Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Edige: Scene from Turkic epic

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About the scene and clip:
The performer, called a jyrau, sings and tells a scene from the epic Edige, accompanying himself on the kobyz, an archaic fiddle. In this scene, the khan of the Golden Horde is warned by his wife to kill Edige before he can seize the khan’s throne.

We include this remarkable clip of a contemporary performance of epic as part of our exploration of analogous traditions: it sheds light on how medieval epics may have been performed.

About the work:
Edige is a medieval heroic epic about the Golden Horde, composed in Karakalpak, a Turkic language. It sings of Edige—his magical birth (his mother was a river fairy), his struggles at the court of the khan, his marriage to the daughter of Tamerlane (Sätemir), his battles, and his death. This epic has some basis in 14th-century historical reality despite its many fanciful features. Numerous versions of the epic are known to have existed.

About the genre:
The epic is an ancient genre and is found in almost every culture. It is a long heroic narrative which tells of war and great deeds. Epics are generally composed in verse, and sung from memory or improvised in performance by professional performers with instrumental accompaniment. These narratives are created from traditional elements, commonly without recourse to writing, by poets whose names are often unknown to us. Among the famous traditional epics are the Iliad and the Odyssey, attributed to Homer; the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf; and the Old French Song of Roland. Many known poets adopt epic forms and themes for their literary verse (such as Virgil in his Aeneid).

About the edition/translation:
Edige: A Karakalpak Oral Epic as Performed by Jumabay Bazarov, ed. and trans. Karl Reichl, Helsinki, Academia Scientiarum Fennica, FF Communications 293, 2007.

About the performer/ensemble:
Jumabay Bazarov (1927-2006) was a jyrau—a professional performer of oral epic—in Karakalpakistan in Uzbekistan. For further information on this performer, see Karl Reichl, Singing the Past: Turkic and Medieval Heroic Poetry, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 2000, pp. 37-9.

About the production:
This video was filmed in Uzbekistan in September 1993 by Karl Reichl of the Advisory Board of this website. We are grateful to him for making this video available to us.