Winter AS XLIII (2009)
Volume XIV, Issue 2 (#52)


From the Nachalnik

Warm greetings in these dark and cold days! This issue, we feature another installment on Russian bardic arts, an old family recipe, and a series of book reviews. As always, my thanks to my contributors and my encouragement to those of you who have been thinking of writing something for future issues! We always welcome new contributions. Also, my special thanks this quarter to Susan Toker for her generous donation to help underwrite the costs of producing Slovo . Without your involvement, none of this is possible.

This past weekend, the second Slavic University was hosted. I haven't heard much about it yet, but look forward to full reports in the forthcoming weeks, and perhaps an article in a future issue. A University is a wonderful opportunity to share information and I especially encourage you to consider holding one in your area. So far, it has been hosted twice in the Middle Kingdom, and while that is wonderful, I would be interested in seeing it held in other parts of the Known World. Contact me if you need further information or would like to discuss what is involved.


Some Preliminary Thoughts on Slavic University

It's a little too soon to get a full account of this year's University (held in the Middle Kingdom on January 10 th ), but here are some initial comments:

Halla wrote:

“Here's pictures--- I was in the kitchen most of the day -- Mordak or Zygmunt must give you the rest of the review...

“They were predicting drastic weather, and it was icy in the morning – so festivities got a late start. But we ended the day with 92 trolled in, AND we sold 55 lunches. And it did not rain down 1-3 inches of snow on us, nyah nyah nyah!

“Father Terry enjoyed having us there enough that he's asking us to come back and do it again – this time he wants a Byzantine specific event – does that hold enough interest for SIG?”

Zygmunt Nadratowski wrote:

“Here are my photos from this weekend –

“I wound up with six in my Zupan class and eight or so in my armor class. The events was a lot of fun, and the feast afterwards was great!”


Period Sources for Russian Bards, Part II: Sadko

By Peotr Alexeivich

Heroic epics poems were likely an important part of life in Kievan Rus. Last issue I wrote about the one extant manuscript from the period, The Song of Prince Igor . Amazingly, a substantial number of other stories have survived in oral traditions down to early modern times. These bylinas were collected by folklorists between the 16 th and 19 th centuries in remote regions of Russia, far from Kiev.

Our problem is to figure out if a particular bylina plausibly dates back to the Kievan period and then, if necessary, to prune later accretions from the work. Several groups of very ancient bylina have been collected, the most prominent being a series of tales about the court of Grand Prince Vladimir, the most successful of the Kievan rulers. Most of these are stories of the various characters in the prince's retinue, both warriors and especially clever and strong peasants.

A smaller body of stories, different in character, comes from Novgorod. A remarkably famous and entertaining work is the tale of Sadko. This story may possibly be based on a historic person, as a merchant by that name was recorded in the city's chronicles (in the year 1167 a merchant named Sadko raised a stone church in Novgorod to the Saints Boris and Gleb).

The tale of Sadko has two parts. In the first we meet a young and poor bard, carrying his stringed musical instrument (the gusli). Rejected by the rich lords of the city, turned away from their halls, he plays by the waterfront. Doing so for three nights running he wins the favor of the lord of water spirits, the Tsar of the Sea. With his favor and advice, Sadko is able to win a wager with the merchants of Novgorod and become the richest merchant of them all.

The second half of the story begins twelve years later with Sadko and his thirty “falcon” ships, laden with treasure, becalmed at sea. It appears that the ruler of the oceans is angry. After casting lots it is determined that Sadko is at fault, as he has not remembered to pay tribute to the sea. He sacrifices himself and is magically transported to the court of the Sea Tsar. There he is forced to play his gusli for the water spirits and offered a choice of wife. Through the advice and intervention of Saint Nicholas in a dream, he is delivered safely back to Novgorod, arriving in time to see his treasure fleet sail into dock.

Sadko is a singular story. The protagonist is a merchant and musician, not a warrior. He treats with the old gods who aid him. The tale is thus a wonderful opportunity to see the customs of daily life in medieval Novgorod with bards, feast halls, merchants and wagers. It also demonstrates the dual religious beliefs of Kievan Rus. The first is a landscape inhabited by powerful nature spirits, which in this story control the destiny of sailors, transport folk long distances instantly, and sink fleets of ships. Second is the overarching protection of Christianity, through the intervention of a saint, which overrule the nature gods.

This story is available in multiple translations, both prose and verse. Both types are easily adaptable for use in the SCA. In versions I have located there are a few anachronisms—some mention the Golden Horde (e.g., post 1240), but this and other place names are easy to replace or edit out. Some anachronisms may in fact not be so. Kievan Rus did not have a Tsar, but rather a Grand Prince. However Russians called the Byzantine Emperor “Tsar” (Caesar), so the usage of the “Tsar of the Sea” is not an anachronism.

Overall the Sadko story is very accessible and well received by audiences.


Lemko Keselytsa Recipe

By Vasyl Jula

The Lemkos are a Ukrainian Rusyn tribe that once lived in the southeastern part of Poland until 1946. Olena Badarak Jula brought this original recipe to the United States in 1903 from her village Wysowa, Gorlyste.

The name Keselytsya comes from the Lemko word kisyty meaning “fermented” or “pickled.” This dish can be served thick or thin and poured over cooked cubed or mashed potatoes. There were similar fermented dishes called Kysil, Kvasha, Kvas, Zubtsy, once popular with our ancestors in the old Rus' territories, but these are all but forgotten now.

It is believed that these dishes are some of the oldest Slavic foods ever made. The original form of Kysil was made the same way as Keselytsya and is mentioned in chronicles of 10th -13th century Ukraine. In some parts of Ukraine and Poland this dish is called Zhur or Zhurek. Sometimes these dishes were served plain or with hemp oil, bacon grease, poppy seed, horseradish, garlic, and or fried onions.

Today the word Kysil means a fruit-based pudding prepared with a starch. The new method of cooking the Kysil excludes the fermentation process, so the dish was soured with berries or fruit. Zubtsy was made from barley flour and milk, fermented and then cooked. Kvasha was made from cherry leaves, one part buckwheat and two parts rye flour, fermented and cooked the next day. Kvas was made like a beer from rye flour or beets, uncooked and used as a drink or to flavor soups like Borshch.

Here is the Jula family recipe for Lemko Keselytsa. Preparing this recipe takes several steps and several days.


Start with:

2 cups old fashion Quaker oats
6 cups warm water
3 tsp dried yeast
1 slice of rye bread (or a piece of raw bread dough the size of your fist instead of the yeast and rye bread -- this is the old fashion way of starting the fermentation process)

Place ingredients into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and wrap in a towel. Let the mixture ferment in a warm place for at least 24 hours to develop a tart flavor. Try not to exceed 24 hours as it starts to get a beer-like flavor.

Next day strain the oat mixture through a sieve and save the juice. Firmly press and rub the solids with the back of a spoon against the side of the sieve. Scrap the solids that have come through the sieve and add it to the juice and discard the solids left in the sieve. Place the juice into a crock-pot or slow cooker and add

4 cloves of garlic (pressed in a garlic press or finely minced)
3 bay leaves
1-2 tsp caraway seeds crushed
2 tsp salt

Cook on high for one hour until thick, and then reduce heat to low and cook another two hours. Stir now and then. Strain and adjust seasonings. The results can be frozen.

You can use a heavy bottomed pot to cook the juice in. Cook it on low heat so it doesn't boil over. It will have to be stirred constantly as it likes to scorch and stick to the bottom of the pot (even Teflon doesn't work well). For best results, use a crockpot, as it cooks at a nice low heat and it doesn't have to be tended constantly.


Book Reviews

•  Connie Willis. Doomsday Book.

The year is 2048 and historians are using time travel to fill in information about the past. Kivrin, an Oxford undergrad is sent back to 14 th Century England. Meantime things go wrong in the novel's present, with an outbreak of a virulent form of influenza, leaving the protagonist stranded. The descriptions of the medieval life in a small village are compelling and the characters beautifully drawn. I especially enjoyed the details of clothing and customs. The drama of the medieval world Kivrin enters grows ever more intense make for a real page turner. Meantime, life in 2048 is an annoying and unending frustration dream of bureaucracy and idiots. This is certainly meant to build drama, but I it found it irritating. However the book is well worth reading and was winner of both Hugo and Nebula awards

-- Peotr Alexeivich


•  Salman Rushdie. The Enchantress of Florence .

Set in Moghul India at the time of the Renaissance, we follow the path of an Italian con man impersonating the ambassador from Queen Elizabeth of England to the Indian Court. It is a fantastic tale, with an unreliable narrator spinning version after version of his life. Rushdie pulls it off because he is such a talented writer. The book is rollick if you stay in the right frame of mind (that of suspended disbelief). It has everything—cameos by a gay Scottish Pirate, Vlad the Impaler, painter Botticelli and Niccolò Machiavelli to mention only a few. There are all sorts of outlandish jokes and puns throughout the book. For example the main character calls himself in one incarnation “Mogor dell'Amore” (the king of love). There is some solid history here amid the fun. The ruler Akbar the Great (literally Great the Great) was a real person, leader of the Mongol-Turkic Empire and descendent of Tamerlane who conquered Northern India. The images of Florence, the Ottoman Empire and Central Asia are beautifully described. It helps the enjoyment of the book to know that there really was such a city as is described in the book -- Fatehpur Sikri. It was founded by the historic Akbar and occupied for only ten years, until his death. The reason it was abandoned was that there was no water source nearby. The central story (and/or inside joke) of the book is an explanation of what happened there. Highly recommended.

-- Peotr Alexeivich


•  Elizabeth Warner. Heroes, Monsters and Other Worlds from Russian Mythology (World Mythology Series 1985)

This is a beautifully illustrated survey of all that is pagan and mythic in Russia. At 132 pages it describes in a systematic way the many layers of belief, from major pre-Christian gods, to small forest and house spirits. The author covers major folk cycles in chapters such as “Serpents, dragons and monsters,” “Witches and wizards,” “Giants and midgets” and “Wondrous animals.” Her strength is in taking what at first appear to be arbitrary and plain weird stories and placing them in context. This book is a terrific window into the medieval mind. How Russians felt about their huge untracked forest, for example, can be well expressed by the Leshii , a forest spirit who appears as an old unkempt man, who could turn into any animal, and can hide behind a blade of grass or tower over a tree. Heroes has a wealth of story types to learn from, and within each chapter are retelling of one or more Russian myths or folktales. Here is the weak point of the book, in that the language of these stories is a little limp. Versions of these tales can be found elsewhere with more artful writing. On the other hand, the colored and black and white illustrations, which fill every page are a delight and clearly reference medieval garb and heraldry. This is a delightful and highly useful book.

-- Peotr Alexeivich



Emy posted to the SIG listserv an announcement that that latest issue of Russian History – Histoire Russe features a series of articles of interest to members of the Group. It includes the following articles about medieval Russia:

•  Brian J. Boeck. “Identity as Commodity: Tournaments of Value in the Tatar Ransom Business”
•  Michael Flier, “Handwriting on the Wall: Traces of Novgorod in the Golden Hall Mural Inscriptions”
•  Priscilla Hunt, “The Foolishness in the Life of the Archpriest Avvakum and the Problem of Innovation”
•  Mikhail Krom, “Private Service and Patronage in Sixteenth-Century Russia”
•  Eve Levin, “Identifying Diseases in Pre-Modern Russia”
•  Gary Marker, “Scriptual Pieces: A Muscovite Publishing History of Books of the Bible”
•  Russell Martin, “Ritual and Religion in the Foreign Marriages of Three Muscovite Princesses”
•  Georg Michels, “Rituals of Violence: Retaliatory Acts by Russian and Hungarian Rebels”
•  Donald Ostrowski, “Melchior Sternfels von Fuchshaim in Muscovy”
•  Marshall Poe, “The Sexual Life of Muscovites: Evidence from the Foreign Accounts”
•  Olga Strakhov, “The Title "Great Sovereign" and the Case of Patriarch Nikon”
•  Isolde Thyrêt, “Muscovite Women and the Politics of the Holy: Gender and Canonization”

And the following article on Medieval Poland:

•  Piotr Górecki, “Ambiguities of the Frontier: Two Case Studies from Medieval Silesia”

And it is actually the second issue of Russian History to be recently dedicated to medieval Russia. An earlier issue is similarly dedicated to material of interest to SIG members.


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