The Nart sagas (Adyghe: Нартхымэ акъыбарыхэ; Karachay-Balkar: Нарт таурухла; Ossetian: Нарты кадджытæ; Narty kaddžytæ; Chechen: Нарт Аьрштхой) are a series of tales originating from the North Caucasus. They form the basic mythology of the tribes in the area, including Abazin, Abkhaz, Circassian, Ossetian, Karachay-Balkar and Chechen-Ingush folklore.
The root nar is of uncertain origin. American linguist John Colarusso proposes an Iranian origin, from Proto-Iranian nar for "hero", "man", descended from Proto-Indo-European *h₂nḗr. However, Ossetian linguist Vasily Abaev declined this etymology relying on two arguments. The first argument is that the descendant of Indo-European root *h₂nḗr in Ossetic is næl ("male"), and the second point is that the central hero of the saga is the woman Satana. Instead, Abaev suggested a Mongolian origin of nar, from Mongolian word nara for "sun".
Some of the characters who feature prominently in the sagas are:
- Sosruko (Ubykh, Abkhaz and Adyghe sawsərəqʷa (Саусырыкъо), Ossetian soslan (Сослан)), a hero who sometimes also appears as a trickster;
- Satanaya (Ubykh satanaja, Adyghe setenej (Сэтэнай), Ossetian: satana (Сатана)), the mother of the Narts, a fertility figure and matriarch;
- Tlepsh (Adyghe and Abaza [ɬapʃʷ], Ossetian Kwyrdaləgon (Куырдалæгон)), a blacksmith deity;
- Syrdon (Ossetian: Syrdon (Сырдон)) a trickster figure compared by Georges Dumezil to the Norse Loki.
- Pkharmat (Chechen: Pẋarmat Пхьармат), in Vainakh epos, a blacksmith figure who steals fire from the gods for the mortals .
Study and significance
The first written account of the material is due to the Kabardian author Shora Begmurzin Nogma (who wrote in Russian 1835-1843, published posthumously in 1861, German translation by Adolf Berge in 1866). The stories exist in the form of prose tales as well as epic songs.
It is generally known that all the Nart corpora have an ancient Iranian core, inherited from the Scythians, Sarmatians, and Alans (the Alans being the ancestors of the Ossetians). However, they also contain abundant local North Caucasian accretions of great antiquity, which sometimes reflect an even more archaic past.
Based especially on the Ossetian versions, the sagas have long been valued as a window towards the world of the Iranian-speaking cultures of antiquity. For example, the philologist Georges Dumézil used the Ossetian division of the Narts into three clans to support his Trifunctional Hypothesis that the Proto-Indo-Europeans were similarly divided into three castes—warriors, priests, and commoners. Additionally John Colarusso appends that Caucasian myths have common parallels within Indo-European, Turkic and Mongolic traditions.
The Northwest Caucasian (Circassian, Abkhaz-Abasin and Ubykh) versions are also highly valuable, because they contain more archaic accretions and preserve "all the odd details constituting the detritus of earlier traditions and beliefs", as opposed to the Ossetian ones, which have been "reworked to form a smooth narrative".
Connections to other mythology
Some motifs in the Nart sagas are shared by Greek mythology. The story of Prometheus chained to Mount Kazbek or to Mount Elbrus in particular is similar to an element in the Nart sagas. These shared motifs are seen by some as indicative of an earlier proximity of the Caucasian peoples to the ancient Greeks, also shown in the myth of the Golden Fleece, in which Colchis is generally accepted to have been part of modern-day Georgia.
In the book From Scythia to Camelot, authors C. Scott Littleton and Linda A. Malcor speculate that many aspects of the Arthurian legends are derived from the Nart sagas. The proposed vector of transmission is the Alans, some of whom migrated into northern France at around the time the Arthurian legends were forming. As expected, these parallels are most evident in the Ossetian versions, according to researcher John Colarusso. See Historical basis for King Arthur - Sarmatian hypothesis for more details.
Differences between Nart legends
There are some differences between the various versions of the Nart legends. For example, the Ossetian versions depict the Nartic tribe as composed of three distinct clans who sometimes rival one another. (the brave Æxsærtægkatæ, to whom the most prominent Narts belong, the rich Borætæ and the wise Alægatæ), while the Circassian ones do not depict such a division, and the Abkhaz ones are unique in describing the Narts as a single nuclear family composed of Satanaya's one hundred sons. Yet all of these versions describe the Narts as a single coherent group of mostly "good" heroes. In contrast, the Nakh (Chechen-Ingush) legends sometimes depict the Nart-Orxustxoi, a group including the most prominent Narts known from the other versions (e.g. Seska-Solsa corresponding to Sosruko/Soslan, Khamtsha-Patarish corresponding to Batraz/Batradz etc.) as warlike bandits, who fight against local good heroes such as Koloi-Kant and Qinda-Shoa (the latter corresponding to Sawway/Shawey).
- Abaev, V.I. "Nart". Historical-Etymological Dictionary of Ossetian language.
- John Colarusso. "Nart Sagas from the Caucasus: Myths and Legends from the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykhs". Univ. of Toronto Quarterly. Princeton University Press. pp. xxiv, 552.
- "Nalmes ensemble clip", Youtube.
- Tsaroïeva, Mariel. Anciennes Croyances des Ingouches et des Tchetchenes. p. 199. ISBN 2-7068-1792-5.
- John Colarusso, Nart Sagas from the Caucasus: Myths and Legends from the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykhs. Introduction.
- Mify narodov mira. 1980. V.2. Narty
- Tsaroïeva, Mariel. Anciennes Croyances des Ingouches et des Tchetchenes. P. 215. ISBN 2-7068-1792-5
Circassian Nart sagas:
- Nart Sagas from the Caucasus: Myths and Legends from the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykhs. Assembled, translated, and annotated by John Colarusso.
- English translations of some Circassian Nartic legends
- Russian translations of Circassian Nartic legends
- Circassian Nartic legends in Circassian (only Sosruko cycle available)
- Articles including some texts of Nartic legends:
- Myths from the Forests of Circassia, by John Colarusso
- Prometheus among the Circassians, by John Colarusso
- The Woman of the Myths: the Satanaya Cycle by John Colarusso
Ossetian Nart sagas:
- English translations of some Ossetian Nartic legends
- Russian translations of Ossetian Nartic legends
- Ossetian Nartic legends in Ossetic
- Ossetic texts of Nartic legends on Titus
Abkhaz Nart sagas
Karachay-Balkar Nart sagas:
- An English-language paper on Karachay-Balkar folk belief by Dr. Ufuk TAVKUL Contains a brief outline of Karachay-Balkar Nartic legends (in English).
- A detailed Russian language retelling and discussion of Karachay-Balkar Nartic legends
- Russian translations of Karachay-Balkar Nartic legends (part 1)
- Russian translations of Karachay-Balkar Nartic legends (part 2)
Chechen-Ingush Nart sagas:
- The Inception of Chechen artistic writing: ethni-historical and aesthetic prerequisites by Kh.R.Abdulayeva; In: The Culture of Chechnya: History and Modern Problems Contains discussion of Chechen and Ingush Nartic legends (in English).
- Russian language accounts of Chechen and Ingush beliefs by Ch.E.Akhriev (part 1) at the Internet Archive. Contains Nartic legends.
- Russian language accounts of Chechen and Ingush beliefs by Ch.E.Akhriev (part 2) at the Internet Archive. Contains Nartic legends.
- A large collection of Russian translations of Chechen tales, many of which are about the Narts.