Mapping Two Anatolian Epics: Dede Korkut and Digenis Akritas

The Book of Dede Korkut eBook by | Rakuten Kobo
The cover of Dede Korkut’s English translation by Penguin Classics

Anatolia has been a prominent center in terms of having epics from the Hittites to the Seljuks, the Romans to the Ottomans. These epics are significant in a variety of ways; they essentially display the ways of communication between different cultures and societies alongside their struggle for ultimate and complete domination over Asia Minor. In this sense, two epics emerge to grasp these socio-cultural, military, and economic ways between the 11th and 14th centuries, or in the High Medieval Era. 

On the one side, the Book of Dede Korkut narrates the social and cultural lives of people in the borderlands, emphasizing moral and military values among the Oghuz Turks. Translated by Geoffrey Lewis, Dede Korkut outstands as the wise and elderly person and expresses each event with his suggestions and counsels. On the other side, Digenis Akritas (Two Blood Border Lord) explains the life of a borderland hero (Basil) who had an Arab father and a Byzantine mother around the 11th century. The epic details how he is converted into Christianity, how he recaptures Anatolian lands from the Arabs, and how he prospers Cappadocia and the Euphrates.

There are a number of epics that can be added into these two ones in terms of clarifying encounters between different peoples and understanding their socio-cultural lives from their point of view. Battalnâme, Dânişmendnâme, or Saltuknâme would be regarded as such epics. It is worth reminding that such epics are observed in several civilizations from Spain’s El Cid to Anglo-Saxon Beowulf. 

However, mapping such epics to better grasp where all these events occur and how different societies encounter was deficient and neglected in the Byzantine or Turkic cases. There is a certain need to prepare atlases to pinpoint locations of such epics because of many reasons that as I mentioned above. Besides, learning the conditions of urban or rural cultures, borderlands and pasturelands become much easier thanks to mapping these narratives. However, these mappings cannot be restricted or reduced to epics and heroic narratives. Instead, other forgotten literary texts like poems and historical narratives should be incorporated into maps and atlases.

The depiction of Digenis Akritas’s suffering from the dragon and his victory over it from a Byzantine dish (the 13th century)

In making maps, I used English translations of two epics instead of using Turkish and Greek versions. Yet, I am planning to properly add their original versions into this post as soon as I feel free. I am also open to your suggestions in mapping historical narratives. Eventually, this project is not a must from any educational institution but my own wish which is a curiosity towards maps since childhood. As far as maps are concerned, they yield several secrets for us and enjoy them if you can find any. You can click each map (at the bottom and at the top) to identify centers where crucial encounters took place between civilizations.

Sources

Mavrogordato, John. Digenes Akrites. Oxford, 1956.

Lewis, Geoffrey, ed. the Book of Dede Korkut. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1974.

 

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