I have more than once had occasion to use the online Encyclopædia Iranica; I have been grateful for its amazing compilation of information, but frustrated by the user interface and the problems with scanning and character reproduction. Now peacay (of the superb Bibliodyssey) informs me that it has relaunched with much improved functionality, or as their about page puts it: “This digital version was developed in 2009-2010, in collaboration with the web design company Electric Pulp, to provide a more user-friendly interface for accessing the Encyclopædia‘s online content.” To give you an idea of the riches it contains, here are a few paragraphs from (more or less at random) the DĀḠESTĀN article:

The increased prestige of the Persian language and Persian culture in the intellectual life of the entire Near East in the 17th century also had an impact on the social attitudes of the eastern Caucasian peoples, par­ticularly noticeable in folk poetry and literature. For example, devs (see *daiva) are common characters in the archaic folklore of the peoples of Dāḡestān, a complex synthesis in which the dominant influence was Iranian. In the oral poetry of the Avars, Darghins, Turkish Qumuqs, Laks, Lezgians, and others the devs usually appear as anthropomorphic one-eyed giant brothers, most often with a mother and one sister; they live in a cave, invincible fortress, or palace and engage in hunting. Sometimes beneficent white devs also appear in Dāḡestānī folklore. Equally common is the dragon aždaḵa, which is, particularly among Turkish­-speaking peoples, most closely related to the dragon from the Avesta (cf. Av. Aži- Dahāka-; see AŽDAHĀ). In the most common version a dragon with three, seven, or nine heads lives in a subterranean realm, guarding a spring and demanding maidens in payment for use of the water. The hero slays the dragon and also saves the young of a magical bird (sīmorḡ, Turk. karakuš), who then helps him to find his way out of the subterranean realm. The Nart epic, containing ele­ments traceable to Ibero-Caucasian-, Turkish-, and Iranian-speaking tribes, was the common heritage of the varied peoples of the northern Caucasus. Although it is no longer current in Dāḡestān, studies of the folklore of Qumuks, Avars, Laks, and Darghins attest that tales from it were formerly common there. Similarities in features of the Dāḡestānī and Ossetic versions apparently reflect the presence of Scythians and Alans in the northern Caucasus and direct contacts between the peoples of Dāḡestān with Ossetians.
. . .
Particularly vivid evidence of the importance of the Persian language in Dāḡestān is provided by a unique Persian-Arabic-Turkish dictionary, Jāmeʿ al-loḡatayn, compiled in the late 18th century by Moḥammad Šafīʿ, known as Dabīrqādī Avārī, of Khunzak (b. 1176/1762) at the suggestion of the Avar ruler Ommo Khan (H.L.L. Institute, ms. F. 14 no. 535; Figure 32). To prepare the dictionary, Dabīrqādī traveled to Persia and other countries to master the lexical wealth of the three languages. Mīrzā Jamāl Javānšīr (1187-1269/1773-­1853), secretary to Ebrāhīm Khan (1169-1221/1756-­1806) of Karabagh (Qarābāḡ), spent six years in Khunzak after his master’s death, studying Arabic with Dabīrqādī; he also mastered the Lezgin and Avar languages. In return he tutored his teacher in Persian, giving him a taste for its vocabulary and style, which helped him in compiling his dictionary. Dabīrqādī noted, “As a result, I achieved, with the help of the Almighty, a level sufficient for understanding and conversing in these two languages [Persian and Turk­ish] to a degree that the guests of Ommo Khan need no other translator and interpreter but myself in order to translate Persian missives and explain Turkish mis­sives . . . ” (Saidov, pp. 37-40). Dabīrqādī also wrote a manual on Persian conversation and a popular Per­sian-language textbook. His translations included a rendering of Kalīla wa Demna (the “Pañcatantra” version, probably after a Persian translation), which thus became accessible to the Avars for the first time. The plots and motifs of this work were incorporated into fables and tales by many later Dāḡestānī poets, particularly the satirist Gamzat Tsadasa (1294-1370/1877-1951). It was also Dabīrqādī who devel­oped the ʿajam system of writing, based on Arabic letters but adapted to the phonetics of Dāḡestānī languages; it consists of thirty-eight letter symbols.
. . .
A powerful factor in national literary culture was translation. The Darband-nāma, for example, was translated, complete or in abridged form, into Turkish, Arabic, Russian, English, and a number of Dāḡestānī languages, including even Sirkin (Siṛḫin) and Kubačī (now dialects of Dargva). In the early 19th century stories from the Qābūs-nāma, excerpts from Leylī o Majnūn, and other Persian works were translated into various Dāḡestānī languages. Several lyrical poems by Saʿdī were translated into Lak and Avar by ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān b. Jamāl-al-Dīn Qāżī-qūmūq in the 19th cen­tury and into Lak by Yūsof Murkeli (1270-1336/1854-­1918). The manuscript collection of Dāḡestān state university includes an original letter from Bugdan of Kumukh, written in the early 19th century to a con­noisseur of the Persian language and requesting a copy of ʿOmar Ḵayyām’s poems. Of particular interest to literary scholars is Antologiya persidskoĭ literatury (XVI-XVII vv.) (Anthology of Persian literature [16th­-17th centuries]) with an interlinear Avar translation (in the collection of M. Nurmagomedov, Makhachkala). The well-known Arabic medical treatise Toḥfat al-­moʾmenīn by Moḥammad Deylamī became available to Kumykh readers through a translation from the Persian made by the Avar Nurmagomed of Khunzak; the work was also translated into Lak (H.L.L. Institute, ms. F. 14 no. 189).

I wrote about the Narts here and here (and glancingly here, a thread notable for Ruslan’s recipe for Chechen lamb and millet pasta.)


  1. That magical bird sīmorḡ makes me wonder once again about “Simargl” in the Primary Chronicle…

  2. I love how we can discover non-linguistic historical facts from historical linguistics. Tom Shippeys’ example, that English hammer and Russian камень ‘stone’ are reflexes of the same Indo-European root, constitutes independent non-archaeological evidence of a Stone Age. But even better is the religious divide that must have served, along with geography, to separate the Indic and Iranic peoples: the good spirits are called deva on one side and ahura on the other, whereas the bad spirits are called asura and daiva respectively!

  3. Reading in the Encyclopedia about Shaw ‘Abbas the First, I came across the word golam, meaning soldier, servant, slave, military slave. I’m also reading Marge Piercy’s He, She and It which includes the story of the golem. So I wondered if there is a linguistic connection.

  4. Shah.

  5. So I wondered if there is a linguistic connection.
    A reasonable question, but no, because the initial consonants are different. Persian ḡolām (as the EI spells it) is from Arabic ghulām ‘youth, lad; servant,’ from the root gh-l-m ‘to be excited by lust’; note the initial gh-. Hebrew golem ‘formless mass, unfinished thing, golem’ is from the Central Semitic root g-l-m ‘to cut, break off, separate.’

  6. Thanks, Hat.

  7. The epic of aždaḵa and sīmorḡ reminds my of the Syriac Hymn of the Pearl, which I read a couple of years ago: a pared down Persian epic given a Christian Gnostic twist.

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