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The Tale of Sukhan


According to the records of folklore specialists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the heroic poem about Sukhan is known in two versions. One focuses on the social aspect, portraying the unjust prince’s quarrel with Sukhan. The other concentrates entirely on the heroic theme, on Sukhan’s heroic feat. It is this latter version that forms the basis for The Tale of Sukhan. The Tale tells how the Kiev bogatyr rides out unarmed to hunt with his gerfalcon and meets a mighty Tartar host advancing on Russia, how he uproots a tree in a forest and brandishes it to defeat the Tartars; how the Tartar ruler “ordered them to load three poroks” (battering rams or catapults), and how the Tartars launched a third attack on Sukhan:

And they fired from the third and killed the bogatyr

Hitting his brave heart,

Cutting its very roots.

But he forgot his mortal wound,

Fell upon them shouting,

And slayed the Tartars one and all.

Sukhan returned to Kiev and died, mourned by his prince and his mother.

In addition to the heroic poem, the author of the Tale made use of literary works on the struggle against the Tartars, in particular, The Tale of the Battle Against Mamai. He also drew on the military practice of his day. For seventeenth-century Russia the theme of the struggle against the Tartars was not merely an historical one: the Nogai and Crimean hordes were a constant threat to the southern borders. This is why the author gives Sukhan the features of a seventeenth-century member of the service gentry. For Sukhan the defence of the Russian borders was an “affair of state” of “serving the sovereign”.