The Armenian Epic Poem “Daredevils of Sassoun” and the Mahabharata: Similarity of the Ethnographic Substratum
The Armenian Epic “Daredevils of Sassoun” and the Mahabharata: Similarity of the Ethnographic Substratum
Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), Russian Academy of Sciences, Universitetskaya nab. 3, St. Petersburg, 199034, Russia
The author summarizes the results of his search for parallels between the Armenian epic “Daredevils of Sassoun” (“Sasna crer” which is also called “David of Sassoun”), and the Mahabharata. The comparative study has revealed considerable similarity in the “ethnographic substratum” of both epics, particularly that relating to the archaic social organization mirrored by the epic. The earliest layer of both the Armenian and the Indian epics preserves the memory of a rural, largely pastoral society, in which an important role was played by young warrior brotherhoods. In the Armenian epic, this is indicated by recurrent motifs: the young heroes’ rampage followed by exile, the foundation of their own outpost in the backwoods, young warrior brotherhoods, their defense of herds and warding off enemy attacks, battle frenzy (a common characteristic of all the Sassoun heroes), their immutable mentor and leader (“uncle”) Keri Toros, allusions to orgiastic feasts, traces of premarital freedom by young men and women, etc. Among the Armenians, these motifs were supported by the existence until recent times of the institution of youth age-set groups, described by ethnographers. A comparative study of the Armenian epic reveals its hitherto unnoticed socio-historical aspects. Its wider use for studying other epic traditions (not only Indo-European but also those of other peoples inhabiting the Caucasus and the Eurasian steppes) will contribute to Comparative epic studies.