Fall AS XLIII (2008)
Volume XIV, Issue 1 (#51)

Greetings from Pennsic XXXVII!


From the Nachalnik

We begin our 14th year with two articles (one on Dracula's birthplace and the other a first installment on Russian storytelling). While these two articles are seemingly unrelated, our traditional big tent unites them. Moreover, they both illustrate the way that each of us can make a contribution of our personal talents to the Group. Far too often, I hear laments from folks that they have nothing to add, but I remain convinced that each of us have much more to say than we give ourselves credit for. In that spirit, please consider sharing your particular talents with the group by writing an article for the next Slovo . It's easy to do and if you need any help, please let me know!

This issue, we also include recollections of Pennsic and an announcement for Peotr's annual Winter Solstice get together. I am deeply grateful to the people who make these gatherings possible as our Group is strengthened by face-to-face meetings. On that subject, I'll repeat my call for someone to host another Slavic University (and I promise to attend it  wherever it may be  if at all possible).

An event doesn't have to even be sponsored by SIG to be useful for our purposes. On the SIG listserv, a number of folks have been kind enough to publicize local events with Slavic themes. These are also wonderful and such publicity is good (although usually not possible in Slovo itself because of the interval between issues).


Pennsic 37 SIG Gathering

By Marija Kotok

The gathering this year drew a nice crowd including several newcomers! The meeting lasted two hours with many folk wandering in and out and enjoying the food, information, and friendship!

Pirogies with onion butter, kielbasa, ham, cheese, bread, and sauerkraut and trimmings were provided with the aid of my family. Primarily, Lord Petr doing the cooking and Lord Matthias doing the hauling of provisions to the meeting. Others contributed items as well (I remember dried cherries and bread in particular). Thank you to all who contributed!

We had a variety of garb and headpieces on display and they were much admired and discussed. Several people also brought books that passed through many hands at the meeting and enjoyed by all. Michael of Safita also brought the leftover handouts from his class (on his way to the field for fighting) and happily explained them to several interested folk who hadn't been able to make it to his class. We had a very nice gentleman come by who is planning on teaching some Byzantine classes next year as well. Some folk were shy but we tried to make them feel welcome; and hopefully next year they will speak up more.

As is usual, the meeting turned out to be a great place to meet both new and old friends so we could share our knowledge with each other. The meeting seemed very informative, when our time was up some folk were still deep in conversation ... and the next group was showing up to take over the space. Everyone seemed to leave in a good mood, and many of us left with knowledge we hadn't arrived with!


Period Sources for Russian Bards: Part I

By Peotr Alexeivich

In our limited version of time travel in the SCA we try to imagine how our personas lived. We investigate what people wore, what they ate, what tools they used and where they lived. But how can we get further into their minds? I determined to locate stories that would have been familiar to the Kievan Rus as part of my investigation. These stories gave me a better picture of medieval Russia and also turned out to be worthwhile to share with my friends in the SCA as part of bardic presentations.

One of the great pleasures of the Society is the absence of 21st Century electronic media, forcing us to talk to and entertain each other. Unfortunately many of the stories recounted around campfires, mead halls and in yurts are movie plots, TV shows, and stories from our mundane jobs. It is my hope to add atmosphere and entertain my companions by digging into actual epics, tales and legends, adapting them as needed. The following articles will recount my exploration so far.

In this first essay I will briefly discuss the only pre-Mongol-invasion epic to survive in manuscript. The Song of Igor's Campaign can be dated precisely to historical events around 1185 since it refers to historic characters and especially to a solar eclipse. It is the story of an ill-conceived attack against the nomadic Polovestsians, the defeat of the attacking Russian army, the capture of its leader, Prince Igor, and his subsequent escape.

That we have this story at all is a miracle. An amateur antiquarian found the manuscript along with other ancient documents in a monastery in Yaroslavl around 1790. It was destroyed during Napoleon's invasion of Moscow and survives only in flawed copies. The material we have consists of approximately 860 lines, which tell a complete story. This find suggests a number of epics that must have been lost. In fact The Song opens by invoking the name of another bard, Boyen, whose words it reports  set ten falcons upon a flock of swans. Of this bard's work we know nothing else. Most of the other surviving written material from the Kievan period are church documents, religious stories, and chronicles.

Locating this epic is only a start for the SCAdian bard, however. I quickly found that several very different English language translations exist, as illustrated by the variations in its title: The Lay of the Warfare Waged by Igor translated by Irina Petrova (published in Moscow), The Tale of the Campaign of Igor translated by Robert C. Howes, and lastly The Song of Igor's Campaign by the famous writer Vladimir Nabokov. It must be a difficult thing to render Old Russian into Modern English. I found all the translations had clumsy and awkward passages as well as rarely used English words, such as  erns and  gonfalon. In other period translations I have found extremely ambiguous word usage, such as  corn to mean grain. To make a presentable story to tell, I needed to line edit, replacing the exotic and ambiguous words.

The modern bard needs to start with the most presentable and aesthetic translation available. In this case, The Song of Igor's Campaign translated by Nabokov wins hands down. While Nabokov uses some exotic words, his sense of the meter of poetry is superlative. Compare lines 233-235 from Howes with Nabokov for example


From early morning unto evening

And from evening unto morning

The tempered arrows fly.


From early morn to eve,

And from eve to dawn,

tempered arrow fly.

Once I settled on my favorite version, I did two kinds of editing. The first I alluded to previously, replacing weird words with familiar ones. In my edit (with the help of a big dictionary)  ern was replaced with  sea eagle and  gonfalon with  banner. The second kind of editing is much more challenging and drastic, since it consists of wholesale cuts and reorganization. Let me explain my reasoning.

Medieval literature was not meant to be read the way we look at books. The texts were dense and often full of digressions, difficult for the modern sensibility. Commentary, genealogies, excerpts from the Bible, and so on, were commonly added, interlarded within a good story. Here is a rough outline of the structure of The Song of Igor's Campaign:

Lines 1  70: Introduction and homage of bard Boyan.
Lines 71  220: Muster of Russian forces by Prince Igor and first two day of battle.
Lines 221 - 270: Lament of discord among the Russian princes.
Lines 271  338: Third day of battle, defeat.
Lines 339  736: Lament of defeat, memory of Russian victories, urge modern princes to unity.
Lines 737 - 861: Prince Igor escapes captivity and returns home.

As you can see, more than half the material is filled with names and references that the non-historian will not recognize. My strategy has been to use lines 71 to 220 and 271 to 338 as one tale and the last section 737 to 861 as a sequel. The material reads very well, like real epic poetry. Take for example,

As to my warriors, they are famous knights

Swaddled under war horns,

Nursed under helmet,

Fed from the point of a lance;

My experience with this tale is that read out loud it was exciting. Unfortunately, if it is turned into a prose story, without the meter and symbolism, it falls flat. This is to some degree the nature of an ancient epic. In coming articles I will write about other Kievan Rus texts much more easily told without need of memorization or being read out loud.

Note: While The Song of Igor's Campaign is difficult to turn into bard material, it is one of the most interesting documents extant. It is well worth reading and studying the various versions footnotes. Here is a strong picture of the Russian mind of 1185, in a nominally Christian land (where the poet calls the army grandchildren of the sun god, where animals foretell the future, and a river helps a prince escape).


Dracula Slept Here (or Bran Castle: A Transylvanian Citadel)

By István din Bra_ov and Geta Alexandra din Wallachia

Bran Castle, the inner courtyard of which is illustrated to the right is a medieval castle associated with the infamous Romanian ruler Vlad bepe_, better known as Dracula (b. 1431, d. 1476). The castle, in the town of Bran, lies about 20 miles southwest of Bra_ov (an important medieval commercial center) and about 80 miles north-northwest of Bucharest, the modern capitol of Romania. (Note: in Dracula's time, Romania consisted of two semi-independent principalities  Wallachia (in the south) and Moldavia (in the northeast); Transylvania, although having a mainly Romanian population, was ruled by Hungary.) Bran Castle is situated in the Transylvania Alps, also known as the Southern Carpathians.

Bram Stoker, author of Dracula (1897), visited the castle in the 1890's and used it as the setting for his novel, although he placed it in Bistrica, which is 100 miles north of Bra_ov. Although Dracula never owned Bran Castle, he likely was a frequent guest there.

The castle was built in the early 13th century by the Teutonic knight Dietrich. It controlled Bran Pass, through which ran the most important commercial road leading south out of Bra_ov to Wallachia. The Teutonic Knights at that time controlled Bra_ov, thus the castle served to survey and defend the southern approach to Bra_ov (a constant worry due to Turkish ambitions). The castle also served as a taxation point. From the 14th through 19th centuries a customs house operated next to the castle, collecting a three percent tax on all goods being taken through the pass.

In 1225 the castle came into the hands of the Hungarian crown, which ruled Transylvania from the 9th century until after World War I. At one point the castle belonged to János Hunyadó, governor of Transylvania, under whose tutelage a young Dracula likely stayed at the castle as a guest. In 1498 the castle was mortgaged to the City of Bra_ov, which owned it until 1920 when the Romanian royal family bought and restored it as a summer residence.

The castle was built on a hill of bedrock, overlooking Bran Pass. At first, entrance was by ladder only; later a door was put in. The castle was endowed with an archer and ballister garrison, and to support these, the castle lord was allowed to tax nine nearby villages, which were considered part of the castle's estate. There are at least eight floor levels in the castle; it's hard to walk very far without having to go up or down a set of steps. Rooms inside include a weapons hall, now featuring a display of 15th -17th century weapons and armor, and a chapel with Gothic arches, decorated in 14th -15th century Gothic statuettes and once painted with frescoes. In the courtyard is a well 170 feet deep. Also in the courtyard, covered with flag stones, is a secret passage leading 150 feet down into the hill to a small chamber, and from there a passage leads outside.

Bran Castle, which my lady Geta and I toured this past summer (1983), is very picturesque  just big enough to impress, just worn enough to look real, and located in a village probably not much changed since the Middle Ages (except for the tour busses). Bran Castle is definitely a  must see for any Society members who happen to be traveling in that neck of the Transylvanian woods.



Bran Castle remained a royal residence until it was seized by the communist government in 1948 and the royal family expelled. After years of neglect, the castle was restored in the 1980's and was opened to tourists.

The ownership of the castle passed from Queen Marie of Romania to her daughter Princess Ilena, and then to the Princess' son, Archduke Dominic of Austria, also known as Dominic von Habsburg. In 2006, the Romanian government returned the castle to him. Von Habsburg, who is an architect in New York, has offered to sell it back to the Romanian authorities for $78 million, which they feel is too high. Von Habsburg has said he will keep the museum open until 2009. There is talk of legal action to prevent Habsburg from selling the castle at all, as Romania would lose a major tourist attraction. Von Habsburg is threatening counter-legal action.

As this was originally a citadel, it is small for what you might picture a castle to be. I found it very cozy inside. Anyone want to chip-in and buy it with me?

There are wonderful pictures, inside and out, at the Bran Castle Museum website. Click on the British flag icon to see titles in English: http://www.brancastlemuseum.ro/ indexfrm_en.htm .



•   Bran Castle, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bran_Castle , accessed 09/23/07.

•  Brokaw, Kurt. A Night in Transylvania: The Dracula Scrapbook. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1976.

•  Cocora, G. and I. Prahoveanu. Castlul Bran . Bucharest: unknown publisher.

•  Florescu, R., and R.T. McNally. Dracula: A Biography of Vlad the Impaler, 1431-1476 . New York: Hawthorn Books, 1973.

•  Keefe, Eugene K., et al. Romania: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979.

•   Legal Row Over  Dracula's Castle,' BBC News , http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7004758.stm , accessed 09/23/07.

•  McNally, R.T. and R. Florescu. In Search of Dracula: A True History of Dracula and Vampire Legends. Greenwich, NC: New York Graphic Society, 1972.

•   Romanian Parliament Debates Whether Return of  Dracula' Castle Was Legal, International Herald Tribune  Europe , 9/19/2007, http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/09/19/europe/EU-GEN-Romania-Dracula-Castle.php , accessed 09/23/07.

•  Seton-Watson, R.W. A History of the Roumanians from Roman times to the Completion of Unity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1934. (Also reprinted by Archon Books, New York, 1963)

•  Unknown, Sign inside Bran Castle explaining its history (Read by author, July 1983).


Winter Solstice Feast

You are invited to celebrate the Winter Solstice on Saturday December 16 at the castle of Peotr and Otgon. The setting is, as usual, a feast hall in Novgorod around the year 1280. Travelers from many lands will be in attendance--Norsemen, Turks, Franks and Mongols. We will share stories and songs. Drummers, harpers, singers and bards will attend. Fires will be kept burning through the night to ensure the return of the sun. Slavic rites of the winter will be observed kindling of fires, story telling, ritual foods and perhaps some masked visitors.

The celebration will begin after noon with visiting, cooking and decorating the great hall. Zakuski (all sorts of Russian snacks) will be laid out. First come, first gets the caviar. Come dusk a great feast of at least three removes will be served including the borsht and salmon. Mead and wine will flow. Bards will demonstrate their skills and will be richly rewarded; likewise various musicians, drummers, actors and dancers are welcome. Bring your medieval tales! Hospitality is available for visitors to spend the night before and/or the night after. Our motto--Come early, stay late, don't pee on the floor!

The feast is located at the home of Greg Frux and Janet Morgan, 11 Sterling Place, Apt #3A, Brooklyn, New York. Please wear your best medieval garb, bring a bowl, plate, knife, spoon and goblet. If you are concerned about costumes please contact us, as we have some extra. Please do your best to help us create the atmosphere of a midwinter night in the Middle Ages. We need to know in advance that you are coming, so that we can provide more than enough food. The best way to reach us is by email (greg@frux.net). Musicians, bards and dancers will receive special treatment. The feast is, as always, is free. People wishing to bring dishes and/or help cook are appreciated. Do let us know your plans. You are welcome to bring other folk who reside in the Middle Ages, but double check with us first. Kitchen slaves and serving lads and wenches will be properly cared for/abused. Bring a sense of play and a sense of humor.


Standard Disclaimer Stuff: Most of us are members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc (SCA) but our Interest Group and its newsletter are not officially affiliated with the SCA. Naturally, then, Slovo does not bear any intentional resemblance to anything that the SCA officially endorses.

The original authors retain the rights to their works. Please contact them directly for permission to reprint. Uncredited material is the property of the publisher.

The publisher and editor is Paul Wickenden of Thanet (Paul Goldschmidt), 5625 Highland Way, Middleton WI 53562, 608-827-6891, e-mail: goldschp@tds.net. There is no subscription fee and copies of this quarterly newsletter are available free of charge from the editor. Slovo is also available on-line at the Interest Group web site (http://slavic.freeservers.com).