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Folklore

 
"Three Bogatyrs". Painting by Vasnetsov
 

A special place in Russian folklore is occupied by epic poems known as byliny that date back to the 11-16th centuries. Their heroes, called bogatyrs, are Russian warriors distinguished by supernatural strength and exceptional courage. Their chief mission is to protect Russian lands from enemies and they accomplish great feats in defeating their adversaries. Three of the bogatyrs are particularly famous: Ilya Muromets, Dobrynia Nikitich, and Alyosha Popovich. 

Russian oral tradition also includes a rich heritage of folksongs. Originally, these were carols and songs used to celebrate holidays and festive occasions throughout the year and sung at Yuletide, Shrovetide, Whitsunday, the end of the harvest season, weddings, and other special occasions. Other types of folksongs include ballads, lyrical songs, lullabies, and many more.

Of the more modern varieties, chastushki deserve a special mention. These are short, mostly four-line humorous verses sung to a standard tune. Chastushki first appeared in the second half of the 19th century and soon became popular both with villagers and town dwellers. They are mostly about various love-related matters, such as courtship, betrayal, lovers quarrels, and the like. Their frivolous lyrics and bawdy humor display the richness, flexibility, and expressiveness of vernacular Russian.

 
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