Sources: the Samguk-yusa “Hwan’ung-Dan’gun” 桓雄·壇君 account

The following is a direct translation of the Hwan’ung-Dan’gun (桓雄·壇君) myth as found in the Samguk-yusa (『三國遺事』’Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms’ c.1283) where it is included at the start of the first “Gi’i” (紀異 ‘Records of wondrous/supernatural [events]’) chapter; the section is titled ‘Old Joseon’ and subtitled ‘Wanggeom Joseon’ (古朝鮮:王儉朝鮮).

This is the longer of the two earliest surviving Hwan’ung-Dan’gun variant texts. The other is found as an annotation in Jewang-un’gi (『帝王韻紀』’Rhyming record of emperors and kings’ completed 1287) by Yi Seunghyu (李承休).

English translations of the SY variant are available in various books; I’m uploading this version for convenience and in anticipation of following posts.

In the original Chinese, the Old Joseon section contains no subdivisions; here I have divided it into five. The middle sections are based on the three part structural analysis by Choe Namseon (崔南善 1890-1957) – this is now convention and seems quite obvious, but he was the first person to do this.

Curved parenthesis () are original to the text; in the original Chinese there is no such punctuation but instead the parenthetical text is smaller sized than the main text.

Old Joseon (Wanggeom Joseon)

According to the Weishu 魏書, 2,000 years ago there was Dan’gun Wanggeom 壇君王儉, [he] established the capital of Asadal 阿斯達 (the classic {i.e. Shanhaijing 山海經} says this was either Muyeop-san 無葉山 or Baeg’ak 白岳 in Baek-ju 白州; it also says it was to the east of Gaeseong 開城, now Baeg’ak-gung palace白岳宮). Founding {lit. opening} the kingdom [it] was called Joseon 朝鮮; [this was] the same time as {legendary} [Emperor] Yao 高 {堯}.


{Hwan’ung descension myth}
According to old records 古記, a long time ago there was Hwan’in 桓因 (called Śakra 帝釋 {Kor. Jeseok}). [One of his] sons [was] Hwan’ung 桓雄 [who] had much intention [for] earth [and] coveted the human world. The father knew [his] son’s intentions; looking over the Samwi-Taebaek 三危太伯 [peaks], it was possible for humans to be widely prosperous 弘益人間. Thereupon bestowing the three celestial seals, he sent [his son] to rule it. [Hwan’]ung led 3,000 [followers], [and] descended to the summit of Taebaek-san mountain (Taebaek is present day Myohyang-san 妙香山{modern North Pyeong’an-do province in North Korea}) below the sindan-su 神壇樹 {lit. ‘divine altar’} tree; calling [the place] Sinsi 神市 {lit. ‘divine market’}, they called Hwan’ung ‘celestial king’. Commanding the wind earl and masters of rain and cloud, [they] managed cereals, life, disease, punishment, good and evil, and the more than 360 matters of humans; [these things] in the world they ruled and cultivated/enlightened.


{Bear and tiger story}
At [this] time, there was a bear [and] a tiger [who both] lived in the same hole. Always they prayed to the divine [Hwan’]ung, wishing to become human. Then, the god sent them one sprig of mugwort 艾 and twenty stems of garlic 蒜, saying, “You, eat these, do not see the sun for 100 days, then you will be able to achieve human form.”

The bear and tiger took and ate them, [observing the] prohibition/taboo [of sunlight] for twenty-one days. The bear gained a woman’s body; the tiger was unable to [observe the] prohibition and so did not gain a human body. The bear woman had no one with [whom] to marry. Therefore she always went to beneath the dan-su tree, [and] prayed to become pregnant. [Hwan’]ung temporarily changed [to human form] and married her; becoming pregnant she gave birth to a son [who was] named Dan’gun-Wanggeom.


{Dan’gun’s reign}
In the Gyeong’in 庚寅 year [of the sexagonary calendar], 50 years after [emperor] Tang Yao 唐高 had ascended the throne (the first year of Tang Yao’s reign was Mujin 戊辰, so the 50th year would be Jeongsa 丁巳, not Gyeong’in. Probably it is wrong) [Dan’gun Wanggeom] established the capital Pyeongyang-seong 平壤城 (current day Seogyeong 西京 {‘western capital’ aka modern Pyeongyang}) and for the first time called [the country] Joseon. Again the capital was moved to Baek’ak-san mountain Asadal. Again, [it was] named Gung- 弓(or Bang)-hol-san 忽山, or/again Geummidal 今彌達; [he] governed the country for 1,500 years. In the year that King Wu of Zhou 周虎王{aka 周武} ascended the throne, [sexagonary] Gimyo 己卯 [year], Gi Ja 箕子 was enfeoffed to Joseon; Dan’gun thereupon moved to Jangdang-gyeong 藏唐京 [and] later returned to Asadal-san becoming a sansin 山神 mountain god. [He] was aged 1,908.


{Gi Ja and Han Commanderies}
According to Tang [dynasty era] Peiju-zhuan 裵矩傳, Goryeo 高麗 was originally Gojuk-guk 孤竹國 (current day Haeju 海州). By enfeoffing Gi Ja 箕子 [they] made Joseon. Han [China] divided [Joseon] establishing three commanderies 郡, called Xuantu [K. Hyeondo] 玄菟, Lelang [K. Nangnang] 樂浪 and Daifang [K. Daebang] 帶方(North Daifang). The Tongdian 通典 {by Du You 杜佑 (735-812)}, also has a similar account to this. (The Hanshu 漢書 has four commanderies Zhen[pan-jun] 眞{番}, Lin[tun-jun] 臨{屯}, Le[lang-jun] and Xuan[tu-jun];  now [here] it says three commanderies, the names also are not the same, why would this be?)

唐裵矩傳云高麗本孤竹國(今海州)周以封箕子爲朝鮮漢分置三郡謂玄菟 樂浪帶方(北帶方)通典亦同此說(漢書則眞臨樂玄四郡今云三郡名又不同何耶)