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Nart Sagas from the Caucasus: Myths and Legends from the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykhs Hardcover – October 14, 2002
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"An excellent translation of a rare standard of Eurasian mythology, the work blends annotation and commentary to demystify the complex philosophical text."--Library Journal
"A new, important resource for those with a general interest in the lore of the North Caucasus, in comparative mythology, and in linguistics. . . . Colarusso's familiarity with the Indo-European traditions is seen in the copious commentaries and notes accompanying the sagas. Meticulous and at times very detailed, they not only serve as a guide to a better understanding of the sagas themselves, but provide an introduction to the vast field of Eurasian myth. . . . Colarusso is to be congratulated for this splendid contribution to the field, for his scholarship, for his devotion to the subject, and for bringing this collection of Nart sagas to us."--Patricia Arant, Slavic and East European Journal
From the Inside Flap
"There is no comparable book in English. The translation looks quite fine! This is quite original work by one of the most prominent scholars of the Caucasus in this hemisphere, one who is also most knowledgeable in Indo-European mythology and is an accomplished linguist."--Edgar C. Polomé, author of Indo-European Religion after Dumeziland Language, Society, and Paleoculture
"Reminiscent of the Grimm fairytales and the Icelandic Eddas, these lively tales abound with giants and witches and dwarves and mountain-sized monsters born of rock, ice, and fire. This is a major new resource for students in mythology, linguistics, and folklore, for which John Colarusso provides a sober and expert commentary as guide."--Elizabeth Wayland Barber, author of The Mummies of Urumchi
"This book will introduce a wide readership to a unique and ancient relic of human lore still tenaciously preserved in the North Caucasus--a fabulous world of gods and goddesses, demigods and antigods, monsters and ogres, giants and lilliputians, witches and warlocks, Caucasian Medusas and tree-ladies. Further, it is timely in that the Northwest Caucasians are stirring from a long slumber and are grappling to reforge their identity and find their place in the comity of nations. Professor Colarusso has rendered this culture a great service, enriching world culture in the process."--Amjad Jaimoukha, author of The Circassians: A Handbook
"The translations offered by Colarusso include fascinating, strange, and sometimes grotesque mythic tales that show amazing parallels with Classical and other Indo-European stories. The characters are enormously interesting, especially the figure of Satanya, a powerful female heroine/goddess, which will have an instant appeal to those, scholars and general readers alike, now discovering Goddess myths. As pure narratives, these stories, with their tales-within-tales, giants, stolen brides, and wise elders, also command attention."--Richard P. Martin, Stanford University
"Reading this book was an exciting intellectual experience. These tales are extremely rich and thought-provoking. Doubtless many other readers will respond just as enthusiastically as I have, and recognize the importance of the Nart corpus--and Colarusso's commnentary on it--for their own research. This represents the first compendium in any language, to my knowledge, of Nart sagas from all of the Northwest-Caucasian-speaking peoples."--Kevin Tuite, Université de Montréal
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Top Customer Reviews
There are not many books about Northern Caucasia and circassians with high academic standards like Nart Sagas. Especially explanations in footnotes were very useful.Highly recommended to those who are interested.
I'd say the Narts are similar to Klingons. They go around and battle each other and often beat up a god that pisses them off. The authors do a good job of trying to make sense out of these stories with detailed explanations and footnotes. Sometimes even they are at a loss. I recommend it... but don't look for logic in the stories.
For me, the volume was also a fascinating introduction to many of the cultures of the Caucasus Mountains and the coastlands of the Black Sea. Unexpectedly, but not too surprisingly in retrospect, the often rather ambiguous protagonist of one version may show up as the villain in a variant of the story told elsewhere!
The description and quotations provided in the posting here at Amazon are a fair representative of the stories of the heroes and (probably) faded gods who populate these ancient oral traditions. Although the total picture is both unusual and varied, the reader may find the stories hauntingly familiar, suggesting here a bit of Asgard, and there a little of Olympus, at another point the Finn Cycle, and elsewhere a touch of Robin Hood or the Border Ballads.
Some of the resemblances are probably coincidental, others suggests ancient contacts between civilizations, and the spreading and staying power of good stories. If Colarusso and others, notably Georges Dumezil, are correct, some reflect a common origin, before the dispersal of Indo-European speakers across Europe and Asia. (This view assumes that the Ossetian versions, in an Iranian language, are in direct descent, and the tellings in the non-Indo-European Caucasus languages are ultimately borrowings. A common origin for Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Northwest-Caucasian [Proto-Pontic] has been proposed, but is very problematic. And would be so ancient as to have little explanatory value, I would think, for the Nart stories!)
Unfortunately, Colarusso's frequent, and usually useful, comparisons to more widely known mythologies, notably those of Greece and Scandinavia, show heavy dependence on secondary sources, by which I mean reference works, not translations. Partly as a result, there are a number of trivial, but annoying, avoidable errors. Some examples: the son of Anchises and Aphrodite was Aeneas, not Adonis to go back to Robert Graves' "Greek Mythology," where Anchises and Adonis are in sequence as lovers of the goddess, and her offspring are postponed to a later chapter); Odin's raven-messengers, "Thought" and "Memory" (Huginn and Muninn) are confused with his brothers, Vili ("Will") and Ve ("Holiness" or "Shrine"). (I at first thought Colarusso might be citing a theory that they *should* be identified, which would be interesting; but apparently not.)
Those unfamiliar with any of the mythologies he cites (and I am not well acquainted with a number of them) should therefore treat his references with a little caution. Fortunately, the errors which I spotted did not make a great difference to his arguments and conclusions.
I would also view with reserve some of his suggested replacements for accepted etymologies, such as that for the Norse god Odin. (The usual etymology *is* a little odd-looking, but the required form has a Germanic parallel he doesn't mention; a long story.)
Despite these problems with non-Caucasus material, the book as a whole is richly rewarding for those with an interest in a "new" mythology.
This geographic region is precisely the land of the Narts, whose myths and folktales John Colarusso has gathered together in this splendid collection. And in fact, the reader is delighted to discover, the Narts do indeed have a series of stories centering around a Prometheus figure named Nasran, whom they envision chained to the Caucasus for defying God. This is just one of the many overlaps between the myths of the Narts and those of peoples as remote from their region as the Norse at the Western end and the Vedic Indians at the Eastern. The character of Wotan, for instance, will turn up as "Wardana," a man who rides the fastest horse in the world (cf. "Sleipnir") and whose brother is named after the word for "raven," like Wotan's two ravens Hugin and Munin. Or Vishnu's avatar as the boar "Varaha," who comes into the world in order to rescue the goddess Earth from her kidnapping by a giant serpent demon is paralleled by the story of "Warzameg," who sets off to rescue the damsel Psatina, who has been kidnapped into the Underworld by a Lizard Man. Almost every story in this collection reveals such surprising echoes of the myths of surrounding Indo-European peoples.
But one of the most surprising things about the collection is the attitude that it reveals of the Narts toward their women. For all these surrounding Indo-European peoples, as any scholar of myth well knows, were patriarchal warriors who conquered, and discredited, the goddess-worshipping traditions of most of the societies that they came into contact with. As a result, the stories of the Greeks, the Norse, the Persians and yes, even the goddess-worshipping Hindus are filled with misogyny (this is true even of such non-Indo European, but Nordic, peoples as the Finns, for The Kalevala is nothing if not a story of a war against the witch-goddess Louhi, mistress of North Farm). It is appropriate, in this regard, to mention the role of Medea in the Jason story, for she is the daughter of the king of Colchis, and helps Jason out of nearly every scrape he gets into. In return, he simply betrothes himself to the daughter of the King of Corinth, telling her she should be grateful that he brought her to live in such a civilized country as Greece.
But as one soon realizes, after reading a handful of stories in The Nart Sagas, no Nart warrior would ever have been allowed to get away with treating his wife in such a brutal manner, for the Narts, almost alone amongst the Indo-Europeans (the other possible exception being the Celts) treated the Goddess with respect and near-equality. Sexual promiscuity amongst Nart women was tolerated, and male warriors were expected to put up with their indiscretions. And again and again, we come across stories in which the deeds of heroes like Warzameg are attributed to their having the favor of the goddess on their side. Whenever the male hero discredits, insults or otherwises abuses his wife, she withdraws her power, and disaster results, as in the story of the goddess Adif and her husband Psapeta, in which, after a quarrel, he loses his ability to drive his horses over a very narrow bridge made of linen, and falls to his death. Such warrior heroes as Shebatinuquo are suited up for battle and armed by their mothers (in this case, the goddess Setenaya) and we find references to the existence of Amazon women "who would ride forth with their menfolk to meet the enemy in battle."
The fact that women fare so well in this Indo-European society marks this particular ethnic group culturally as Asiatic, despite their being located just above the Black Sea, for as Bachofen pointed out in his Mutterrecht, the presence of matrilineal societies, and / or societies in which women fare as well as, or better, than men, indicates a survival into Western civilization of what is essentially an Asiatic ideal, namely, that the society is ruled by a god / king whose power is bestowed upon him by a goddess, as in the myth of Tanaquil. (Hercules, in his temporary service to the queen Omphale, is a vestigial survival of this practice in Greek culture, as is, most likely, the motif of the hero accomplishing his difficult tasks only with the help of a goddess (i.e. Jason and Medea; Theseus and Ariadne). In the Western myths, however, the goddess is rejected and left behind, as Aeneas leaves Dido to burn herself up on her funeral pyre in order to found what will later become kingless Rome. (Kingless, that is, because of the patriarchal rejection of an Asiatic goddess-powered institution: think of Osiris sitting on the throne of the body of Isis).
Colarusso has done a fine job in editing these stories together, and his rare attempts (rare, that is, among academic specialists) to point out comparative overlaps with the mythologies of other peoples is admirable, if not always successful. Some of his comparisons make better sense than others, but his attitude is the important thing here. Thanks, Professor Colarusso, for a job well done.
Why is this particular one revised? Otherwise, guess it's ok to have for your bookshelf.