THE NART EPOS0

THE FOUNTAIN-HEAD OF CIRCASSIAN MYTHOLOGY


THE NART EPOS

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.

The following is the story of how Nart Sosriqwe, the chief protagonist of the Epos, Outwitted The one-eyed Giant to get away with stealing a fire-brand from his bleak tower to light a fire for the Nart horsemen who had been caught in a devilish blizzard. The original Kabardian text was published in "The Folklore of the Circassians," Nalchik, Kabarda, 1979. It was translated by myself.


For an audio recording of my interpretation of the first part of the tale, please click on the link
Audio File

SAUSRYQUA FETCHES FIRE

SWARTHY SAUSRYQUA,
THE IRON-EYED* DARKSOME MAN,
MOST INTREPID KNIGHT.

THE NART HORSEMEN WERE RIDING FOR PLUNDER;
SAUSRYQUA LINGERED BEHIND.
A SATANIC BLIZZARD BEAT DOWN ON OUR HEROES
FOR SEVEN DAYS AND SEVEN NIGHTS.

"YIMYSS; SAUSYM; ZHINDU ZHAK'A; ARAQ-SHU; WAZYR-MAGH; NASRAN-ZHAK'A; ASHA-MAZ, SON OF ASHA; BATA-RAZ, SON OF KHIMYSH; SIBYL-SHEE; TOTA-RASH, SON OF ALBACH; CAN ANY OF YOU LIGHT A FIRE?"

NONE OF OUR BRAVE-HEARTS HAD A FIRE.
THEIR MOTHER'S DARLINGS* LAMENTED:
"WE WERE SUCH FOOLS,
TO LEAVE ON A RAID WITHOUT SAUSRYQUA."
AS THEY WERE THUS BEWAILING,
SAUSRYQUA CAUGHT UP WITH THEM.
"OUR GILDED OFFSPRING,
OUR LUSTROUS PROGENY,
IF YOU HAVE A FIRE, KINDLE IT FOR US."

"I SURELY HAVE."
SAUSRYQUA MADE A HUGE FIRE;
THE WHOLE ARMY STAMPEDED;
ENRAGED, SAUSRYQUA SCATTERED THE FIRE
AND FLUNG IT INTO THE RIVER.

"SWARTHY SAUSRYQUA,
OUR GOLDEN ISSUE,
THE BEST OF OUR BEST,
WE BESEECH YOU."

"I SWEAR BY WASCH-KHWA, MY MENTOR,
THAT I HAVE RUN OUT OF FIRE,
YET I WILL FETCH IT FOR YOU."

HE JUMPED ON HIS TKHWA-ZHAY*,
TORE UP HARAMA HILL AND LOOKED AROUND.
HE ESPIED SMOKE ISSUING FROM
AN OLD FLAT TUMULOUS TOWER.
HE DISMOUNTED AND CREPT THITHER.
IT WAS THE GIANT'S ABODE.
THE MONSTER LAY RING-LIKE IN A DEEP SLUMBER:
HIS FEET TUCKED UNDER HIS HEAD,
THE FIRE IN THE MIDDLE.

SAUSRYQUA WENT BACK
AND CONSULTED HIS STEED:
"MY TKHWA-ZHAY,
THE FLEETEST OF THEM ALL.
THIS IS THE GIANT'S MOUND,
HIS FEET ARE TUCKED UNDER HIS HEAD,
THE FIRE IN THE MIDDLE.
THE OGRE IS SLEEPING.
TELL ME, PRAY, HOW TO STEAL A BRAND?"

"SWARTHY SAUSRYQUA,
THE IRON-EYED DARKSOME MAN,
MOST DASHING HORSEMAN.

RIDE ON MY BACK;
I WILL TURN THE CLATTER OF MY HOOVES
INTO THE RUDE TREAD OF A HOUND;
AS WE GET NEARER TO THE SLUMBERING GIANT
I WILL MAKE MY STEPS AS SOFT AS THOSE
OF A GENTLE FELINE;
WE WILL SNEAK UP
AND YOU WILL SNATCH A FIRE-BRAND."

SAUSRYQUA MOUNTED HIS DUN,
STOLE UP TO THE TOWER
AND SEIZED A FIRE-BRAND.
THEY GALLOPED FOR SEVEN DAYS AND SEVEN NIGHTS;
THE FIRE-BRAND SLIPPED FROM HIS HAND, AND,
CARRIED BY THE WIND,
IT LANDED ON THE GIANT'S KNEE.

THE GIANT STARTED FROM HIS SLUMBER;
HE RECKONED HIS FIRE-BRANDS:
ONE WAS MISSING.
"I WILL IMMOLATE THE VILE BRIGAND
ON MY FATHER'S ALTAR," THUNDERED THE OGRE.

WITHOUT LEAVING HIS POST,
HE GROPED FOR THE ROBBER ALONG THE SEVEN ROADS
AND CAUGHT HIM THAT HAD BEEN GALLOPING
FOR SEVEN DAYS AND SEVEN NIGHTS.

"YOUNG NART,
NART HORSEMAN,
I SHALL DEVOUR YOU WHOLE,
IF YOU FAIL TO TELL ME WHERE SAUSRYQUA IS."

"I HAVE NEVER MET THIS FIEND,
BUT I KNOW OF HIS EXPLOITS."

"SPARE THYSELF AND SHEW ME OF HIS PLOYS."

"WITH PLEASURE", SAID OUR WILY HERO,SEIZING ON HIS CHANCE.

SAUSRYQUA LED THE GIANT ON.
"SAUSRYQUA STANDS AT THE FOOT OF MOUNT QAPSHIQAI;
THE ABRA STONE* IS ROLLED DOWN;
HE KNOCKS IT WITH HIS BROW
AND SENDS IT UP FASTER THAN IT CAME DOWN."

"I AM GAME."

SAUSRYQUA RAN UP THE MOUNTAIN;
HE LET DOWN THE ABRA STONE;
THE GIANT BUTTED THE STONE
SENDING IT FAST UP THE PRECIPICE.
THE GIANT COWERED SLIGHTLY.

"THIS IS A GLORIOUS GAME.
IT HAS SOOTHED MY ITCHY BROW.
IF YOU KNOW A BETTER ONE , TEACH IT TO ME."

SAUSRYQUA CURSED THE HEAVENS
FOR NOT DIVINING THE GIANT'S DEMISE.

"I WILL SHEW YOU A MORE WONDERFUL ONE."

HE LED THE GIANT FURTHER ON.
"SAUSRYQUA SITS ON HIS KNEES;
HIS WIDE-OPEN MOUTH IS FILLED WITH ARROWS;
HE BITES OFF THE STEEL ARROW-HEADS,
SWALLOWS THEM AND SPITS OUT THE SHAFTS."

THE GIANT DROPPED DOWN TO HIS KNEES.
HE GAPED HIS MOUTH.
SAUSRYQUA CRAMMED IT FULL OF ARROWS.
THE GIANT SNIPPED OFF THE ARROW-HEADS,
GULPED THEM DOWN AND SPEWED OUT THE SHAFTS.
"YOUNG NART,
NART HORSEMAN,
THIS IS SUCH A SPLENDID GAME.
IT HAS SLAKED THE ITCH IN MY MOUTH.
IF YOU KNOW OF A BETTER ONE, TEACH IT TO ME."

SAUSRYQUA DAMNED PROVIDENCE
FOR NOT DIVINING THE GIANT'S RUINATION.

"SAUSRYQUA OPENS HIS MOUTH WIDE.
A SHARP RED-HOT PLOUGHSHARE
IS THROWN INTO HIS INNARDS;
HE COOLS IT DOWN IN HIS STOMACH
AND CASTS IT OUT FROM HIS BEHIND."

SAUSRYQUA WHITE-HEATED THE PLOUGHSHARE
AND TOSSED IT INTO THE GIANT'S GAPING JAWS.
THE GIANT COOLED IT IN HIS BELLY
AND FLUNG IT OUT.

"YOUNG NART,
NART HORSEMAN,
THIS IS QUITE A MARVELLOUS GAME.
IT HAS RELIEVED MY ITCHING PAUNCH.
SHEW ME A MORE DARING ONE."

SAUSRYQUA IMPRECATED FATE
FOR NOT DIVINING THE GIANT'S BANE.

"HOLD ON, COLOSSAL ONE.
THERE IS STILL ONE MORE TO BE PLAYED:
SAUSRYQUA IS TAKEN ACROSS THE SEVEN GULFS;
IN THE VERY DEEPEST ONE, HE IS PLACED
SUCH THAT HIS FEET ARE JUST ABOVE THE SEA-FLOOR,
HIS MOUTH BARELY ABOVE THE WATER;
THE GULF IS THEN CAUSED TO FREEZE
FOR SEVEN DAYS AND SEVEN NIGHTS.
HE ADROITLY WRIGGLES OUT OF THE ICY WATERS."

SAUSRYQUA FROZE THE WATER AROUND THE GIANT.

"NOW, EXTRICATE THYSELF."

AS THE ICE BEGAN TO CRACK:
"STAY PUT, GIANT.
IT WOULD DO YOUR MUSCLES A WORLD OF GOOD,
IF THE ICE IS MADE EVEN HARDER."

SAUSRYQUA MADE SURE THAT THIS TIME
THE ICE WAS ROCK-SOLID.

"TRY NOW."

"TRY AS I MIGHT, I DON'T SEEM TO BE ABLE
TO GET MYSELF OUT OF THIS ONE."

SAUSRYQUA SNATCHED HIS SWORD
AND FLEW AT THE GIANT.

"HUFF", THE GIANT BLEW SAUSRYQUA
THE DISTANCE OF A WHOLE MORNING'S GALLOP.
SAUSRYQUA CAME BACK SWIFTLY,SWORD IN HAND.
AS HE MADE TO CUT THE HAPLESS OGRE'S HEAD,
THE GIANT SOBBED:
"I MUST HAVE BEEN A COMPLETE FOOL
FOR FAILING TO IDENTIFY YOU, SAUSRYQUA, BY YOUR HUMAN KNEES*."


SAUSRYQUA BEHEADED THE GIANT
AND BROUGHT BACK A FIRE-BRAND.

THE NART WARRIORS WERE HUDDLED TOGETHER
FOR WARMTH
SOME HAD PERISHED FROM THE COLD,
SOME FROM THE HEAT.

FOR THE FEW SURVIVORS
SAUSRYQUA KINDLED A HUGE BLAZE.

REANIMATED, THEY CONTINUED ON THEIR EXPEDITION
AND MADE GOOD SPOIL.

THEY WERE SAFELY LED BACK HOME BY SAUSRYQUA





NOTES:

* AN EPITHET WHOSE ORIGINAL SIGNIFICANCE IS NOW UNKNOWN.

* CONSIDERED AS A PROPER NAME IN OTHER VERSIONS.

* NAME OF SAUSRYQUA'S STEED (LITERALLY: LITTLE DUN).

* A STONE OF ENORMOUS SIZE AND IMMENSE WEIGHT.

* SAUSRYQUA HAD A BODY OF STEEL. HOWEVER, BECAUSE HE WAS HELD BY A PAIR OF TONGS FROM HIS KNEES WHILE HE WAS BEING TEMPERED BY THAPSCH, THE GOD OF THE SMITHS, THEY WERE RENDERED HUMAN-LIKE.

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