Sunday, March 7, 2010

Prometheus in Caucasian Myths

In one of the posts in this blog, I wrote that many Caucasian people have myths similar to the Greek myth of Prometheus. After learning more about these myths, I came to conclusion that, basically, there are four different myths which have some versions:

1. The myth about Sosruko (Circassian or Adyg version), Sasrykva (Abhaz version), Sosuruk (Karachai and Balkar version), and Soslan (Ossetian version). I translated the myth about Sosruko (Circassian version). Other versions are quite similar. According to this myth, when Sosruko's brothers were frozen, he shot into a star and it fell down. Then, he found a camp-fire and brought smoldering log to his brothers. However, before he did that, he had to kill a giant. This myth does not say anything about Sosruko being chained.

2. The myth about Amiran (Bats version), Amirani (Georgian version), and Abrskil (Abhaz version). I translated the myth about Amiran (Bats version). This version is not complete because Bats people do not have written language. Their language is close to Chechen and Ingush and they originally were a part of Vainakh nation. However, they moved to Georgia and are now losing their language, living among Georgians. I chose Bats version because it is very ancient and was not influenced by Christianity like Georgian versions. According to the Bats version, Amiran was chained because he took away a girl in order to marry her. This version does not say that he brought fire. He was chained in a cave of Speroza, a mountain in Tushetia, the region of Georgia where Bats people live. Not only God, but also people hate Amiran. Thus, Amiran rebelled against God, but did not do anything good to people. Georgian versions of the myth of Amirani were very much influenced by Christianity. They mention that he brought fire to people and also say about his being chained in a cave in a mountain. Abhaz myth about Abrskil does not say that he brought fire, but it says that he helped his nation. According to this myth, Abrskil was chained in a cave in Abhazia. Thus, Abrskil is identified with Amirani.

3. Myth about Nasren (or Nasren-zhache) and Bataraz (Circassian or Adyg myth). I translated this myth. I just found another English translation of this myth. Both Nasren and Bataraz rebelled against god Pako who stole fire from people. Nasren tried to bring it back, but was chained. Bataraz released him and brought fire back to people. Nasren was chained on Elbrus (Oshkhomakho) which is near the border of of historical Circassia.

4. Myth about Pkharmat (Chechen myth). I translated this myth also. Pkharmat rebelled against god Sela. He took fire from him and brought to people. Due to that, Sela caused troubles to people. In order to release them, Pkharmat willingly came to Sela to be punished. Pkharmat was chained on Kazbek (Bashlam) which is near Chechnya. He suffered silently and never agreed to repent of his action.

The myths about Sosruko, Nasren and Bataraz, and Pkharmat are parts of Nart epic literature. Many people of the Northern Caucasus have myths about Narts who are described as giants and strong people and are considered to be ancestors of modern inhabitants of the Northern Caucasus. Modern Circassians highly appreciate Sosruko and he is depicted in the national emblem of the Republic of Adyghea (shown in the picture), one of the Circassian territories in Russia. Pkharmat (shown in the picture above) is depicted practically in the same way as Sosruko. The myth about Amiran/Amirani/Abrskil is not included into Nart epics.

Among all these myths, the myth about Nasren and Bataraz and the myth about Pkharmat are the most close to the Greek one. Nasren was released, but Pkharmat was not. In my opinion, the myth about Pkharmat has the highest level of morality. Pkharmat's intention was to help people. He was willing to suffer for people. He never regretted and suffered silently. So, to me, this is the most inspiring myth.


Maya M said...

I find it very likely that Prometheus from Greek myth in its later versions was influenced by Caucasian myths.
I think he was blended to another character, initially called Yemo (Yama in India, Yima or Jam in Iran), who was killed and his death shaped the world as we know it. Judging from Indian and Iranian myths as well as the earliest (Hesiod's) Greek version, he was ancestor of humans and their leader during a Golden age. He brought many goods to humans, including fire, which he found hidden. Gods did not object, because fire was needed for sacrifices. However, at one point Yama/Yima decided that humans also deserve to eat well, and gave to them most of the meat of a sacrificial ox. Gods forced his brother to kill him (this was the first human death) and put an end to the Golden age.
For me, it is interesting that the name of Amiran/Amirani has some similarity to Yama. I cannot find any information about the etymology of Amirani.

Borz Lom (Löma) Nal said...

It is an interesting question about the etymology of Amirani. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979) says that Amirani means "child of the sun" but it does not provide any more information.

Other sources say that Amirani is not from Georgian and that it originates from Arabic "amir" ("ruler"). I am not sure that it is correct because Georgians did not have many contacts with Arabs.

There is also a hypothesis that this name is from Chechen and that there was a hero called Amir in Chechen mythology. But this hypothesis is not very convincing either.

As far as I know, Amirani/Amiran appears only in Georgian and Bats myths. Other Caucasian peoples have other names for their Prometheus-like heroes. I believe that this name should have a Georgian origin, and Bats people borrowed it from Georgians. But, in principle, it may be vice versa. Then, the Chechen version has some ground because the Bats language was originally very close to Chechen and Ingush (probably, it was one language). But I think it is more probable that Amirani has some Georgian origin.

Maya M said...

After digging into different mythologies, now I think that there was an original Indo-European hero whose transgression was to bring meat; the Greeks blended and eventually replaced him with the Caucasian hero who stole fire:

Borz Lom (Löma) Nal said...

It is interesting about the hero bringing meat. In one of the Ingush versions, the hero called Kurka brought not fire, but two rams. And this was his "transgression" for which he was chained.

As for Amirani/Amiran, he did not bring fire either. He did not bring anything to people and did not do anything good to them. He took a girl from heaven without gods' permission. This was his transgression.

Also, Pkharmat, Kurka and others were chained on the top of the mountain (Kazbek or Elbrus), but Amirani/Amiran was chained in a cave.

So, Amirani/Amiran version is quite different from other versions.

Borz Lom (Löma) Nal said...

Actually, most heroes (Pkharmat/Pkhari, Sosruko, Nasren and Bataraz) brought fire to people, not rams (like Kurka) or anything else (though in some versions Kurka did bring fire). It is also interesting that, according to Ingush myth, Kurka's father was Sozruko, while in Circassian myth, it was Sosruko who brought fire. [Just for information, Ingushs and Circassians (Kabardians) live nearby, so their myths might have influenced one another.]