Academic ProgramsAnthropology DepartmentMacalester College

First Year Course on Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khaan)





















Illustration of Word


Mongolian forms:



Literary Analysis

The Secret History is the written biography of Genghis Khan’s life and the lives of his successors by a person who experienced the events first hand. There are several translations of The Secret History, each of which has a unique interpretation of different parts of the text. The three most widely used translations are those by Urgunge Onon, Francis Woodman Cleaves, and Igor de Rachewiltz. While there are slight disparities within these translations, for the most part the three translators agree on how wolf is used throughout the text. The main way wolf is used in the text is to describe a person or their actions symbolically.

Cultural Significance

Undeniably, wolves were and are an important part of Mongolian society and will continue to be so for as long as there is a Mongolian nation. From the time of Genghis Khan to modern day Mongolia, wolves have been unmatched in respect and deference paid to them. As was seen in The Secret History, wolves were respected for their power, stealth, and tenacity. Today in Mongolia, wolves are still very respected. It is believed that no one can see a wolf unless he or she is that wolf’s equal, and you cannot kill a wolf unless it chooses to submit to you. A large part of why Mongolians respect wolves so much stems from their way of life. Historically, Mongolia has been a nation of herders and hunters, and in both, wolves are very influential. As herders, Mongolians had to respect a wolf’s ability to kill their animals and disrupt their lives. As hunters, Mongolians respect wolves because of their ability to be such powerful and successful hunters. Whether it was 800 years ago or eight days ago, wolves enjoy enormous amounts of respect.

Historical Significance

Outside of effecting cultural beliefs and practices, wolves have not played a large part in the history of the Mongols. While wolves are important culturally, they were not a major part of Genghis Khan’s world conquest. This absence of attention for wolves makes the gap between culture and history very clear. While wolves have always been very significant symbols in Mongolian culture, they play no real part in the history of the nation and because of this are somewhat ignored. This is not because they are no longer viewed as important, but rather that their realm of influence lies outside of what Genghis Khan created. The best example of how wolves have been separated form Genghis Khan’s empire can be found in the music by the Mongolian composer N. Jantsannorov. As a Mongolian, his work is very centered on the Mongolian psyche and Genghis Khan’s empire, but songs depicting wolves are suspiciously lacking in some of his compositions. The music he creates deals with many aspects of Mongolian life, past and present, but does not touch on wolves due to the fact his works center on the history on Mongolia and not its culture.


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