Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Nart Epos

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THE FOUNTAIN-HEAD OF CIRCASSIAN MYTHOLOGY

The Nart Sagas are arguably the most essential ingredient of Circassian Culture, to which they are what Greek mythology is to Western Civilization. Though much less known than their Greek counterparts, the Nart epic tales are no less developed. The heroism, sagacity, guile and ferocity of the Nart demi-gods are more than matches to those of the Greek Pantheon. The Nart Epos is potentially the rallying cry for Circassian cultural renaissance.


The legends of the Narts have been recently collected and published by Circassian scholars who are cognizant of the role that these might play in effecting the desired revival. Also the orally transmitted music has been written down. Western scholars, such as the late Georges Dumezil and more recently professor John Colarusso of McMaster University in Toronto, Canada, did much research on the subject and have published many tomes on it. However, more work still needs to be done to disseminate them. This is my humble contribution.

The principal protagonists of the Epos encapsulate the characteristics most cherished by the ancient Circassians and Abkhaz (Adige and Apswe, respectively). Satanay, the mother of all the Narts, was born of a lovely flower which still bears her name. Her beauty was legendary. She was sought after by all the notable Narts for marriage. The story of the birth of Sosriqwe bears witness to the uncontrollable effect she had on men. As she sat on her haunches doing the laundry by the river, the cow-herd, Zhemix'we, who was tending his bevy on the other side of the river, seeing her uncovered curvaceous limbs, was unable to hold back his semen (nafsi) as it was ejected across the river on the stone beside her. The stone later engendered Sosriqwe. She was also famous for her inventiveness. She discovered wine-making and gave the Narts their first taste of the elixir. She was the epitome of wisdom and sagacity. The Narts turned to her for council and advice in times of national calamities, and she was able to avert many disasters that could have annihilated the Nart nation.

Despite Sosriqwe's puny stature and dark complexion, he proved to be the most cunning and resourceful amongst the Narts. The story of how he fetched fire is a graphic illustration of his quick-wit and wile. Although many Narts surpassed him in physical strength and military acumen, they always held him in great esteem and respect. The fact that he led them back after fetching fire is a good testimony to that effect.

There were many other Narts, the most famous of whom were: X'imishch, Beterez, Nisren-Zchach'e, Lashin, Yimis, Sibil-Shiy, Sosim, Zchindu-Zchach'e, Areq-Shu, Tote-Resh, Ashe, Ashe-Mez, Wazir-Megh. Each one of these embodied unique qualities besides the common Nart characteristics. All are worthy of being admitted to the Nart Hall-of-Fame.





Bibliography of the Nart Epos
and North Caucasian Mythology
(In Western European Languages)
  1. A PROPOS DE QUELQUES REPRESENTATIONS FOLKLORIQUES DES OSSETES. GEORGES DUMEZIL. PP. 38-46 IN FESTGABE FUR HERMAN LOMMEL. B. SCHLERATH (Ed.). WIESBADEN: HARRASSOWITZ, 1960.
  2. A RE-EVALUATION OF THE PROPOSED CONNECTION BETWEEN THE NART SAGAS AND THE ARTHURIAN LEGENDS. NANCY ARBUTHNOT. MA THESIS IN CULTURAL ANTHROPOLGY, McMASTER UNIVERSITY, TORONTO, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA, 1988.
  3. CAUCASIAN SAGA [ASIATIC REVIEW, LONDON, Vol. 50, No. 182, APR. 1954, PP. 149-52], DAVID M. LANG.
  4. CAUCASIENS DE GRECE. BERNARD SERGENT. PP. 37-50 IN CAUCASOLOGIE ET MYTHOLOGIE COMPAREE, ACTES DU COLLOQUE INTERNATIONAL DU C.N.R.S. PARIS: PEETERS, 1992. {CAUCASIANS OF GREECE}
  5. CAUCASOLOGIE ET MYTHOLOGIE COMPAREE: ACTES DU COLLOQUE INTERNATIONAL DU CNRS, IVe COLLOQUE DE CAUCASOLOGIE, SEVRES, 27-29 JUIN 1988. CATHERINE PARIS (Ed.). NUMERO SPECIAL (SOCIETE D'ETUDES LINGUISTIQUES ET ANTHROPOLOGIQUES DE FRANCE 23). SOCIETE D'ETUDES LINGUISTIQUES ET ANTHROPOLOGIQUES DE FRANCE (SERIES) 332. PARIS: PEETERS, 1992. (533 PAGES. 24 cm. ISBN 2877230422).
  6. CIRCASSIAN SAGA REMINISCENCES. MALIA GUIRY NATERBOV. ?.
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  9. EPIC, NORTH CAUCASIAN: THE NARTS. JOHN COLARUSSO. PP. 553-62 IN THE MODERN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RUSSIAN AND SOVIET LITERATURES, Vol. 6. HARRY B. WEBER (Ed.). GULF BREEZE, FLORIDA: ACADEMIC INTERNATIONAL PRESS, 1984.
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