Adyghe Variants of the Amirani Epic

The cycle of "Amiraniani" occupies an important place in Georgian epic. According to its plot this rendering is of heroic character. Its main motif is the struggle with the oppressors. Amirani is a culture hero of Georgian people. He defeats the evil forces, eliminates the noxious plants, teaches the people the art of metal treatment, brings fire to the human race and lays the foundation for the family. The plot is rendered as fragmented verses, prose or prose mixed with verses.

The plot of "Amirani" contains the following episodes: 1. Miraculous birth of Amirani; 2.Fraternization with Badri and Usupi; 3. Hunting and visit of a strange tower; 4. Tsamtsumi's death; 5. Amirani defeats the devi Baqbaqi, 6. Learning about Qamari's story; setting off to kidnap Qamari; 8.The struggle with black whale; 9.An encounter with the Beauty in the tower; 10.The fragment of a bowl delivering a note; 11. The attack of Kaji king; 12. The fight and death of Badri and Usupi; 13. The  fight between Amirani and Qamari's father; 14) Amirani's death and resurrection; 15)Amirani challenges his godfather 16. The enchaining to the Caucasus [Chikovani, 1965: 31].

In the Adyghe folklore Amirani's epic under the name of renowned enchained titanic is presented only as an episode. The same legend in Georgian folklore, art, toponimics and, generally, onomastic struck roots deep.  Al this clarify the way which  is covered by Amirani's plot in the course of its centuries-old existence during its spreading both in related and distant peoples [Chikovani, 1965: 174].

As far as we know there two have been fixed Adyghe variants of the "Amirani". One belongs to the active member of the Russian Royal Odessa society, historian and archeologist- Jack-Victor-Edward Tebu D'Mariny, who in 1813 and 1818 travelled several times to Circassia. In 1823-1824 as a vice-consul of the Black Sea port of the Netherlands he again was in Circassia. His work "Journey to Circassia" contains numerous ethnographical materials on the people of Adyghe. An account recorded by Tebu D'Mariny is of the following content: There is a large ravine on the top of one of the mountains, perhaps Elbrus, from which the tickle and groan of the chains is heard. One Circassian managed to descend into this ravine and saw a giant enchained there to the cliff. The giant appealed to him: "Oh, you the resident of the earth, having come to see me, what is happening upstairs? Is the grass still green? Is there peace in the families? Are the wives loyal to their husbands? Do the young girls obey their mothers? Sons to their fathers? To the positive response the Giant says: Well, I still long to be here" [Taitbout de Marigny, 1974: 318].

The other Adyghe version of the "Amirani" belongs to the famous Circassian scholar Khan-Girey. Khan-Girey was the son of influential Circassian feudal, who was raised by one of the foremen. In accordance with father's will he was brought to Tbilisi to get education. From here he was sent to Petersburg, where he graduated Cadet Corps, and since 1829 he had been transferred to the Caucasus for business. An account about the enchained giant is included by him in the paper "Mythology of the Circassians" which was published after the revolution in the newspaper Kavkaz in 1846 posthumously (1842) in Russian language. According to the mentioned account the giant is enchained to the snowy peaks of the Elbruz for some offence. When he awakes he asks his guards in amazement: "Is the grass growing again on the earth? Are the sheep born again? The merciless guards reply that lelkashi is growing and the sheep are born again. Such reply makes the giant crazy and he tears the shackles. Because of his roaring the Earth trembled, his chains knocked against one other making thunderous noises, his heavy breathing is a wind storm, the streams running down the Elbrus were his bitter tears [Khan Girey, 1847].

In both texts which were recorded in the first half of the 19th century, the name of the hero is unknown. He is presented generally as the giant. This obstacle can have two explanations: the hero's name was forgotten by people in the course of time or the hero's name assimilated from the neighbors was unknown from the outset.

The place of enchainment in both variants is on the Elbrus, though it is not clear why and by whom the giant is punished.

It is known that in the Georgian version of the "Amiraniani" various points of the Caucasus are indicated as the place of the hero's punishment, including the Elbrus, between the Greatest Caucasus range. According to the Kakhetian rendering, Christ and Amirani climbed to the Elbrus to compete. God won and thus, Amirani has been enchained to the mount Elbrus till now. According to the Gurian version, Godfather offered Amirani to catch a bird in the competition. Amirani caught up with the bird on the Mount Elbrus and was staked [ Chikovani, 1965:125].

Similar renderings comparatively extensive were known to the closest related to Adyghe people Kabardians. These renderings from the viewpoint of content to a certain degree fill the Adygian versions of the "Amiraniani". One of the variants was published by G.Liakhveli in 1884 in the newspaper Droeba. The legend has it that an old man is enchained to the Elbrus peak. The body is covered with white hair, the white moustache is up to the toes, the eyes are sparkling like fire. This old man appeared to be a great friend of Kabardian god Tha but when he wished to occupy his place, god Tha enchained him to the Elbrus forever. Every time the old man got up in the morning he used to ask the guards: "Are the sheep grow up again?" As soon as he got affirmative answer, he started his shackles roaring which caused thunderstorm, heavy breathing - windstorm, his moan - an earthquake shock, the streams running down the Elbrus were his bitter tears [Liakhveli, 1884].

According to the second Kabardian version published by L.Lopatinski in 1891 in the distant past one single-eyed giant dared to climb the goat's domain, on the Elbrus peak (Oshkha-Makho) where no human foot has trod yet. God Tha punished the giant for impudence and enchained to the rock and put an eagle there that tears the giant's heart every day and does not give an opportunity to drink the immortal water running there [Lopatinski, 1891: 38].

Unlike the Adyghe versions, in Kabardian ones it is clearly seen as to what is the reason of giant's punishment - he wished to catch  god Tha's peace, dared and climbed to his domain, at the top of the Elbrus.

By comparative analysis of the renderings spread between Georgians and other people of the Caucasus it becomes clear that Amirani at the first stage is the defender of mother's right, the interests of the hunting goddess of matriarchate time and the god who enchained him is the god of clouds, the exponent of Father's interests. In Georgia, after spreading of Christianity in the "Amirani" epic the enchained pagan god is changed into Christ God [Chikovani, 1965: 196].

God Tha mentioned in the Kabardian narrations was the great god in Adygh-Kabardian pagan pantheon. He was also called Thashhuo that word by word means great god. Since 15th century, more precisely after the Byzantine Empire ceased to exist, the united Georgian Kingdom was disintegrated and the Crimean Khanate became the vassal of the Ottoman Empire that played crucial role in spreading of Islam instead of Christianity in Adygeya and Kabarda but in them especially in the highlands Islam failed to spread broadly. Major part of people still remains pagan in essence. Their religion represented a kind of synthesis of paganism, Islam and Christianity where the pantheon of pagan gods was well expressed at the head of whom was God Tha [Okujava, 2005:20].

Oshkha-Makho or Elbrus is the untouched domain of God Tha. Mortal has no right to step in the domain of gods. Kabardians believed in sanctity of the Elbrus so strongly that for a long time nobody dared to ascend it. One of the renderings of the kabardin people represents a reflection of such kind of faith according to which Crimean Khan intruded to Kabarda dared not to ascend Elbrus because he heard a voice from the peak: "Stop, Khan, stop!" Kabardins believed that these words were pronounced by an old man enchained to the Elbrus rock [Lopatinski, 1891: 38].

Perhaps the reflection of this faith is represented by the narration about Attila according to which the leader of Huns came to the Mount Elbrus he was escaped from the land of Adygee. Since that time the Adyghe and Kabardians have called Elbrus Oshkhamakho that means "the mountain of happiness" [Nogmov, 1947: 44].

Thus, according to the Kabardian renderings the giant confronted the God Tha himself, the violator of his rights. Similar to Amirani's legend the reason of enchaining is disobedience to God. The giant decided to overthrow Tha's dominance, i.e. to intrude into his domain, the Elbrus peak that cost him a lot. In comparison with Amirani's adventure in Kabardian versions the hero's enchaining is motivated in different way. In Georgian narration Amirani like Biblical Jacob directly fights with the god, with his own physical force tries to subordinate him. The image of Amirani as a fighter seems to be mitigated in the Kabardian versions. The giant was punished because of the tradition that forbade him the ascending to the Elbrus. The fight for people's welfare is not seen here, the curbing of the invaders that in the plot of "Amirani" is put on the foreground. Thus the enchained giant of the Adyghe-Kabardian renderings is the same Amirani only put in different situation and from the artistic viewpoint too formed in different way. In the latter the episode of enchaining means the faith in mountains sanctity. The "Amirani's narration in Kabardinis and moreover in Adyghees, has changed the face and linked to the local reality [Chikovani, 1965: 182].

The narrations on Amirani were also known to the Abkhazs. One of the variants was recorded by G.Liakhveli the content of which is as follows: Side by side with Amirani enchained to the Elbrus his horse is standing that gnaws the chains day and night. When a little is left to cut the chain completely a woman in black standing by touches the chain with her stick and it becomes full again [Liakhveli, 1884:].

Like Adyghe variants in Abkhazian narration of the "Amirani" epics the spot of enchainment is the Elbrus, the reason for punishment of the hero is not known and so on but from the viewpoint of the content the narrations about Abrskil spread among the Abkhazs are more extensive.

According to the narration in old times there lived an amazing maiden by her appearance and behavior in Abkhazia who made a vow not to marry, but in some miraculous way she conceived. She gave birth to a boy - Abrskil who was growing up in unusual way. Being of a week old he looked like one-year-old, when being one-year-old he looked like ten-year-old and ten-year-old as twenty-year-old. Abrskil had grown into the strong and brave young man who did not know what the fear was, in bravery he yielded to none.

At that time Abkhazia suffered foreign intrusions that often attacked the country, troubled the country, took away the cattle and captivated the people. When Abrskil grew up, he became great hope and hero of his people. The enemies became afraid of him, they did not dare to cross the mountains and the sea. Soon Abrskil's name and deeds became famous to far. Abkhazia became flourished, filed with abundance, people soothed, lived without fair, recovered.

Abrskil tried to do good for his native people, cared about them, mercilessly destructed evil and dark forces. He even rooted out the fern if he saw it because he thought it did harm to the crop.

Absrkil did not walk he rode the horse and could jump with his horse up from the seaside to the Ertsakh Mountain Elbrus.

His bravery and daring gradually made Abrskil proud and arrogant, he challenged God  that he was as good as Him and that he could perform any act which God could do. God got angry because of this. First He tried to bring him, to reason with a kind word but Abrskil did not submit himself before God; he did not want even to mention God. When nothing came out of it in this way God told his apostles and told them to catch Abrskil and throw him to dungeon unless he did not submit himself before God. The apostles tried much but failed to catch him Finally, one devil by the advice of an old woman spread the raw turned out caw skins from the Elbrus to the seaside. At that time Abrskil was sleeping and they attacked him sleeping. Abrskil managed to escape jumping up to his horse and sprang from the seashore to the Elbrus but his shores slipped. Abrskil fell down from the horse into a deep gorge. Before he gathered his strength, the apostles surrounded him and seized him. By the advice of the devil old woman the apostles brought Abrskil and his horse to a cave and tied up with large chain to an iron pillar separately. God told this old woman to watch the cave. Abrskil was chained without food and water, the old woman had pity to him and started to bring food for him because of which God became furious and turned the old woman into dog that according to the rendering was in the cave together with Abrskil and his horse.

Abrskil chained in the cave has been shaking this pillar without unceasingly for years. When he almost pulled it from the ground, a wagtail sat on the pillar. Abrskil, filled with anger struck at the bird with the hammer. The bird flew away and the hammer reached the pillar and drove it in, deeper than it was before. Abrskil is in this torment even today. According to some renderings, Abrskil many years later efforts manages to escape from the cave but because of being in the darkness for a long time he could not endure the light, became blind and got lost somewhere in the mountains [Zurba, 1988: 345].

There are known some versions of Abrskil legend which differ from each other more or less though the motive of challenging God and episodes connected with him have been preserved unchanged in them.

Thus, the legend about Abrskil is heroic epic of "Amiraniani" type. Unlike Abkhazian, as well as Tebu de Mariny and Khan Girey Adyghe versions published by G.Liakhveli the name of a hero is known, the reason of his punishment, etc. Besides this, the disobedient to God had been enchained not in the Elbrus  but in a cave.

It should be noted that in different versions of the Amiraniani different mountain peaks of the Caucasus such as Elbrus, glacier are named as the place of enchainment, though often cave or den are named as such places. It is supposed that the motives of chaining to the cliff and placement in the cave are almost simultaneous and manifest themselves in the earlier stage of the formation of the epic. As far back as early antique period in old Greek sources there is evidence that in Georgia (Colchis) such versions of chained hero in which the place of punishment was indicated the mountain peak or a cave [Chikovani, 1965].

The legend about Abrskil seems to be typologically closest to the hero widespread in Megrelia and later almost forgotten - Berskuas. By all features Berskuas has a certain affinity with Abrskil. As an infant he was found lying in the basket by a childless hunter in the wild mountains and brought to the house. Berskua grew up fast and became the defender of his people. At the end according to one of the versions) of the narration he started to disobey the God, according to the second version - to St.Giorgi. He was punished by capturing in the cave from which even today his groan is heard sometimes. 

The rendering about Abrskil in the eastern part of Abkhazia, namely, in Abzhua is spread. In the western part of Abkhazia it is not known. Thus, this epic is not general Abkhazian phenomenon. As is seen the plot of the rendering is borrowed from the west-Georgian version of heroic epos of the "Amiraniani" type and was created in the late Middle Ages. The name itself "Absrkil" is supposed to be borrowed from the Megrelian "Berskua" or its presumed versions "Berskil"  one wide spread. [Antelava, 2006: 15].

Taitbout de Marigny in his "Journey" which according to the materials available for us the Adyghee report has been fixed for the first time on the giant chained to the Elbrouz, indicated that this narrations had a certain link with the legend about Prometheus. As is seen, for Taitbout de Marigny it was unknown Georgian legend about Amirani or he would have linked the Adyghe narration not with the myth about Prometheus but with Georgian "Amiraniani". It is from the "Amiraniani" epos that Adyghe narrations come from on the giant chained to the Elbrouz which is clearly evidenced from its comparison with similar Kabardian, as well as Abkhaz version and the fact that as a place of chaining as well as in various Georgian versions not generally Caucasian ridge but concrete mountain Elbrus is named.

Thus, the Adyghe narrations on the giant chained to the Elbrus comes from "Amirani" epics. The renderings are scarce, only the motif of chaining to the rock is preserved in them, the name of a hero is unknown, the reason of his punishment and other numerous important episodes. From the viewpoint of the content these renderings are most close to the Kabardian version of the "Amiraniani".

Finally, it should be mentioned that the existence of the oldest Georgian legend in Adyghe folklore even in a small portion clearly indicates the influence of Georgian culture on north-western Caucasus and evidences the existence of the oldest ethno-cultural ties between  kindred Georgians and Adyghe people.


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