The Bold Knight, the Apples of Youth, and the Water of Life

"The Bold Knight, the Apples of Youth, and the Water of Life" (Russian: Сказка о молодце-удальце, молодильных яблоках и живой воде) is a Russian fairy tale collected by Alexander Afanasyev in Narodnye russkie skazki. The tale and is variants are numbered 171-178 in the first volume of the three-volume collection.[1]


The Knight at the Crossroads by Viktor Vasnetsov

An old king whose sight was failing heard of a garden with apples that would make a man grow young, and water that would restore his sight. His oldest son set out and to a pillar with difference directions: on one road, his horse would be full and its rider be hungry; on the second, the youth would lose his life, and on the third, he would be full and his horse hungry. He took the third road and came to a house where a widow made him welcome. The old dame also offered to let him spend the night with her daughter Dunia. The prince accepted, and Dunia made him fall into the cellar.

His second son set out and met the same fate. Finally the youngest son set out, over his father's reluctance. When the boy received the same offer from the widow, he said he must go to the bathhouse first; Dunia led him to it, and he beat her until she revealed his brothers. The youngest prince freed them, but they were ashamed to go home.

Returning to his quest, the third prince rode on and found a pretty maiden weaving. She could not direct him to the fabled garden, but instead sent him on to her second sister. She bade him leave his horse with her and go on a two-winged horse to their third sister. The third sister gave him a four-winged horse and told him to ensure that it leapt the wall of the garden in a single bound, or it would make bells ring and wake the witch guarding it. He tried to obey her, but the horse's hoof just grazed the wall. The sound was too soft to wake the witch. In the morning, she chased after him on her six-winged horse, but only caught him when he was near his own land and did not fear her. She cursed the prince, saying nothing would save him from his brothers.

He found his brothers sleeping and slept by them. They stole his apples and threw him over a cliff. He fell to a dark kingdom. There, a dragon demanded a beautiful maiden every year, and this year the lot had fallen on the princess. The knight said he would save her if the king would promise to do as the youth asked; the king promised not only that but to marry him to the princess as well. They went to where the dragon was coming and he went to sleep, telling the princess to wake him. The dragon came, she could not wake the prince and began to weep, and a tear fell on his face, waking him. The youth cut off the dragon's heads, put them under a rock, and threw its body in the sea.

Another man sneaked up behind him and cut off his head. The assassin threatened to kill the princess if she would not say that he had killed the dragon. The king arranged for the marriage, but the princess went to sea with fishermen. Each time they caught a fish, she had them throw it back, but finally, their nets caught the knight's body and head. She put them back together and used the water of life on them. He comforted her and sent her home, saying he would come and make it right. He came and asked the king whether the alleged dragon slayer could find the dragon's heads. The imposter could not, but the knight could. The knight said he wanted only to go to his own country, not to marry the princess, but she did not want to be parted from him. She knew a spoonbilled bird that could carry them, if it had enough to eat. They went off with a whole ox, but it was not quite enough; the princess cut off part of her thigh to feed it. The bird carried them all the way and commented on the sweetness of the last piece of meat. She showed it what she had done, and it spat the piece back out; the knight used the water of life to restore it.

He went back with his father, used the water of life, and told him what his brothers had done. The brothers were so frightened they jumped in the river. The knight married the princess.


Folklorist Alexander Afanasyev published the tale, numbered 27, in the second tome of this multi-part collection in eight volumes.[2]


Soon after he developed his classification of folktales, Finnish folklorist Antti Aarne published, in 1912, a study on the collections of the Brothers Grimm, Austrian consul Johann Georg von Hahn, Danish folklorist Svend Grundtvig, Swiss scholar Laura Gonzenbach and Afanasyev. According to this primary system, developed in 1910, the tale fits types 551, "The Water of Life" ("Sons on a quest for the Wonderful Remedy for their Father") and 300, "The Dragon-Slayer".[3] Professor Regina Bendix also classifies the tale as type ATU 551.[4]

In regards to the journey on the bird's back (usually an eagle, but in this tale a spoonbill bird), folklorist scholarship recognizes its similarities with the tale of Etana helping an eagle, a tale type later classified as Aarne-Thompson-Uther ATU 537, "The Eagle as helper: hero carried on the wings of a helpful eagle".[5]

Historical linguist Václav Blažek argues for parallels of certain motifs (the water of life, the golden apples) to Ossetian Nart sagas and the Greek myth of the Garden of the Hesperides.[6]


Alexander Afanasyev collected eight variants in his original compilation of Russian folk tales, under the banner "Сказка о молодце-удальце, молодильных яблоках и живой воде" ("Tale of The Brave Youth, the Rejuvenating Apples and the Water of Life"). In some of the variants, the king dreams that there exists a maiden of exceptional beauty that lives near the fountain that grants youth or to the garden with a tree that grows the golden apples.[7]

Professor Jack V. Haney also translated a variant from a Pomor storyteller named P. Ia. Nikonov.[8] In this untitled tale, "clearly of the 'Rejuvenating Apples' type",[9] the prince searches for "the living water, the rejuvenating apples, and the fire bird".[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Bendix, Regina. "The Firebird: From the Folktale to the Ballet". In: Fabula 24, no. 1-2 (1983): 72.
  2. ^ Афанасьев, Александр Николаевич. Народныя русскія сказки. Moskva: 1863. pp. 260-267. [1]
  3. ^ Aarne, Antti. Übersicht der mit dem Verzeichnis der Märchentypen in den Sammlungen Grimms, Grundtvigs, Afanasjews, Gonzenbachs und Hahns übereinstimmenden Märchen. FFC 10. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Tiedeakatemian Kustantama, 1912. p. 8. [2]
  4. ^ Bendix, Regina. "The Firebird: From the Folktale to the Ballet". In: Fabula 24, no. 1-2 (1983): 72.
  5. ^ Annus, Amar & Sarv, Mari. "The Ball Game Motif in the Gilgamesh Tradition and International Folklore". In: Mesopotamia in the Ancient World: Impact, Continuities, Parallels. Proceedings of the Seventh Symposium of the Melammu Project Held in Obergurgl, Austria, November 4–8, 2013. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag - Buch- und Medienhandel GmbH. 2015. pp. 289-290. ISBN 978-3-86835-128-6
  6. ^ BLAŽEK, Václav. "The Role of "Apple" in the Indo-European Mythological Tradition and in Neighboring Traditions". In: Lisiecki, Marcin; Milne, Louise S.; Yanchevskaya, Nataliya. Power and Speech: Mythology of the Social and the Sacred. Toruń: EIKON, 2016. pp. 257-297. ISBN 978-83-64869-16-7.
  7. ^ "A Tale about the Brave Lad, the Rejuvenating Apples, and the Living Water." In: The Complete Folktales of A. N. Afanas’ev. Volume I. Edited by Haney Jack V., 460-90. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014. doi:10.2307/j.ctt9qhm7n.114.
  8. ^ Haney, Jack V. Long, Long Tales from the Russian North. University Press of Mississippi, 2013. p. xx. Project MUSE
  9. ^ Haney, Jack V. Long, Long Tales from the Russian North. University Press of Mississippi, 2013. p. 297. Project MUSE
  10. ^ Haney, Jack V. Long, Long Tales from the Russian North. University Press of Mississippi, 2013. pp. 188-209. DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781617037306.003.0011

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