Churilo Plenkovich, perhaps one of the most romantic and defined figures of the cycle of Vladimir, is one round whom more doubts and fanciful etymologies have been woven than on any other hero. Every one of his three names, Churilo, Plenkovich, Sorozhanin gost', requires explanation, and has been overloaded with commentary.
i.(a) Churilo. One source of this name is probably the Greek name, Cyril, and in some ballads the name Tsirilo is still found. (b) Churilo is a diminutive of Chur, a root very widely used throughout all the Slav language. The primary meaning seems to be "that which is cut to a clean edge," and in Czech the word Curidlo means a mask designed to scare children. In Polish there is a word Czurylo meaning a certain grass with sharp edges, and also a swindler, evidently one who cuts the price fine (cf. the Crech Curydlo, thapsia). There is also Curadlo in Czech (watering pot), in which again there is the association of cut metal. This root has many cognates in the other Aryan languages. In Old Norse there is a form skier meaning "bright" as applied to cut metal: in Lithuanian skirti, to cut. The English root shear is applied to sheep only, the Dutch scheeren means only to shave, whereas the German schereen meant to cut generally, and this same contrast in shaving and cutting in the cognate Greek shave, and cut, and the Sanskrit Kshuras, razor.
In Russian there is a form churilya, shovel, ladle; and churit, meaning to cut wood into fine parts; chura, a thick pebble, sand that cuts the foot.
Chur in Russian is an old word meaning boundaries, and it is stated, although Sakharov denies any positive evidence for it, that in the old Slav pantheon as reconstructed by the later commentators there was a god Chur, the God of Boundaries, some kind, with whom the cosmologizing critics have identified Churilo, and thus gave him the divine parentage. One of them indeed notes the fascination that he exercises upon the women of Kiev, and imagines that such a state of things would be inconceivable, save for some supernatural origin. In modern Russian chur has lost it's meaning of boundary, but is used colloquially to stop an unpleasant conversation, Chur menya ot nego, "let's have no more of him", whence has been derived the modern verb churat', to say chur in this uncomplimentary sense. (c) One other source of confusion was the root shchur, which survives in the modern Russian prashchur, great-great-grandfather. In early Russian this household deity was also called Rod, and the pagan Slavs according to Andreyevski "to ease the voyage of the deceased into the kingdom of the dead" resorted to cremation, for they considered the fire released the soul from the body and sent it into Paradise. On the one hand, fire was the earthly embodiment of the heavenly Sun God, the ambassador of the gods, and again it was said to cleanse the soul of the deceased, and so the fire itself became a symbol of the ancestors' soul known as rod or shchur, later dedushka domovoy (literally, the grandsire of the health). So much trace is there of ancestor worship: and this deity shchur may be one of the many conceptions, which have helped to enrich the personality of Churilo Plenkovich.
Churilo. (d) The name of Churilo is corrupted into gusinko, gosling, and the story of his deeds may have become ugly, owing to the connotation of such words as curidlo. One commentator, proceeding from the fact that he is first of all appointed to look after the poultry yard of Vladimir, and that popular etymology turned his name into gosling, attempted to make him a presentation of the rising sun and the cock who announced it, an ante-dating of Cantecler's pun of Lacour, la basse-cour, which hardly seems probable for fifteenth-century Russian.
The name of the cuckold husband, Bermyata of Permyata, has been identified with the city of Perm, which is said to derive its name from the ancient title of Biarmia, which the country bore when it was inhabited by the Finns.
ii. (a) Plenkovich. It has been attempted to derive Plenko, the father, from the well-known root, plen, and captive. There is also the city of Plensk, in Volhynia, and ancient principality covering the ancient monastery of Pochaevo and therefore the river Pochai. Obviously the Caspian Sea and the Volhynian frontier are the opposite extremes of medieval Russia; but as stated elsewhere Volynsk and Khvalynsk are being for ever confused throughout these ballads, and thus the enemies east and west are all the more readily conglomerated owing to this fortuitous etymology.
iii.(a) Sorozhanin. There is a river Soroga near Kiev, which is certainly one of the origins of this epithet. (b) In early Russian the Sea of Azov was known as Surozh. Sorozhanin gost meant a merchant of the highest class, and the word probably contains a confusion with Surozhanin gost meaning the merchant from the sea of Azov, especially as in medieval Moscow some merchants were called Surozhski, those who treated with the Crimean city Surozh, now Sudak. (b) Surazh. This name is fairly widespread throughout Russia. There is one town in the government of Chernigov however, inside the range of medieval Russia, and another in Vitebsk near the rivers Dvina and Kasplya, and a third in the Government of Grodno. The association of this of town of Surazh may also have entered into the conception of Sorozhanin. (c) Lastly, amongst the gods of Pagan Russia was one Svarog, the god of the clear sky, whose name is almost identical with the Vedic Svarga, heaven. Dazhbog, the god of heat, was called Dazhbog Svarozhanin. The story of Svarog has been stated by some commentators to be like that of Saturn, the god of the sky, Perun in this case taking on the parricidal office of Zeus. It is claimed that into Sorozhanin there may have crept a corruption of Svarozhanin, and that Churilo was regarded as a descendant of this god or of the sun. as authority is cited the famous passage in the World of Igor's Armament where the Russians are called Dazhboga unuci, grandchildren of Dazhbog; and this etymology is put forward in order to prove the divinity of this hero, who is more human in his frailties and presentation than perhaps any other knight of this cycle. It is at best very dubious whether Slav etymology could permit of such a corruption as Svarog into Sorog; and it scarcely seems probable that this conception influences the tale.
These are some of the theories that have been woven round the name of Churilo Plenkovich. On the basis of the etymologies it has been attempted to turn him into the Russian Hermes. He plays the gusli, so do all the other heroes; but it is a significant thing that Hermes invented the lyre. He sits by the bedside of Opraksa; did not Hermes in the character of Morpheus bring sleep? Hermes again was the messenger of the Gods: one of Churlo's duties, after his attentions to Queen Opraksa had been deprecated by Vladimir, was tosummon guests to the royal festivals. It is suggested that this is one obvious derivation, and it has been attempted even to bring phallic emblems to prove this point.
That we have in Churilo Plenkovich a very definite fiction of the powerful Udelny Knyaz, the independent pricelet of his district, complicated with the idea of the wealthy merchants from foreign lands, and that his district, complicated with the idea of the wealthy merchants from foreign lands, and that this picture is consistent does not seem to have occurred to these commentators.
It is suggested that Churilo is a live picture of the wealthy pincelet and the great merchant. At all events, any attempt to father any Olympus of divine deities on to the Slavs must fail, and to make this image of Churilo as the great foreign merchant of immense wealth, all the more concrete, we have the fact that in the valley of Sudak or Surozh in the Government of Taurus in 1365 there was a Genoese city which in 1475 was conquered by the Turks. In fact, the summary of Sakharov of the various theories as to the Slav cosmogonies might be cited here. "This is how our mythologers have described the ancient Russian gods. They act as inventors, but not one single fact can they form. It is all boast and guess and hypothesis. And ... from all the gods of the other Slav races, our mythologies have appropriated all they could find into the Russian cosmogony, without giving any consideration whether it was just or true."