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bylina (pl.: bylini) (true story) In medieval Russia, an oral heroic song or poem, originally sung by court minstrels and in recent centuries by skaziteli, peasant bards.

The bylini are usually about 300 lines long. They are in verse and are intended to be sung or chanted. The earliest bylini came from the 10th or 11th century, but the content is much older. Many tell of the exploits of the bogatyrs, or epic heroes, such as Ilya Muromets, Potok-MikhailoIvanovich, Syyatogor, Volkh, Mikula, and Aliosha Popovich. All of these bogatyrs were men of superhuman strength who used their physical power as well as their cunning to defend Russia from the “infidels” and foreign invaders. Their adventures usually took place around the city of Kiev, under the rule of Prince Vladimir, sometime in the 11th or 12th century. Another cycle of bylini, centering around the city of Novgorod, tell of the merchant bogatyr Sadko. They are dated somewhat later, perhaps the 13th to the 15th century, though scholars differ.

The bylina “Why There Are No More Bogatyrs in Holy Russia” tells how, after a successful battle one of the bogatyrs, Ilya Muromets pridefully said he could conquer any enemy. God first sent two men who, when sliced in half, multiplied into four, and so on until they became a large army and attacked Ilya Muromets. The battle lasted “for three days, three hours and three brief minutes.” Out of fear the bogatyrs fled to a mountain, where they were all turned to stone.


  • Aliosha Popovich
  • Ilya Muromets
  • Mikula
  • Potok-Mikhailo-Ivanovich
  • Sadko
  • Svyatogor
  • Vladimir, St.
  • Volkh


Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow – Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante

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