The Tale of Tsar Saltan
The mythical island of Buyan.
Folk tale
NameThe Tale of Tsar Saltan
Data
Aarne–Thompson groupingATU 707 (The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, and the Speaking Bird; The Bird of Truth, or The Three Golden Children, or The Three Golden Sons)
RegionRussia
Published inСказка о царе Салтане (1831), by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Pushkin)
RelatedThe Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, and the Speaking Bird
The Swan PrincessIllustration by Ivan Bilibin, 1905
The Swan Princess
Illustration by Ivan Bilibin, 1905

The Tale of Tsar Saltan, of His Son the Renowned and Mighty Bogatyr Prince Gvidon Saltanovich, and of the Beautiful Princess-Swan (Russian: «Сказка о царе Салтане, о сыне его славном и могучем богатыре князе Гвидоне Салтановиче и о прекрасной царевне Лебеди», tr. Skazka o tsare Saltane, o syne yevo slavnom i moguchem bogatyre knyaze Gvidone Saltanoviche i o prekrasnoy tsarevne Lebedi audio speaker iconlisten ) is an 1831 fairy tale in verse by Alexander Pushkin. As a folk tale it is classified as Aarne–Thompson type 707 for it being a variation of The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, and the Speaking Bird.[1]

Synopsis

The story is about three sisters. The youngest is chosen by Tsar Saltan (Saltán) to be his wife. He orders the other two sisters to be his royal cook and weaver. They become jealous of their younger sister. When the tsar goes off to war, the tsaritsa gives birth to a son, Prince Gvidon (Gvidón). The older sisters arrange to have the tsaritsa and the child sealed in a barrel and thrown into the sea.

The sea takes pity on them and casts them on the shore of a remote island, Buyan. The son, having quickly grown while in the barrel, goes hunting. He ends up saving an enchanted swan from a kite bird.

The swan creates a city for Prince Gvidon to rule, but he is homesick, so the swan turns him into a mosquito to help him. In this guise, he visits Tsar Saltan's court, where he stings his aunt in the eye and escapes. Back in his realm, the swan gives Gvidon a magical squirrel. But he continues to pine for home, so the swan transforms him again, this time into a fly. In this guise Prince Gvidon visits Saltan's court again and he stings his older aunt in the eye. The third time, the Prince is transformed into a bumblebee and stings the nose of his grandmother.

In the end, The Prince expresses a desire for a bride instead of his old home, at which point the swan is revealed to be a beautiful princess, whom he marries. He is visited by the Tsar, who is overjoyed to find his newly married son and daughter-in-law.

Translation

The tale was given in prose form by American journalist Post Wheeler, in his book Russian Wonder Tales.[2]

Analysis

Classification

The versified fairy tale is classified in the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index as tale type ATU 707, "The Three Golden Children". It is also the default form by which the ATU 707 is known in Russian and Eastern European academia.[3]

Folklore scholar Christine Goldberg identifies three main forms of this tale type: a variation found "throughout Europe", with the quest for three magical items (as shown in The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, and the Speaking Bird); "an East Slavic form", where mother and son are cast in a barrel and later the sons build a palace; and a third one, where the sons are buried and go through a transformation sequence, from trees to animals to humans again.[4]

French scholar Gédeon Huet considered this format as "the Slavic version" of Les soeurs jalouses and suggested that this format "penetrated into Siberia", brought by Russian migrants.[5]

In this "format", the mother is cast out with the babies into the sea in a box, after the king is tricked into thinking his wife did not deliver her promised wonder children. The box eventually washes ashore on the beaches of an island or another country. There, the child (or children) magically grows up in hours or days and builds an enchanted castle or house that attracts the attention of the common folk (or merchants, or travellers). Word reaches the ears of the despondent king, who hears about the mysterious owners of such fantastic abode, who just happen to look like the children he would have had.

Russian tale collections attest to the presence of Baba Yaga, the witch of Slavic folklore, as the antagonist in many of the stories.[6]

Russian scholar T. V. Zueva suggests that this format must have developed during the period of the Kievan Rus, a period where an intense fluvial trade network developed, since this "East Slavic format" emphasizes the presence of foreign merchants and traders. She also argues for the presence of the strange island full of marvels as another element.[7]

Rescue of brothers from transformation

In some variants of this format, the castaway boy sets a trap to rescue his brothers and release them from a transformation curse. For example, in Nád Péter ("Schilf-Peter"), a Hungarian variant,[8] when the hero of the tale sees a flock of eleven swans flying, he recognizes them as their brothers, who have been transformed into birds due to divine intervention by Christ and St. Peter.

In another format, the boy asks his mother to prepare a meal with her "breast milk" and prepares to invade his brothers' residence to confirm if they are indeed his siblings. This plot happens in a Finnish variant, from Ingermanland, collected in Finnische und Estnische Volksmärchen (Bruder und Schwester und die goldlockigen Königssöhne, or "Brother and Sister, and the golden-haired sons of the King").[9] The mother gives birth to six sons with special traits who are sold to a devil by the old midwife. Some time later, their youngest brother enters the devil's residence and succeeds in rescuing his siblings.

Russian scholar T. V. Zueva argues that the use of "mother's milk" or "breast milk" as the key to the reversal of the transformation can be explained by the ancient belief that it has curse-breaking properties.[7] Likewise, scholarship points to an old belief connecting breastmilk and "natal blood", as observed in the works of Aristotle and Galen. Thus, the use of mother's milk serves to reinforce the hero's blood relation with his brothers.[10] Russian professor Khemlet Tatiana Yurievna describes that this is the version of the tale type in East Slavic, Scandinavian and Baltic variants.[11]

Mythological parallels

This "Slavic" narrative (mother and child or children cast into a chest) recalls the motif of "The Floating Chest", which appears in narratives of Greek mythology about the legendary birth of heroes and gods.[12][13] The motif also appears in the Breton legend of saint Budoc and his mother Azénor: Azénor was still pregnant when cast into the sea in a box by her husband, but an angel led her to safety and she gave birth to future Breton saint Budoc.[14]

Central Asian parallels

Following professor Marat Nurmukhamedov's (ru) study on Pushkin's verse fairy tale,[15] professor Karl Reichl (ky) argues that the dastan (a type of Central Asian oral epic poetry) titled Šaryar, from the Turkic Karakalpaks, is "closely related" to the tale type of the Calumniated Wife, and more specifically to The Tale of Tsar Saltan.[16][17]

Variants

Distribution

Professor Jack Haney stated that the tale type registers 78 variants in Russia and 30 tales in Belarus.[18]

In Ukraine, a previous analysis by professor Nikolai Andrejev noted an amount between 11 and 15 variants of type "The Marvelous Children".[19] A later analysis by Haney gave 23 variants registered.[18]

Predecessors

The earliest version of tale type 707 in Russia was recorded in "Старая погудка на новый лад" (1794–1795), with the name "Сказка о Катерине Сатериме" (Skazka o Katyerinye Satyerimye; "The Tale of Katarina Saterima").[20][21] In this tale, Katerina Saterima is the youngest princess, and promises to marry the Tsar of Burzhat and bear him two sons, their arms of gold to the elbow, their legs of silver to the knee, and pearls in their hair. The princess and her two sons are put in a barrel and thrown in the sea.

The same work collected a second variant: Сказка о Труде-королевне ("The Tale of Princess Trude"), where the king and queen consult with a seer and learn of the prophecy that their daughter will give birth to the wonder-children: she is to give birth to nine sons in three gestations, and each of them shall have arms of gold up to the elbow, legs of silver up to the knee, pearls in their hair, a shining moon on the front and a red sun on the back of the neck. This prediction catches the interest of a neighboring king, who wishes to marry the princess and father the wonder-children.[22]

Another compilation in the Russian language that precedes both The Tale of Tsar Saltan and Afanasyev's tale collection was "Сказки моего дедушки" (1820), which recorded a variant titled "Сказка о говорящей птице, поющем дереве и золо[то]-желтой воде" (Skazka o govoryashchyey ptitse, poyushchyem dyeryevye i zolo[to]-zhyeltoy vodye).[21]

Early-20th century Russian scholarship also pointed that Arina Rodionovna, Pushkin's nanny, may have been one of the sources of inspiration to his versified fairy tale Tsar Saltan. Rodionovna's version, heard in 1824, contains the three sisters; the youngest's promise to bear 33 children, and a 34th born "of a miracle" - all with silver legs up to the knee, golden arms up to the elbows, a star on the front, a moon on the back; the mother and sons cast in the water; the quest for the strange sights the sisters mention to the king in court. Rodionovna named the prince "Sultan Sultanovich", which may hint at a foreign origin for her tale.[23]

Russia

Russian folklorist Alexander Afanasyev collected seven variants, divided in two types: The Children with Calves of Gold and Forearms of Silver (in a more direct translation: Up to the Knee in Gold, Up to the Elbow in Silver),[24][25] and The Singing Tree and The Speaking Bird.[26][27] Two of his tales have been translated into English: The Singing-Tree and the Speaking-Bird[28] and The Wicked Sisters. In the later, the children are male triplets with astral motifs on their bodies, but there is no quest for the wondrous items.

Another Russian variant follows the format of The Brother Quest for a Bride. In this story, collected by Russian folklorist Ivan Khudyakov (ru) with the name "Иванъ Царевичъ и Марья Жолтый Цвѣтъ" or Ivan Tsarevich and Maria the Yellow Flower, the tsaritsa is expelled from the imperial palace, after being accused of giving birth to puppies. In reality, her twin children (a boy and a girl) were cast in the sea in a barrel and found by a hermit. When they reach adulthood, their aunts send the brother on a quest for the lady Maria, the Yellow Flower, who acts as the speaking bird and reveals the truth during a banquet with the tsar.[29][30]

One variant of the tale type has been collected in "Priangarya" (Irkutsk Oblast), in East Siberia.[31]

In a tale collected in Western Dvina (Daugava), "Каровушка-Бялонюшка", the stepdaughter promises to give birth to "three times three children", all with arms of gold, legs of silver and stars on their heads. Later in the story, her stepmother dismisses her stepdaughter's claims to the tsar, by telling him of strange and wondrous things in a distant kingdom.[32] This tale was also connected to Pushkin's Tsar Saltan, along with other variants from Northwestern Russia.[33]

Russian ethnographer Grigory Potanin gave the summary of variant collected by Romanov about a "Сын Хоробор" ("Son Horobor"): a king has three daughters, the other has an only son, who wants to marry the youngest sister. The other two try to impress him by flaunting their abilities in weaving (sewing 30 shirts with only one "kuzhalinka", a fiber) and cooking (making 30 pies with only a bit of wheat), but he insists on marrying the third one, who promises to bear him 30 sons and a son named "Horobor", all with a star on the front, the moon on the back, with golden up to the waist and silver up to knees. The sisters replace the 30 sons for animals, exchange the prince's letters and write a false order for the queen and Horobor to be cast into the sea in a barrel. Horobor (or Khyrobor) prays to god for the barrel to reach safe land. He and his mother build a palace on the island, which is visited by merchants. Horobor gives the merchants a cat that serves as his spy on the sisters' extraordinary claims.[34]

Another version given by Potanin was collected in Biysk by Adrianov: a king listens to the conversations of three sisters, and marries the youngest, who promises to give birth to three golden-handed boys. However, a woman named Yagishna replaces the boys for a cat, a dog and a "korosta". The queen and the three animals are thrown in the sea in a barrel. The cat, the dog and the korosta spy on Yagishna telling about the three golden-handed boys hidden in a well and rescue them.[35]

In a South Russian variant collected by Rudchenko, "Богатырь з бочки" ("The Bogatyr in a barrel"), after the titular bogatyr is thrown in the sea with his mother, he spies on the false queen to search the objects she describes: a cat that walks on a chain, a golden bridge near a magical church and a stone-grinding windmill that produces milk and eight falcon-brothers with golden arms up to the elbow, silver legs up to the knees, golden crown, a moon on the front and stars on the temples.[36]

In a Siberian tale collected by A. A. Makarenko in Kazachinskaya Volost, "О царевне и её трех сыновьях" ("The Tsarevna and her three children"), two girls, a peasant's daughter and Baba Yaga's daughter, talk about what they would do to marry the king. The girl promises to give birth to three sons: one with legs of silver, the second with legs of gold, and the third with a red sun on the front, a bright moon on the neck and stars braided in his hair. The king marries her. Near the sons' delivery (in three consecutive pregnancies), Baba Yaga is brought to be the queen's midwife. After each boy's birth, she replaces them for a puppy, a kitten and a block of wood. The queen is cast into the sea in a barrel with the animals and the object until they reach shore. The puppy and the kitten act as the queen's helper and rescue the three biological sons, who were sitting on a oak tree.[37]

Another tale was collected from a 70-year-old teller named Elizaveta Ivanovna Sidorova, in Tersky District, Murmansk Oblast, in 1957, by Dimitri M. Balashov. In her tale, "Девять богатырей — по колен ноги в золоте, по локоть руки в серебре" ("Nine bogatyrs - up to the knees in gold, up to the elbows in silver"), a girl promises to give birth to 9 sons with arms of silver and legs of gold, and the sun, moon, stars and a "dawn" adorning their heads and hair. A witch named yaga-baba replace the boys for animals and things to trick the king. he queen is thrown in the sea with the animals, which act as her helpers. When yaga-baba, in the third visit, tells the king of a place where there are nine boys just as the queen described, the animals decide to rescue them.[38]

In a tale collected from teller A. V. Chuprov with the title "Федор-царевич, Иван-царевич и их оклеветанная мать" ("Fyodor Tsarevich, Ivan Tsarevich and their Calumniated Mother"), a king passes by three servants and inquires them about their skills: the first says she can work with silk, the second can bake and cook, and the third says whoever marries her, she will bear him two sons, one with hands covered in gold and legs in silver, a sun on the front, stars on the sides and a moon on the back, and another with arms of a golden color and legs with a silvery tint. The king takes the third servant as his wife. The queen writes a letter to be delivered to the king, but the messenger stops by a bath house and its contents are altered to tell the king his wife gave birth to two puppies. The children are baptized and given the named Fyodor and Ivan. Ivan is given to another king, while the mother is cast in a barrel with Fyodor; both wash ashore on Buyan. Fyodor tries to make contact with some merchants on a ship. Fyodor reaches his father's kingdom and overhears the conversation about the wondrous sights: a talking squirrel on a tree that tells fairy tales and a similar looking youth (his brother Ivan) on a distant kingdom. Fyodor steals a magic carpet, rescues Ivan and flies back to Buyan with his brother, a princess and an old woman.[39] The tale was also classified as type 707, thus related to Russian tale "Tsar Saltan".[40]

Belarus

In a Belarussian tale, "ЧУДЕСНЫЕ МАЛЬЧИКИ" (Chudetsnye Malchiki; English: "Wonderful/Miraculous Boys"), first collected by Alexander Afanasyev in Grodno, in 1857,[41] the youngest sister states she will give birth to "two boys, each with a moon on his head and a star on the nape of his neck". When they are buried, on their grave two maples sprout (or, in another translation, "two plane-trees"), a golden stem and a silver one (or "one with golden, the other with silver branches"). The tale was also published by A. H. Wratislaw with the name "The Wonderful Boys", or "The Wondrous Lads",[42] and by Czech folklorist Karel Jaromír Erben with the name Podivní chlapci ("The Wonderful Boys").[43][44]

In another Belarussian tale, "Блізняткі" (The Twins), an evil witch kills two boys - the sons of the prince. On their grave two sycamores grow. The witch realizes it is the boys and orders the gardener to fell them down. A sheep licks the ashes and soon enough gives birth to two sheep - the very same princes. Later, they regain their human form and tell the king the whole story.[45]

Gregory Potanin cited a Belarussian tale published in 1887. In this story, there lived three sisters. One day, heavy rain starts to pour and they take refuge under a tree. A local river floods and the king sends a servant to find the problem to its source. The servant finds the three sisters and overhears their conversation: the youngest promises to give birth to the king's son with the moon on the forehead and a star on the back. The sisters falsify a letter to trick the king and cast the queen and child in the sea. Later, the prince returns to the palace to reveal the truth while counting nuts before the king.[46]

In a Belarussian tale collected by Evdokim Romanov (ru) with the name "Дуб Дорохвей" or "Дуб Дарахвей" ("The Dorokhveï Oak") (fr), a widowed old man marries another woman, who detests his three daughters and orders her husband to dispose of them. The old man takes them to the swamp and abandons the girls there. They notice, take refuge under a pine tree and begin to cry over their situation, their tears producing a river. The tsar, seeing the river, orders their servants to find its source. They find the three maidens and take them to the king, who inquires about their origin: they say they were expelled from home. The tsar asks each maiden what they can do, and the youngest says she will give birth to 12 sons, their legs of gold, their waist of silver, the moon on the forehead and a small star on the back of the neck. The sisters falsify a letter with a lie that she gave birth to animals and she should be thrown in the sea in a barrel. The other eleven sons were put in a leather bag and thrown in the sea, but they wash ashore in a island where the Dorokhveï Oak lies. The oak is hollowed, so they make their residence there. Meanwhile, mother and son leave the barrel and the son tells her he will rescue his eleven brothers with his mother's breastmilk. After the siblings are reunited, the son turns into an insect to spy on his aunt and eavesdrop on the conversation about the kingdom of wonders, one of them, a cat that walks and tells stories and tales.[47]

Ukraine

In a Ukrainian tale, "Песинський, жабинський, сухинський і золотокудрії сини цариці" ("Pesinsky, Zhabinsky, Sukhinsky[a] and the golden-haired sons of the queen"), three sisters are washing clothes in the river, when they see in the distance a man rowing a boat. The oldest says it might be God, and if it is, may He take her, because she can feed many with a piece of bread. The second says it might be a prince, so she says she wants him to take her, because she will be able to weave clothes for a whole army with just a yarn. The third recognizes him as the tsar, and promises that, after they marry, she will give birth to twelve sons with golden curls. When the girl, now queen, gives birth, the old midwife takes the children, tosses them in a well and replaces them with animals. After the third birth, the tsar consults his ministers and they advise him to cast the queen and her animal children in the sea in a barrel. The barrel washes ashore an island and the three animals build a castle and a glass bridge to mainland. When some sailors visit the island, they visit the tsar to report on the strange sights on the island. The old midwife, however, interrupts their narration by revealing somewhere else there is something even more fantastical. Pesinsky, Zhabinsky and Sukhinsky spy on their audience and run away to fetch these things and bring them to their island. At last, the midwife reveals that there is a well with three golden-curled sons inside, and Pesinsky, Zhabinsky and Sukhinsky rescue them. The same sailors visit the strange island (this time the true sons of the tsar are there) and report their findings to the tsar, who discovers the truth and orders the midwife to be punished.[48] According to scholarship, professor Lev Grigorevich Barag noted that this sequence (dog helping the calumniated mother in finding the requested objects) appears as a variation of the tale type 707 only in Ukraine, Russia, Bashkir and Tuvan.[49]

In a tale summarized by folklorist Mykola Sumtsov with the title "Завистливая жена" ("The Envious Wife"), the girl promises to bear a son with a golden star on the forehead and a moon on his navel. She is persecuted by her sister-in-law.[50][51]

Adaptations

Gallery of Illustrations

Ivan Bilibin made the following illustrations for Pushkin's tale in 1905:

See also

This basic folktale has variants from many lands. Compare:

References

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  2. ^ Wheeler, Post. Russian wonder tales: with a foreword on the Russian skazki. London: A. & C. Black. 1917. pp. 3-27.
  3. ^ Власов, С. В. (2013). Некоторые Французские И ИталЬянскиЕ Параллели К «Сказке о Царе Салтане» А. С. ПушКИНа Во «Всеобщей Библиотеке Романов» (Bibliothèque Universelle des Romans) (1775–1789). Мир русского слова, (3), 67–74.
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  9. ^ Löwis of Menar, August von. (1922). "15. Bruder und Schwester und die goldlockigen Königssöhne". Finnische und estnische Volksmärchen [Finnish and Estonian folktales] (in German). Jena: Eugen Diederichs. pp. 53–59.
  10. ^ Parkes, Peter. "Fosterage, Kinship, and Legend: When Milk Was Thicker than Blood?". In: Comparative Studies in Society and History 46, no. 3 (2004): 590 and footnote nr. 4. Accessed June 8, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3879474.
  11. ^ Хэмлет Татьяна Юрьевна (2015). Карельская народная сказка «Девять золотых сыновей». Финно-угорский мир, (2 (23)): 17-18. URL: https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/karelskaya-narodnaya-skazka-devyat-zolotyh-synovey (дата обращения: 27.08.2021).
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  17. ^ Reichl, Karl. "Epos als Ereignis Bemerkungen zum Vortrag der zentralasiatischen Turkepen". In: Hesissig, W. (eds). Formen und Funktion mündlicher Tradition. Abhandlungen der Nordrhein-Westfälischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, vol 95. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden. 1993. p. 162. ISBN 978-3-322-84033-2. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-322-84033-2_12
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  22. ^ Старая погудка на новый лад  (in Russian) – via Wikisource.
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  25. ^ The Complete Folktales of A. N. Afanas'ev, Volume II, Volume 2. Edited by Jack V. Haney. University Press of Mississippi. 2015. pp. 411–426. ISBN 978-1-62846-094-0
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Footnotes

  1. ^ Their names may be related to Ukrainian words for "dog" (pes) and "frog/toad" (žȁba).

Further reading

Wikisource has original text related to this article: Tzar Saltan
Russian Wikisource has original text related to this article: Сказка о царе Салтане