More on Narts.

Back in 2004 I wrote a couple of posts about the Narts, the mythical race of giants whose tales are told throughout the North Caucasus (here and here), and now Victor Mair has done a Log post about them. There’s a lot of stuff about cattle-raiding, which doesn’t particularly interest me, but I was fascinated by Martin Schwartz’s etymological comments, which I reproduce below (I’ve added italics):

As to the etymology of Oss. nart(æ): While in contemporary Ossetic there is unquestionably a word nar ‘hero’, and in fact Prof. Foltz sent me a picture of the Nar Hotel in Vladikavkaz, where he was married, the word is a recent extraction (by back-formation) from nart(æ), which has the appearance of a plural, interpretable from context as a plurale tantum. In fact the word is not listed in Vsevolod F. Miller’s Ossetic-Russian-German dictionary (1929-1934), which very much quotes from Nart tales and whose learned native assistants included the folklorist Abaev.

This is not surprising, since Old Iranian nar– (nominative , from the PIE nom.(!) which Victor Mair cites) is nowhere reflected in Middle and New Iranian languages, which however do reflect the adj, *narya-, ‘male’, which as expected gives Oss. næl (with the Alan -l- from *-ry- as in the Alan ethnonym < *Arya– and many Ossetic examples).

Recently in my article (in A. Korangy and C. Miller, eds., Trends in Iranian and Persian Linguistics) “On some Iranian secret vocabularies as evidenced by a fourteenth century Persian manuscript” (the whole article is online via googlebooks), in Section (20) at the end I have a long discussion with new evidence for the the verbal root of the PIE noun h2ner– , i.e. √h2ner ‘to be strong, potent’, with various interesting semantic developments. Inter alia, I derive the Oss. Nart word from Proto-Iranian *narθrâ, a deverbal noun.

I should add that Proto-Iranian *rθ regularly gave Ossetic rt, so that *nar-Ørâ ‘strength, viritility’ would give *narrt(æ) > nart(æ) *’the milieu of heroism’, i.e. the Nart (tales). The suffix is cognate with the Skt., Gr., etc. deverbal derivative –trV-.

Elsewhere he says, on Ossetic Ir, “the *æl- of Alan < *arya-…will not give ir, but since attested Scythian, from sufficient examples, shows quite different phonological development vis-a-vis Sarmato-Alanic, it could be that *arya– went to *ir, and this is preserved as the Ossetic auto-ethnonym, as it were.” (In the Log thread, Germanist links to a webcomic based on Nart sagas!)


  1. Okay, why is he taking the square root of a laryngeal?

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    It results in an imaginary laryngeal.

  3. The Adam’s apple kinda is.

    (Seriously, √h₂ner just means that h₂ner is the root.)

  4. К вопросу о специфике образа Нартов в чечено-ингушском эпосе.
    Мифологические сюжеты, особенность их восприятия.

  5. CaucasTalk has an interview with John Colarusso, of Nart Saga fame. At the beginning of the interview (about 10 min into the podcast), Dr. Colarusso recites some of one of the sagas in Abaza from memory, too.

  6. Fantastic, thanks! (The interview with Colarusso actually starts at 17:40; the Abaza is at 22:25.)

  7. I notice he says “ah-SEET-ee-anz” for Ossetians (see this post).

  8. Here’s one of Jaimoukha’s Circassian Nart videos he mentions around the 46-minute mark, “The Tale of T’ot’resh’s Two-Pronged Spear.”

  9. David Marjanović says


    Yes, after he says -SET- several times.

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