Russian Folk-Tales/Notes

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Alyósha Popóvich. One of the great knights at the court of Prince Vladímir. He was an effeminate kind of person and perhaps one who rather incited others to effort by his jibes than by his prowess. He is always given the uncomplimentary soubriquet of the 'Mocker of Women.' His principal heroic episode is told in the prose ballad in this book entitled 'Alyósha Popóvich.'

Angey, Tsar. Filuyán is a fabulous city found in the cantations and mystical rites of the Russian peasants. It is, however, probably derived from the Greek θύλη.

Bába Yagá. In Professor Sypherd's studies on Chaucer's House of Fame, Chaucer Society, 1904, a most valuable note will be found on revolving houses. It will be seen that the legend is cognate with magic wheels that revolve at great speed, or turn on wheels emitting flame and poison. The nearest analogy quoted is the whirling rampart in the Mael Duinn, but the Russian legend is evidently related and not derived.

Bogatýr. The bogatýr is the Russian Knight, but is absolutely unlike any Western romantic notion. He is a person of magical power and gigantic stature and prowess. Some of the bogatyrí are decidedly demi-gods; others more decisively human; but they all have some superhuman, it may be said inhuman, touch. The derivation of the word has been very much in dispute. The characteristic thing to note is that the word is only found in Russian, and in no other Slavonic language, and is almost certainly of Tatar origin, the original form being something like Bagadur. The Sanskrit derivation which is attempted of Baghadhara seems scarcely probable. Goryáyev's dictionary states that the original meaning was a company-commander-of the Tatars. If so, bogatýr is probably a corruption (though bog God and bogat rich) of the form buĭtur, found in the Slóvo, which is certainly cognate with the Turanian root buǐ, to command, v. notes in my edition of Igor.

Bryánsk. Bryánsk in the Province of Orël contains wonderful woods which were in ancient times impenetrable, and became the legendary home of magic, and of weird happenings. The Aspen tree is always associated in Russian folk-lore with magic and wizardry; it is also said that Judas hanged himself on this tree.

Chernígov. An ancient city of Russia on the Dniepr, a little higher up than Kíev.

Christ. As, in German folk-lore, the legends of Christ walking the earth with His disciples are very frequent and characteristic. There is a touch of friendly familiarity in this presentation which does not involve the least irreverence, but adds a touch of sarcastic humour which the Germans lack.

The Brother of Christ. For the punishment of the old man who grumbled at the good things of earth there is a surprisingly close analogy in Dante's Inferno, canto vii.

"Fitti nel limo dicon; Tristi fummo
Nell' aer dolce che dal sol s'allegra,
Portando dentro accidioso fummo:
Or c' attristiam nella belletta negra."

"Sunk in the slime they utter: 'Loth were we,
In sweet air sullen, which the sun makes glad,
Our souls besmirched with dull reluctancy:
Now in this black morass, our hearts are sad.'"

Chufil-Filyushka. Both these names are adaptations of the Greek θεόΦλος.

The Crystal Apple and the Silver Saucer

There is a strong Celtic flavour about this episode. Cf. The Twa Sisters o' Binnorie.

Ho's ta'en three locks o' her yellow hair
(Binnorie, oh Binnorie),
And wi' them strung his harp sae rare
By the bonny mill-dams of Binnorie.

And sune the harp sang loud and clear
(Binnorie, oh Binnorie),
Fareweel my father, and mother dear!
By the bonny mill-dams of Binnorie.

And then, as plain as plain could be,
(Binnorie, oh Binnorie),
There sits my sister wha drowned me!
By the bonny mill-dams o' Binnorie.

In this story the Russian of the words sung by the piper is also in Russian ballad metre.

Danílo the Unfortunate. This is a prose version of a ballad and contains a very full account of this legend. The old hag whom Danílo meets on the way is elsewhere called the Wise Woman of Kíev, an old witch with the ugly qualities generally assigned.

Death. Death is feminine in Russian and occurs all through the folk-lore as the visible figure of a skeleton whom they met by the way on the roadsides, and who may be cheated of her prey or dealt with like any other demon.

Dobrýnya Nikítich. One of the great figures at the legendary court of Prince Vladímir. He was a dragon-slayer, but his principal employment was as ambassador.

The Dream. Notes

The izbá, or hut, always has a dvor or courtyard, access to which is gained through double gates as well as through a postern. Often the hut is raised by a flight of steps from the level of the courtyard.

The izbá may have a cooling room in which to rest, so as to avoid the sudden change of air from the heated inner room; it is also a living room in the summer. Outside the dvor against the fence there is a bench (lávka), on which the family sits in the summer. The hut is made of logs, the fence of boards.

Between the rafters and the sloped roof is the loft (cherdák), into which a ladder leads.

Inside the hut is that essential and central feature of Russian peasant life, the stove, which occupies one side of a wall. In front against it three long implements stand, the poker, broom and shovel. The oven rests on a brick or tile foundation, about eighteen inches high, with a semicircular hollow space below. The top of the stove is used for a sleeping bench (poláty) for the old folk or the honoured guest. In larger houses there may be a lezhán'ka or heating stove, used as a sleeping sofa.

The bath-house is separate from the hut, and contains a flight of steps for different degrees of heat, obtained from white-hot stones on which water is flung. This is only found in better-class houses. In villages there is a general bath-house to which the peasants go once a week.

Every corner in the izbá has its particular name. There is the great corner, where the Ikon stands, the upper corner near the door, and the stove corner opposite to the doors of the stove.

The fence is made of boards or sticks or stumps.

Long thin laths are stuck on to an iron spike, and lit; a pail of water is placed below into which the cinders fall; these lamps must be renewed as they burn down, and the charred ends swept up.

Up to very recent times, patriarchal usages obtained through Russia, and married sons resided in the father's house.

This particular story portrays some of the personifications and allegorizings of the common acts of life; all of which have their appropriate blessing or grace. There are a number of tales of the curse attendant on the neglect of these duties, e.g. The Devil in the Dough-pan.

An example of the invocations is given in a note to The Midnight Dance.

Duke. i.e. a translation of voyevodá, which is again a translation of the High-German Herzog, which again is derived from the Latin Dux, meaning the leader of an army, not a mere title.

Egóri Khrábry. Egori the Brave. Is the Russian counterpart for St. George the Dragon-slayer.

Elijah the Prophet and St. Nicholas. Perún was the God of Thunder in pagan Slavdom, and his attributes have been transferred to Elijah who is represented as driven up to Heaven in a fiery chariot darting fiery rays, drawn by four winged horses, and surrounded by clouds and flames; a tale which copied the biblical account of Elijah's end. On earth the noise of the wheels is called thunder. In Nóvgorod there were one or two churches to St. Elijah of the Drought, and St. Elijah of the Rain, to be consulted as occasion required. The name days of these saints are December 6th and July 20th.

Hawk. The hawk is one of the most common references in Russian folk-lore, and the reference to the clear-eyed hawk is one of the strongest metaphors. The crow is equally common, but is generally used as a malign being. In Russian folk-tale there is nothing incongruous in a man having as his sons a boy, a crow and a hawk or an eagle: or as in 'Márya Morévna,' where the marriage of Ivan with a beautiful princess and of his two sisters with the eagle and the crow are all of them equally plausible.

Ídolishche. One of the symbols of paganism in the early ballads of Russia. He is generally represented as a gluttonous monster; but in the ballad of the Realms of Copper, Silver, and Gold his name has been given too as a goblin. Goblins are very rare in Russian folk-lore; fairies seem to be non-existent.

Ilyá Múromets. Ilyá Múromets is one of the heroes of the Kíev cycle; he derives his strength from mystical sources of Mother Earth, and his great feat is the slaying of the Nightingale Robber. He is intermediate between the 'elder bogatyri' the earth-born Tirans, and the human champions of the legendary Court of Vladímir. He is always of popular origin and, as such, at variance with the semi-Scandinavian Court.

Iván Vasil'evich. The Tsar Iván Vasil'evich is a very popular figure in the Russian ballads; there are two of this name: Ivan III. 1462-1505, and Ivan the Terrible, 1533-1584. Both were very energetic rulers who enlarged the domain of Moscow and curbed the power of the territorial nobility.

Midnight Dance. General Notes to this Story

The underworld is the home of magic. This charm, to be said by a soldier going to the wars, may be of interest.

"Beneath the sea, the sea of Khvalýnsk [the Caspian], there stands a house of bronze, and in that house of bronze the fiery serpent is enchained, and under the fiery serpent lies the seven pud key from the castle of the Prince, the Prince Vladímir, and in the princely castle, the castle of Vladímir, are laid the knightly trappings of the knights of Nóvgorod, of the youthful war-men.

"On the broad Volga, on the steep-set banks, the princely swan swims from the Prince's courtyard. I will capture that swan, I will seize it, I will grasp it. (I will say) 'Thou, oh swan, fly to the sea of Khvalýnsk, peck the fiery snake to death, gain the seven pud key, the key from the earth of Prince Vladímir.' In my power it is not to fly to the sea of Khvalýnsk; in my power it is not to peck to death the fiery snake; nor with my legs may I reach the seven pud key. There is on the sea, on the ocean, on the island of Buyán, the eldest brother of all the crows, and he will fly to the sea of Khvalýnsk, he will peck to death the fiery snake, he will gain the seven pud key; but the crow is held back by the evil witch of Kíev. In the standing wood, in the grey-clad forest, stands a little hut, not thatched, not wattled; and, in the little hut, lies the evil witch of Kíev. I will go to the standing forest, the dreamy wood, I will enter in at the hut of the evil witch of Kíev.

"Thou, oh evil witch of Kíev, bid thy crow fly over the sea of Khvalýnsk to the house of bronze; bid him peck the fiery snake, bid him gain the seven pud key. She was grim, and she clove to her crow, the evil witch of Kíev. In my old age I cannot roam to the sea, to the ocean, to the isle of Buyán, to the Black Crow. Do thou bid, by my enchanting words, the crow gain me the seven pud key.

"The crow has smitten the house of bronze, has pecked the fiery snake to death, has gained the seven pud key.

"With that key I will unlock the princely castle, the castle of Vladímir, I will gain the knightly gear, the trappings of the knights of Nóvgorod, of the youthful war-men; and in that gear the arquebus cannot fell me, the shots cannot hit me, the warriors and champions, the hosts of Tatary and Kazán cannot hurt me.

"I invoke the servant, a man, a fighter, in the host, who goeth to war with these my potent words.

"My words die down,
My deeds they crown."

[Kazán was the last stronghold of the Tatars. It was stormed in 1549.]

Buyán is a kind of fairy hill like the Tir n'an óg of the Irish folk-tales, the land of youth, and cannot probably be assigned to any physical geography. Most probably the mythical Isle of Buyán is the reminiscence of the Isle of Rügen. The whole of the Pomeranian coast from Lübeck to the Memel was, prior to its conquest by the Saxons and the Brandenburgers, a Slavonic district, and the Isle of Rügen, in especial, the promontory of Arcona, a seat of the most highly developed Slavonic pagan ritual: Saxo Grammaticus has conserved us full details. Considering the intimate association of the mysterious stone Alátyr (probably meaning amber) with Buyán: and the fact that Buyán is a Slav translation of the Old Slav name Ruyán, the wind-swept isle [cf. English rough, German rauh, etc.]; also taken the specific references in the magic charms in connection with the facts recorded by the Scandinavian chroniclers, there seems to be little doubt that the Isle of Buyán is a folk-tale shadow of the old place of Pagan pilgrimage, contaminated, of course, with other fantastic elements.

Katomá. This is one of the marvellous servants whom fortunate princes possess in folk-lore. In Russian folk-tales they have magical attributes, and are often described by their caps, e.g. oaken-cap, blue-cap, etc.

Koshchéy the Deathless. The meaning of this name is very hard to determine. There are at least three disparate ideas involved. First of all the most ancient is that which occurs in the Word of Igor's Armament, in which the word Koshchéy is used for a warrior of the hostile Pólovtsy; and, when Igor is said to be put on a Koshchéy saddle, it means he is taken into captivity. Hence the word koshchéy came to be used in Russian as meaning a slave, or a groom, originally a captive slave from the Pólovtsy who fought the Russians for over two hundred years. Consequently the word has a meaning in Russian folk-lore which has a widespread Aryan notion, that of a fearful Enchanter who lives in a mountain fastness far removed; runs away with the beautiful princess, and can only be slain by the valiant lover, going through unfordable streams, impenetrable forests and unpassable mountains, so as to catch hold of his soul which is contained in a casket, or in some other manner is always terribly enclosed. He takes this soul, which is as a rule lastly contained in an egg, up to the Monster's palace, scrunches it in his hand, and the monster dies. Thirdly, the word became confused with kost', bone, and so came to mean a skeleton or miser, and a wandering Jew. The epithet 'deathless' does not mean indestructible, but that he can only be slain in an extraordinary manner and will not die in a natural way.

Kutúzovo. The Kutúzovy are one of the most ancient of Russian families; this particular village from which they derive their name must be somewhere on the trade route of the Dniepr.

Kvas. A liquid made from various kinds of flour and fermented with sour milk to which is added malt or yeast.

Name-day. The day of the patron Saint. In Russia Saints' days are kept in place of birthdays.

Na-úm. In this Russian name the two vowels are to be sounded separately, Na-úm.

Nightingale Robber. His patronymics are Rakhmánovich, Odikhmantovich, Rakhmánya, all of them very difficult of definition or explanation.

Nightingale Robber. Ilyá Múromet's conquest of the Nightingale Robber is his most notable feat. He is a very difficult figure to explain. He is a gigantic bird who has been explained on the one hand as a highway robber who was a great bard, for the Russian solovéy (nightingale) is applied to a minstrel. But it is more probable that there is a confusion of two other words in this one, and that the word solovéy, which has come to mean nightingale, is either derived from sláva, meaning fame, or from the same root as the hostile power whom Ilyá Múromets, in some of the ballads, fights, namely Solóvnik the Grey One. Be this as it may, the version which has come down is that the Nightingale Robber was an enormous bird, whose nest spread over seven oaks, who had needed no other weapon than his dreadful beast-like, lion-like, or dragon-like whistle on which every wall and every beast and every man fell down in sheer terror. The rest of this story may be gathered from the one which has been selected for this book.

The Pike. The pike plays a peculiar part in Russian folk-lore.

Potán'ka. The name of Potan'ka [in which the 'n' and 'k' are to be sounded separately as in pincase], is also found in the Nóvgorod ballads where Potán'ka the Lame is one of the boon companions of Vasíli Busláyevich.

Prískazka. Many of the tales begin with a conventional introduction which has no relation to the story. Such an instance may be found in 'The Wolf and the Tailor.' Also in 'A Cure for Story-telling.' And the tale of 'The Dun Cow,' 'Princess to be Kissed at a Charge,' etc.

The Realm of Stone. For the episodes in this story of the kingdom turned to stone there seems strong evidence of adaptation or loan from the Arabian Nights. Cf. The Tale of the Young King of the Black Islands, and the Tale of the City of Brass, but the development is very different.

Sebezh. A city in the Vitebsk Province bordering on Poland.

Shemyák. The judge. Shemyákin Sud, the court of Shemyák, is a proverbial expression for arbitrary judgments. He was a prince of Galicia of the time of Vasíli II, 1425-62. He was also a leader of the unruly nobles of that time. This may be partly the reason that the name of the family has been given this unfortunate significance.

The Shovel. Shovels are used to insert loaves and pots deep into the Russian stove, for which use see the long note on the 'Dream.'

The Sister of the Sun. The Russian commentator in the compilation, from which these stories are drawn, states that this is the expression for the dawn.

Sorrow. This picture of Sorrow as an ancient hag who pursues mankind throughout life is peculiarly Russian and is the theme of very many beautiful ballads. She is described as a lovely beggar woman, with a pale face, low stature, and hare's blood in her veins, and her cheeks of poppy red, and she entices men to drink their sorrow away in the public-houses, and is frequently turned into a moral lesson against over-indulgence. But this particular application of the myth, the picture of her as a wandering devil who attaches herself to unfortunate heroes but can be cheated into non-existence, much like the ordinary devil of folklore, is a feature, as has been said, probably peculiar to Russia.

St. Nicholas. In Russia St. Nicholas is the most popular miracle worker amongst all the saints. In the story of St. Nicholas and St. Elias his beneficent character is clearly shown.

In the story of St. Nicholas the Wonder Worker, I have taken the story as I found it, and have not attempted to fill up the obvious gaps.

The Sun, and how it was made by Divine Will. This story is of literary and ancient origin; the language is very antique.

Svyatogór. Svyatogór in this story may be eponymous of geography. The word standing for svyátyya góry, the sacred mountains. Múrom is an ancient Russian settlement in the province of Vladímir, by the river Oka, and the village of Karacharovo is not far off.

As to Svyatogór's bride, there is another story which tells how he acquired her. One day Svyatogór was walking on the earth and laid hold of a wallet which an old man whom he met wandering by held. He could not lift it however, for it was rooted in the earth. He went on from there to a smith, something like Wayland Smith (the whole tale has a curious Norse tang), who forged his fortune, told him he would have to go to the Kingdom by the Sea, and there he would find his wife who for thirty years had been lying in the dung. He proceeds to the Kingdom by the Sea, finds the miserable hut, enters it, and sees the maiden lying in the dung. And her body was as dark as a pine. So Svyatogór purchases her freedom by taking out five hundred roubles, laying it on the table, and then snatching up his sharp sword out of his sheath smote her on her white breasts and so left her. Then the maiden woke up, and the skin of age-long filth had been broken; she went and traded with the five hundred roubles, came to the Holy Mountains, and presented herself there in all her maiden beauty. Svyatogór the Knight also came to look on her, fell in love and wooed her for his wife. He then recognised her by the scar on her white breasts.

The Swan Maiden. This is one of the most baffling figures in Russian mythology. She corresponds to the Siren of Greece, and the Lorelei of Germany, but is very distinct in all her characteristics. She is also called in the Russian Devítsa (maiden), which may be a corruption of Dívitsa, the feminine of Div, one of the ancient pagan deities of Russia. Like the Lorelei, she is said to sit on the rocks and draw sailors down into the depths, but her more human characteristics are stated in this story.

Thoughtless Word. The devil in this story is the popular myth of the water-gods or sprites, elsewhere called the vodyanóy or vódyánik. The point of detail, that after the rescue of the maiden the boy has to walk backwards until he reaches the high road, is rather similar to the Celtic notion of Widdershins, the superstition that anyone who walked round the churchyard contrary to the direction of the sun would be captured by the fairies.

Túgarin Zmyéyevich. Túgarin Zmyéyevich, the strong man, the Serpent's Son.

Vazúza and Vólga. Similar stories are told of other rivers. The old Russian ballads give names and patronymics to their rivers such as the people use for themselves, e.g. Dněpr Slovútich Don Iványch.

The Vazúza is a short stream crossing the borders of the provinces of Tver and Smolensk, meeting a great bend of the Vólga at Zubtsóv (in the province of Tver).

The Sea of Khvalýnsk is the Caspian, so called from an ancient people (the Khvalísi) of the eleventh and tenth centuries, who lived at the mouth of the Vólga in the Caspian. There is also a town called Khvalýnsk on the Vólga in the province of Sarátov, above the city of Sarátov.

This particular story is probably a poetization of a geographical fact, but in all the Russian folk-lore the river-gods play a very great part. Thus Igor in The Word of Igor's Armament, on the occasion of his defeat, has a very beautiful colloquy with the Donéts. At least two of the heroes of the ballad cycle, Don Ivánovich and Sukhán Odikhmántevich, are in some aspects direct personifications of the rivers, whilst the river-gods exercise a direct and vital influence over the fortunes of several others, such as Vasíli Buslávich and Dobrýnya Nikítich.

Many Russian rivers have been rendered almost into human characters. The ordinary speech is still of Mother Vólga. In the Nóvgorod ballads there is a mention of Father Volkhov, much as we speak of Father Thames, and there were very great possibilities of the development of a river mythology which did not succeed. It is worth observing that in one ballad dealing with Vasíli Buslávich, the hero of Nóvgorod, this semi-comic figure is twitted by the men of Nóvgorod that he will one day turn the Volkhov into Kvas (q.v.): i.e. he will one day set the Thames on fire. [Rybnikov, I, 336].

The Wood-Sprite. Léshi is a peculiar feature in Russian folklore. He is somewhat similar to Pan, but is also represented as having copper arms, and an iron body, terms which refer to colour rather than to material. Sometimes he has claws for hands.

Yagá Búra. This is the same as Bába Yagá, but is specific reference to the Witch who raises the Wind.