Thursday, April 16, 2015

N is for the Nart sagas (Epics from A to Z)

(I have written about the Nart sagas once last year, but they are amazing enough to be featured again.)

The Nart sagas are the shared epic heritage of several ethnicities that live in the Caucasus. Some researchers suggest that the original core of this large corpus of stories was the Ossetian sagas (a group of people of Iranian roots), but now they are widely told by surrounding groups of various origins as well. There is a great English edition for many of the Circassian, Abaza, Abkhaz, and the Ubykh sagas, but the Ossetians were only available in Hungarian to me. John Colarusso seems to have been working on an English translation for a while now.

The Heroes
The Nart heroes are all one happy, magically endowed, slightly violent family. The matron presiding over it all is Satanaya, a mix of a fertility goddess and wise adviser. The male heroes include Soslan (or Sosruqo) who was tampered in wolf milk, but the milk didn't cover his knee (sounds familiar?) and because of that, he had a limp; Hamic and his son Batradz who he gave birth to because his wife was a frog princess (epics, amirite?...); as well as many other generations before and after.

The Highlights - 10 Reasons the Ossetian Nart Epics are Epic

1. Two heroes having a dance-off for the hand of a lady.
It's a refreshing change from people beating each other into the ground (which also happens a lot). Dancing happens on the blades of swords, with a bowl of water on one's head, and also on the feast tables around the food (and this was the only way I could picture it).

2. This story ending, after the hero wins the hand of a lady: "And they lived very happily for a while. But they realized that they were too different, and they decided to go their separate ways." Peaceful divorce ever after. Good for them.
3. This prophecy one hero comes by in the Underworld (which, by the way, is also a place that gives Dante a run for his laurels): "One day men and women will live peacefully as equals."
Important words from a culture where kidnapping wives was common practice at the time.
4. There is a God of Wolves called Tutir. I rest my case.
5. Sirdon the Trickster, Curse of the Narts. Dog person, single father of three. Pretty much described (accurately for a trickster) as "the Narts can't live with him, can't live without him." He is very close to Loki in attitude, but he is bullied way worse than the Norse trickster. Looks like the Narts torture him for kicks. To which he responds with nasty mischief of his own. Very layered character.
6. The practicality of the tale when Satana wants to tamper a newborn and red-hot hero baby in wolf milk (as you do), and her husband's response is: "Where the heck am I supposed to get wolf milk?!" He then goes on to ask for the help of the Mother of Dogs, and she herds a couple of hundred she-wolves into a pen. To which our hero responds: "Umm... okay, now how am I supposed to milk them?"
And really no one ever responds "Hey, we are in a mythical saga, it will just magically happen!"
Nope. He milks them with his own two hands.
7. The Nart hero Hamic has a Mustache of Steel.
And he kills a snake with it. Enough said.
8. The time the Narts got God on a technicality: God cursed them saying that no matter how much wheat they work a day, it will only amount to one bucket of grain. So they started only working a handful of wheat each day, and they still got a full bucket out of it. Sheer brilliance.
9. Smart woman moments such as "I am not marrying you, hero of the Narts, because your mother is evil" or "If you don't leave my tower right now, I will put your eyes out with my scissors." Nart women might not be equal to their heroes, but they sure do run things in the background. And they do raise a raiding army every once in a while.
10. The moment one hero explains how he learned not to hurt women: He tells his companions of a time when he was a guest in a house where only women lived (men were away) and he overheard them talking among themselves in a language they didn't know he spoke. He listened to their conversations and learned from them. In the adventure he claims that he would never hurt a woman for making a mistake (namely, even for cheating!) because he listened and now he knows better.


  1. so much detail again- got me hooked!

    Zannierose A-Z visitor

  2. This is one of the best epic you have talked about so far. It really makes me want to read it :-)

  3. A man who learned from women - now that's an epic! :) They got God good, didn't they, but was one bucket a day enough to feed everyone?
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

  4. This is really cool. The divorce ever after is really cool, and that last one about learning from women makes a really refreshing change!

  5. Good on that one hero. It pays to listen. :)

  6. Mustache of steel made me LOL. And a dance off! So much to love in this epic. Also, the hero listening to the women makes my heart feel all warm and mushy. :)

  7. This dance off I would want to see!

  8. That's a first! an epic to tell us what happened after they were happily married...they got happily divorced too?!

  9. Ah, I like this story very much thank you! Contemporary wisdom in it too!

  10. I'm trying imagine Obama and Putin with a bowl of water on their heads and swords at their feet. I'm thinking this might be an excellent way to come to an agreement. . .on just about anything. Another fascinating story that I'd never heard of.

    1. Haha, watching politics would be a lot more entertaining! :D

  11. It’s officially the second half of A to Z. Time to catch that second wind, rest up on Sunday, then it’s that mad dash toward the finish line!

    Stephen Tremp
    A to Z Cohost
    N is for Numerology

  12. I love the role of Satanaya !! I really like this epic!

  13. OK. This is my kind of epic. Powerful women, milking wolves, what more can a gal ask for? :)

  14. And I wonder what he overheard that caused him to be ever the gentleman. I can imagine some wonderfully vivid things that would make him go pasty white.

  15. I never heard of this story but it was interesting.


  16. Another progressive tale. I love the idea of a happily-ever-after divorce.

    This one sounds really interesting.

  17. It's not often that a dance-off is mentioned in an epic but it certainly sounds cool. :)