Aetiological Remarks And Legends In The Context Of Abkhazian Nart Epic
by Zurab Jopua. Sohum, Abkhazia
Abkhazian Nart legends represent one of the main
versions of Nart epic _ the remarkable folklore monument of Caucasian
people. In the real texture of the plot of the epic besides the latent
ritual-mythological components1 one can find
also aetiological 'insertions' in the epic stories and aetiological
In this case, we are interested neither in myth2
(or proto-myth) as a 'verbal' part of the ritual3
nor in the artistic-aesthetic dynamics (creative potential) of the
formation of folk epics. In other words, we analyse the myths and
legends to the extent they have significance in the context of Abkhazian
Nart epic. Examining the myths and legends in this respect we can find
two principal forms: separate elements and independent stories.
We can distinguish a certain set of texts which include
aetiological elements and episodes, explaining the reasons of different
occurrences and signs (Appendices 1-9). All these
textual details carry definite independent information originated from
the fantasy of the story-teller. Therefore, at first sight they seem not
to be connected with the textual events, they are introduced as outside
elements, as a digression from the main plot. At the same time the
inside textual factors are commented, thereby often re-accentuated and
the latter acquire an aetiological character in the interpretations of
certain story-tellers. From this point of view, these inorganic elements
are relative and cut off from the plot. They occur frequently in form of
narrator's remarks, but in contrast to the other explanations,
aetiological 'comments' are more unfolded and steady. With some
exceptions (Appendix 1), they appear in the final part
of the text. It seems to be conditioned by the function of the final
formulas by which the story-teller explains the recent phrase, but
comments also the real plot. Thus, the whole plot is summarised.
However, all the aetiological remarks do not have the
similar characteristics. Co-ordination of the same episodes is
noticeable (Appendices 3, 5,
7): they are present almost in all variants of the
analysed legends. Moreover, they have an attributed character:
aetiological remarks are invariable components of the same legends and
they are constantly connected with the certain epic characters. Remarks
are inserted to the final part of the legend, connected with the present
state of affairs and thereby they complete the course of events.
These characteristics are not typical to the
aetiological commentaries, which are not as firm as remarks (Appendices
1, 2), appear only in the repertoire
of particular story-tellers or can be identified as exceptions (Appendices
8, 9). Some aetiological
descriptions (in particular Appendices 1-4) may form
separate legends resembling epic narratives (Appendices 19,
In the second set (Appendices 10-20)
one can find texts which have the pattern of legend. In this case, the
elements of legend and aetiological interpretations are important
semantic components of the narratives. Popular conceptions about the
events reflect the epic world outlook and the whole text explains the
provenance of some phenomena. These are legends in an epic guise and
therefore we can designate them as 'Nart legends' in a substantial
It is important to mention that these texts are not
transformations of Nart epic (the inclusion of epic names and images
into the legends, etc.), but a result of the more complicated creative
work. In this case the epic images transmit the artistic-poetic nature (essence)
of the legends. A certain 'epic knowledge' and the traditional mastery
of performing Nart epic enables to create these 'Nart legends'.
The small number of aetiological legends in the whole
corpus of narratives is remarkable. Only 3 texts (Appendices
11, 12, 13) in
the second set have been recorded from different persons in 2 or 3
variants and the elements of one text (Appendix 10)
occur in contamination. All the other texts are single records. Several
legends have been recorded from the same story-teller: two or more texts
have been collected from three persons (Appendices 11,
15; 14, 16 and
17, 18). Hence, we can state that
the majority of 'Nart legends' are improvisations of single story-tellers.
The analysis of 'Nart legends' affirms the idea that
they were not formed at the early stage of the development of Nart epic.
We can not see the proper epic universe, which according to M. Bakhtin's
expression "is separated from the present, that means from the time of
the singer (author and his listeners) by absolute epic distance'.4
Unlike the proper epic narratives the personages in 'Nart
legends' acquire non-traditional features. To a certain extent it can be
defined as a decompensation (imperfection) of the epic image. Typical
archaic characters appear to us in a non-traditional form, related to a
new artistic context. These tendencies can be seen in the use of
circumstantial everyday realities in 'Nart legends' which enrich the
historical-ethnographic aspect of the narratives and emphasise their
connection with a present time.
1 In this case, the findings of V.
Ardzinba are remarkable. On the ground of the detailed analysis of the
set of main plots (of the same type in their structure) of the Nart epic
in the context of mytho-epical traditions of the Caucasian people and
the ancient East, the explorer exposes the archaic semantics of a number
of epic motifs and images. See Ardzinba, V. Nartskii sjuzhet o rozhdenii
geroja iz kamnja. In: Drevnaja Anatolija. Moskva, 1985, s.
128-168; Ardzinba, V. Primety obraza "pastuha" abhazskikh nartskikh
skazanij. In: Trudy Abkhazskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta. V.
Sohum, Alashara, 1987, pp. 131-135.
2 As A. Anshba correctly wrote, in the
material of Abkhazian epic "there are few or even no myths in the proper
meaning of the word... the myths are used only as poetic material for
heroic legends, as any other poetic material _ tales, traditions,
legends, anecdotes, migrant short-stories". See Anshba, A. Voprosy
poetiki abhazskogo nartskogo eposa. Tbilisi, Metsniereba, 1970, pp.
3 Toporov, V. O rituale: Vvedenie v
problematiku. In: Arkhaicheski ritual v folklornykh i
ranneliteraturnykh pamyatnikakh. Moscow, 1988, p. 28.
4 Bakhtin, M. Epos i roman. In:
Voprosy literatury. No. 1, 1970, p. 102.
The list of the epic texts with aetiological remarks and "Nart
1. "The release of the water source":
The moon contains the image of Sasrykva, the principal personage of
Abkhazian Nart epic. Sources: 1, pp. 173-176; 5, pp. 205-216.
2. "The heroic matchmaking": The
origin of the holy place ("Dydrypsch-Nykha" and "Lydzaa-Nykha") is
connected with the epic personage Dyd. Sources: 1, pp. 306-307; 3 (2
3. "The abduction of Gunda the
Beautiful": The only Nart sister Gunda the Beautiful became the
patroness of bees and honey, Khvazharpys turned into a rhododendron and
Nardzhkhou into a stone. Sources: 1, pp. 270-272; 274-276; 297-298;
298-301; 301-302; 457-459; 2, pp. 178-180 (3 records); 4, pp. 13-16; 5,
pp. 331-350; 233-235; 6, pp. 21-23.
4. "The search for a stronger rival":
Nart dogs turned into wolves and hens into crows. Sources: 1, pp.
120-121; 7, pp. 57-58.
5. "The capture of the fortress and
the argument of the Narts": The origin of fruit-trees and the wine
is connected with brothers. Sources: 1, p. 103; 121-123; 200_201;
205-208; 208-209; 217-218; 223-225; 226-227; 228; 228-229; 232; 249;
253-255; 426; 427; 497; 3 (2 records); 5, pp. 236-240; 285-291; 292-297.
6. "The vengeance for the ancestors
and heroic travels": The song arises from onomatopoeia of Nart names.
Sources: 3 (3 records).
7. "The death of the hero": The
origin of different signs of birds and animals are connected with the
image of the hero Sasrykva. Sources: 1, pp. 135-138; 138-139; 182-185;
185-187; 187-188; 188-189; 3 (2 records); 8, pp. 282-283; 290-291.
8. "An attempt to spoil the beauty":
A dumb Nart child is born and the origin of dumb people is connected
with it. Source: 1, pp. 312-318
9. "The fight with the rivals":
The place where the abducted girl crossed the river with the help of a
bent pear branch was called the Pear Bridge. Source: 1, pp. 442-443.
10. "The genesis of song, dance and
10.1. The hero was bitten by a snake while hunting;
the cries which he utters from poignant pain started the song; the hero
kept the cattle in the forest and made a pipe from the sounding branch
of the tree. Source: 5, pp. 64-70.
10.2. After the wedding of the hero, the Narts make a
festival; during sifting the flour they begin to dance and sing,
imitating the sound of sifting. Source: 1, p. 144.
11. "Domestication of the wild
horse": After the loss of his Herculean horse, the hero tames a wild
one, starting the domestication of horses. Sources: 1, pp. 267-268; 5,
pp. 314-315; 8, p. 285.
12. "The Herculean sabre":
Working in the ploughed field, the hero finds a piece of iron of
wonderful durability; a Nart blacksmith forges the Herculean sabre out
of it. Source: 3 (1 record).
13. "The creation of cereals":
The mother of the Narts milks the milk which overflows her breast on the
ground. On that place maize starts to grow. Sources: 1, pp. 401-402; 6,
14. "Nart prayer": On a hunt
the hero kills a female deer, after that Nart-brothers give the promise
not to kill animals with cubs. Source: 1, pp. 402-405.
15. "The arrival of an azana-dwarf
to the Narts": The dwarf teaches the the Narts how to make a sickle.
Source: 1, pp. 193-194.
16. "The food of the Nart ram":
the Narts teach azana-dwarfs how to feed rams properly. Source: 1, pp.
17. "The prayer of the Nart brides":
the Nart brides begin to lead a social prayer on the advice of Satanei
Gnasha ("azu-nykha"). Source: 6, p. 21.
18. "The sacrifices to the god-patrons":
the Narts begin to worship the god-patrons and make animal sacrifices to
them, or become the patrons themselves. Source: 6, pp. 23-24; 24-25; 26;
19. "The death of the hero":
19.1. The hero is bothered by the brothers' pursuit;
he goes up to the moon and stays there. Source: 9, p. 77.
19.2. The hero falls seriously ill; and before his
death he puts the pledges on dogs and wolves. Source: 8, p. 288.
20. "The vanishing of the Narts":
Before death, the Narts put the pledges on the dogs and wolves. Source:
3 (1 record).
1. Abkhazian archives of the ILLM, Fund No. 2, file No.
2. Zapisi iz abkhazskogo folklora. In: Khashba, A. Izbrannyje
raboty. (Sost. H. Bgazhba). Sohum, 1972, pp. 171-229.
3. The personal archives of the author.
4. Materialy abkhazskogo folklora: Iz arkhiva akad. N.
Marr. (Podg. S. Zukhba; red. S. Aristava). Sohum, Alashara, 1967.
5. Nart Sasrykva i devjanosto devjat jego bratjev:
Abkhazskij narodnyi epos. (Sost. Sh. Inal-ipa, K. Shakryl, B. Shinkuba;
vst. Sh. Inal-ipa; red. B. Shinkuba). Sohum, 1970.
6. Skazanija Maadana Sakania. (Red. K. Shakryl). Sohumi,
7. Skazanija o nartah. Alashara, 1972, No. 5, pp. 52-61.
8. Bzhania, Ts. Folklornyje materialy. In: Iz istorij
hozjaistva i kultury abkhazov: Issledovanija i materialy. Sohum,
Alashara, 1973, pp. 282-293.
9. Smyr, G. Tshetyre rasskaza o Sasrykve. Alashara,
1971, No. 1, pp. 7677.
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