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Ilya Murometz

Russian Byliny Who was Ilya Murometz? Svatogor
Solovei the Brigand The forest Russian Mythology links

Russian Byliny

Russian legend is epitomised by the celebrated byliny stories, which means "that which has been". The byliny are divided into two cycles: one about bogatyri or 'elder valiant champions', and the other about younger heroes. The first cycle is the older in origin and is full of mythological elements.

The Russian music box shown on the right depicts several elements from the younger cycle which describes the adventures of Ilya Murometz and other bogatyri warriors. Some of the characters in this illustration are described in the text below.

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Russian Music Box by Palekh

Who was Ilya Murometz?

Ilya Murometz is the most famous of the mighty bogatyr warriors, said to have lived in the twelfth century. Ilya of Murom, a peasant's son, has sat motionless for 33 years. One day two travelling pilgrims stir him (see top left of Music Box above) and exclaim "Arise! Go forth! Thou shalt become a puissant bogatyr". From that moment on he becomes a warrior of extraordinary powers and the defender of the Holy Russia. He procures a horse which flies through the air 'above the motionless forest and a little below the clouds scudding across the sky'. Ilya follows the pilgrims' advice and sets out to find the mightiest bogatyr of them all - Svatogor.

Ilya is depicted on the 1913 Russian stamp at the top of this page.

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Ilya Murometz on his flying horse


The poem about Svyatogor describes him as being so strong that he supported his own strength 'like a heavy burden'. Ilya finds him, and togethr they embark on great adventures in the Holy Mountains. One day on the steppe, he found a small bag which defied his every attempt to lift it. He descended from his steed and raised the bag as high as his knees. However, the humid earth would not stand his weight, and he was unable to raise himself from the hole into which he had sunk. In a slight variation of this story, the illustration by the Russian artist Ivan Bilibin (right) shows Ilya Murometz attempting without success to open the coffin which proved to be Svyatogor's final resting place.   Click to see enlarged picture
Click to see enlarged picture

Solovei the Brigand

Solovei Razboynik the Brigand, also known as Nightingale the Robber was a creature half bird, half human who lived in a tree blockading the road to Kiev. He could summon up a howling, whistling wind which blew down trees and killed mortals. On his way to Kiev through this forest, Ilya urged his horse to ignore the terrifying noise, and shot Solovei in the right temple (see top right of Russian music box above). Ilya then tied Solovei to his stirrup and rode out of the forest towards Kiev.

The forest depicted by this story, and vivdly portrayed in the second movement of the Third Symphony, is in the Ukranian region of Bryansk - see pictures below.

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The forest

The dark forest of Russian legend
River Desna bridge, Solovei Park, Bryansk today

Links to Russian Mythology

The following is a partial list of resources which might be of interest to the reader.

 Ilya Murometz

 The story of Ilya Murometz

 Nightingale the Robber

 Ilya of Murom and Nightingale the Robber

 Ilya and Nightingale the Robber

 Ilya Murometz and Svyagotor

Epic Songs of Russia – Ilya of Murom

Reproduced (after copyright expiry) from "The Epic Songs of Russia" by Isabel Florence Hapgood, published by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York and Bernard Quaritch, London, 1886.

 A reprint of this book is available from Amazon UK, Amazon USA. ISBN: 9781010315551