As Byline (Russian Bylina), also Starine, is called an epic heroic part of the Russian folk poetry. It usually comprises several hundred rhythmic lines, which were often rhymed and characterized by a central cascade. The Bylines are dealing with historical or legendary subjects of Russian history, some of which also contain mythological elements (see Mythos). Such bylines have their origins in the Middle Ages, although many new creations can still be found in the 16th century. They were traditionally performed in the chant, and were rarely accompanied by music. The Byline was spread by rushing gamblers (Skomorochi), handed down orally, and continued mainly in the Volksmund.
The term is derived from the Russian noun bylina, which can be translated with an event. Thus, the translation of the word simply refers to what is at stake: the Bylines show events, that is, things that have happened and are told.
As a result, most of the bylines are based on historical material, even though these are partially enriched with mythological elements and thus can not always be historically proven. Often, Bylinen, who deal with heroes from the old days, have a much stronger fairy tale character than those who deal with things that were only a few years in writing.
Note: In 1839, Ivan Petrovich Sakharov, a folklorist and antiquarian, published an anthology of Russian folklore, which also included the section “Bylines of the Russian People”. It is very probable that Sakharov had a lasting impact on the popularity of the concept.
Characteristics and structure
Overview: The most important features at a glance
The Byline is an epic heroic. Most of the Bylins cover about 500 to 600 verses. Their rhythm is largely free, whereby they are often characterized by four-bar co-operation and a central cascade (cf. elevation).
The construction follows mostly a sequence of introduction, a narrative part and an epilogue. The introduction often featured a verse that prompted the audience to listen. In addition, the mission and departure situation of the hero was often described. The main part was mostly exciting and characterized by hyperbole, the epilogue telling the hero’s reward or holding a morale. Frequently there was a relation to the sea or a body of water.
These heroes were recited in a kind of chanting and thus verbally traded. Consequently, there are hardly any records from the wedding – the Middle Ages. Among the singers, the Bylina, also known as Star, is called Starine.
The songs tell historical and legendary events. They are similar in their form to the ballad, but in their character also the legend, the legend and, of course, the fairy tale.
In contrast to fairy tales, however, they are quite interesting for historical science, since they often revolve around a true core and are usually related to actual events.
They are also characterized by recurring formulas, topoi and figures. Well-known literary figures are: Dobrynja Nikititsch, who was known above all as a dragon-dug; Alyosha Popovich, a youthful, impetuous hero, or Ilja Muromez, a hero with superhuman skills whose horse could speak.
As well as fairy tales, Bylinen were passed on mainly in the Volksmund or by passing players. For this reason, there are hardly any records from the authoritative wedding of the genre that captured the heroic elements. It was only since the 17th century that they were specifically collected and collected by collectors.
At first, in the 17th century, the heroes were collected mainly in Russia itself. Here, the contents of the Bylinen were mostly bundled prosaically for the purpose of the entertainment.
The largest of the early collections goes back to Kirsha Danilov, who commissioned the industrialist Prokofi Demidov (1710-1786). However, there are no sources to Danilov that have more than his name. Thus his name was on the manuscript, but it is possible that he is fictitious.
The manuscript was published in 1804 and reached an enormous popularity. This is probably due to the fact that Napoleon seized power in Europe and entered the battle against Russia in 1812 (cf. Romanticism, a historical background), whereby above all works that were patriotic with Russia’s past and showed Russian heroes, in the Russian people.
In the 19th century it was then Pavel Rybnikov, who created one of the largest collections. It is said that Rybnikov traveled around Lake Onega in the region and was stranded on an island of the lake due to a storm. There he is supposed to have heard a sung byline and asked the singer to repeat the song for him. Then he wrote it down, and from then on he collected several hundred of these heroes, which he published between 1861 and 1867.
Alexander Fyodorovich Hilferding took a great influence. He improved Rybnikov’s work by noting that Bylinen, when sung, differed textually from their narrative form. For this reason, he tried to capture mainly the sung works and supplemented it with biographical information about the singer. Thus, he strengthened the role of the speaker and showed that the latter had a decisive influence on the respective work. He published his collection in 1873.
As a result, and as a result of Rybnikov’s and Hilferding’s work, more and more of these collections, the Bylinen, were formed. These showed that such heroes were to be found throughout Russia and strongly linked to its history.
Important collections at a glance
Ancient Russian poetry, Kirsha Danilov, 1804
Songs, Pavel Rybnikov, 1861 – 1867
Bylinen by Onega, Alexander Hilferding, 1873