byliny (bĭlēˈnē) [key] [Rus., = what has happened], Russian scholarly term first applied in the 1840s to a great body of narrative and heroic poems. They are called by the folk stariny [Rus., = what is old]. Most byliny are loosely connected with historical events dating from the 11th to the 16th cent., particularly the era of the tatar yoke and have been handed down by word of mouth by folk reciters. The poems were first collected and studied in the late 18th cent. The largest of the byliny cycles is that from Kiev concerning Prince Vladimir, the Little Sun, and the warrior Ilya of Murom. Of importance also is the Novgorod cycle, concerning the adventures of the merchant prince Sadko and Vasily Buslayevich. A third cycle of Older Heroes relates tales of the strong plowman Mikula. The characters of the byliny all possess hyperbolic powers. Though modified by elements of Scandinavian, Byzantine, and Central Asian folk tales, byliny are strikingly Russian and have had an enriching influence on Russian literature, music, and art.
See N. K. Chadwick, Russian Heroic Poetry (1932, repr. 1964); F. J. Oinas and S. Soudakoff, ed., The Study of Russian Folklore (1975).
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