thus sitting, the elder brother, perhaps being more tired than the younger, fell asleep. Pizighash, the younger brother, remained sitting, however, with his bow and arrows at the ready. Suddenly three doves flew up to the golden tree of the Narts and alighted on it.
"Ah, now! What should I do?" he asked himself, but he did not waste much time in thought. Quickly he took aim and shot at one of the doves and wounded it. Despite this, the three doves rose up and flew back from whence they had come, taking with them the golden apple.
Pizighash took out his white handkerchief and blotted some of the blood that the wounded dove had spilled, then he called to his brother and woke him up. He told him all that had happened, and together they set off. They followed the trail of blood left by the wounded bird until they came to the shore of the Sea of Azov. There the trail disappeared.
"Now," said Pizighash, "you and I sprang from the same mother and father. So if we turn back without discovering who these thieves are, then not only will we surely be disgraced, but so will our mother and father. These three doves who returned to this sea, I shall go after them. Stay here on the shore. Wait one year for me, and if I have not returned by that time, you must assume that I am dead."
"So be it," said his elder brother. "Seek them upon the waves! Seek them in the depths! May your quest be blessed!"
Nart Pizighash struck the sea with his sword. The waters parted and he descended straightaway to the seafloor. Once in the dark depths, he set off and traveled far until he came upon a mist-filled ravine. There, nestled deep within it, was a beautiful white house. He entered, and as he did so there appeared seven brothers, all of the exact same size and appearance, who followed behind him.
"Welcome!" they said. They bowed before him and showed him great respect. They stood ready to serve his every need. Two young women then entered, one carrying an ewer, the other a snow-white towel. They let him wash himself and then they retired. In a few moments they returned, bearing a small three-legged serving table laden with food. First Pizighash saw only the sumptuous array of food on the table, but then he discovered the apple that sprouts from the golden tree of the Narts lying among the delicacies.
"Aha! What is unfolding is a marvel," said the Nart youth as he sat there. "As things have happened, I have chanced upon the exact spot where my quest lies!"
They fed him and gave him drink. These men sat together as one and they stood together as one. All that they did they did as one. Finally they said to him, "We are the children of the goddess of water. In all we are seven brothers and three sisters. If you will speak honestly, then why should we keep secrets? Those you see before you are our two sisters. The third is unable to wait upon you."
"What is amiss with her? Is there any way at all that I can be of help?" asked Pizighash.
"We shall speak to you of what has befallen her," said the sons of the Lady of Flowing Waters, "if it does not seem importunate."
"Speak," replied their guest.
"The three sisters used to put on the skins of doves and in this guise would fly to Nartia, land of the Narts, in search of husbands. They would bring back the apple, which sprouts in one day on the golden tree of the Narts. Until now no one has ever followed them back here, but after this flight the youngest of the three sisters, the damsel Meghazash, returned wounded. Now she lies in bed, bleeding and in need of help."
"Well then, what is needed?" asked the young Nart.
"You would not be able to find it. Her cure is some of that same blood that she shed in Nartia," they replied.
"If that is so," said the young Nart, "then I happen to have some of that very same spilled blood."
He then reached into his pocket and brought forth the white handkerchief with some of the dove's blood on it. The brothers took it from him and moistened the cloth. When they applied it to her wound, the lovely damsel Meghazash was suddenly restored to health.
The sons of the water goddess were overjoyed and sang Pizighash's praises:
"The sea's floor and the land's plane for you are both alike
But nowhere have we seen a man who is your like.
Here from our three lovely sisters, dear guest, choose you one.
We shall give you her who is dearest to your heart."
"Then if that is so," said the young Nart, "give me the one whom I have restored to health."
"The one you healed is the damsel Meghazash, and so the damsel Meghazash is your good fortune," said they. So saying, the brothers gave the youngest of their three sisters to Nart Pizighash as his boon and his bride, as his reward and good fortune.
Thus the Nart who came from the dry land and the damsel who lived on the seafloor were joined together, and their families became linked one to another.
The brothers then showed great respect to Nart Pizighash and held him in the highest esteem. A great banquet was held in his honor, and he departed with the damsel Meghazash as his companion.
When Nart Pizighash returned from the sea and approached the place he had left, his brother was waiting for him. Pija was overjoyed when he saw him. "As long as you have returned alive, nothing else matters." With the maiden as companion, the three set off for their people. Once back among the Narts, a great feast was given to honor them. For seven days and nights the Narts were overjoyed. They were as happy as dogs or pigs: they ate, they drank, and they danced. The feast lacked nothing.
They remained together, and as life passed Meghazash gave birth to two boys. The youngest they named Warzameg, and the elder they called Yimis. These sons of Meghazash rose to become the leading men in Nartia, the Circassians say, but this is another tale.
From Hadaghatl'a 1968, vol. 1, no. 3.1, pp. 86–90, in Shapsegh West Circassian.
* This is one of the few tales centering on an earlier generation of Narts. Spearer and Slasher, the sons of a hero whose name can be read as "Grandfather," embark on an adventure in which one of them wins a maiden, whose name means "many offspring" or "the one who is not abandoned." In doing so, they unite the realms of the earth and of the water. From this union will come one of the great heroes, Warzameg, who will in turn be leader of a yet younger generation of heroes. Parallels with the Indo-European Divine Twins, in Greek the "Dioskouroi," and their rescue of the maiden Dawn are evident, these associations themselves leading into the watery origins of the prime Greek fertility figure, Aphrodite. The golden apples have correlates also in the life-giving golden apples of the Hesperides, mentioned in the Labors of Herakles of Ancient Greece, or the magic life- giving apples of the goddess Idun, of the pagan Norse pantheon. In both traditions these apples are stolen and must be recovered so that life can continue.
Excerpted from Nart Sagas from the Caucasus by John Colarusso. Copyright © 2002 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents
Introduction to the Paperback Edition xix
Symbols and Abbreviations xxv
A Selection of the Circassian Nart Corpus 9
1. If Our Lives Be Short, Let Our Fame Be Great 11
2. The Tale of How Warzameg and Yimis Came to Be 12
3. How Warzameg, Son of Meghazash, Won the Damsel Psatina 17
4. Setenaya and Argwana 34
5. The Blossom of Lady Setenaya 48
6. Why the Sun Pauses on the Horizon at Sunset 49
7. Lady Setenaya and the Magic Apple 50
8. Lady Setenaya and the Shepherd: The Birth of Sawseruquo 52
9. How Setenaya Was Led Astray 55
10. The Childhood of Shebatinuquo 56
11. How Far-Seeing Setenaya Rescued Warzameg 67
12. The Ballad of Warzamegyuquo Shebatinuquo 79
13. Setenaya and the Great Nart Warzameg 85
14. Nart Wazarmeg and His Friends Decide What to Do about a Black Fox 87
15. The Old Age of the Great Nart 91
16. How They Made Tlepsh Fashion the First Sickle 96
17. Tlepsh and Lady Tree 99
18. The One Who Committed One Hundred Sins 104
19. The Lament for Nagura Tlepshuquo 106
20. How Nart Tlepsh Killed Bearded Yamina with the Avenging Sword 107
21. Tlepsh’s Gold Cellar 107
22. The Story of Nart Totaresh and the Chinta Leader 109
23. Two Fragments of the Ballad of Sawseruquo 112
24. The Ballad of Sawseruquo 125
25. How the Horse of Setenayuquo Sawseruquo Was Killed 129
26. Lady Nart Sana 129
27. Adif 131
28. Wardana and Chwindizh Dwell in the White-Haired Forest 134
29. Warzamegyuquo Yasheruquo’s Search for Courage 138
30. How the Nart Khimish Married and How He Was Killed 139
31. The Ballad of Khimishuquo Pataraz 143
32. How the Narts Sought to Reach the Sky 153
33. How Khimishuquo Pataraz Won the Three Magical Whetstones 154
34. How Pataraz Freed Bearded Nasran, Who Was Chained to the High Mountain 158
35. Bound Nasran 168
36. An Old Man Chained to Elbruz 169
37. A Cyclops Bound atop Wash’hamakhwa 170
38. How Bearded Nasran Visited Ashamaz 171
39. The Ballad of Ashamaz 172
40. Lashyn’s Satirical Couplets about the Nart Men 175
41. Hymn to T’haghalej 176
42. The Shiblawuj, a Round Dance to the God of Lightning 177
The Abaza Nart Corpus 179
43. The Time of the Narts 181
44. The Burial Ground of the Narts 182
45. The Golden Apple Tree of the Narts 183
46. Satanaya 184
47. How Sosruquo Was Born 185
48. Satanaya and Bataraz 188
49. Satanaya and Tlepshw 190
50. Sosruquo’s Sword 192
51. How Sosruquo Attended the Council of the Narts 196
52. How Sosruquo Brought Fire to His Troops 200
53. How Sosruquo Brought Back the Seeds of the Millet 202
54. Shardan 215
55. How Sosruquo Brought Sana to the Narts 216
56. Sosruquo and the Blind Ayniwzh 219
57. Sosruquo and the Inquisitive Ayniwzh 222
58. Sosruquo and the Giant’s Skull 227
59. Sosruquo and Six Men 228
60. Sosruquo and Sotrash 236
61. Sosruquo and Sosranpa 244
62. Qaydukh of the Narts 249
63. Qaydukh Fortress 257
64. The Doom of Sosruquo 259
65. Sosran of the Narts 267
66. The Nanny Goat of the Narts 269
67. Badan and Badanoquo of the Narts 270
68. Badanoquo of the Narts 275
69. How the Barrel of the Narts Was Set to Boiling 277
70. The Dream of Ayniwzh, Nana’s Son 279
71. Tataruquo Shaway 281
72. Chwadlazhwiya’s Tale 290
73. Nasran and Shamaz 296
74. Khmish and Bataraz of the Narts 302
A Selection of the Abkhaz Corpus 321
75. The Mother of Heroes 323
76. The Birth of the Valiant Sasruquo 329
77. How Sasruquo Plucked Down a Star 335
78. The Ayirgs’ Sister, the Sister-in-Law of the Narts 344
79. Sasruquo’s Sorrow 352
80. The Light-Giving Little Finger 356
81. How Sasruquo Tamed the Wild Stallion 360
82. How the Narts Cultivated Fruit 361
83. Khozhorpas 364
84. Narjkhyaw 366
85. An Account of the Narts 379
The Ubykh Nart Corpus 385
86. The Birth of Soseruquo 387
87. Another Birth of Soseruquo 397
88. The Death of Soseruquo 399
89. Yarichkhaw 401
90. Three Brothers, Their Sister, and a Nart 406
91. The Adventure of Marchan Shaghy 409
92. A Marvelous Sword 411
Appendix: Specimen Texts 415
A. Kabardian East Circassian 417
B. Bzhedukh West Circassian (Adyghey) 455
C. Ubykh 490
D. Abaza (Tapanta Dialect) (“Northern Abkhaz”) 500
E. Bzyb Abkhaz 526