Dobrynya Nikitich (Russian: Добры́ня Ники́тич, Ukrainian: Добриня) is one of the most popular bogatyrs (epic knights) from the Rus' folklore. Albeit fictional, this character is based on a real warlord Dobrynya, who led the armies of Svyatoslav the Great and tutored his son Vladimir the Great.
Many byliny center on Dobrynya completing tasks set him by prince Vladimir. Dobrynya is often portrayed as being close to the royal family, undertaking sensitive and diplomatic missions. As a courtier, Dobrynya seems to be a representative of the noble class of warriors. He is a professional archer, swimmer, and wrestler. He plays the gusli, plays tafl, and is known for his courtesy and cunning.
Dobrynya and the Dragon
The bylina starts with Dobrynya's mother telling Dobryana to avoid the Saracen Mountains, to not trample on baby dragons, to not rescue Russian captives, and to not bathe in the Puchai River. Dobrynya disobeyed his mother and did all four things.
When he bathed in the Puchai River, he encountered a dragon with twelve trunks (in some variants identified as the Zmey Gorynych). Unarmed and desperate, Dobrynya discovered "a hat of the Greek land" and used it to defeat the dragon.[a]
The dragon, apparently a female,[b] pleaded for Dobrynya to not kill her, and the two made a nonaggression pact. The dragon broke the promise immediately and flew off to Kiev, abducting Zabava Putyatishna, the niece of Prince Vladimir.
When Dobrynya arrived at Kiev, Prince Vladimir commanded him to rescue his niece, on pain of death. Dobrynya complained to his mother he had neither steed nor spear for the task, and is given the heirloom horse Burko and a magic Shemakhan whip of braided silk. (He carried a spear too, as revealed later).
Dobrynya rescued some captives and trampled on the dragaon pups, but one of them bit into the horse's leg and immobilized it. Dobrynya remembered the magic whip, whose lashes restored vigor in the horse and he was freed. The dragon emerged angry for the death of her pups and refused to surrender Zabava without a fight.
Dobrynya fought the dragon at the Saracen Mountains for three days. On the third day he wanted to give up and leave, but a voice from Heaven told to fight for three more hours. Dobrynya eventually killed the dragon in three hours.
The dragon's blood did not seep into the ground, and Dobrynya wallowed in the pool for three days. A voice from Heaven eventually told him to stick his spear in the ground and say an incantation. The blood was then swallowed by the earth, and Zabava was rescued.
Appearances in classical culture
- Viktor Vasnetsov's famous painting Bogatyrs (1898) features Dobrynya Nikitich alongside fellow folk heroes, Ilya Muromets and Alyosha Popovich.
- In 1901, composer Alexander Grechaninov wrote an opera titled Dobrynya Nikitich.
Appearances in modern popular culture
- In 2015, Russian police gifted the French police a dog named after the folk hero Dobrynya in solidarity after the loss of Diesel a French police dog in a raid following the 13 November attacks in Paris.
- In 2006, an animated feature film, Dobrynya Nikitich and Zmey Gorynych featured the bogatyr's exploits.
- Dobrynya Nikitich is the uncle of the great prince Vladimir I in Victor Porotnikov's historical dilogie (Dobrynya Nikitich. For Russian Land!, 2012; Bloody Christening «with the Fire and the Sword», 2013). Dobrynya Nikitich was also a member of Vladimir II Monomakh's armed force in the novel Bogatyr's Armed Force of Monomakh. Rus' in the Fire! (2014), written by Vadim Nikolayev.
- Bailey & Ivanova tr. (1998), p. 81.
- Bailey & Ivanova tr. (1998), pp. 84–97 (translation)
- Bailey & Ivanova tr. (1998), p. 82.
- (in Russian) Victor Porotnikov. Dobrynya Nikitich. For Russian Land!
- (in Russian) Victor Porotnikov. Bloody Christening «with the Fire and the Sword»
- (in Russian) Vadim Nikolayev. Bogatyr's Armed Force of Monomakh
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