The Firebird is in Russian folklore, a magical bird with golden wings and crystal eyes. The Firebird appears in many Russian folktales. One of the best known is “Prince Ivan, the Firebird, and the Gray Wolf.” One day the Firebird visited the king’s garden and plucked golden apples from its magical tree. Ivan, the king’s son, was told by his father to capture the Firebird when it returned. After some nights of waiting Ivan caught the bird, but it struggled and escaped. All that remained was a feather from its tail “so wonderful and bright that when carried into a dark chamber it shone as if a great multitude of tapers were lighting the place.” Not satisfied, the king sent Ivan and his two brothers, Dmitri and Vassily, to capture the Firebird.
Along the way Ivan met a gray wolf, which aided him in all sorts of difficulties and helped him capture the Firebird. As part of Ivan’s adventure’s the gray wolf made him fall in love with a beautiful girl, Yelena. On their way home Ivan and Yelena stopped to rest, and Ivan’s two brothers attacked the couple. Ivan was killed by Dmitri, and Yelena was taken back with the brothers to the king’s palace. Ivan remained dead for some 30 days. After the gray wolf, using mertvaya voda (dead water) and shivaya voda (living water), restored him to life, Ivan went to his father’s palace, claimed his due, and married Yelena. Igor Stravinsky’s ballet L’Oiseau de feu (The Firebird) uses the well-known folktale, adding to it the evil Kostchei. The Firebird is frequently found on lacquered boxes (shatulki).
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow – Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante