the Narts saga’s and Indo-European

High up in the Caucasian mountains there is a small autonomous republic within the Russian state called Ossetia-Alania. The inhabitants of this country historically descended from the Alans who played a significant role in the age of migrations. The word ‘path’ in Germanic is from Iranian origin and probably came into the Germanic languages by way of the Alan peoples who moved through Europe in the fifth century. The modern descendant of Alanic is Ossetian, the language of Allano-Ossetia, spoken by 600.000 Ossetians, linguistically related to the Iranian language family and very archaic in it’s case system (9 cases). Apart from being linguistically interesting, the Ossetian peoples introduced a rich Indo-European mythology into the northern Caucasus, which was rediscovered in modern science by Georges Dumézil. Georges Dumézil studied a lot  of Caucasian languages and their myths and published an invaluable translation of the Ossetic corpus of Nart-sagas. In Ossetian mythology a race of halfgods roams the mountains, a race which is called the ‘narts’ (word is IE for ‘man’ and cognate with greek anèr) and who lived heroic lives full of ‘kleos aphthiton’ (unsterbliche Rum). As a linguist, a philologist and as a student who is preparing his exam on the Ossetian language I would like to present you with one of these saga’s. In this particular tale the birth of two important Nart heroes is related. I wil translitterate the Cyrillic alphabet (in which Ossetian is transscribed) in personal names in my own manner, which means that I will translitterate the /x/ with <x>, the /æ/ with <ae>, the glottalized consonants with <C’> and the labialized with <Cw>.

   Нартæн уæд сæ хистæр Уæрхæг уыдис.

   Уæрхæгæн  райгуырдис дыууæ лæппуйы, фаззæттæ. Иу дзы райгуырдис
фыццаг   кæркуасæны,   иннæ  та  райгуырдис   дыккаг   кæркуасæны,
Бонвæрноны скастмæ.
   Рухс  хуры  тынтæ  ныккастис  Уæрхæгмæ,  базыдта,  хъæбул  куыд
адджын  у,  уый.  Уæрхæг йæ лæппуты райгуырды боны  фарнæн  скодта
нæртон куывд сырды фыдæй. Æрхуыдта уæларвæй Куырдалæгоны, фурдæй —
Донбеттыры, Нартæй та — Борæйы æмæ æндæрты.
   Уæрхæджы   уарзон   лæппутыл   буц   нæмттæ   сæвæрдта   уæларв
Куырдалæгон:  хистæрыл  — Ахсар, кæстæрыл — Ахсæртæг.  Номæвæрæджы
лæварæн  Куырдалæгон радта Уæрхæгæн удæвдз йæ  куырдадзы  фæтыгæй,
болат  æндонæй  арæзт. Удæвдзы Нарт сæвæрдтой сæ фынгыл,  æмæ  сын
кодта диссаджы зарæг уадындз хъæлæсæй:
   «Айс æй, аназ æй Хуыцауы хæларæй,
   Айс æй, аназ æй — ронджы нуазæн!»
   Уæрхæджы  хуынд  уазджытæ иннабонæй-иннабонмæ  минас  фæкодтой,
стæй  уæд фæфардæг сты: Куырдалæгон абадтис цæхæр уады хъисыл  æмæ
ныппæррæст  ласта уæларвмæ, хæдтæхгæ Пакъуындзæйау,  Донбеттыр  та
фестадис  æргъæуон  цæхæр кæсаг æмæ ныцъыллинг  кодта  стыр  фурды
бынмæ; Нарт дæр фæфардæг сты хæтæны, стæронтау.
   Уайтагъд  айрæзтысты Ахсар æмæ Ахсæртæг: бон  рæзтысты  уылынг,
æхсæв  та  — уыдисн. Фæлæ тынг фыдуаг рацыдысты. Сарæзтой  сæхицæн
фæттæ æмæ ‘рдынтæ æмæ арвыл маргъ тæхын нæ уагътой — æрмийæ-иу  æй
   Айхъуысти  дунейыл, зæгъгæ, Нарты Уæрхæгæн рахъомыл и  хъæбатыр
фырттæ, фаззæттæ — Ахсар æмæ Ахсæртæг. Ахсар æмæ Ахсæртæг та цæмæн
хуындысты?  Уымæн,  æмæ  Ахсар,  хистæр  æфсымæр,  уыд  Ахсарджын,
Ахсæртæг та, кæстæр æфсымæр— Ахсарæй Ахсарджындæр.

Waerxaeg and his sons


The birth of Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg


Waerxaeg was in that time the oldest of the Narts. To him two boys were born, twins. One of them was born on the first cockcrow, the other on the second, at the sunrise of Venus.   The rays of the burning sun looked down on Waerxaeg and he learned this; how sweet the child is. Waerxaeg made a feast because of the glory of the day of the birth of his sons from the meat of wild animals. He invited from the heaven Kwyrdalaegon, from the sea Donbettyr, the sea god – and from the Narts Borae and others. Upon the beloved boys of Waerxaeg the heavenly Kwyrdalaegon placed caring names; upon the older one, Aexshaer, upon the younger one, Aexshaertaeg. Kwyrdalaegon gave to Waerxaeg as the gift of the godfather a magic flute from the metal of his smithy, prepared from the Bolat steel. The Narts put the magic flute upon their table and to them the flute made a song of miracle with a voice:

"Take it, drink it, to the glory of God.

Take it, drink it, the goblet filled with Rong!"

The invited guests of Waerxaeg celebrated for a weak, then after that time they went off; Kwyrdalaegon sat on a string of a fiery storm and took flight in a flash, flying as the mythical bird Pak’wyndzae, while Donbettyr turned into a sparking fish made out of mother-of-pearl and made a plunge to the bottom of the great sea; Also the Narts went off in a campaign, as cattle-thiefs.

Immediately Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg grew; during daytime they grew the span of a forefinger to the thumb, but at night the span of a whole palm. But they came out very spoiled. They made arrows and bows and a bird flying in the sky they did not leave alone – repeatedly they shot them down from the arm. 

The people heard in the world, the saying, that indeed brave sons were grown up to Waerxaeg, twins -Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg. But to what call the people them Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg? Because Aexshaer, the oldest brother, was heroic, but Aexshaertaeg, the younger brother, was more heroic than Aexshaer.


Some notes:

  • the name Donbettyr was a folk-etymological (Don means river) epithet for the Ossetian seagod based on Saint Peter (Saint Peter was venerated by the Eastern Orthodox christians in Caucasian Georgia).
  • apparently a feast with the meat of wild animals was something special.
  • Rong was an alcoholic beverage.
  • mother-of-pearl was a a much sought-after material of decoration in the lands of the Ossetians.
  • being called a cattle-thief was something honourable 

4 responses to “the Narts saga’s and Indo-European

  1. P.A. Kerkhof

    Dear mr. Colarusso,

    thank you for your comment and thank you for pointing out the typos. It has been three years since I posted these horridly litteral translations, so I actually kind of forget about these posts. At the time (the beginning of my MA in Comparative IE linguistics at Leiden University) they seemed like a fun way to share my enthousiasm for the Ossetian language and the IE heritage they represent. They desperately need some smoothing, as to turn them into translations that actually represent “readable” english. Now I have finished my MA I might actually find the time to do that.

    sincere regards,

    Peter Alexander

  2. John Colarusso

    Good translation! I might add that officially it is Ossetia – Alania. There is a typo in the Greek. It should read kleos aphthito:n, ‘undying fame.’ The names of the twins are built on the same root as that used in Indo-Aryan “ksatriya,” the ruling caste. Its original sense seems to have been ‘brave ones’.

  3. Pretty impressive article. I just stumbled upon your site and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your opinions. Any way I’ll be coming back and I hope you post again soon.

  4. puppet cartoone bazed on nartian legends.Song of Asamaz-ossetian Ortheus

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