An Anthology of Russian Folk Epics
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An Anthology of Russian Folk Epics

James Bailey, Tatyana Ivanova

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eBook - ePub

An Anthology of Russian Folk Epics

James Bailey, Tatyana Ivanova

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About This Book

An extensive introduction provides basic information about Russian epics, their historical background, their poetics, the history of their collection, their performance context, and their main interpretations. In addition, their is a short introduction to each song, explaining its plot, allusions, and interpretations. A glossary of common terms and a selected bibliography of studies about the Russian epic in English and Russian are also included in the volume.

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Epics About Ilya Muromets


Ilya Muromets and Nightingale the Robber

A s the central figure in the Russian epic tradition, Ilya Muromets is the subject of more songs and has a more complete epic biography than any other bogatyr (Astakhova 1958: 393–419). His appearance as “Ilyas von Riuzen” in several German and Scandinavian sagas dating from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries reveals that he was an established hero by that time in Kievan epics. Since that period the characteristics of Ilya Muromets as an epic hero have undoubtedly changed. For example, even though he is frequently referred to as an “old Cossack,” folklorists believe that this appellation appeared in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. They also note that the adjective “old” does not indicate age but rather respect, experience, and seniority. The image of Ilya appears to have evolved further in the nineteenth century when peasant performers started emphasizing his peasant background. The importance of Ilya Muromets in Russian culture is also shown by the fact that his relics were long believed to lie in a Kiev monastery and that he appeared in many tales circulated in chapbooks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The song “Ilya Muromets and Nightingale the Robber” has been recorded 132 times and is one of the most popular Russian epics. Singers may more accurately call this bylina “The First Journey of Ilya Muromets” because in it he leaves his village of Karacharovo near the city of Murom (the names vary), performs his first exploits, and for the first time comes to Kiev, where he is accepted as a bogatyr at Prince Vladimir’s court. The events in other songs about Ilya largely do not follow any chronological order: “Ilya and Idolishche,” “Ilya and the Highwaymen,” “The Three Journeys of Ilya Muromets,” “Ilya Muromets and Falconer,” “Ilya Muromets’s Fight with Dobrynya,” “Ilya Muromets Quarrels with Prince Vladimir,” and “Ilya Muromets and Kalin Tsar.” However, the earliest part of this hero’s biography appears in a work entitled “The Cure of Ilya Muromets,” where Ilya is presented as the son of peasants and lies paralyzed on a stove for thirty years. He is miraculously cured by several passing pilgrims whom he befriends and who give him something special to drink. Ilya then helps his parents clear a field by uprooting whole trees and, realizing that he now has the strength of a bogatyr, he leaves home on his first journey. From the mysterious pilgrims Ilya also learns that he is not fated to die in battle. “The Cure of Ilya Muromets” probably is a relatively recent work, is composed in prose instead of verse, and reflects the attempt by singers to complete Ilya’s epic biography by describing his childhood and peasant origin.
Although the confrontation with Nightingale the Robber forms the core of this epic, three conflicts ac...

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