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The russian folk art

French version

Ilya Muromets and Svyatogor


Panel. 1988 Holui

    During the reign of King Vladimir there lived in the village of Karacharov near the city of Murom a poor man called Ilya, who had been crippled from birth. He was the son of the peasants Ivan Timofejevich and Jefrosina Jakovlyevna. For 30 years he had been chained to his bed. All he did was pray to Christ to be cured, and that one day he might be able to serve the world with health and strength.
    One day, when the Timofejevich family were working on the land, three kaliki from the time of Sviatogor went past. They had the power of healing in their hands, and they said: "Ilya, get up. You have acquired great skills in 30 years of being ill. Now you are better. Go and be a hero."
    Ilya got up, and the kaliki continued: 'Never start a fight with the bogatyrs of ancient times: Sviatogor, Samson Samojlevich, Mikula Selyaninovich and Volga Svyatoslavovich. The first two are the basic forces of the earth itself, Mikula is protected by the earth, and Volga is too clever for you. Go to the field and wait for the first peasant who is taking a young and scrawny stallion into the town. Buy the animal, no matter how much it costs, feed it for three months on wheat and water, and then let it bathe in dew for three mornings. In this way the stallion will become the strongest horse on earth, and you will become the best bogatyr in the land'.
    When the kalika departed, he broke some bread and drank a beaker of wine with Ilya, who was cured. Ilya then hastened to the land, where his parents were taking a nap. With amazing speed he finished their work for the rest of the day. Then he acquired a scrawny stallion as he had been told, looked after the creature according to instructions and bade farewell to his parents. They gave him their blessing on condition that he always do the right thing everywhere.
    He went to the village priest and swore before God: "I am going to Kiev along the shortest route, even if it passes through a large and hostile army. If I am challenged, I will not draw my bow, shoot an arrow, draw my spear, nor sully my club with blood. Nevertheless, I will be in Kiev in an hour and a half, and I will present myself to King Vladimir, the Red Sun. I will partake of my first meal when I am with him, and not before."
    Ilya took a handful of earth, placed it in a linen bag, and tied it round his neck to remind him of the land of his birth. He threw a crust of rye bread into the River Oka, saying: "Than you, Mother Oka, for quenching the thirst of Ilya Muromets so often". He bowed in every direction, mounted his horse and went on his way.

    Accompanying himself on the gusli, Dobrynya Nikitich sang to King Vladimir's bogatyrs about the ancient Sviatogor. How he lived on the Holy Mountains (the Carpathians) because the earth could no longer withstand his weight, and how one day he got up and met the peasant Mikula Selyaninovich with his bag full of gravity. He concluded: "It is said that in the end, Sviatogor disappeared completely into the ground and died." However, the well informed boyar Mermasta Vasilevich denied this and said: "No, he returned to the mountains and is still there." This version of the story gave Alyosha Popovich the idea of challenging Ilya Muromets. He asked him:"Isn't it just the thing for you to go and find out? In this way he thought that the newly arrived hero would disappear from sight for a while on a journey that was bound to be fruitless."
    Ilya was aware of the ambiguous nature of Alyosha's proposal, but he wanted nothing more than to learn about the world, and test his strength. He asked Dobrynya to accompany him on his travels. They saddled their horses, and the next day the pair travelled west and soon reached the Levanidov cross in the Levanidov meadow. They swore an oath that they would always remain brothers in spirit, and they exchanged crosses. Then they travelled in the direction of the Carpathians. They discovered traces on the ground, and Ilya asked Dobrynya to follow them while he climbed the Holy Mountains himself.
    He reached a plateau by means of a secret path, and just in front of him he saw the giant bogatyr asleep on a giant steed that was slowly walking along. He called the giant and challenged him to a duel, but the latter did not wake up. Even striking him with a club did not wake up the giant, let alone tip him out of his saddle. When he was struck for the third time, he merely mumbled: "Russian flies bite rather painfully." He opened his hand, seized Ilya, put him and his horse in his pocket, and rode on, still asleep. After walking for 48 hours, the giant's steed became tired. It stumbled and sank to its knees on the ground.
    As a result, the oversized knight woke up despite himself, cursing his stallion. He took Ilya and his horse out of his pocket, and asked: "Who are you?" Ilya told him who he was, how he had become bogatyr of Vladimir Red Sun, and that he was looking for Sviatogor. It appeared that the giant was Sviatogor himself. Ilya and Sviatogor made friends. They continued their journey together, and one day they found an enormous coffin lying across the road, inscribed with the words: "This coffin is intended for the person who fits it." The giant had a premonition that this referred to him, and hesitating, he wished to try the coffin for size. Ilya also had a premonition that it was intended for Sviatogor, and therefore he got in first, beating the giant to it. The peasant's son proved to be too small. Then the giant lay down in the coffin, which fitted him like a glove.
    Ilya did not wish to close the lid, so Sviatogor did so himself. Immediately the coffin and the lid fused together. Sviatogor called out with great regret: "Woe is me, I am buried alive. Ilya, rip the planks off, one by one." Ilya tried, but in vain. Then Sviatogor suggested: "Take my sword and smash the coffin to smithereens." Through a crack in the coffin, the old giant gave Ilya his breath, and thus his strength, to lift the sword of ancient days, but the sword was counter-productive. Every time Ilya struck a blow, it did not make a hole in the coffin, but produced an iron hoop. Sviatogor sighed: "I am suffocating. It is obviously God's will that you succeed me. Keep my sword, but bind my giant steed to the coffin."
    So died the giant bogatyr and his giant steed. Ilya, now the successor of Sviatogor, decided to return to Kiev.

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Message of the site creator

ho would tell us of the things of old,
Of the things of old, of the things that have been,
Of that Ilya, of Ilya of Murom,
Of Ilya Muromets, the son of Ivan?
He sat, never stirring for three-and-thirty years;
They of the begging brotherhood came unto him,
Jesus the Christ himself, and His Apostles two.
"Go thou, Ilya, and fetch us somewhat to drink!"
"Begging brethren, I can stir neither hand nor foot!"
"Get thee up, Ilya - do not us deceive!"
Ilya heaved and rose, all unkempt and dazed;
He brought back a bowl bigger than a pail –
To the begging brethren he did offer it;
But the begging men made him drink himself,
And when he had drunk they did question him:
"Dost thou feel, Ilya, much of strength in thee?"
"If there were a pillar reared to the very sky,
If a ring of gold were to that pillar fixed -
I would seize that ring, all Holy Russia heave!"
"Go you now, Ilya, another bowlful fetch!"
Ilya offered them a second bowl with water filled,
But the pilgrims made him drink thereof himself.
Ilya drained it off without drawing breath -
A big bowlful, bigger than a pail.
They thereon began for to question him:
"Dost thou feel, Ilya, much of strength in thee?"
"Of my strength, I vow, I have but half now."
So the sandaled pilgrims unto Ilya spake:
"Thou, Ilya, shalt be a great man of might,
In a fray to face death is not thy fate's scroll:
Thou mayst fight, mayst smite, any man of might,
And with any pagan horde mayst battle do;
But never offer fight to one Svyatogor -
"Tis all earth itself can do to bear his full weight;
Go not forth to fight 'gainst Samson, that man of might -
He hath upon his head seven hairs by angels blest.
Contend not against the line of the Mikula -
Our dank mother-earth hath great love for him;
Likewise, wage no fight against Volga Sviatoslavovich own son;
If he cannot lay thee low through main strength
He will bring thee down by his wit and craft.
Get thee, Ilya, a steed worthy of a man of might,
Fare thee forth into the open field, wide as any sea,
Buy thee there a first-foaled colt,
Put him in a stall for all of three months;
For three nights let that colt in an orchard loose,
And let that colt roll in three morning dews.
Lead him then to a high spiked fence:
When the colt takes to leaping over that spiked fence,
To that side of it, and then back again...

ot far, not far away in the open field
A cloud of dust was swirling,
Dust was swirling in a column,
A good youth appeared in the field,
Svyatogor, the mighty Russian bogatyr.
Svyatogor had a steed like a fierce wild animal,
The bogatyr's shoulders were more than two yards wide,
He was riding in the field and was amusing himself,
He was throwing his steel mace
Higher than the towering forest,
But lower than the moving clouds.
His mace would fly away
High up in the skies,
When the mace would come down,
He'd catch it with one hand.
Svyatogor the bogatyr came across
A skomorokh's* little bag in the open field.
He didn't dismount his good steed,
He wanted to lift the bag with his whip,
But the little bag wouldn't be moved.
Svyatogor dismounted his good steed,
He took the little bag with one hand,
But the little bag wouldn't be budged.
He took it with both his hands,
He strained with all his bogatyr's strength,
He sank into the mother damp earth up to his knees,
But the little bag wouldn't be budged,
It wouldn't be budged and couldn't be lifted.
Svyatogor said to himself:
"I've ridden much around the world,
But I've never seen such a wonder,
The little bag won't be budged,
It won't be budged and can't be lifted,
It won't give way to my bogatyr's strength."
Svyatogor spoke these words:
"It's certain that death has come to me, Svyatogor."
And he implored his steed:
"Hail to you, my faithful bogatyr's steed!
Now come save your master."
He took ahold of the silver bridle,
He took ahold of the gilded girth,
He took ahold of the silver stirrup.
His bogatyr's steed then strained itself,
And it pulled Svyatogor out of the damp earth.
Then Svyatogor mounted his good steed
And rode through the open field
Toward the Ararat Mountains.
Svyatogor became tired and worn out
From the skomorokh's little bag
And he fell asleep on his good steed,
He fell asleep with a bogatyr's deep sleep.