Sun-Gods and Soviets: Historicising a North Caucasian Nart Saga

in Iran and the Caucasus
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This paper examines the potential historical value of the Nart Sagas, a cycle of North Caucasian folk epics. It discusses the methodological problems in dating them, and especially in treating them as a corpus of entirely ancient date. In response, the author proposes the use of a ‘rhizomatic’ approach: treating the surviving sagas as unique, ‘frozen’ performances, which concentrate a number of strands, some of which may lead into other extant parallel texts. To test this theory, it is applied to a single saga, the tale of the hero Shoshlan’s journey to the underworld, and this saga’s apparent parallels with Sarmatian art and with early mediaeval Christian Apocalypse Literature. The paper concludes with a summary of how this method can be more widely applied, through the use of thematic analogy.


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