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Metamorphosis of the Dnieper, the Volga, and the Dvina, The

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THE Dnieper, Volga, and Dvina used once to be living people. The Dnieper was a boy, and the Volga and Dvina his sisters. While they were still in childhood they were left complete orphans, and, as they hadn't a crust to eat, they were obliged to get their living by daily labor beyond their strength. "When was that?" Very long ago, say the old folks; beyond the memory even of our great-grandfathers.

                 Well, the children grew up, but they never had even the slightest bit of good luck. Every day, from morn till eve, it was always toil and toil, and all merely for the day's subsistence. As for their clothing, it was just what God sent them! They sometimes found rags on the dust-heaps, and with these they managed to cover their bodies. The poor things had to endure cold and hunger. Life became a burden to them. [2]

                 One day, after toiling hard afield, they sat down under a bush to eat their last morsel of bread. And when they had eaten it, they cried and sorrowed for a while, and considered and held counsel together as to how they might manage to live, and to have food and clothing, and, without toiling, to supply others with meat and drink. Well, this is what they resolved: to set out wandering about the wide world in search of good luck and a kindly welcome, and to look for and find out the best places in which they could turn into great rivers--for that was a possible thing then.

                 Well, they walked and walked; not one year only, nor two years, but all but three; and they chose the places they wanted, and came to an agreement as to where the flowing of each one should begin. And all three of them stopped to spend the night in a swamp. But the sisters were more cunning than their brother. No sooner was Dnieper asleep than they rose up quietly, chose the best and most sloping places, and began to flow away.

                 When the brother awoke in the morning, not a trace of his sisters was to be seen. Then he became wroth, and made haste to pursue them. But on the way he bethought himself, and decided that no man can run faster than a river. So he smote the ground, and flowed in pursuit as a stream. Through gullies and ravines he rushed, and the further he went the fiercer did he become. But when he came within a few versts of the sea-shore, his anger calmed down and he disappeared in the sea. And his two sisters, who had continued running from him during his pursuit, separated in different directions and fled to the bottom of the sea. But while the Dnieper was rushing along in anger, he drove his way between steep banks. Therefore is it that his flow is swifter than that of the Volga and the Dvina; therefore also is it that he has many rapids and many mouths.

               There is a small stream which falls into Lake Ilmen on its western side, and which is called Chorny Ruchei, the Black Brook. On the banks of this brook, a long time ago, a certain man set up a mill, and the fish came and implored the stream to grant them its aid, saying, "We used to have room enough and be at our ease, but now an evil man is taking away the water from us." And the result was this. One of the inhabitants of Novgorod was angling in the brook Chorny. Up came a stranger to him, dressed all in black, who greeted him, and said:--

               "Do me a service, and I will show thee a place where the fish swarm."

               "What is the service?"

               "When thou art in Novgorod, thou wilt meet a tall, big moujik in a plaited blue caftan, wide blue trowsers, and a high blue hat. Say to him, 'Uncle Ilmen! the Chorny has sent thee a petition, and has told me to say that a mill has been set in his way. As thou may'st think fit to order, so shall it be!'"

               The Novgorod man promised to fulfil this request, and the black stranger showed him a place where the fish swarmed by thousands. With rich booty did the fisherman return to Novgorod, where he met the moujik with the blue caftan, and gave him the petition. The Ilmen answered:--

               "Give my compliments to the brook Chorny, and say to him about the mill: there used not to be one, and so there shall not be one!"

               This commission also the Novgorod man fulfilled, and behold! during the night the brook Chorny ran riotous, Lake Ilmen waxed boisterous, a tempest arose, and the raging waters swept away the mill. [3]

               In old times sacrifices were regularly paid to lakes and streams in Russia, just as they were in Germany [4] and in other lands. And even at the present day the common people are in the habit of expressing, by some kind of offering, their thanks to a river on which they have made a prosperous voyage. It is said that Stenka Razin, the insurgent chief of the Don Cossacks in the seventeenth century, once offered a human sacrifice to the Volga. Among his captives was a Persian princess, to whom he was warmly attached. But one day "when he was fevered with wine, as he sat at the ship's side and musingly regarded the waves, he said: 'Oh, Mother Volga, thou great river! much hast thou given me of gold and of silver, and of all good things; thou hast nursed me, and nourished me, and covered me with glory and honor. But I have in no way shown thee my gratitude. Here is somewhat for thee; take it!' And with these words he caught up the princess and flung her into the water." [5]

               Just as rivers might be conciliated by honor and sacrifice, so they could be irritated by disrespect. One of the old songs tells how a youth comes riding to the Smorodina, and beseeches that stream to show him a ford. His prayer is granted, and he crosses to the other side. Then he takes to boasting, and says, "People talk about the Smorodina, saying that no one can cross it whether on foot or on horseback--but it is no better than a pool of rain-water!" But when the time comes for him to cross back again, the river takes its revenge, and drowns him in its depths, saying the while: "It is not I, but thy own boasting that drowns thee."



[1] Tereshchenko, v. 43, 44.

[2] Literally "Life disgusted them worse than a bitter radish."

[3] Translated literally from Afanasief, P.V.S. ii. 230.

[4] "Deutsche Mythologie," 462.

[5] Afanasief, loc. cit. p. 231.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Metamorphosis of the Dnieper, the Volga, and the Dvina, The
Tale Author/Editor: Ralston, William Ralston Shedden
Book Title: Russian Fairy Tales
Book Author/Editor: Ralston, William Ralston Shedden
Publisher: Hurst & Co.
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1873
Country of Origin: Russia
Classification: unclassified

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