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The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian epic chronicle of the thirteenth century Translated with a historical and philological commentary

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The appearance of this new publication by Igor de Rachewiltz is evidence of the unquenchable interest in the Mongolian medieval literary monument The Secret History of the Mongols. To quote: ‘The real interest of the Secret History lies . . . in its faithful description of the Mongol tribal life in the 12th and 13th centuries’. Why is this text so especially valuable? Firstly, ‘The Secret History stands alone also because it is so close to the events which it relates’ (p. lxiv), and secondly, ‘The Secret History is and remains a true and original Mongol product, unique of its kind, for no other nomadic or seminomadic people has ever created a literary masterpiece like it, in which epic poetry and narrative are so skilfully and indeed artistically blended with fictional and historical accounts’ (p. xxvi). In the present study the author used more than forty translations in different languages. By doing it he pays a tribute to his predecessors: ‘Mostaert’s outstanding contribution’ (p. cxiii), ‘Mostaert’s and Ligeti’s epoch-making studies’ (p. lxxv), ‘Cleaves’ book is nevertheless of paramount importance’ (p. lxxvi) etc. To complete the translation and the commentary, the author used bibliographies, references, and dictionaries, all of which helped him to create a piece of work which revealed different sides of Mongolian life in the period of formation of the Mongolian Empire. For instance, the mentality of the time is revealed through interpretation of various folk motifs. Types of social organisation are revealed by explanation of terms, social positions, ranks and hierarchy, the levels of political organisation, and through analysis of interrelations between social groups and the elite. The present translation is the product of thirty years’ continuous investigation into this difficult text. ‘Over 1,300 primary and secondary sources, as well as monographs and essays in many languages, have been consulted by the author’. One can not disagree with the statement that, despite the longevity of observation and interest in it, the Secret History still remains ‘a true mine of information’.


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