Autumn 1996 (4.3)
Passionate Tales of the Middle Ages
by Kamal Abdulla
Hollywood, move over! If it's blood and guts, violence, passion and sacrifice that sells movies these days, Dada Gorgud would make a best seller. Since the 1980s, an Azerbaijani version of the movie has been out. In the meantime, if you're looking for something in English, try the text, "The Book o Dada Gorgud"-it's a delight to the imagination.
"The Book of Dada Gorgud" is the most significant Turkic literary epic of the Middle Ages. For hundreds of years these stories that make up this collection were handed down as part of the orally tradition of the Turkic peoples.
Two major manuscripts are known to exist-one in Dresden, Germany, and the other in the Vatican. The Dresden copy, which was discovered by H. F. Von Diez in 1815, is more complete with 12 stories. The language of this copy is very close to modern Azerbaijani. The Vatican copy consists of only six stories and is considered to be closer to the Old Turkic language and was discovered in 1950 by Ettore Rossi. The manuscripts are believed to date to the 15th or 16th centuries, although scholars are still debating the actual dates and about which is older. The epic describes the life and heroic deeds of Oghuz Turks during the Middle Ages. (As far as ethnic and language relations are concerned, the Oghuz are related to three contemporary Turkic peoples during this time period-Azerbaijanis, Turks and Turkmen.)
Who is Dada Gorgud?
Dada Gorgud, after whom the book is named, narrates the stories. Rashid ad-Din, a Middle Ages scholar, refers to Dada Gorgud as a real person. In the epic, he is high priest and bard of the Oghuz tribe, he composes tales, and often sings them to the accompaniment of music from his "kopuz" (lute). It is also his task to bestow names upon the young men after they have proven themselves courageous. And it is he who gives advice and help when they are in trouble.
Time Span of the Epic
The events in "Dada Gorgud" cover three time periods. The first is antiquity, usually proven by motifs that are closely related to those in Homer's "Odyssey." Scholars often compare the events and characters of these two epics. For example, the protagonists in both have very similar adventures, and wives in both offer their lives as a sacrifice for their husbands. Tapagyoz (a creature with a single eye) and Cyclops stores are also considered to be derived from a common source. It still remains a puzzle for scholars whether these stories derive ultimately from Homer, or whether Homer borrowed these stories while they were circulating orally in western parts of Central Asia.
The second time period is the 7th-12th centureis, in which the life of the Oghuz tribes is mainly described. The epic itself refers to the time when Dada Gorgud appeared and mentions that historically it was very close to the period when Mohammed lived (570-632 A.D.). the third period of time referred to in the manuscripts themselves, is the 15th century when these stories were written down.
Dada Gorgud Forbidden by Stalin
In Azerbaijan, serious study of "Dada Gorgud" started in the late 1950s. earlier, during the years of Stalinist Repression, research had been prohibited, probably because Turkish scholars had already been doing considerable research on it. Soviet policy at the time was generally anti-Turkish as they did not want relationships between Azerbaijan and Turkish scholars to develop. Soviet officials didn't want the Turkic peoples living on the territory of the Soviet Union (Azerbaijanis, and all those of the Central Asian Republics-Turkmen, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz) to associate with each other, fearing it might lead to a movement of Turkic re-unification. Digging into the very old layers of history was viewed as potentially dangerous as the Turkic peoples share much in common in terms of language, culture and literature today, but in earlier epochs, the similarities were even closer.
Kamal Abdulla is head of the Department of Azerbaijani Language at the Azerbaijan State Institute of Languages and wrote his doctoral dissertation about Dada Gorgud.
Episode from Dada Gorgud
The following excerpt is taken from the second chapter of "The Book of Dada Gorgud" entitled "How Salur Kazan's House Was Pillaged." It is one of the most dramatic passages in the story. While Prince Kazan was out hunting, his enemy, King Shokli, approached and destroyed his residence, stole his flocks of sheep, and kidnapped his mother, wife and son, Uruz. The enemy doesn't know which of the 41 women is Kazan's wife. They concoct a horrendous plan to determine who she is so they can inflict more harm. Mother and son discuss their strategy.
Lady Burla the Tall, wife of Kazan, speaks to her son, Uruz: "The infidels have taken monstrous counsel together and said, "Impale Kazan's son Uruz on a hook, cut up his white flesh and make a nice brown roast, offer it to the 42 ladies, and you may know that whichever of them will not eat it is the wife of Kazan. Take her and we shall bring her to our bed and make her our cup-bearer.'"
"Shat do you say, son? Shall I eat of your flesh or shall I enter the bed of the infidel of foul religion and defile the honor of your lord Kazan? What shall I do, my son?"
Uruz replied, "May your mouth dry up, Mother! May your tongue rot, Mother! Were it not that they say a mother's due is God's due, I should rise up and seize you by your collar and your throat. I should cast you beneath my hard heel. I should trample your white face into the black earth. I should bring the blood gushing from your mouth and nose. I should show you how sweet life is.
"What kind of talk is this? Let them impale me on the hook, but beware of rushing up to me and saying, 'My son!' and beware of weeping for me. let them cut up my white flesh and roast it, let them offer it to the 40 ladies. And for every mouthful they eat, you must eat two, so that the infidels do not guess who you are and detect you, lest you go to the bed of the infidel of foul religion and become his cup-bearer and defile the honor of my father Kazan. Beware!"
So saying, he wept great tears. Lady Burla the Tall clasped his neck and fell down. She clutched and ripped her cheeks, red as autumn apples, she tore her hair like reeds up-rooted. She wailed and cried, "My son, my son!"
"Lady mother, why do you scream in front of me?
Why do you lament, why do you weep?
Why do you wound my heart?
Why do you recall my days that are past?
Mother, where the Arab horses are
Is there never a foal?
Where the red camels are
Is there never a young one?
Where the white sheep are
Is there never a lamb?
Live, my lady mother, and let my father live;
Will there never be a son like me?"
In the end, no son was impaled on a hook, no mother was forced to betray her identity by eating her son's flesh or sleeping in an infidel's bed. With the help of his shepherd, Prince Kazan overcame the enemy in a bloody battle and freed them his mother, his wife and his son. At this point, Dada Gorgud, the narrator, returns to the scene and addresses Kazan:
"Where now are the valiant princes
of whom I have told,
Those who said, 'The world is mine?'
Doom has taken them, earth has hidden them.
Who inherits this transient world,
The world to which men come,
from which they go,
The world whose latter end is death?
"I shall pray for you, my Khan: may your firm-rooted high mountain never be overthrown. May your great shady tree never be cut down. May your lovely clear-flowing river never run dry. May mighty God never put you in need of unworthy men. May your gray-white horse never stumble as he gallops. May your pure black steel sword never be notched in the fray. May your many-colored lance never shatter in the thrusting. May your white-bearded father's place be in paradise. May your white-haired mother's place be in heavenMay your God-given hope never be disappointed, may He grant you increase and preserve you in strength and forgive your sins for the honor of Mohammed, the chosen of beautiful name, Oh my khan!"
From "The Book of Dada Korkut," Penguin Books, 1974, from the chapter entitled "How Salur Kazan's House Was Pillaged," 51-52 and 58.
From Azerbaijan International (4.3) Autumn 1996.
© Azerbaijan International 1996. All rights reserved.