Category Archives: Caucasus

On the Northern slopes of the Caucasus

Language contact between speakers of
pre-Ossetic and the Nakh languages
 

The Alanic tribes that were to become the present-day Ossetes have lived
side by side with Nakh tribes for over a millennium. Various Soviet scholars
have argued that the Proto-Ossetic ethnic elements entered the region of Alpine
Central Ossetia only in the eigth century, presumably partly displacing partly
assimmilating the local Nakh population. However, we may assume that language
contact between Pre-Ossetic speakers and Proto-Nakh speakers had been ongoing
for many centuries before that. The similarities between the material and
spiritual culture of the Ossetes and the cultures of the Chechen-Ingush point
to long term cohabition and cooperation, an assumption which is corroborated by
linguistic data. Abaev, a welknown authority in Iranology and the linguistic
history of Ossetic, lists 216 Ingush or Chechen lexical items that may have
been borrowed into Ossetic. Fridrik Thordarson pointed out that not all his comparisons
are convincing and singles out eight items for closer examination in his
publication “Ossetic Grammatical Studies”. I want to present you these items
and discuss what they tell us about Alano-Nakh cultural and linguistic
contacts.

                The Nakh peoples,
represented nowadays by the nations of the Ingush, the Chechens and the Bats,
have remained a cultural and political confederation far into historical times.
It is assumed that the Ingush left the Nakh collective only in the early eighteenth
century, a process which lasted presumably around a century. What were untill
then mere dialectal differences between Ingush and Chechen only then developed
into different languages, although there is still ample mutual intelligibility
between speakers of Chechen and Ingush. The Proto-Nakh forms that I reconstruct
are simple reversions of the umlaut-processes that seperate Chechen from
Ingush. What concerns the consonantism of the protolanguage I have assumed that
when the Chechen and Ingush consonatism agree with eachother and there is no
Batsbi comparison, the common Nakh form from which the Pre-Ossetes loaned the
word must have been closer to Chechen-Ingush than to Batsbi, although Batsbi is
in many respects the more archaic of the three languages. 

Ossetic

Nakh

Nakh languages

translation

бӕх

bӕх

< Nakh *baqhi

Ing. baqh, Chech. beqhi

horse

къух

k’ux

< Nakh *kulg

Ing. kulg, Chech. kujg

hand

дзых

ʒyx

< Nakh *ʒok

Chech.Ing. zʔok, Bats. ʒok

mouth

лӕг

lӕg

< Nakh
*lag

Chech.Ing. laj Bats. lag

man

фос

fos

< Nakh *fons

Ing. fos Chech. hons

cattle, property

къах

k’ax

< Nakh *kog

Chech.Ing. kog

foot

 

 

 

 Most loans, according to Thordarson, pertain to the semantic fields of
economy and material culture, agriculture, cattle breeding, implements and
plant names. The fact that some Proto-Iranian words for body parts were
substituted for Nakh words testify to the the intensity of linguistic and
cultural contacts between the two peoples. The Ossetic words
арм, фад and ком meaning “arm”
“foot” and “mouth” respectively have been replaced by Nakh words as listed
above.  It is not surprising that the
Nakh word for cattle was loaned into Ossetic, for far into the nineteenth
century cattle raids between neighbouring villages and tribes were a highly
ritualized way of feuding. That a Nakh word for horse was loaned into Ossetic
is quite ironic since the Alans were highly praised for their cavalry and
horsemanship, even going so far as that several Germanic tribes loaned the
Alanic word for horse as their regular word for that animal (ModE horse, Dutch
ros < *ṷršna– “horse”). We may assume that historically it
must have been a specialised term associated with horse rearing, a
specialization presumably predating the fifteenth century Yassic wordlist
glossing ecus (equus) as bah.  

Linguistically, it is
interesting to see that Nakh *lag, meaning “man, human being” was loaned
in a stage that Pre-Ossetic /a/ was not yet fronted to /
ӕ/, a development that had taken place quite recently as
suggested by the name of an 11th century Alanic mercenary with the
name Ἀραβάτης (which must go back to Pre-Ossetic *arvad < *brātā
“relative, brother”) and even by the glosses in the Yassic wordlist, e.g. dabanhworz
(Dig. d
ӕ bon xwarʒ “to you a good day”
) and the above mentioned bah for Latin equus. It stands to
reason that the word was loaned before the fifteenth century. I therefore
believe that Cheung is wrong in his book “Studies in the historical development
of the Ossetic vocalism” in reconstructing */
ӕ/ for Proto-Ossetic, since the breakup of the Ossetic dialectal unity will
not have taken place before the fifteenth century and at that time the fronting
had not yet taken place.

Nakh                    

Alanic

Ossetic

translation

Ing. ford Chech. hord

< Alan. *furd

фурд

furd

sea, large river

Ing. äla Chech. ēla Bats. ālě

< Alan. *allan

аллон

allon

prince

 

 

 

The other way around the Ossetic word фурд shows us that some borrowing
must have taken place really early, since the present day Ossetic word for
“sea”, денджыз, is a loan from Turkic. The word фурд now only occurs in the
meaning “large river” and since the Nakh word does not have this meaning the
word must have been borrowed before the Ossetes specialized the semantics.
Intriguing is the Nakh vocalism of the Ossetic loanword, which itself must go
back to Proto-Iranian *pa(u)ruta-. Cheung assumes that Proto-Iranian
*/au/ first became Proto-Ossetic /u/ and subsequently got lowered to Digor /o/
but the Nakh word argues for the opposite development in which the Digor
vocalism was original and the /u/ of Iron secondary, which is also suggested by
Thordarson. The second word is iconic for the prestige that the the
Proto-Ossetic conquerors of former Nakh territory held, for Ossetic
аллон < *
Proto-Iranian āryanā provided the Nakh word for prince and chieftain. In
the cultural encounters between Proto-Ossetes and Nakh tribes the former were
obviously the dominant part.

Bibliography

Fridrik Thordarson, Ossetic Grammatical Studies, Veröffentlichungen
zur Iranistik, herausgegeben von Bert G. Fragner und Velizar Sadovski 48
(Vienna 2009).

Agustí Alemany, Sources on the Alans; a Critical compilation,
Handbook of Oriental studies, section 8, volume 5 (Leiden 2000).

Johnny Cheung, Studies in the Historical Development of the Ossetic
Vocalism
, Beiträge zur Iranistik 21 (Wiesbaden 2002).

Alanic or Pre-Ossetic glosses in a Byzantine manuscript

Sysse Engberg, while studying Byzantine liturgical manuscripts in the library of the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg in 1992, discovered about thirty glosses, written in an obscure language, in the margins of a thirteenth-century Byzantine manuscript preserving an Old Testament Lectionary (προφητολογίον )[1]. Professor Alexander Lubotsky from Leiden University was the first to identify the language in which the majority of the glosses were written as a prestage of Ossetic (henceforth I shall refer to the language as Alanic), a possibility that was first erroneously dismissed by Russian scholars. In 2003 Engberg and Lubotsky published an article[2] with some preliminary findings of their initial research on the glosses. I’d like to present some glosses Lubotsky identified and explained and give my own explanations for two additional glosses that were not yet examined in a scholarly publication. 

The manuscript was copied in 1275 by a deacon called Ioannes for a priest named Chrysos somewhere within the Byzantine influence sphere. On paleographical grounds it is argued that the glossator who introduced the glosses to the manuscript must have lived in the fourteenth or fifteenth century, presumably he was the owner of the manuscript back then. Historically the activity of a Alanic glossator in presumably late medieval Russia is quite significant because the Alans largely disappear from Russian chronicles in the late 13th century [3] (last time mentioned in 1277-1278) only to come in contact with Russia again in early modern times. The glossator was presumably a non-Greek who wrote glosses in his own language in the margins of the manuscript to easily identify the readings for specific liturgical feasts. The manuscript is written in Byzantine Greek and also the Alanic words are transcribed in Greek alphabet. The correspondences between the Greek transcription and the Alanic language which the Glossator intended to render are not unambiguous as can be illustrated as follows.

Greek <α> = Alanic /a/

Greek <ι> = Alanic /æ/

Greek <ε> = Alanic /æj/
(raising of /æ/ in front of following glide?)

Greek <η> = Alanic /æ/ (lengthening of /æ/ in front of final
resonant?)

Greek <η> = Alanic /i/?

Greek <ου> = Alanic /u/

Greek <υ> = Alanic /w/

Greek <π> = Alanic /#b-/

Greek <κ> = Alanic /-g#/

For those of you who are not acquainted with the background of the Alanic language and its successor, modern Ossetic, I will give a short overview. Most IE linguists will be aware of the fact that the modern Ossetic language as spoken in the North Ossetic Republic, an autonomous region in the Russian state, by some 500,000 speakers, continues an array of Iranian dialects spoken on the South Russian steppes for most of antiquity and the early Middle Ages. The speakers of these dialects are to be equated with the Alans of classical and early medieval sources, a confederation of Iranian tribes that played a large part in the Age of Migrations and the defeat of the Huns on the Catalaunian fields in 451. The area where Alanic was spoken was in historical times much larger than where nowadays Ossetic is spoken. Toponymic and hydronymic evidence indicates that the Alanic speaking area extended far westwards. The area where nowadays Ossetic is spoken was probably historically a Nakh speaking area. Quite recent (17th, 18th century) historical migrations moved the Ossetians to their present geographical location.

The following three Alanic glosses have been identified by professor Alexander Lubotsky. In their article Lubotksy draws attention to the fact that some soundlaws which have taken place in modern Ossetic[4] have not yet been active in this stage of the language. The most evident soundlaw is the following:

PIr. /a/ > Ossetic /o/ before –NC#, e.g.

Iron fonɀ < PIr *panča “five” < PIE *penkwe

Iron ɀærond < PIr *ɀaranta “old” < PIE *geronto

This soundchange has been dated to the thirteenth century by Abaev but Lubotsky rightly argues that the attestations in the προφητολογίον together with a fifteenth century Yassic wordlist containing the gloss daban hworz (Digor dæ bonxwarɀ “to you a good day”) prove that the change atleast postdates the Middle Ages.

τῇἁγίᾳμ(ε)γ(ά)λ() β´ πρωΐ (the great and holy Monday)

ἄυτεσήρ στούρ=Alanic *avdisær stur > Digor avdisær (æ)stur “great Monday”

The word Monday is composed of the elements *avd– “seven” (Iron avd– < PIr *hafta < PIE *septm “seven”) and *sær “head” (Iron sær < PIr *sāra- “head” < PIE *krh2os “horn”) literally meaning “the head of seven”. The Alanic word for “great”, stur, also has a solid IE etymology (Iron styr < PIr *stūra– “thick, large”) and is cognate to OI stórr “great”.

Μη(νὶ) σεπτ(εμβρίω) ηἐιςτήνγέννησιντῆςὑπ(εραγίας) θ(εοτό)κου

(September 8, the birth(day) of the most holy mother of God)

ἀστέμακ παν =Alanic *æstæjmag ban > Iron æstæjmag bon “the eighth day”

The interpretation of this gloss is also quite solid. The Alanic word *æstæjmag containes the element *ast– “eight” (Iron ast < PIr *ašta “eight” < PIE *okto) followed by the suffix –æm to make it an ordinal and the suffix –æg to make it an adjective. The Alanic word *ban (Iron bon < * PIr *banú– “light, beam”), meaning “day”, derives from a well established PIE root *bheh2– meaning to “shine”.

Μη(νὶ) νοεμβρίω ιγ’ τοῦ χρ(υσοςτόμου ) (november 13th, Eve of (st.) Chrysostomos)

ζιρήν κὰμ πάν=Alanic *zæræn(æ) kam ban > Iron zærīn kom bon “day of Golden Mouth”

The name of the specific saint that is to revered on november 13th is etymologically translated, since Chrysostomos means “Golden Mouth”. Also in Old Church Slavonic we find the same tendency to translate the name since the saint is called zlatoustъ there, a compositum of zlatъ “gold” and ousta “mouth”.The Alanic “translation” consists of *zæræn (Iron zærīn < PIr *ɀaranya “made of gold” < PIE *gholh3onyo-) and *kam (Iron kom < PIr *kahma- “ palate”?). This last word does not have a secure etymology but comparative data shows that the word must be reconstructed for Proto-Iranian, as evidenced by Persian kām, Pastho kūmai¸ Khotanese kamma, Sogdian k´m. Abaev suggested a pairing with German gaumen and Old English gōma (cf. ModE gums) but since these words must be derivatives to a root *g’heH2u– “to yawn” the connection with the Iranian word is lost. A pairing with the root PIE *k’es– “to cut” might be considered if one takes into account the semantic proximity of words meaning “cut” “gorge” “ravine” ‘ditch” and “mouth” (cf. ModE gorge < Old French gorges “throat, mouth” and German verkehlung the other way around) although a depalatalization of the initial velar consonant has to be assumed.

I took the following glosses from the request for assistence that Engberg published on the web (linguist-list[5]). Unfortunately the words are translitterated from Greek script and not the full Greek sentence that is pertinent to the glossing is given. I have retranslitterated the two words back to what I think was the Greek gloss when one takes the correspondances of Engberg’s translitteration compared to her 2003 article into account. Lubotsky and Engberg are presently working on a publication discussing all the Alanic glosses but since this publication is still forthcoming we have to wait for their expert opinions. I hope that my two identifications will agree with what they have to say on the subject.

(The exaltation of the holy cross) Tzu var urnag : τζουβαρ

Alanic *ɀuar > Iron ɀuar “cross, sanctuary”

The Alanic word for “cross”,*ɀuar,  is easily identified and is probably an early loan from Georgian (Iron ɀwar < Georgian ǰvari “cross” ) The date of borrowing must evidently predate the fourteenth century.

(the day before midpentecoste) 

pi pinlachu tzau pan : χουτζαυ Alanic *xucaw > Digor xucaw “god”

The spaces between the words are not completely consistent with an
isolation of an Alanic word *xucaw, but a quick look on the photograps of
the manuscript that are included in Engberg’s and Lubotsky’s 2003 article shows
that the spacing between the words is quite dependent on the amount of space
left in the margin. Presumed χουτζαυ in my opinion must be identified as
corresponding to Iron
xwycaw, which is also a loan from Georgian. (Iron < * xwycaw Georgian xuci, xucesi “old man, priest”). It is very conceivable
that an Alanic sentence rendering “pentecoste” includes the word for  “god”.


[1] A προφητολογίον is a liturgical book containing readings from the Old Testament to be read during vespers before the Great Liturgical Feasts.

[2] Engberg, S. & Lubotsky, A.M. Alanic marginal notes in a Byzantine manuscript: a preliminary reportNartamongae: the Journal of Alano-Ossetic Studies, II (1-2) (2003), pp. 41-46.

[3] probably due to the Mongol invasions led by Jäbä and Sübä’ätäi in 1222
and the subsequent deportation of part of the Alanic population.

[4] When speaking of modern Ossetic I mean the standard Ossetic language which is based on the Iron dialect. The Digor dialect form which will sometimes be quoted in this article usually is more conservative.

Relations between Indo-European and the Caucasus

Myth
only or only Myth?

 

Last semester, as part of my MA in
Comparative Indo-European Linguistics at Leiden University, I took a class with
prof.dr. Alexander Lubotksy in Ossetic, a language spoken in the northern
Caucasus. This was my first introduction to the languages of the Caucausus,
although Ossetic is technically speaking not a Caucasian language, but rather a
Caucasized Indo-European language from the Northeast-Iranian branch. Having
spent a semester reading Nart sagas and marvelling at the rich case system and
consonantism of Ossetic, in the summer the opportunity came along to enroll in
a summerschool course by the name of “introduction to the Nakh-Daghestanian
languages”, taught by Diana Forker from the Max Planck institute in Leipzig. In
this course we were introduced to grammatical features of especially the
Daghestanian languages, e.g. Avar, Tzesh and the language that ms. Forker was
working on, Hinuq.

These two courses enriched me with a
rather large fascination for the Caucasus and it’s languages. The linguistic
features of the area which the Arabs call “the mountain of languages” look both
familiar and exotic to the Indo-Europeanist and therefore it constitutes an
interesting means of typological comparison for phonological developments
postulated for Proto-Indo-European. Ivanov and Gamkrelidze turned to the Nakh
consonantism to strengthen their glottalic theory of the Proto-Indo-European
stops and their purported development in the daughter languages. Even in the
strict linguistic realm connections between the Caucasus and Indo-European seem
plausible if one considers the obvious relation between PIE *snusos and
the Proto-Nakh *nuso, both of them meaning “daughter-in-law”!

In my search for more information on
the Narts and the Caucasian languages I quickly came across a book written by
John Colarusso, called “Nart sagas from the Caucasus” which is an amazing collection
of Nart sagas from the Northwest-Caucasian language communities, e.g. Ubykh,
Abchaz, Abaza, etc. It didnt take me long to figure out that Colarusso also
wrote some lengthy and interesting articles in the Journal for Indo-European
studies on comparative mythology and the phyletic relations between
Indo-European and the Northwest-Caucasus. The articles testify to his extensive
erudition and knowledge of the Indo-European languages, but I was surprised how
easily he accepted controversial views on root-derivation postulated by
Watkins. Thereupon I found a book called “current trends between Caucasian,
Eastern-Indo-European and Asian linguistics” which contained an article that
really got me suscipicous to his linguistic approach of specific problems in
Indo-European studies.

In this article called “More Pontic”
Colarusso wants to postulate a prehistoric phyletic relationship between
Proto-Indo-European and Northwest-Caucasian, which, according to him, can
enlighten some longstanding problems in Indo-European studies. His
argumentation on PIE reoconstructions and his interpretation of the glottalic
element of the PIE consonantism leans heavily on suggestions made by Eric Hamp
and it is especially the interpretation of the PIE larygeals that lead Colarusso
to link the reconstructed PIE forms to his reconstruction of
Proto-Northwest-Caucasian. In this essay I want to take the first etymon, *h1eḱṷos,
 that is elaborated on in Colarusso’s article and point at some
problems and leaps of argumentation which are present in it.

Colarusso starts with the word for
“horse” in PIE, commonly reconstructed as *h1eḱṷos, a
word widely attested in the Indo-European languages. This word has been
plausibly connected to the word for “swift” attested in Greek as ὠκύς by Jasanoff,
Beekes and Kloekhorst, in doing so attributing the onomagenisis of the word to
cryptonymic animal names, in this case calling a horse “the swift one”. To get
back to the word for “horse”, the Greek reflex
ππος,
also attested in Mycenaean in a primitive form iqqo <i-qo>,
presents us with some problems. How did Greek get the i-vocalism? How
did Greek get the aspiration? A suggestion postulated by Hamp and accepted by
Colarusso would be that a laryngeal cluster caused the aspiration and a
schwa-secundum developing into a compromised e-grade between the
laryngeal cluster and the palatal caused the i-vocalism. The
laryngeal cluster would be constituted by *h3 followed by *h1,
according to the communis opinio representing ʕ
and ʔ. As
support for the assumption that the laryngeal cluster contained a pharyngeal
element (PIE *ʕ
or *H3)
he points at a marginal Northeast Caucasian language, Udi, in which the word
for “horse” is /eʕkw/ with a plural / eʕk-ur/.
On the basis of the link with “horse” Colarusso reconstructs the word for
“swift” also with these laryngeals:

PIE *h3eh1us >
Greek ὠκύς.

Support for this reconstruction he
finds in the Latin adjectival element acu-, attested in acupedius.
Latin acu must be related to Greek ὠκύς and the way to make that work,
according to Colarusso, is to assume a vocalization of a laryngeal cluster.

PIE *h3h1u– >
Latin acu

He therefore, instead of the common
reconstruction *h1eḱṷos,  postulates the
following development:

PIE (common reconstruction) *h3hṷos >
Late PIE *h3h
ṷos >
Greek
ππος
[PIE *HH– > Greek h]

or

PIE (glottalic reconstruction) *ʕʔəṷos >
Late PIE *ʕ
ʔéṷos >
Greek
ππος

The postulated compromised e-grade
between the laryngeal cluster and the consonant would be coloured by the
following palatal with i-vocalism (emphatic palatalization). It is
unclear how Colarusso imagines the development of the other cognates. He either
assumes that the laryngeal cluster was simplified in the proto-stages of the
other cognates (as he does elsewhere in the same article) or that the e-grade
which arose was only compromised by the laryngeal cluster in Greek.

PIE * h3h1eṷos >
Protogermanic *ehwaz and the other cognates.

This explanation brings its own
problems along but let’s leave those for later and follow Colarusso’s argument
to the next level. Colarusso believes he found an exact correlate within
Northwest Caucasian build on the root √*-xə– “to run” followed by an intensifier
suffix *-ʔá-, preceded by a noun-class marker *w-, ergo */ṷ-xə-ʔá/.
This protoform is attested in this exact ordering in Abaza where it yielded /ʕ
ə-ra/ “to pursue”. The reconstruction
for proto-Northwest Caucasian he projects back to Pontic, which furtheron
developed into the PIE laryngeal cluster to which a PIE suffix was added.

Pontic
*ṷxəʔá > *x
əʔá > PIE *ʕʔó > *ʕʔ or PIE *h3h1
+ –
us.

Let’s
start with the things that Colarusso probably got right. On the basis of the
link with the PIE word for “swift” Colarusso infers that the thematization to a
PIE o-stem must be secondary. This is made plausible by Kloekhorst (2008) who
showed that the Anatolian forms attested in Hieroglyphic Luwian and Lycian
(Hittite used foreign ideograms for the word for “horse”) point to an original
u-stem, which leads him to reconstruct the Hittite word as *ekku based
on Hieroglyphic Luwian /à-sú/. But the reason why most linguists reconstruct h1
as the initial laryngeal is partly because the Anatolian forms don’t show a
laryngeal, h2 and h3 on the other hand would have been
preserved in Anatolian. The reconstruction of *h1eḱu(o)s for
“horse” should therefore be preferred along with the reconstruction *h1o-h1ḱus
for “swift (cfr. Beekes 2010).Furthermore, there is an inherent teleological
tendency in Colarusso’s argumentation. He needs *h3 to be part of
the laryngeal cluster in order to link it to his Proto-Northwest-Caucasian
reconstruction, but his only proof for *h3 consists of a reference
to a marginal Caucasian language attested in modern times.

This
brings us to another point; the reconstruction of 
Proto-Northwest-Caucasian relies on attestations in modern times, forcing us to
project hypothetical reconstructions back four or five millennia.
Proto-Northwest-Caucasian is therefore a theoretical construct of
reconstruction which leaves much more room for error than our reconstructions
of PIE, whose earliest attestations are only a millennium and a half removed
from the proto-language. Is a reconstruction of Proto-Northwest-Caucasian
eligible for linkage with reconstructed PIE forms? Personally, I’d like to stay
sceptical. Also, whilst the Indo-European languages have a morphemic structure
which contains a root and derivational suffixes with a specific semantic value,
the Northwest-Caucasian languages have a way larger array of markers and
suffixes capable of filling the numerous morphological slots around the root.
Therefore it is easier to postulate a formation which fits the purported
transition to PIE. Finally, it is kind of suspicious that Colarusso’s 
reconstruction of Proto-Pontic is practically the same as his reconstruction of
Proto-Northwest-Caucasian. Wouldn’t we want a larger time depth between the
Proto-Northwest-Caucasian stage and the Proto-Pontic stage? Further
complications are brought into play when Colarusso wants to link the words for
“wheel” PIE *kwékwlos to a
Proto-Northwest-Caucasian root that also contains pharyngeals. However, this
time the pharyngeals don’t develop into PIE laryngeals but into PIE
labiovelars. To explain this he must asume that the word made it’s way into PIE
at the PIE stage of the language and not at the hypothetical Proto-Pontic
stage.

The
freedom in the formation of Proto-Pontic forms and the subsequent linkage to
the PIE forms make for a quite teleological argument in which the semantic
correspondance between Proto-Northwest-Caucasian is not always evident,
sometimes even needing four or five semantic shifts to make the meaning of the Caucasian
word fit the meaning of the supposed PIE cognate. Although long and complex
semantic shifts are ofcourse possible they greatly impair the cogency of the
supposed relationship between the Caucasian form on the one hand and the PIE
form on the other. For the shifts suggested by Colarusso we move too far into
the realm of the hypothetical. Following Colarusso’s  analysis of the
etymon for “horse” a whole bunch of other words with perfect Indo-European
etymologies, some of them not even starting with laryngeals (which brings
Colarusso to postulate the presence of laryngeals which from a Indo-European
perspective do not have to be reconstructed) are treated in the same way to
strengthen his suggested link between the Caucasus and the Indo-European speaking
realms in the phyletic Proto-Pontic stage. Colarusso asserts that his
suggestions aren’t ad hoc-explanations and that the different outcomes of the
same Northwest-Caucasian phonemes in PIE are only significant if we persist in
an Indo-European perspective. This however creates too much space for
accidental correspondances and teleological inferments; the space which he uses
to push his argument, however creative his solutions for specific IE problems
may be (e.g. the i-vocalism and pre-aspiration in Greek of
ππος and the explanation of the *ith-prefix
before the Greek word for fish ἰχθῦς trough laryngeal clusters, the aspiration
in the latter having disappeared by an untransparant instance of Grassman’s
law).

This
concludes my critique on Colarusso’s article on Pontic and brings us to the
mythological links between the Caucasus and the Indo-European realm he defends
in other articles. There as well he shows great ingenuity and erudition in
constructing his arguments, but the rather far-flung assumptions and the ad-hoc
nature of some of his explanations leave his plea for the larger part in the
hypothetical realm. Therefore the link between the Indo-European mythologies
and the Caucasian mythologies remains attractive but lacks cogent arguments.
For the sake of the explanation power of the Caucasian link in the cultural
realm I still want to keep it as a plausible hypothesis, but the Proto-Pontic
connection is to my opinion a bridge too far. Therefore I believe, awaiting
cogent data, we’d better regard the relation between the Caucasus and
Indo-European as mainly pertaining to the exchange of mythologies. The
linguistic relationship between the Caucasus and Indo-European remains too
vague for a compelling argument.

J. Colarusso, More Pontic, Further
Etymologies between Indo-European and Northwest Caucasian, in Dee Ann Holisky
and Kevin Tuite (eds.) A Festschrift for Howard Aronson, (Leiden 2001)

J. Colarusso, Myths from the
Caucasus: the Nart Sagas of the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and Ubykhs
,
Mythos (Princeton 2002). R.S.P. Beekes, An etymological dictionary of Greek, 2
vols (Leiden 2010).

M. de Vaan, An etymological dictionary
of Latin (Leiden 2008).

A. Kloekhorst, Etymological dictionary
of the Hittite inherited lexicon (Leiden 2008).

H. Frisk, Griechisches Etymologisches
Wörterbuch, 2 vols (Heidelberg 1960-1970).

Beekes, Etymological dictionary
of Greek, 2 vols (Leiden 2009).

kinship terms in Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Nakh

Darmstadt 1970).

Robert S.P. Beekes, Comparative Indo-European
Linguistics; an introduction
(Leiden 1995).

Johanna Nichols, “Chechen Phonology”, in: Phonologies of Asia and Africa, ed. Alan S Kaye (1996) 941-973.

Johanna Nichols
et Arbi Vagapov, Chechen English and English Chechen dictionary (2004).

Werner Beerle,
“A contribution to the Morphology of the simple verb in Chechen,” in: Studia
Caucasologia
I, ed. Fridrik Thordarson (Oslo 1998) 1-37.

Para Partchieva et Françoise Guérin, Parlons Tchétchène
– Ingouche
(1997).
  

 

 

Ossetic and Indo-European fratricide

Mallory and
Watkinsin in their efforts to reconstruct parts of the cosmology of
Indo-European cultures, both working from the foundations of that discipline
that were laid by Georges Dum
ézil, and the myths that accompanied them
assumed a bifurcality and duality within the three functions of Indo-European
society. The third function, being the function associated with the dioscuroi
or the heavenly twins, portrays just the kind of duality that Dumézil also wanted
to see in the other classes. The story of the heavenly twins is in some
Indo-European traditions accompanied with a family drama which may be an
archaic traditional core. Fratricide as the bane of peaceful kinship plays a
large role in the universal motives of human storytelling. Abel and Kain are herein
the Semitic counterparts to the Indo-European Romulus and Remus, the latter one
deriving from PIE *yemos (Sanskrit yama, Old Icelandic Ymir).
A nice reflex of the Indo-European fratricide by heavenly twins motive one
finds in the Ossetic Nart-sagas. Here my translation of the first part of the
story about the death of Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg (the story goes on from the
place I left it, a couple of blog-entries ago).

 

 

 

Æхсар
æмæ Æхсæртæджы мæлæт

 

Дзерассæ Æхсары йæхи лæг фенхъæлдта, уымæн æмæ
Æхсар æмæ Æхсæртæг æмхуызæттæ уыдысты, асæй дæр æмæ уындæй дæр: бурхил,
дæргъæлвæс, фæтæнриу æмæ цæхæрцæст гуырдтæ, æмæ сæ ничи зыдта, чи сæ кæцы у,
уый, Хуыцау æмæ зæххы йеддæмæ. Мусонджы дуарæй куы бакаст æмæ Дзерассæйы куы
федта Æхсар, уæд загъта йæхинымæры: «Хуыцауты Хуыцау, нæ амонд нын фæндагыл дæр
ма фесаф æмæ бынаты дæр! Уый та кæм æнхъæл уыдтæн, æмæ Æхсæртæг æд бинойнаг
æрцæудзæн!»

Дзерассæ йæм скаст æмæ йæ фæрсы:

— Куыд æрæгмæ цыдтæ?

Æхсар æм ницы сдзырдта.

— Уаих фæуай! Нал мæ зоныс?— афæдзæй-афæдзмæ
доны бын иумæ куы уыдыстæм,— зæгъгæ, йæм бадзырдта Дзерассæ.

Уæд бæлвырд базыдта Æхсар, ай йе ’фсымæр
Æхсæртæджы ус кæй у, уый.

Ус лæппумæ йæхи ласын байдыдта, фæлæ йæм Æхсар
йе ’ргом нæ лæвæрдта. Хуыссын афон куы æрцыд, уæд Æхсар йæ нымæт Дзерассæйы бын
бакодта, Æхсæртæджы нымæт та сæ уæлæ ныккодта æмæ, цæмæй кæрæдзимæ хæстæг нæ
уыдаиккой, уый тыххæй йæ кард фелвæста æмæ йæ сæ дыууæйы астæу нывæрдта. Ус
фæмæсты ис, фестади æмæ бустæгонджи хицæнæй сбадтис.

Уæд уалынмæ Æхсæртæг æрхæццæ ис æмæ саджы мард
æрхаста æд къала бæлас. Æмæ Дзерассæйы æнкъардæй, бустæгондæй бадгæ куы федта,
уæд йæ зæрдæ фехсайдта,— афтæ ’нхъæл уыдис, æмæ йын Æхсар батых кодта. Æмæ
хъама фелвæста æмæ йе ’фсымæр Æхсары ныццавта æмæ йæ амардта. Уæд ын ус
радзырдта, куыд уыдис, уый. Æхсæртæг фæсмоны бацыдис, ме ’фсымæры æнаххосæй
амардтон, зæгъгæ, æмæ йæ хъама фелвæста, йæ фистон ын Æхсары риумæ сарæзта, йæ
фындз та йæхи зæрдæмæ æмæ йыл йæхи ’руагъта, æмæ хъама йæ зæрдæйы сфардæг ис,
æмæ фæмард ис. Дзерассæ байдыдта дзыназын, кæуын, ниуын, додой кæнын; хоста йæ
сæр, йæ уæрджытæ — ай мыл цæй æбуалгъ ми æрцыд, мæн тыххæй куы фæмард сты дыууæ
’фсымæры, зæгъгæ. Йæ дзыккутæ тоны, йæ рустæ рæдувы, хъарæг кæны, æмæ йæ хъарæгæй
арауынц хæхтæ; сырдтæ дæр ныхъхъус сты арф хъыгæй; згъалы хъарм цæсты сыгтæ
Дзерассæ дыууæ ’фсымæрыл. Сæ астæу сбадти æмæ æмбисæхсæвмæ фæкуыдта Æхсары
мардыл, æмбисæхсæвæй бонмæ та — Æхсæртæджы мардыл.

 

 

The death of Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg

 

Dzerasshae
supposed that Aexshaer was her husband, because Aexshaer and Aexshaeraeg looked
alike, both in length and appearance: they were born blond, tall, broad-chested
and agile and no one, except God on the earth, knew who is which of them. When Aexshaer
looked from the door of the tent inside and when he saw Dzerasshae, he said to
himself: “God of the gods, don’t destroy our fortune, neither on the road, nor
in the house! But where am I to suspect, that Aexshaertaeg will come down with
a wife!”

            Dzerasshae looked up at him and asks
him: “How late have you come!” Aexshaer answers nothing to her. “Shame on you! Don’t
you know me anymore? Even when we were together for a year on the bottom of the
sea?” said Dzerasshae to him. Then Aexshaer knew for sure that this was the
wife of his brother Aexshaertaeg. Then the woman began to approach to him, but
Aexhaer didn’t yield to her. When the time came for sleeping, Aexshaer put his
coat under Dzerasshae, but the coat of Aexhaertaeg he put on top of them both
and, as to they wouldn’t be close to eachother, he drew his sword and he laid
it amidst them. The woman was offended, stood there for a while and, whilst
complaining, sat down apart from him.

            Then by that time Aexshaertaeg
arrived and brought the carcass of a deer together with a tree with branches.
And, when he saw Dzerasshae sadly sitting there and complaining, his heart was
troubled –thus was his suspicion- and because of this he overpowered Aexshaer.
And he drew his dagger and stabbed his brother and killed him. Then the woman
told him what the situation was. Aexshaertaeg went down in remorse saying, I
killed my own brother who was innocent, and he drew his dagger; he pointed the
handgrip from the breast of Aexshaer to himself; it’s point lowered to his own
heart and on himself; his dagger pierced his heart and he died. Dzerasshae
began to moan, to cry, to wail, to lament; she hit her head, her knees: “What
an unusal case that happened to me, when because of me two brothers are dead,”
she said. She ripped her bangs and scratched open her cheeks, she yelled
elegies and the mountains resonatedwith her lamentations; the beasts were also silent
because of deep grief; Dzerasshae poured warm tears down upon the two brothers.
She sat down amidst them and wept untill midnight on the body of Aexshaer and
from midnight till dawn on the body of Aexshaertaeg.

The beautiful Dzerasshae

Here is the following part of the saga about Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg. The story continues and the intrigue deepens.   

Aexshaertaeg arrived at the house of Donbettyr on the bottom of the sea. While the house was such a house, that it’s walls were made mother of pearl, its floor from blue glass and on the roof the morning star. In the house sat seven brothers, above them, two sisters of them, each more beautiful than the other, the hair of their head shone golden. “Peace in your home and may your morning be good,” said Aexshaertaeg when he entered. “Then may your part be good as well!” they said to him as well and they got up, the seven brothers and their two sisters, and they made Aexshaertaeg sit down; then the seven borthers sat themselves down, three of them higher than Aexshaertaeg, four of them lower.

When they had been seated for a small while, the brothers looked at Aexshaertaeg and they said to him: “Never was brought to us a guest similar to you, also never will there be brought one to us, and of course it is necessary to make you at ease, but we are in bitterness. “May god say no bitterness to you! But because of what do you grieve?” Aexshaertaeg answered them. They said to him: “We have three sisters and to their misfortune they have the habit to go the garden of the Narts. There on one tree grew a golden apple. Repeatedly it ripened by day, but repeatedly at night our sister Dzerashae stole it in this way; every time she entered in the appearance of a dove. Of course we have said to her: “Youth is spoiled on the Narts, when not a bird in the heaven dares to fly. Don’t go to the apple! But she didn’t listen to us. Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg of the Narts –may they arrive on the swords of eachother!- they protected the apple tree and wounded her.”

There on that moment he heard moaning from the room. Aexshaertaeg answered: “Whose moaning is this?” “Alas! About that we say to you, this is our sister Dzerasshae.” “And is there no medicine for her?” answered Aexshaertaeg the brothers. And they said to him: “Of course there is a medicine for her.” “ And what is that medicine?” “Her drops of blood, these are her medicine; once you would collect these and once you would blow them upon her, then she will be saved, otherwise there is no more remedy for her. “What good will you do to him, who will save her?” answered Aexshaertaeg them. We would give him our beloved sister Dzerashae. God predestined him for her.” “Then I am Aexshaertaeg, the son of Waerxaeg of the Narts, I have her drops of blood, as I brougt her down, because I hit her, I will also heal her. Go and bring her here!”

The faces of the brothers are shining with joy. There was not an end to their happiness! And they said to Aexshaertaeg: “The girl is heavily ill, and it is not possible for her to go to you, but enter the room to go to her. The boy moved next to the patient. The girl lay in bed, her golden bangs hung loose to the ground, but from her face the suns seemed to laugh and from her neck two beautiful moons looked down. And she turned to Aexshaertaeg.
Then Aexshaertaeg smiled his smile out of great joy and pulled from his girdle, because of the powers in the silk handkerchief, the drops of blood of the girl and blew them on her. The beautiful Dzerashae stood up seven times more beautiful than she was before. Nine days and nine nights took the honeymoon of Aexshaertaeg and the girl of Donbettyr. And Dzerashae and Aexshaertaeg united as one as the sun and the moon in the sky.

They lived there days and weeks, then one day Aexshaertaeg was saddened, he remembered Aexshaer- and said: “It is no longer appropriate to me to live here – it is necessary that I will find my brother and that I will go for a while to my house. Dzerashae also rejoiced: “If you have a house, than why will we not go there –to us it is no longer appropriate to sit here.
They prepared for a footjourney. And on the miracle moment Dzerashae pulled a hair from her head and they became two fat mother-of-pearl-coloured fishes and they were on their way from the bottom of the sea to the surface of the sea.

Aexshaer had hunted untill that time, build on the seashore in a dark forest a tent from the hides of wild animals and awaited his brother. Then on a day he looked and the sea brought a white helm. Aexshaer rejoiced, whilst saying, my brothers goes up, and he thought: “Come and I will leave on a hunt, and that I may kill anything then for his return.” And he went off on the hunt.

In that time Waerxaeg of the Narts began to be very sad, saying “what became of my sons, when they don’t appear to me any more from anywhere. From day to day the sorrow conquered, his bodily strength broke to him. Then to the youth of the Narts this was very pleasant, after the sons of Waerxaeg didn’t arrive anymore, because to them Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg didn’t give right and did harm upon them. And the youth of the Narts began to make fun of the old head of Waerxaeg and they took revenge upon him by making him shepherd of the Narts. Waerxaeg also from malice drove the flock of the Narts far away and poured them into the sea, by throwing them down from the tip of the cliff. A couple of days Waerxaeg didn’t go from the cattle-river to the village – his leg carried him no more because of the sorrow for his sons.

Aexshaertaeg and Dzerashae rose from the sea and saw on the seashore the tent of Aexshaer. They went to the tent. Aexshar was on the hunt, the tent was unused. When Dzerashae looked from the door of the tent, from the shining of her face was the tent so beautiful, as she said: “Until I have gotten enough of sitting in that tent, I wil not move from there!” Aexshaertaeg said to her: “In that case sit here untill that moment; I will seek my brother. And Aexshaertaeg was away searching ofr Aexshaer. On that moment Aexhaer on the other hand went to his tent. The two brother are seperated from eachother.

The apple of the Narts

I want to publish another saga I translated from the Ossetian source text.
This one is the first part of a story which is found in all the Caucasian Nart
sagas, but one can safely assume that the story and the motives in it
originated from the Indo-European Iranians in the Caucasus. The story is very
interesting to the comparative mythologist! The halfgods have a tree with
golden apples, which possess magic healing power. But alas, a thief steals one
of them every night. Of course the apples must be protected by two semi-divine
twins (cfr. the Greek dioscouroi Castor and Pollux) to let life resume it’s
normal course. The motive of the theft and the retrieval of golden apples one
also encounters in Greek and Germanic mythology. To these ancient attestations
of cultural heritage the Indo-Europeanist can add the orally transmitted
Ossetian Nart-sagas, written down in fixed form in the nineteenth century, but
reaching back to the ancient beginnings of Indo-European culture.

 

Нарты фæткъуы

 

Нартæн сæ цæхæрадоны задис иу фæткъуы бæлас; йæ дидинджытæ-иу æрттывтой
æрвыгау, æмæ йыл задис иунæг фæткъуы. Фæткъуы уыдис сыгъзæрин фæткъуы, зынгау
æрттывдтытæ калдта. Æмæ уыдис æлутоны хос адæмæн: иу адзал не здæхта фæстæмæ, уый
йеддæмæ цы хъæдгом нæ дзæбæх кодта, цы низæй нæ ирвæзын кодта, ахæм нæ уыдис.Бон изæрмæ-иу арæгъæд ис уыцы фæткъуы, æхсæв та иу æй цыдæр адавта. Æмæ
йæ хъахъхъæдтой радыгай Нарт; æмæ йæ ничи фæрæзта бахъахъхъæнын.Уæд иу бон æрзылдис Уæрхæгæн йæхи рад. Æрбасидтис йæ фырттæм, Æхсар æмæ
Æхсæртæгмæ, Уæрхæг æмæ сын загъта:— Ай уын фæндаггаг. Ацæут, мæ хуртæ, æмæ уæ цæхæрадон бахъахъхъæнут, кæннод
райсом Æртæ Нарты хæдзарæн лæгæй æрбацæудзысты æмæ уæ иуæн йæ сæр ракæндзысты, иннæмæн
— иæ цонг æмæ сæ дыууæ михыл æрсадздзысты, æмæ Æртæ Нарты ’хсæн дзæгъæлæй
баззайдзынæн, æнæ дарæгæй.Цæхæрадон уыдис саджы сыкъатæй бæрзонд æхгæд — маргъ æрбатæхæн дæр æм нæ
уыд.Лæппутæ загътой:— Ма тæрс, нæ фыд, мах ацæудзыстæм æмæ бæлас бахъахъхъæндзыстæм!Уæрхæг сын загъта:— Цæугæ бæргæ акæндзыстут, фæлæ тæрсын, фæстæмæ куы нæуал æрцæуат — куы
нæ йæ бафæразат бахъахъæнын.

 Æхсар æмæ Æхсæртæг араст сты цæхæрадонмæ; цæхæрадоны астæу диссаджы
фæткъуы бæласы бын æрбадтысты. Æхсæвæр куы бахордтой, уæд кæстæр æфсымæр —
Æхсæртæг, загъта Æхсарæн:— Æрхуысс уал, Æхсар, радыгай хъахъхъæнæм — æмбисæхсæвмæ ды бафынæй кæн,
уырдыгæй бонмæ та — æз.Æхсар сразы ис æмæ ’рхуыссыди æмæ бафынæй ис. Æмбисæхсæв фехъал ис æмæ
дзуры Æхсæртæгмæ:— Хуыцау мын æй ныббарæд — æгæр афынæй дæн. Æхсæртæг æм фæстæмæ дзуры:— Нырма æмбисæхсæв нæу, æмæ уал хуысс. Хуыссæгхъæлдзæг лæппу та
’рхуыссыд фæстæмæ æмæ та афынæй ис. Æхсæв æмæ бон кæрæдзийæ куыд хицæн кодтой, афтæ
цæхæрадонмæ ’рбатахтысты æртæ маргъы.Æхсæртæг бады, йæ фат æмæ йе ’рдын йæ къухы, афтæмæй. Кæсы, æмæ
’виппайды бæлас ныррухс и, æмæ йыл бады æртæ ’хсинæджы. Фæткъуымæ куыддæр
фæцæйæвнæлдтой, афтæ сæ Æхсæртæг фехста, æмæ атахтысты, æрмæст сæ иуæн йæ туджы
’ртæхтæ ’ркалдысты зæхмæ. Æхсæртæг райхъал кодта Æхсары æмæ йын загъта:— Æхсинæг фæцæф кодтон фæткъуы бæласыл, æмæ мын цæфæй атахти.Мæнæ кæсыс йæ туджы ’ртæхтæм! Куы фæцæф ис, уæд ныллæджыты атахтис, æмæ
мæнæн йæ тугвæдыл æнæ цæугæ нæй. Кæнæ йæ хъуамæ æрцахсон, кæнæ йæ фæдыл хъуамæ
амæлон, æндæр гæнæн мын нæй.

 Æрбамбырд кодта туджы ’ртæхты, батыхта сæ зæлдаг кæлмæрзæны.Кæлмæрзæн йæ фæснахы атъыста æмæ, куы ’рбабон ис, уæд загъта Æхсарæн:— Æз ныр цæуын сæфты мæргъты фæдыл, æмæ цы зæгъыс?Æхсар ын загъта:— Æз дæр цæуын, ды кæдæм цæуай, уырдæм. Араст сты ’фсымæртæ æмæ цæуынц
тугвæдыл, æмæ сæ уый бахаста денджызы былмæ. Уым фæд денджызы бынмæ ныххызтис..
Æхсæртæг загъта Æхсарæн:— Æз цæуын денджызы бынмæ, ды мæм ам, денджызы был, æнхъæлмæ кæс, æмæ, кæд
денджыз сырх фынк хæсса, уæд-иу нæ хæдзармæ аздæх — мæнæй дын пайда нал ис; кæд
урс фынк хæсса, уæд мæм-иу афæдзы бонмæ банхъæлмæ кæс.Хорз,— загъта Æхсар æмæ баззад денджызы был, Æхсæртæг та йæ дзауматæ
’рбатымбыл кодта æмæ ныффардæг ис денджызы бынмæ.

 

The Apple of the Narts

 

In the garden of the Narts grew an apple tree; repeatedly its flowers
shone heavenly blue and on it grew a lonely apple. The apple was a golden apple
and it poured glitterings as fire. And it was a medicine of wonderous food for
the people. Except for that it did not reverse destiny, each wound it cured, such
a disease it did not cure, did not exist. During the day in the evening
repeatedly that apple ripened quickly, but at night somebody repeatedly took it
away. And the Narts by turn protected it; and nobody was able to protect it.

Then one day came the turn to
Waerxaeg himself. He summoned his sons, Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg, and Waerxaeg
said to them: “Here to you provisions. Go out, my suns, and protect ye your
garden, otherwise in the morning three of the Narts, a man from each family,
will go out and to one of you they will cut of the head, to the other the arm
and they will put these two on a stake and among the three families of the
Narts I will remain unattended, without a provider.” The garden was high
enclosed with the antlers of deer, even a birds flight was not enough to get
in. The boys spoke: “Don’t be afraid, father of ours, we will go out and
protect the tree!” Waerxaeg said to them: “Of course you will go, but I fear
that when you will not be able to protect it, you will not come back any more.”

Aexshaer and Aexshaertaeg went
off to the garden; in the middle of the garden under the apple tree the two sat
down. When they ate dinner, the youngest brother, Aexshaertaeg, said to
Aexshaer: “Lie down for a while, Aexshaer, we will protect the garden in turns.
On midnight you can fall asleep, while from the decline to the day I will
protect the garden. Aexshaer agreed, lay down and was asleep. At midnight he
woke up and said to Aexshaertaeg: “May God forgive me this! I was asleep for
too long. Aexshaertaeg replied to him: “It is not yet midnight, sleep for a
while!” And the sleepy boy lay back down and was asleep. As day and night made
eachother evenly seperate, in this way three birds flew to the garden.
Aexshaertaeg sat thus, his arrow and bow in the hand. He looked up and suddenly
the tree was shining and three birds sat in the tree. Once they started to go
to the apple, Aexshaertaeg shot thus at them and they flew off, only by one of
them drops of blood poured down to the ground.

Aexshaertaeg awoke Aexshaer
and said to him: “I wounded a dove in the apple tree and because of the wound
it flew away. Here, look up to the drops of blood! When it is wounded, it flew
low flights, and to me there is no choice but to go after it’s bloodtrack. Or
it is necessary that I catch it, or it is necessary that I die on it’s track,
to me there is no other option.” He collected the drops of blood, he wrapped
them in a silk handkerchief. He tucked the handkerchief in his girdle and, when
dawn came, he said to Aexshaer: “I go now after the track of the wounded one of
the birds and what say you? Aexshaer said to him: “I go as well there, where
you will go. The brothers went off and went after the bloodtrack, and this
brought them at the seashore, There the track crept down to the bottom of the
sea. Aexshaertaeg said to Aexshaer: “I go to the bottom of the sea, wait for me
here, on the seashore, and, when the sea brings red foam, then return to our
home. From me to you there is no more profit; when it brings white foam, wait
then until the day of the following year. “ Good,”  said Aexshaer and sat down on the seashore,
while Aexshaertaeg took under his arm his things and arrived at the bottom of
the sea.

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>.

                АХСАР ÆМÆ ÆХСÆРТÆДЖЫ РАЙГУЫРД
                  
   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
æрæппæрстой.
   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