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[personal profile] ursula
I'm skimming through The Secret History of the Mongols for an SCA project. This is a thirteenth-century chronicle; I'm using Igor de Rachewiltz's translation, which has excellent and copious footnotes.

I was struck by the segment where Činggis Qa'an's mother is kidnapped (by Činggis Qa'an's father):



At that time Yisügei Ba'atur was hunting with falcons along the Onan River when he met the Merkit Yeke Čiledü who was on his way home, taking with him a girl of the Olqunu'ut tribe to be his wife. Leaning forward to have a better look, he saw that she was an unusually beautiful young woman. He swiftly rode back to his tent, then returned leading his elder brother Nekün Taiši and his younger brother Daritai Otčigin.

Čiledü became frightened at their coming. He had a fast dun mare; he struck his dun mare over the rump and galloped away over a hill. The three men rode after him. Čiledü rounded the spur of the hill and got back to his cart. There and then Lady Hö'elün said to him, "Did you notice those three men? Their look is odd: they look as if they want to take your life. If only you are spared,

In the front seat of every cart
There are girls,
In every black cart,
There are women.

If only you are spared, you will always find a girl or a woman like me. If her name is different, name her also Hö'elün. Save your life! Never forget to breathe my scent!"

She took off her shirt and he, on horseback, seized it with his outstretched hand. By this time the three men had rounded the spur of the hill and were drawing near. Čiledü struck his fat dun mare on the rump, rode swiftly away and fled upstream along the Onan river.




In the footnotes, de Rachewiltz comments that "Never forget to breathe my scent!" is literally "Go smelling my smell," with a form of the verb "to go" that suggests continuous activity. I think "Go on smelling my smell" is more evocative than his prettier translation.

This passage is simultaneously tragically romantic and pragmatic in a way that I'm not used to seeing in Western literature: I'd expect either Čiledü or Hö'elün to die here, in older stories, or one of them to kill Yisügei later, in newer ones. (Instead Hö'elün and Yisügei have five children, and then Yisügei is poisoned by some Tatars.)

November 2016

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