Book of Dede Korkut Background

Book of Dede Korkut Background

The Book of Dede Korkut is the most famous of the epic stories of the Oghuz Turks, a Western Turkic people who spoke the Oghuz Turkic languages (not to be confused with the Turkish language) a group of twenty five different languages including Azerbaijani and Turkmen. Although it is difficult to say when the stories were actually written, most scholars agree that the first texts appeared in the fifteenth century, because of the way in which the "author" was appeasing both the Ottoman rulers and the Akkoyunlu tribal elders by not seeming to write from one perspective more than another. However, some scholars believe the writing first appeared at least one hundred years earlier, because of the similarity with an Arabic history that was written in Egypt in the fourteenth century.

The stories are usually a cross between fables and cautionary tales, and they always include some element of moral teaching, promoting a lifestyle and a set of values that are highly significant to the nomadic Turks, who were beginning to move away from their previously Shamanistic belief system towards early Islam. The narrative of the book is mythical in nature; to its contemporaneous readers it was a spiritual and social guide in mythical form. To today's readers it is also an illuminating history of the Turkic countries that would later form the basis of the Ottoman Empire, including Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.

A Dastan is an ornate and over-ornamented oral history that stems from Central Asia, and the Book of Dede Korkut uses these oral histories as the foundation of this written version. Every dastan followed more or less the same format and the central figure was always an "ordinary Joe"-type figure who would protect his village from harm usually at considerable peril to himself, thereby instigating a "tribe before individual" ethic within the tribe as a whole Because this particular dastan takes place in Caucasus, along the border of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, it is presumed that this is also where the stories originated.

The twelve stories in the book would originally have been told as oral histories, but after the conversion of the Turks to Islam, they were written down, altering the dynamic of the stories by portraying the hero as the brave and worthy Muslim and his opponents as infidels, the unfaithful for whom the Muslims had no tolerance at all. There is also a visible pre-Islam theme as well, and the protagonist, Grandfather Korkut, is a soothsayer who practiced Shamanism, and continued to do so even as the nation turned away from its magical roots. He is the respected tribal elder with archetypal long white beard and endless knowledge. There is most likely some grounding in history in all of the stories, which detail battles, revere warriors and continue the conflicts between different tribes that have gone on for generations.

Many of these stories seem to be versions of more westernized stories, particularly Ancient Greek myths. There is so much cross-over between the tale of the one eyed monster Tepegoz, an infamous legendary creature with one eye in the center of his forehead, and the Cyclops of Homer's Odyssey, that is is assumed to have derived from the same story that came from Anatolia.

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