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Svyatogor

by John McCannon
Titanic hero-warrior (bogatyr') in Russian mythology and folklore. A giant living in the Holy Mountains after which he is named (sviato- coming from the Slavic root for "holy" or "sacred," gor meaning "mountain"), he and his mighty steed are so large that, when they ride forth, the crest of his helmet sweeps away the clouds. Svyatogor is the eldest of Russia's bogatyri, and in many ways he is the saddest. His days of glory are long behind him, and he is depicted in most epic poems (byliny) as an old, tired warrior, doomed to fade away. The identification of Svyatogor with the mountains means that he can also be seen as an embodiment of natural, elemental forces from Russia's pagan past -- forces that have no place in the newly -- Christianized land depicted in the epics.

The story of Svyatogor's passing appears as an episode in the larger tale of Ilya Muromets, Russia's greatest hero-warrior. Having heard of the giant's strength, Muromets comes to challenge him. Muromets strikes Svyatogor three times with his mace, but he is so huge that the first two blows have no more effect on him than the bite of a gnat. After being assaulted a third time, Svyatogor picks Muromets up by the hair and places him in his pocket. After a short while, Svyatogor's horse complains that the weight of two mighty heroes is too much for any mount to carry; Muromets then reveals his identity to the giant, and the two swear eternal friendship.

Soon afterward, however, Muromets and Svyatogor come across a massive coffin of stone. Despite premonitions of evil, both feel compelled to lie down in it. The sarcophagus is too large for Muromets, but fits Svyatogor perfectly; when the lid is placed on top, bands of iron magically seal the coffin. Muromets tries to break open the lid, but is too weak. Through a crack in the stone, Svyatogor breathes a small portion of his strength into Muromets, but even this does not allow Muromets to free his companion. If the giant breathes more of his strength into Muromets, he will make his friend too heavy for the land of Mother Russia to bear. Finally, Svyatogor realizes that he is fated to remain forever trapped in stone. He asks Muromets to tie his horse to an oak tree near the coffin, so that master and steed can perish together. With sadness in his heart, but also with a measure of Svyatogor's strength in him, Muromets departs.


Article details:

  • Also known as:
    Sviatogor

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