The History and Legendo of the Horsehead Violin

November 21, 2019 — The “morin khuur,” or the horsehead violin, is an ancient musical instrument said to emit the cry of a dying horse. It’s widespread across Mongolia, where it has remained popular to this day.

Legend has it a horse lord shepherd of the ancient Eurasian steppes invented the horsehead violin (some call it a fiddle) in honor of his dead pegasus (a flying horse), which he had used to ride across the skies each night to meet his love.

However, a jealous rival who wanted the shepherd’s woman for himself, cut off the pegasus’ wings and killed the magical horse. In his grief, the shepherd made the two-stringed fiddle in his horse’s honor, using hair from one female and one male horse, to symbolize the love for the woman he would never see again. From then on, during all day and all night, the shepherd played emotional songs on his two-stringed violin about — not the lover he wouldn’t be able to see — but about his winged horse.

Interestingly, a nearly identical instrument called a “gusle” is common in Eastern Europe, especially in the Balkans. The main difference is the gusle is decorated by a Capricorn’s goat-like head, and not that of a horse. Archeologists have proposed various theories of the gusle’s origin, and one controversial hypothesis suggests the gusle is an extremely old instrument, dating back to Neanderthal times, some 40,000 years ago.

Björn Larsson
Artisan executive, game developer, music supervisor, and renegade historian. I lead Legendo's game-planning efforts, supervise artwork and branding, and manage Legendo Music. I also find it impossible to not co-author story arcs for our animation, games, and comic book projects. You can find me on Twitter.

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