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First Year Course on Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khaan)





















Mongolian forms:







Literary Analysis

Literal Usage- Multiple Versions of the Secret History of the Mongols
In addition to Onon Urgunge’s translation of the Secret History, I examined other forms of the book for the purpose of comparing and contrasting the usage of the word ‘falcon’. Thus, an additional translation and a Mongolian form were examined, both the works of Igor de Rachewilt. While only slight differences in translation could be found, the major discoveries came from Rachewiltz’s English version of the text because of the incredible depth of his background studies. For the most part, Rachewiltz’s notes simply confirmed assumptions I had formerly made while studying Onon’s version. Perhaps most notable among these was when Rachewiltz explained that the color white is “-the auspicious color par excellence.” This is in reference to the two occasions in the book in which the falcon appears as a white bird, in which cases there are exceptionally peaceful scenese. Rachewiltz was extremely helpful in confirming the image of the falcon through the Mongol perspective. In one endnote he deems the falcon “king of the hunting birds.” The result of this analysis found agreement among all sources that the falcon is primarily displayed as fierce and vicious creature, but beautiful enough in its white form to be offered as a gift and portray good omens.


Cultural Significance

Cultural- depictions of the falcon
Recently a major archeological discovery made in Mongolia caused nationwide uproar when connections were made between the remains of a women’s body and the Borjigin clan from which Chinggis Khan descended. Apparently, next to the women there was found a number of small Mongol artifacts, among them a ring displaying an engraved white falcon indicating that she was in fact a member of the Borjigin who’s emblem was a falcon. For many cultures this would be an addition to an already fruitful museum of ancient artifacts. For the Mongols, however, few Mongol artworks of any kind have been recovered from the time of Chinggis Khan, and the object have created considerable excitement. More importantly than being one of a small collection of recovered artworks, the link to Chinggis Khan was more exciting for the Mongols, emphasizing the pride the country maintains in the world’s most successful conqueror. Looking into modern-day Mongol culture one can see still see the great importance of the falcon in society. In the Nadaam Festival which takes place annually in Mongolia around in July, the falcon is the title given to a man who has won five matches in the traditional wrestling competition.
While the Mongols left us little art from the time of Chinggis Khan, the works of surrounding peoples, many of whom were conquered by the Mongol empire, has proved worthy in the field of Mongol study. In one example found in Sheila R. Canby’s book, Persian Art, I analyzed the painting of a man holding his hunting falcon on his arm, the work of an anonymous Persian painter. While dated to the sixteenth century A.D., well after the retreat of Mongol military from formerly Mongol-ruled lands, the image clearly displays a common practice of the Mongols in ‘falconing’, which relates closely to the story of Chinggis Khan’s ancestor, Bodonchar. I also examined a poem done by the famous Asian poet, Rumi, who was originally from Afghanistan until his family had to flee from the invading Mongol army. In his poem he mentions the falcon saying: “If you’re that exhausted bird fighting a falcon for too long, Make a comeback and be strong.” I suggested that Rumi was symbolically referring to the Mongol army that many were exhausted from fighting, who would have carried a flag embellished with a falcon. The flag itself was yet another depiction, this one actually being from the Mongols themselves, however, we have no surviving flags from the time of Chinggis Khan, only estimated descriptions.


Historical Significance

Historical- Accounts from the Secret History of the Mongols
The falcon appears less than a dozen times during the Secret History, but in nearly every instance of its mention strong symbolism is implied. The first falcon scene of the book precedes Chinggis Khan’s own life by generations, but serves as explanation for the emblem of Chinggis’s own clan, the Borjigin, in a story about his ancient ancestor, Bodonchar. According to the Secret History, Boconchar had captured a falcon while living in the wilderness alone, and taught the bird to hunt for him. The falcon’s image would then accompany Chinggis Khan through his boyhood days and remain his emblem throughout his lifetime of conquering, eventually coming to represent the entirety of the Mongol empire. The Secret History mentions the falcon during Temujin’s (Chinggis Khan’s boyhood name) life while he is a nine year old boy, and his father is taking him to find a wife from the tribe of his mother. On their way, however, Temujin and his father Yisugei-Ba’atur are passing through another clan, when Yisugei decides that Temujin will instead marry a girl from this clan, a girl name Borte. This change of heart only comes through the persuasion of Borte’s father, who claims he’s had a dream of white falcon which perched upon his hand and held the moon and the sun, indicating that he foresaw the greatness of a Borjigin clan member, and their arrival cannot be coincidence. Apart from this scene, the falcon only appears once in its white form, and it is in the case of lords surrendering to Chinggis Khan. The falcons are part of the gifts they offer in their submission. Coincidentally, the only two falcon scenes in the book in which the falcons are white, are the only two in which the falcon implies peaceful happenings.
The falcon is also seen in Temujin’s youth as an insult after he slays his older half-brother following a squabble and his mother has just found out. In the midst of her furious rant she exclaims that Temujin is like “…falcon attacking its own shadow.” This is the only instance in which the falcon holds a negative connotation. The third time Temujin is described in the text as a falcon is when he is at the head of his growing army and we are given insight to a conversation taking place between two of his foe, on being his sworn brother Jamuqa. Here the implication is that of fierce warrior, hungry for war, as Temujin is described by both men as “a starved falcon.” Chinggis Khan would then later use the falcon as a metaphor in describing the actions his general must take in order to capture a fleeing enemy. Among other things, Chinggis asks “If they grow wings and fly up into the sky, will not you, Sube’etei turn into a gerfalcon and fly [up] after them?” The only other mentions of the bird are in the use of the word ‘falconing’ which occurs in relatively normal conversation, appearing to be synonymous with ‘hunting’. These mentions of the falcon gives us a pretty clear indication of the Mongol image of the bird as fierce and mighty fighter, but also a beautiful creature, and most certainly a representation of Chinggis Khan himself.


Cultural Artifact

For Further Information email Nicholas G. Honan

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