Igor De Rachewiltz (editor and translator)
Between 1971 and 1985, Igor de Rachewiltz published his translation of The Secret History of the Mongols (henceforth SHM) in eleven volumes of Papers on Far Eastern History. In addition to being a much easier read than the King James English used in Francis W. Cleaves’ translation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), it was accompanied by extensive footnotes commenting not only on the translation but also various aspects of Mongolian culture. While several other translations of the Secret History have emerged, none equaled Rachewiltz’s translation in terms of annotation or in the quality of the translation, although some approached it.
Unfortunately, using Rachewiltz’s original translation was often unwieldy due to it being published in 11 installments over a span of 14 years. Even for those who copied it and kept it in one volume or a folder, there was still the problem of ensuring a correct citation of proper volume and year. Thus it is not only with great pleasure, but also great relief to announce the publication of Igor de Rachewiltz’s translation of The Secret History of the Mongolsin Brill’s Inner Asian Library series.
Rachewiltz’s new edition of The Secret History of the Mongols is a substantial addition to the scholarship of the Mongol Empire, not only in terms of finally being published in a book format, but also the improvements to the translation. Consisting of 1347 pages in addition to 127 pages of front matter, it is truly a monumental work.
This edition, begun in 1987, includes an even smoother translation than previous editions and made a few passages more lucid than previously had been the case. Thus, without question, this translation of The Secret History of the Mongols remains the best, not only in terms of quality of translation, but also in terms of readability for the non-specialist. Yet, the improved translation is only the tip of the iceberg.
The introduction alone is a boon to the historiography of the Mongol Empire. In addition to discussing the origins and history behind SHM, Rachewiltz discusses the sizeable scholarship which has emerged on SHM, including not only other translations but studies on the work and its role in folklore, historical studies, as well as literature. Indeed, the introduction alone would have been a worthy monograph and a substantial contribution to scholarship.
This edition of The Secret History of the Mongols includes a series of photographs as well as two maps and a genealogical table of Chinggis Khan. One map is of modern Mongolia with its present day boundaries. However, as it is meant to depict Mongolia in 1200, the names of the various tribes of Mongolia and the neighboring realms have also been included. This is particularly useful for illustrating the localities of the tribes as well as many of the locations mentioned in SHMin a modern context. The second map is one of Eurasia in the thirteenth century. In addition to the names of the various regions, Rachewiltz has also included geographic names and those of various ethnicities used by the Mongols. Hence for Tibet, Rachewiltz has included Töböt, Sarta’ul for Khwârazm, and Bolar for the Volga Bulgars, etc.
As SHM has been rather arbitrarily divided into chapters, Rachewiltz has included a summary of the chapters. The summary is particularly useful; in addition to being a summation of the events of the chapter, Rachewiltz also succinctly summarizes the paragraphs (or verses if one may) comprising that chapter. Thus one now has a quick reference to guide one’s research. Finally, a chapter and paragraph concordance has been provided listing the paragraphs included in each chapter. It should be noted that the SHM was translated from Chinese texts. These were used to teach Chinese to translate Mongolian during the Ming period, with the Mongolian language represented phonetically through Chinese characters. In some manuscripts, SHM was divided into 12 chapters with others with 15 chapters. Prof. Rachewiltz has used the 12 chapter division of the 177 paragraphs for his organization of The Secret History of the Mongols.
The translation itself consists of 220 pages. The commentary on the translation is much more expansive, spanning 823 pages. While the text of the translation alters slightly from his previous translation, the commentary is, as one would suspect, much more comprehensive than Rachewiltz’s prior translation. Indeed, his discussion of the chapters, Rachewiltz cites the arguments and thoughts of other scholars. While competent and confident in his own translation, Rachewiltz is realistic in that he brings forth other possible interpretations of vague or problematic paragraphs. As such, the commentary is not so much a commentary on SHM but rather a compendium of research of the work.