Singing the Past: Turkic and Medieval Heroic Poetry

By Karl Reichl | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE

Turkic Bards and Oral Epics

Among the Kara-Kirghiz the various legends and narrative traditions of the Turkic peoples have been welded into one grand epic, whose main protagonists are the Muslim prince Manas and the hero of the infidels, Džoloy. This epic, like the epic poetry of the Greeks, presents a clear picture of the spiritual life and the traditional ways of the whole people. With epic breadth it describes military campaigns, bridal quests, memorial feasts, races, domestic life, etc. All the various legendary figures become, as it were, persons of flesh and blood, real-life characters, whom we can watch acting and thinking. The main motive of the action is the superiority of the Muslims over the infidels. Every Kara-Kirghiz knows a part of this epic; it is a living force among the people and tolerates no other poetic creations at its side.

This description of the Kirghiz epic Manas and its place in Kirghiz society comes from Wilhelm Radloff 's account of his travels in the Turkic-speaking areas of Central Asia and southern Siberia between 1860 and 1870. 1. Radloff, who was born in Berlin in 1837 and received his doctorate in Jena in 1858, went to Russia in 1858 in order to take part in a scientific expedition to eastern Siberia. Although the expedition never materialized, Radloff did go to Barnaul on the River Ob, about 150 miles north of the Altai mountains, in 1859, and from this date onward he became an indefatigable collector of oral poetry from various Turkic-speaking peoples of Central Asia and southern Siberia. When the fifth volume of his monumental collection of this material, devoted to Kirghiz epic poetry, appeared in St. Petersburg in 1885 with both Kirghiz text and German translation, Homeric scholars were for the first time able to form an opinion of

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1.
Radloff 1893, 1 : 534. It is to be noted that Radloff, in accordance with nineteenth-century usage, calls the Kirghiz “Kara-Kirghiz”; the name “Kirghiz” was at that time reserved for the Kazakhs.

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Singing the Past: Turkic and Medieval Heroic Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Singing the Past - Turkic and Medieval Heroic Poetry *
  • Contents v
  • Foreword vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Note on Transcription, Pronunciation, and Translations xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - Turkic Bards and Oral Epics 12
  • Chapter Two - Variations on Epic and History 44
  • Chapter Three - In Search of the Heroic Lay 73
  • Chapter Four - Heroic Epic and Tribal Roots 101
  • Chapter Five - Heroic Past and Poetic Presence 135
  • Conclusion 165
  • Appendix One - The Text of Täwke-Batïr 181
  • Appendix Two - The Text of Ormanbet-Biy 189
  • Works Cited 195
  • Index 217
  • Myth and Poetics *
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