An extract from folk song Alyosha Popovich and Tugarin Zmey
Alyosha Popovich, the son of priest Levonty from Rostov, is the youngest of the three main ‘bogatyrs’ (medieval knight-errants). As is usually the case with the youngest characters, he is the most sharp-tongued, nimble, dashing and crafty, and this is what constitutes his strength.
Bogatyr Alyosha Popovich, a Russian travelling warrior, became famous for his deeds in the name of his motherland and the Grand Prince. The ruler never had to ask his bogatyrs a favour and this is a crucial point in bylinas as a genre — they were offering their services to the country and they picked the enemies they wanted to fight. What is more, the young bogatyr not only acts independently, but he even teases the Grand Prince of Kiev in the ‘bylina’ (a traditional Russian epic narrative poem) about Alyosha Popovich and Tugarin Zmey. All of this makes his image more vivid and humane.
The fight between Alyosha and Tugarin Zmey is a striking and memorable event, where Alyosha demonstrates his characteristic zest for life, resourcefulness, craftiness and even impudence. Fighting a serpent (‘zmey’ is a Russian name for a serpent) is an archetypal story that exists in the national epics of many countries. Tugarin Zmey represents the element of fire and he threatens Alyosha to strangle him with smoke and throws fiery sparks at him. Researchers assume that this popular storyline was gradually reinvented in ancient Rus following real battles with the nomad tribes, which brings Tugarin from this bylina closer to the collective image of a Polovtsian khan. His main point of difference from the Russians is that he has no respect for manners, he does not pray to God and he resembles a dog.
Alyosha Popovich’s major weapon in this story is his wit and audacity. Witnessing how unceremonious he is at the Grand Duke’s table, bogatyr Alyosha starts teasing Tugarin Zmey, which provokes a fight. This is when it is revealed that, apart from his tremendous power, Tugarin has a secret weapon — a flying horse with paper wings. However, Alyosha’s faith is stronger; his prayers bring about rain, which ruins the paper wings of Tugarin’s horse, and the outcome of the battle is determined by Alyosha’s resourcefulness and agility. It is important that the intervention of the supreme forces does not diminish the worthiness of the winner; on the contrary, in folk tales it serves to emphasize the importance of his heroic deed.
The opposition of the two characters in this three-dimensional mosaic is highlighted by the contrasting colours. The colour range of Alyosha’s clothes is rather muted, while that of his цopponent is eye-catching and garish. This is achieved through the combination of bright blue lazurite, used for the trousers, and exceptionally bright rodonite, used for the chain mail. The wings of Tugarin’s horse deserve special attention; thanks to the exquisite carving, technique they look like a pulsating membrane made of paper.
...Alyosha’s prayer was pleasing to God.
The Lord sent heavy rain from the sky,
Tugarin’s paper wings were soaked,
The Lord dropped the dog on the dampearth.
Yekim Ivanovich came,
And told Alyosha Popovich
That he saw Tugarin on the dampearth.
And soon Alyosha got dressed,
Jumped on his loyal horse,
Took one sharpsabre
And set off to fight Tugarin Zmeevich.
And as Tugarin saw Alyosha Popovich,
He was shouting and yelling at the topof his lungs:
‘Hail to you, young Alyosha Popovich!
Should I burn you with my fire?
Should I trample you with my steed?
Should I kill you with my spear?’
And Alyosha Popovich replied:
‘Hail to you, young Tugarin Zmeevich!
You made a bet
To fight me one-to-one,
But you lack the strength
To fight me, Alyosha Popovich.’
Tugarin looked back,
Alyosha jumped at him
And cut off his head,
And it fell to the dampearth like a beer cauldron.
Alyosha Popovich and Tugarin Zmey
Alexey Antonov’s Studio
Design: Alexey Antonov
Craftsmen: Alexey Antonov, Konstantin Kozhukhov, Vyacheslav Babintsev, Igor Golokhvastov
Jeweller: Pavel Vetrov
Materials: rhodonite, quartz rock, jasper, chalcedony, fossilized wood, uvarovite, labradorite, dolerite, bronze, silver, gold
Dimensions: 53 × 80 × 47 cm