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Nikitina M.I. Ancient Korean poetry in connection with ritual and myth [Древняя корейская поэзия в связи с ритуалом и мифом]. Moscow: Nauka Publishers 1982. 328 pp.


The present work is a study of old Korean poetry in the context of cultural problems. Our preliminary examination of separate hyangga, ancient Korean poems appearing in Samguk yusa (1285) (and dated between the 6th and 9th centuries), led us to the following conclusions:

1) despite their differences, the hyangga, at least most of those in Samguk yusa, reflect a certain general picture of the world;

2) this picture is of a mythopoetic nature;

3) it represents a system of concepts of the world focusing on recreating and preserving a cosmic order, which in the Far East is often tantamount to the creation and preservation of a given state.

Supposing that the assumption of a single system of concepts of the world underlying the hyangga can prove productive, we have formulated the goal of this work in the following terms: To reveal a common semantic layer of selected poetic texts and the underlying system of the concepts of the world, proceeding from the logic of mythopoetic work.

Our study of the hyangga from Samguk yusa and a considerable body of texts in the Korean, Chinese, Japanese and other languages resulted in the following:

1) We have revealed a common semantic layer of the hyangga under examination, and this layer reflects a specific system of the concepts of the world, further referred to as “the system of appearance”, a system initially determined by the attitude to a socially significant person as an embodiment of the integrity and well-being of a group as well as an embodiment of cosmic forces.

2) Natural in an archaic communal society, these attitudes in ancient Korean culture manifested themselves in the special attention to appearance of a socially significant person, a “senior”, who was regarded as identical to society and the universe. Therefore, central to the system of appearance is the category of chus (“appearance”). Related to it are other categories, such as the category of the “soul / consciousness”, and of the “path”, that are at the same time ritual and poetic. The “appearance of a senior” is a category involving both a totality of definite characteristics of a senior’s personality and the unity (identity) of the “senior” with “juniors”, i.e. people who depend upon him socially but have no “appearance” of there own. Each “senior” is a “junior” in relation to another person of greater social significance. At the top of this pyramid is the sovereign.

The appearance of a “senior” is dynamic, varying with the actions of the “senior”, the “junior” or the “enemy” having a similar appearance with that of the “senior”. Damage done to the appearance of the “senior” can be recovered by means of ritual.

3) Ritual is a means of influencing the appearance of the “senior” and, hence, society and the universe. In the course of ritual, the appearance of the “senior” is perceived and a hyangga is composed to serve as a means of influencing this appearance. The appearance is perceived by comparing its various manifestations (anthropomorphic, luminous and vegetable). Depending on the recipient of the hyangga, appearance-affecting ritual types may differ in time/space terms. The three ritual types discussed here are: a) influencing the appearance of an absent senior: b) expelling the enemy; and c) influencing the appearance of the present senior. The study also considers the fourth type combining creolized versions of the three types and addressing a Buddhist deity;

4) Hyangga is a means of controlling, by magic, the appearance of a senior and, hence, society and the universe. The hyangga poems were composed and performed (and occasionally even recorded) in ritual practice. With the practice completed, the hyangga text was handed over (in writing or orally) to a person whose action had affected the appearance of the senior.

A hyangga text describes the appearance of the senior at a given moment in ritual practice. The statement of changes in the appearance of the senior by the hyangga text was to restore it to normal; description of its ideal state ensured that the appearance would remain unchanged for the future.

The authors of hyangga and the priests performing ritual ritual were mostly hwarangs, i.e. members of a special social organization called hwarang which was quite influential in Late Silla (7th –10th centuries).

5) The system of appearance is a historical phenomenon. It came into being as a result of a synthesis of major components of ancient Korean spiritual culture; the burial complex generating the very notion of appearance, shamanic concepts, solar myths, etc. Our study reveals that the ritual of influencing the appearance of an absent senior goes back to shamanic rituals; the ritual of influencing the appearance of the present senior is based on the ritual recreating the myth of the Sun Woman and her Parents; the ritual of expelling the enemy sometimes derives from the ritual recreating the myth of the Archer-Sun and two Masters (Water and Earth). Both these myths are not understood yet. The study reconstructs both myths and their respective rituals, showing their roles, and especially that of the myth of the Sun Woman and her Parents, as major components of old Korean spiritual culture,

6) The system of appearance took shape with the emerging Old Silla state in response to the need for centralized state with strong communal traditions, to promote a single system of world outlook ensuring smooth functioning of the state mechanism and, in fact, for the institution of hwarang as a vehicle of this world outlook. The system of appearance reached its heyday in Late Silla, apparently serving as the state outlook until the mid-8th century. The ritual based on the system of appearance survived in Korean culture until the 20th century.

It can be inferred that the system of appearance largely governed the nature of Korean spiritual culture in ancient times and subsequent periods, determining the acceptance of Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Chinese imperial ideology.

7) Despite important specific features, the system of appearance is quite congruent with the general Far Eastern cultural context. Parallels are seen in cultures of South-East Asia and Oceania.

This work is structured in accordance with the objectives and tasks set, the nature of the sources, and the degree to which this material has been studied. The work consists of introduction, three parts (the first two divided into chapters), and conclusion. In the first part the above-mentioned conclusions are proposed starting from analyses of the hyangga and related texts. In the second part the conclusions are specified and checked against Korean texts dating from the 12th to 14th century, and the history of the Silla ritual is traced during the Koryo period (10th to 14th century).

Our examination of the Koryo-period texts allowed clarifying several aspects of the system of appearance not too well preserved in the available hyangga and, more important, showing that Korean poetic texts of that time generally discussed the senior / junior relationship in terms and categories of Old Silla and Late Silla rituals.

Pert three examines the roots of the system of appearance apparently originating, above all, from the burial ritual generating the notion of appearance proper in still earlier times.

Studies of the system of appearance change, to a considerable extent, our notions of the cultural-ideological complex of Late Silla and its specific features, and, therefore, of the sources of traditional Korean culture.


Аннотация, От редколлегии, Предисловие, Summary, Оглавление


Korean poetry
Late Silla
Samguk yusa

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