Alyosha Popovich in the ballads is the son of Fyodor (or Leo) the old Pope of Rostov; and, like Ilya Muromets, is strongly localized, but is never know by his patronymic, Popovich, signifying that he is the son of a priest. His character is frankly unpleasant. In the Kireyevski byline, he is said to have a brother Ekim (a corruption of Joachim) elsewhere called his servant, and sister; but the brother is generally called Ekim Ivanovich. Alyosha's hair is, as a rule, yellow. Lastly, like Ilya, he is sometimes given the Cossack title of Esaul.
His historical antecedents are discussed under the head of the two Dobrynyi Nikitichi, with the latter of whom his fortunes were so closely bound up. Alyosha Popovich although he plays such a large and characteristic part in the cycle of the Court of Prince Vladimir yet has very few ballads devoted to him. He is always alluded to inferentially; sometimes he is called an exceeding youth, a title that ill becomes the wearer of it; he is one of the gad-about at the Court, who receive and rather be-mock the wandering heroes and serve to amuse the lords and ladies. In the folk-tales there are a number of prose ballads, in which this unflattering character is clearly brought out, and further he also bears the epic epithet, the mocker of women.
There is one feat of his, which stands out his slaying of Tugarin, the Serpent's son. The tale runs usually that up to the very walls of the capital city of Kiev, whilst the gentle Vladimir reigns, Tugarin Zmyeyevich rode up and Vladimir set his festive boards, and invited him to a noble banquet; all the oaken tables were set for him, and sweet food and drink, and Tugarin sat down. He was a gluttonous beast, for he swilled the wine and devoured the white swan flesh, and so aroused the anger of Alyosha Popovich, who gibed him into hostility by telling him that at the house of his father, Leo, the Pope of Rostov (the home of Alyosha, i.e., the ancient city of that name in the province of Yaroslav, not the later city founded on the river Don) there was an old dog, a mere skeleton, and it was so greedy that wherever it went, it choked itself, and so Alyosha would choke Tugarin.
Still, Tugarin took no notice, and then Alyosha narrated the story of a cow his father had which guzzled and burst; then there comes the usual formula preceding a challenge. "This misliked the hero," and Tugarin snatched up the huge steel knife lying on the table and flung it at Alyosha Popovich. But his servant, Ekim, was standing at his master's side and he caught the knife and turned it aside, and asked his master whether he should meet Tugarin in the open field or whether his master would; to which Alyosha relied that there was no knowing whither a legless cargoose would fly. Tugarin flew into the open field, and on the next day Alyosha followed him and met a slew him.
Tugarin is a historical figure (it is proved by the epithet Gagarinov, which is applied, to Idolishche or to Tugarin, as well as to other monsters). Svyatopolk II. (1050-1113), the eldest son of Izyaslav Yaroslavich, in 1093 ascended the throne of Kiev. He married the daughter of Tugorkan, the Polovetsky chieftain, one of whose granddaughters also was the wife of Vladimir I.'s youngest son, Andrey Syatopolk, who was a notoriously bad ruler.
Kireyevski remarks that "these family relationships with Tugorkan (the sovereign of the race with which Russia was continuously fighting) are expressed in the ballads in the fact that Tugarin is often at home at Kiev, and has connections with the women of Kiev and reclines, putting his hand into Opraksa's bosom."
In 1096 the Chronicles relate: " The Princess slew Tugorkan and his son..... In the morning, they found Tugorkan dead. Svyatopolk took up the body, as of his wife's father and his foe, brought it into Kiev and buried it at Berestovo, at the cross-roads leading to Berestovo and to the monastery."
On these foundations, of Alexander Popovich, who was killed at Kalka, and Tugorkan, whose political affiance with the ruling legends has been built up. The legendary narrative is told much more fully in one of the prose ballads in the great collection of Afanasev. One of the versions may be translated as follows: -
" In the sky the young bright moon was being born, and on the earth of the old Pope Leon, a son was born, a mighty knight. When they began to feed Alyosha, what was a week's food for others was a week's food for him. Alyosha began going about the streets and playing with the other boys. If he touched anyone's little hand was gone; if he touched the little hand, that hand was gone: if he touched anyone's little nose of anyone, that nose was done for; his play was insatiate and terrible. Anyone he grappled with by the waist, he slew. And Alyosha began to grow up, so he asked his mother and father for their blessing, for he wished to go and to fare into the open field. His father said to him: "Alyosha Popovich, you are faring into the open field, but we have yet one who is even mightier than you; do you take into your service Maryoshko, the son of Paran." So the two youths mounted their horses and they fared into the open field. The dust rose behind them in a column, such doughty youths were they to behold..... So the two doughty youth went to the Court of Prince Vladimir. And Alyosha Popovich went straight to the white stone palace to Prince Vladimir, crossed himself as is befitting, bowed down in learned-wise in all four directions, and especially low to Prince Vladimir. Prince Vladimir came to meet the doughty youths, set them down at an oaken table, gave them good food and drink, and then asked their news: "Who are ye, doughty youths? Are ye mighty knights of prowess, or wandering wayfarers bearing your burdens? I do not know either your name or your companion's name." So Alyosha answered, "I am the son of the old prebendary, Leon, his young son, Alyosha Popovich, and my comrade and servant is Maryshko, the son of Paran. And when Alyosha had eaten and drunk he went to sit on the brick stove to rest from the mid-day heat, whilst Maryshko sat at the table. Just at that time, the knight, the Snake's son, was making a raid. Tugarin Zmyeyevich came to the white stone palace, came to the Prince Vladimir. With his left leg, he stepped on the threshold and with his right leg on the oaken table. He drank and ate had conversation with the Princess, and he mocked Prince Vladimir and reviled him. He put one round of bread to his cheek, and piled one on another. On his tongue he put an entire swan, and he thrust off all the pastry and swallowed it at a gulp.
"Alyosha Popovich was lying on the brick stove, and spoke in this wise to Tugarin: "My old father, Leon the Pope, had a little cow, which was a great glutton; it used to eat up all the beer vats with al the lees; and then the little cow, the glutton, came to the lake, and it drank and lapped all the water out of the lake, took it all up and it burst, and so it would also have torn Tugarin up after his feed." Then Tugarin was wroth with Alyosha, and burst on him with his steel knife. Alyosha turned aside, and stood behind an oaken column. Then Alyosha spoke in this wise: "I thank you, Tugarin Zmyeyevich, you have given me a steel knife; I will break your white breast, I will put out your clear eyes, and I will behold your mettlesome heart." Just at that time Maryshko Paranov leapt out from behind the table on to his swift feet and seized Tugarin, and fell on his back, and threw him over; lifted up one of the chairs, hurled it into the white stone palace, and the glass windows were shattered. Then Alyosha Popovich said from the brick stove, "O Maryshko, son of Paran, thou hast been a faithful servant." And he answered: "Do thou give me, Alyosha Popovich, your steel knife, and I will break open the white breast of Tugarin Zmyeyevich, I will close his clear eyes, and I will gaze on his mettlesome heart." But Alyosha answered: "Hail, Maryshko Paranov, do not you sully the white stone palace; let him go into the open field wherever he may, and will meet him tomorrow in the open field." So, in the morning, early, very early, they went out into the open field and Tugarin flew into the open and challenged Alyosha Popovich to fight him in the open field. And Maryshko came up to Alyosha Popovich, you would not give me your steel knife; I should have carved out the white breast from that pagan thief, I should have gouged out his bright eyes, and I should have taken out his mettlesome heart and gazed at it. Now what you make of Tugarin, he is flying about in the open. Then Alyosha spake in this wise: "That was no service but treachery." So Alyosha took out his horse and saddled it with a circadian saddle, fastened on with twelve silken girths, not for the sake of decoration but for strength. And he set out into the open field, and he saw Tugarin, who was flying in the open. Then Alyosha made a prayer: "Holy Mother of God, do thou punish the black traitor and grant out of the black cloud a thick, gritty rain that shall damp Tugarin's bright wings that he shall fall on the gray earth and stand on the open field." It was like two mountains falling on each other when Tugarin and Alyosha met. They fought with their clubs and their clubs were shattered to the hilts. Their lances met, and their lances were broken into shreds. Then Alyosha Popovich got down from his saddle like a sheaf of oats, and Tugarin Zmyeyevich was almost striking Alyosha down. But Alyosha Popovich was cautious. He stood between his horse's feet, and turning round to the other side from there, smote Tugarin with his steel knife under his right breast and threw Tugarin from his good horse. And then Alyosha Popovich cried out: "Tugarin, I thank you, Tugarin Zmyeyevich, for the steel knife; I will tear out your white breast, I will gouge out your bright eyes, and I will gaze on your mettlesome heart." Then Alyosha cut off Tugarin's turbulent head and took it to Prince Vladimir. And as he went on he began playing with that little head, flinging it high up in the air and catching it again on his sharp lance. But Vladimir was dismayed. "I see Tugarin bringing me the turbulent head of Alyosha Popovich; he will now take captive al of our Christian kingdom." But Maryshko gave him answer: "Do not be distressed, O bright little sun, Vladimir, in thy capital of Kiev. If Tugarin is coming on earth and is not flying in the skies, he is putting his turbulent head on my steel lance. Do not be afraid, Prince Vladimir; whatever comes I will make friends with him." Then Maryshko looked out into the open field, and he recognized Alyosha Popovich, and he
said: "I can see the knightly gait and youthful step of Alyosha Popovich. He is guiding his horse up-hill, and he is playing with a little head; he is throwing the little head sky high and is catching it on his lance. He who is riding is not the pagan Tugarin, but Alyosha Popovich, the son of the old prebendary, the Pope Leon, who is bringing the head of the pagan Tugarin Zmyeyevich."
The legendary history of Tugarin, as contained in the Kireyevski ballads my be briefly summarized. Variants of his name are Tugaretin Zmyeyevich of Belevich: he is always young. He is said to be three sazhens high, his shoulder blades a sazhen apart, etc. (v. p. 39, or may be vice versa). There is an arrow's length between his eyes; his ears emit smoke. His head is as big as a bee-barrel and his breast is black. His costume is gorgeous, and when he speaks he roars.
The first version is that he is a knight in Tsargrad (Constantinople) at the time of Theophilus. He campaigns against Holy Russia, together with Idolishche Skoropit and is defeated, sent to Kiev, but reused at his mother's request. The second account is that he is in the great Horde, and is captured by Ilya, beyond the mountains, beyond the ulusy (the Tatar term for village or assemblage).
Thirdly, he reigns at Kiev in the time of Vladimir. Twelve knights bear him on a bench of pure gold; he sits at the high seat beside Opraksa, and here again he and Idolishche merge. He twice fights Alyosha Popovich, either in the open by the river Safat on the road from Rostov to Kiev; or together with Dobrynya, who slays him. Fourthly, in the folk-tales, he came form the Tsar of the Bolgars.
He is also found in connection with Lukopyor-Bogatyr, the son of Yaroslav Lazarevich, who is called the ziat (the husband of one's daughter, sister or sister-in-law) of the invader, Batu. None of these names imply any differentiation of action or character.
Alyosha Popovich seems to have been a Court favorite, and his slaying of Tugarin sometimes has a certain sarcastic or even Cervantesque flavor, especially as his servant assists him. The real interest of his character is borne our by the incidental reference to him in the tales of Churilo and of Dovrynya Nikitich.
For some reason or other, his character is generally vilified. He plots against Mikhaylo Potyk, seduces Dobrynya's faithful wife, and save for his one feat, the slaying of Tugarin, does very little to merit his standing epithet of bold.
He quarrels with Ilya Muromets and is reproved by him for eating and drinking to excess, as well as for misconducting himself with a merchant's daughter, who flees his advances. He is ready fighter, especially adept with knives. As a horseman, he is noted for his swiftness.
But none of his aptness seems to redeem his essential fault that he is the son of a pope; as such, has popish, envious eyes, grabbing hands; is presumptuous, timid, and boastful. He is said to be "the same drunk or sober, and to be the best quarreler of them all": his table feats fall short of the real heroic, e.g. Ilya (in some accounts) and Dobrynya, as his bowl only contains two and half vedra.
Braggart as he is, even said not to know how to read or write, an arrant coward who accepts his punishments very meekly, he must still, as the mocker of women, have had great charm, and, as a fluent speaker of Tatar, may have been of service. In fact, this gay rascal so impressed the popular imagination as a pertinacious wooer that a number of folk-dances are still extant that tell of his fascination.
Two adventures, taken from the Kireyevski compilation, deserve a note.
Alyosha and Ilya set out together to the Saratov Steppe (the word step only occurs late, and Saratov was not conquered until Muscovite days.) They light on a Wise Bird fluttering its wings, and hopping from foot to foot, at which Alyosha aims. It speaks and bids them go to the River Saratovka, to the White-burning Stone, to the cytisus bush (Kust raketovy, these words are stock lines and meaninglessly epenthetic). There they find two Tatars, who have taken captive a Russian maid.
One Tatar thus addressed her:
"In Russian thou'rt called a fair maiden:
But in our language be our golchanochka."
The second said: "We will steal thee..."
Alyosha slew them both with his bow and arrow, and discovers that he has rescued his sister.
In another tale, five Russian knights, Ilya Kolyvan Ivanovich, Samson Vasilevich, Dovrynya Nikitch, and Alyosha were staying on the brink of the blue sea (a phrase that merely represents the idea of a water-way). In the morning Ilya goes to the Dnepr to bathe and sees a doughty youth with a hawk in his right hand, and his left a feather (treire-pero, a word hard to trace). Of all the heroes, Alyosha alone gives the challenge, and is horsewhipped. Ilya sets our once again, wins the finds it is own son, Boris Zbut. Alyosha here appears as the braggart.
These tales are disparate and confused; the bylina is almost a fairy-tale; as examples of late style they might be noted.
Ekim Ivanovich (cf. P 30) "Alyosha's brother, is very rarely mentioned. In one story, to be found in Kireyevski, Alyosha and Ekim ride out, shoulder by shoulder, from Rostov, and stirrup by stirrup; and Alyosha asks his brother, as one learned in writing, to read the signpost. The three directions are to Murom, Chernigov and Kiev. They rode to Kiev, and arrived at the river Safat.
A wandering beggar met them, whose sandals were of seven rich silks, his hat of Grecian earth from Soroki. Like Ilya Muromets, Alyosha changed clothes with him and in this disguise meet Tugarin who asks for news of Alyosha (exactly in the same way as Ilya deals with Idolishche). Alyosha pretends to be deaf takes his moment of vantage and club Tugarin to death, leaping on his breasts (which here very exceptionally are called black) and robs of his gorgeous raiment.
These rather extraneous versions of the deeds of Alyosha require separate mention.