Sheremetev D. A. (2021). O rukojati shashki [Concerning Shashka Hilts]. Istoricheskoe oruzhievedenie [Weapons History Journal], № 10, pp. 31 — 68.
Abstract: The article is dedicated to a specific hilt shape of a Caucasian shashka. According to a popular hypothesis, hilts with bifurcated pommels derived from the need to use a shashka as a support during rifle shooting. This hypothesis is not substantiated by reliable facts and represents a stereotyped response of technical thinking to an unfamiliar cultural phenomenon.
The author proposes a symbolic interpretation of the explored phenomenon and postulates a necessity to apply synthetic rather than analytical research methods to symbolic meanings. Generalized, a shashka hilt is examined together with a yataghan hilt and a Central Asian knife hilt with overhead mounting. Abstraction resulted in obtaining a schematic model of a shashka hilt made of two bone or horn scales riveted to a flat tang of a blade.
Furthermore, the author puts a particular attention to symbolic meanings of bone and horn as components of shashka hilts. Specific examples of Caucasian folk tales demonstrate the association of bone with the idea of resurrection. The image of a bone hilted sabre turns out to fit in the eternal circle of life in which death and dismemberment are merely a short-term stage of transition from one state to another. As for horn, symbolic meanings of its various types are viewed as variations of bone symbolism which emphasize primarily the hierarchy of individual relationships.
The author introduces Plato’s concept of “archetypes and their embodiments” as a conceptual framework for the research of symbolism and employs the term “perfect form” which expresses an intermediary position between the above-mentioned elements. This approach enables not only treating the object as an embodiment of an archetype but also, in a number of cases, tracing how certain elements of the object’s external form subordinate to an archetype through its perfect form. Moreover, it allows to group objects to the criterion of their correlation with the common perfect form.
The main conclusions of the article are as follows:
- The stability over time and the absence of direct connection with utility reflect the fact that the meaning of a bifurcated pommel exceeds the sphere of reality and is a part of the sphere of duty.
- The overall relevance of the concept of an archetype and its embodiment inevitably results in the recognition of the fact that the image of a bifurcated pommel is beyond domain knowledge. Hence, attempts to determine the “functionality” of a bifurcated pommel produce no satisfactory results.
- Any embodiment of a perfect form requires certain means of expression which, in turn, risks to produce a methodical error of nondifferentiation between the means of expression and the essence of a phenomenon. A bifurcated pommel itself does not contain the meaning of the object, but instead points to it.
Keywords: shashka, hilt, pommel, archetype.