Epic Poetry and Prose discussion

Medieval and Renaissance Epics > The Kyrgyz epic Manas, online

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message 1: by Bryn (last edited Feb 27, 2012 07:27PM) (new)

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 6 comments Hard to know whether to put this in Medieval or later... This is blog post I did, to direct people to the Kyrgyz epic Manas online.

It ain’t easy to find your steppe epic in English. So I alert you to a project to translate the epic Manas online. Here’s the link: http://www.silk-road.com/folklore/man... - The Kyrgyz Epic Manas, selections translated, introduced and annotated by Elmira Kocumkulkizil.

It’s the epic of a people, THE epic - poets didn’t bother to make up others, they just added to Manas. In fact the Kyrgyz don’t have epic singers, they have manaschi: singers of Manas. They celebrated the poem’s 1000th anniversary a few years ago. Wiki contests that age, but Wiki can argue with the ‘new independent government of Kyrgyzstan’ and cultural pride. The version from which you find great swathes here is half a million lines: take the Iliad and the Odyssey together and times by twenty… or since the lines are short, yes Wiki, let’s say by ten. It’s oral epic, written down and saved in sixty versions from the last of the oral poets alive, who in the tradition of their art have each an original rendition. The art is alive in Kyrgyzstan, just not exclusively oral. That changes things.

W. Barthold, of the wonderful book Turkestan Down to the Mongol Invasion, called it an absurd gallimaufry of pseudo-history. That’s the sound of a frustrated historian; fast and loose is the least of Turk epic’s attitude to history, quite as bad as Homer and the Trojan War. Nora Chadwick in Oral Epics of Central Asia thinks this the peak of the art: The Kirghiz were said to specialize in epic poetry almost to the exclusion of saga and lyric, and to pay especial regard to finished and polished diction… An individual feature of the poetry of the Kirghiz, and one which shows the advanced character of the tradition, is its tendency to fall into cycles. She means, Manas is a cycle rather than a single poem, with shifts to different central figures. Thus the neverending story.

This might have been more famous in the West, alas. When Milman Parry determined on a first-hand investigation into Homer's methods, and sought out a living tradition of oral epic, his first choice was to travel to Central Asia. The Russian government made that too difficult, and he settled for Yugoslavia. Lucky Yugoslavia, but the loss to Turk epic... What lured him was the 19thC Russian ethnographer Radloff's work on the Kirghiz and Manas in particular.

message 2: by John (new)

John | 3 comments Mod

Thanks for sharing this story. About two years ago, NPR ran a story about this epic cycle, and the struggle to record it before it became lost. I've searched the NPR database to find a link to that story, but came up empty. However, I did find these two items that are relevant to this discussion group.

Here is an NPR story on Shahnameh, the Persian Book of Kings, translated by Dick Davis. And here is a story on oral epics in Arabic told during Ramadan.

If you have any better luck finding that radio story, please share it!



message 3: by Bryn (last edited Mar 03, 2012 12:57PM) (new)

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 6 comments Hi John, glad to meet you.
I'm Australian and can only guess this is a radio station in your neck of the woods?
I know that the epic is down on paper at great length in its own language - I'm not sure about in performance. English translations are alas rare as usual...

A.T. Hatto (translator of Tristan: With the Surviving Fragments of the 'Tristan of Thomas',The Nibelungenlied, Parzival) paid the Kirghiz a bit of attention, translated a section as The Memorial Feast for Kokotoykhan and has an essay in Essays on Medieval German and Other Poetry 'Shamanism and Epic Poetry in Northern Asia'. This book is reprints of his work, newly out. I haven't tracked down his old translation, though I've tried. It's criticized as ignorant of the culture, but that's to be expected: at least he went to the effort.

message 4: by Ahmed (new)

Ahmed | 5 comments When Milman Parry determined on a first-hand investigation into Homer's methods, and sought out a living tradition of oral epic, his first choice was to travel to Central Asia

This is fascinating! I'm reading books by Parry and Foley on oral literature and had never heard this. Did Parry ever publish anything on the topic? How did you hear about this?

message 5: by Bryn (new)

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 6 comments @Ahmed -- great to hear from you in this topic.
I don't know that Parry ever got to work with Manas. I'd say the classic study on these epics (and where I first met Manas) is Oral Epics of Central Asia by Nora Chadwick. I can't say too much about this book, old as it is -- a thorough introduction to the range of epic in Turkic languages, highly informative and well-written.

I also have: The Oral Epic of Siberia and Central Asia which is largely story summaries of the epics; and Singing the Past which juxtaposes Turkic and medieval European heroic poetry.

On Manas, since I posted here I've got hold of the full translation in hardback by A.T. Hatto: The Manas Of Wilhelm Radloff. See my review for a bit more detail.

Always happy to talk about this subject...

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