Nikita Petrov (Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow) “Mythology of Epic Bards: Epic’s Performance Context in Central and Northern Asia”


The presentation poses a question of correlation between Asian and Mongolian epic narration and mythological beliefs, which serve as background and source of materials for the tales of gift acquisition and interdictions of epos performance, and, thus, for the first time a detailed description of contextual “epic mythology” appears. Even though the folklorists primarily managed to get access to the epic tales, they also got their hands on material which can be qualified as secondary, additional, and recorded by pure chance. Beliefs of epos performance and mythological tales are scattered across collections of field materials, footnotes in editions of texts of archaic and classical epos, prefaces and commentaries, hard-to-reach journal publications, and few and far between interviews with narrators.

The given text comprises a background for the performance of epic works and is, in fact, a quaint blend of epic mythology and the live, narrative one. One can trace the connection of bogatyr tales and epos-telling to during or before the hunt for the Abakan tatars, Siberian peoples, who speak Ural languages, Tungus (nanais and evenks), numerous mongol-speaking peoples, and Turkic peoples.

The religious and magic function of the texts, which are sacral for the culture, reveals itself in various traditions: from the Russian bylina (in reproducible form) and up to the Mongolian Epic of Gesar.

Beliefs and interdictions related to the performance of epic works actualize the following ideas and motifs: a bad performance of narrations – the advent of host-spirit of the narration – punishment of a narrator – death of the narrator.

The appearance of bogatyr from the narration or the host-spirit makes it possible to overcome the distance between the past of the narration and the real present in the situation of performance. This bears similarity to “Go to hell!”, by which a devil himself comes and takes a child sent. The person of the singer is also important, as are the variations of the performance gift acquisition. D.K. Zelenin, B.N. Putilov, and V.M. Zhirmunskiy wrote about it.

Mythological narratives on the acquisition of the narrator’s gift and the punishment for the improper use of it (possibly a text about the punishment for a mistake in the performance), are, apparently, genetically related to the legends of the acquisition of a shaman gift. The social institution of shamanism, once wide-spread in the Turkic-Mongolian world, in turn, mediates these latter legends. The distribution areal of the bogatyr tale, on the other hand, might define the presence of such a “contextual epic mythology” phenomenon. Thirdly, the presence of similar mythological tales might relate to the developed institution of professional narrators, in which believes the majority of members of the community.

This paper was financially supported by the Russian Scientific Foundation (RNF), grant No. 14-18-00590 “Texts and practices of folklore as a model of cultural tradition: А comparative-typological study”.