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    «The three songs about Sadko are remarkable because they represent the only Russian epic in which the main character makes a journey to the otherworld. They also combine elements of everyday life, customs, and institutions in Novgorod from the twelfth through the fifteenth centuries with folk beliefs and with motifs from magic tales. ...»

  James Bailey


V.Fokeev. "Sadko"

V.Fokeev. "Sadko"
Box. 1997 Mstera



    The songs about Sadko, like those about Vasily Buslayev, in many ways are closely connected with the life, history, and culture of Novgorod. This city, which was often addressed as "Lord Great Novgorod," was one of the principal urban centers in Kievan Rus, was located in the northwest, was primarily a merchant city.Novgorod was situated on the Volkhov River near the northern side of Lake Ilmen, carried on trade through river passages with the Baltic area in the west and with the Caspian region in the east, was associated with the Hanseatic League, and colonized much of the Russian North and Western Siberia. The city was known especially for its merchants, craftsmen, fishermen, sailors, and minstrels (skomorokhs). While much of the Russian land was devastated by the Tatar invasion in the middle of the thirteenth century, the northwestern part of the country, including Novgorod, remained largely untouched.
    The three songs about Sadko are remarkable because they represent the only Russian epic in which the main character makes a journey to the otherworld. They also combine elements of everyday life, customs, and institutions in Novgorod from the twelfth through the fifteenth centuries with folk beliefs and with motifs from magic tales.
    All the lively young Sadko possessed in the world was a gusli. He played the instrument perfectly, and was therefore invited to all Novgorod's celebrations. One day on the beach of Lake Ilmen he played such heartbreakingly beautiful music to the plants, the flowers, the birds, and the fish, that all of nature responded to his music. Sunshine and storms alternated rapidly. When he finished playing, the king of the lake rose up from the waves, and to reward him for his music he advised him: 'Make a bet with the merchants of Novgorod. Tell them that there is a species offish here with golden fins, and challenge them to catch one. You'll see what will happen next...'



 V.Belov "Sadko"

V.Belov "Sadko"
Box. 1967  Kholui



    During a great celebration, Sadko uttered this challenge. He bet his head against nine clothes shops in the trade collective that there was a species offish with gold fins in Lake Ilmen. The fishermen of the town succeeded in catching some of these strange gold fish. Sadko bought the catch, dumped it in his cellar, and called the merchants. But when they appeared, the fish had changed into a pile of silver coins, a pile of silver and gold coins mixed together, and a pile of gold coins. The fishermen had witnessed the fact that all this money had been fish moments before. The merchants were convinced, and gave the musician his nine clothes shops.
    Sadko prospered with his shops and proposed a second wager to the merchants. He would buy up all the goods in the city three times, paying cash every time. If he did not succeed, the town would have the right to demand three hundred thousand roubles from him. Sadko won the bet. At the third sale he was still able to pay for some broken pots with money from his own purse. Henceforth he was known as Sadko the Rich.
    According to another version of this story, Sadko lost the second bet. He honourably admitted defeat, paid his debt, and said: 'I, Sadko, am rich, but Lord Novgorod the Great is even richer.'
    For 12 years Sadko sailed the seas with his merchant fleet of 30 ships. One day the leading ship ran aground in the middle of the sea during a storm which arose from an unclouded sky. Sadko understood that this bad luck was because he had never paid tribute to the Sea King. He had a barrel of silver thrown into the sea, but it did not have any effect. Even a barrel of gold and a barrel of pearls could not succeed in softening the Sea King's heart. The rich merchant suggested that every member of the crew, including himself, should engrave his name on a block of wood and throw it over board. Anyone whose block sank had committed a deadly sin and would sacrifice himself to the Sea King in order to liberate the boat.
    Sadko did not trust himself, and certainly did not wish to drown. Therefore he surreptitiously exchanged his block of wood for a feather. But the feather sank. To make sure, he did the test again, and this time exchanged his block surreptitiously for a piece of steel weighing 10 pud. Of course, the piece of steel sank. Sadko admitted that this was what he intended. He conquered his fear of death, grabbed his gusli, asked the crew to send his wife his last respects, and leaped overboard. Meanwhile the leading ship sailed off, went to the head of the fleet, and led the ships westwards.



 L.Zhivnostka "Sadko"

L.Zhivnostka "Sadko"
Box. 1966  Kholui



    Sadko sank down and came to the palace of the King and Queen of the sea. Sitting on their double throne, they were arguing and initially did not see the approaching stranger. Sadko bowed deeply before them and interrupted their argument: 'Hail father and mother of the watery kingdom of the sea. Why did you call me, Sadko of Novgorod?' The Sea King answered: 'My wife and I are arguing about which is more valuable to the people of Holy Russia, iron or gold. My wife believes that iron is more valuable, but think that you value gold more highly.' The visitor explained: 'King and Queen of the sea, this is the truth. Iron and gold are the same price, but we, the people of the earth, cannot do without iron, though we can, if necessary, do without gold.'
    This answer showed the King that he had been wrong. He drew his sword and wanted to throw himself on his guest. However, quicker than a flash, the young merchant took hold of his gusli and played so beautifully that the Sea King immediately forgot his rage and started to dance through his palace. He danced more and more quickly, more and more wildly.
     The patron saint of sailors, Saint Nicholas, or Mikola Mozhaisky, as he is called in Sorokin's variant, comes to ask Sadko to stop playing so that the sea will calm down from the interminable dancing of the Sea Tsar. Sadko finished his playing with a strident chord which caused the strings to break. The water calmed down.
    To reward him for his playing, the Sea King offered the musician the most beautiful mermaid of the kingdom. Similarly again to a magical helper in magic tales, the saint advises: "Sadko, three times three hundred beautiful virgins of the sea will pass by you. Let them go. Do not choose any for your wife. The procession will be followed by a small and scrawny girl. Marry her, but do not kiss her or make love to her. It is only if you choose her, and yet never touch her, that you will see Novgorod again."
    To the Sea King's displeasure, Sadko let all the three times three hundred enchanting mermaids go, and chose the ugly duckling for his bride. On their wedding night he did not touch her. The next morning, to his utter astonishment, the hero woke up on the banks of the River Volchov. In the distance he saw his fleet approaching, more richly laden with goods than ever before. The astonishment of his men was almost greater than his own. When he arrived home, his wife asked him to abandon the sea in future, for the sake of herself and their child. Richer than ever, Sadko agreed.



I.Serebryakov "Sadko and the Sea King"

I.Serebryakov "Sadko and the Sea King"
Casket. 1948   Mstera




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  Ilya Muromets and Svyatogor
  Ilya and Nightingale the Robber
  Sadko
  Vasily Buslaev





n Novgorod, in famous Novgorod,
There lived Sadko the merchant, the rich guest.
But formerly Sadko had no property,
He only had his maple gusli.
Sadko used to go and play at feasts.
The first day they didn't invite Sadko to a feast of honor,
The second they didn't invite him to a feast of honor,
And the third they didn't invite him to a feast of honor.
Because of this Sadko grew sick at heart.
Sadko went to Ilmen Lake,
He sat down on a white grieving stone
And played his maple gusli
The water in the lake grew rough,
The Sea Tsar appeared,
He came out of Ilmen, out of the Lake,
He spoke these words himself:
"Hail to you, Sadko of Novgorod!
I don't know what I can reward you with
For my pleasure, for my great pleasure,
For your tender playing.
Perhaps with countless golden treasure?
Otherwise then go to Novgorod
And strike a great wager,
Bet your reckless head,
And demand from the other merchants
Shops of beautiful cloth,
And argue that in Ilmen Lake
There's a fish with golden fins.
When you strike your great wager,
Go and tie a silken net
And come fish in Ilmen Lake.
I'll give you three fish with golden fins.
Then, Sadko, you'll be happy."
Sadko went away from Ilmen, from the lake.
When Sadko came to his city, to Novgorod,
Sadko was invited to a feast of honor.
Then Sadko of Novgorod
Played his maple gusli,
Then they gave Sadko something to drink,
They regaled Sadko.
Then Sadko started bragging:
"Hail to you, my merchants of Novgorod!
I know a wondrous wonder in Ilmen Lake.
There's a fish with golden fins in Ilmen Lake."
Then the merchants of Novgorod
Spoke these words to him:
"You don't know any wondrous wonder,
There can't be any fish with golden fins in Ilmen Lake."
"Hail to you, my merchants of Novgorod!
Will you make a great wager with me?
Let's strike a great wager.
I'll bet my reckless head,
And you bet your shops of the finest goods."
Three merchants rushed forward,
Each bet three shops of the finest goods.
Then they tied a silken net
And went to fish in Ilmen Lake.
They cast a net in Ilmen Lake,
They caught a fish with golden fins.
They cast a second net in Ilmen Lake,
They caught a second fish with golden fins.
They cast a third net in Ilmen Lake,
They caught a third fish with golden fins.
Then each of the Novgorod merchants
Handed over three shops of the finest goods.
Sadko began to trade,
He began to receive great profits.
In his white-stone palace.






adko built thirty ships,
Thirty ships, thirty scarlet ones.
On these ships, on these scarlet ships,
He piled the wares of Novgorod.
Sadko set out along the Volkhov,
From the Volkhov to Lake Ladoga,
And from Ladoga to the Neva River,
And from the Neva River to the blue sea.
He set out along the blue sea,
He turned to the Golden Horde.
He sold the wares of Novgorod,
He received great profits,
He filled forty-bucket barrels with red gold and pure silver.
He started back to Novgorod,
He set out along the blue sea.
On the blue sea bad weather arose,
The scarlet ships stood still on the blue sea,
The wind drove the waves and tore the sails
And smashed at the scarlet ships,
But the ships didn't move from their place on the blue sea.
Sadko the merchant, the rich guest, then spoke
To his druzhina, to his brave druzhina:
"Hail to you, my brave druzhina!
For a long time we've traveled through the sea,
But we haven't paid tribute to the Sea Tsar.
It seems the Sea Tsar is demanding tribute from us,
Demanding tribute to the blue sea.
Hail to you, my brothers and brave druzhina!
Pick up a forty-bucket barrel of pure silver
And lower the barrel into the blue sea."
His brave druzhina
Picked up the barrel of pure silver
And lowered the barrel into the blue sea.
The wind drove the waves and tore the sails
And smashed at the scarlet ships,
But the ships didn't move from their place on the blue sea.
Then his brave druzhina
Took a forty-bucket barrel of red gold
And lowered the barrel into the blue sea.
The wind drove the waves and tore the sails
And smashed at the scarlet ships,
The scarlet ships still didn't move
From their place on the blue sea.
Sadko the merchant, the rich guest, then spoke:
"It seems the Sea Tsar is demanding
A living person as a tribute to the blue sea.
Brothers, make some wooden lots,
I myself will make one on gold, on red gold,
All of you sign your names,
Cast the lots on the blue sea.
If someone's lot goes to the bottom,
That person must go into the blue sea."
They made some wooden lots,
And Sadko made his on gold, on red gold,
All of them signed their names,
They cast their lots on the blue sea.
The lots of all the brave druzhina
Floated like ducks on water,
But Sadko the merchant's sank to the bottom like a rock.
Sadko the merchant, the rich guest, then spoke:
"Hail to you, my brothers and brave druzhina!
Those lots weren't made correctly.
Make your lots on gold, on red gold,
And I'll make a wooden lot."
They made some lots on gold, on red gold,
And Sadko made himself a wooden lot,
All of them signed their names,
They cast their lots on the blue sea.
The lots of all the brave druzhina
Floated like ducks on water,
But Sadko the merchant's sank to the bottom like a rock.*
Sadko the merchant, the rich guest, then spoke:
"Hail to you, my brothers and brave druzhina!
It seems the Sea Tsar is demanding
The rich Sadko himself as a tribute to the blue sea.
Hail to you, my brothers and brave druzhina!
Give me my maple gusli,
I have to play for the last time,
I'm not to play the gusli any more.
Should I take my gusli with me into the blue sea?"
He picked up his maple gusli,
He spoke these words himself:
"Throw an oaken plank on the water.
I'll lie down on the oaken plank,
It won't be so terrible for me to accept death on the blue sea."
They threw the oaken plank on the water,
Then the ships started off through the blue sea,
They started flying like black ravens.
Sadko stayed on the blue sea.
From this fear, from this great fear,
He fell asleep on the plank, on the oaken plank.
Sadko woke up in the blue sea,
In the blue sea, on the very bottom.
He saw the bright sun shining through the water,
The evening twilight and the morning dawn.
Sadko saw a white-stone palace
Standing in the blue sea,
Sadko entered the white-stone palace.
The Sea Tsar was sitting in the palace,
The Tsar's head looked like a haystack.*
The Tsar then spoke these words:
"Hail to you, Sadko the merchant, the rich guest!
Sadko, you've sailed upon the sea for a long time,
You haven't paid me, the Tsar, any tribute,
But today you've come to me yourself as a gift.
They say you're a master at playing the maple gusli.
Play your maple gusli awhile for me."
Then Sadko played his maple gusli,
Then the Sea Tsar danced in the blue sea,
Then the Sea Tsar was carried away with dancing.
Sadko played a day, then played a second,
And Sadko also played a third.
The Sea Tsar kept on dancing in the blue sea.
In the blue sea the water grew rough,
The water was clouded with yellow sand,
Many ships were being smashed on the blue sea,
Much property was being destroyed,
Many pious people were being drowned.
Then people prayed to Nikola Mozhaisky.
Then someone touched Sadko on the right shoulder
"Hail to you, Sadko of Novgorod!
That's enough playing on your maple gusli!"
Sadko of Novgorod turned around and looked.
Behold, there stood a gray old man.
Sadko of Novgorod spoke:
"I don't have a will of my own in the blue sea,
I was ordered to play the maple gusli."
The old man spoke these words:
"Rip out the strings
And break out the pegs.
Say: 'There don't seem to be any strings,
And there aren' t any suitable pegs,
There's nothing to play on any more,
The maple gusli's been broken.'
The Sea Tsar will say to you:
'Would you like to marry in the blue sea
A darling, a beautiful girl?'
Say these words to him:
'I don't have a will of my own in the blue sea.'
Again the Sea Tsar will say:
'Well, Sadko, then get up very early in the morning,
Choose yourself a maid, a beauty.'
When you're choosing a maid, a beauty,
Then let the first three hundred maids pass by,
And let the second three hundred maids pass by,
And let the third three hundred maids pass by.
Behind them will walk a maid, a beauty,
A beauty, a maid - Chernava.
Take this Chernava for yourself in marriage.
When you lie down to sleep the first night,
Don't commit sin with your wife in the blue sea,
You'll stay forever in the blue sea.
But if you don't sin with her in the blue sea
And just lie down to sleep by the maid, the beauty,
Sadko, you'll turn out to be in Novgorod.
And with your countless golden treasure
Build a cathedral church to Mikola Mozhaisky."