Serbian Folk-Lore (2nd Edition) | Annotated Tale

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Legend of St. George, The

ONCE upon a time all the saints assembled in order to divide amongst themselves the treasures of the world. And, in this division, each saint obtained something which satisfied him.

               The beautiful summer, with all its wealth of flowers, fell to the lot of St. George: to St. Elias fell the clouds and the thunder; and to St. Pantelija the tempest. St. Peter obtained the keys of heaven: to St. Nicholas fell the seas, and the ships upon them; and to the Archangel Michael fell the right of gathering and guarding the souls of the dying. St. John was chosen to preside over friendship and 'koom-ship,' [1] and to the holy Lady Mary the saints committed the charge of the lawless country of the cursed Troyan, [2] in order that she might bring it to a state of peace, and establish therein the true religion.

               About a year had passed away since the saints had thus divided amongst themselves the treasures of the world, when one day the holy Lady Mary entered the assembly, evidently greatly afflicted, and with large tears falling over her white cheeks. She greeted 'in the name of God!' her brethren the saints, and these gave her back her greeting. Then St. Elias addressed her, saying, 'Our sister, holy Mary, wherefore are you grieving? Why are you shedding these tears? You are, perhaps, dissatisfied with the lot which fell to you when we divided the treasures?'

               But the holy Mary answered, 'My brethren, ye who are the righteousness of God, when you divided the treasures you gave me also a share therein, and therewith I am satisfied. Yet I have good cause, nevertheless, to be sorely grieved. I come but now from the city of the Troyan, and I have been unable to bring it to peace and the true faith. There the young people do not reverence their elders--there the brother challenges his own brother to mortal combat,--there the koom is pursuing his koom in the law courts,--there the brother intermarries with his own sister, and the koom with his kooma,--there the holy Sabbath is violated, and, worst of all, there they do not pray to the true God. The people have made to themselves a god of silver, and to this idol do they pray. Now, what can I do, my dear brethren, except to pray that the true God should send his lightnings from heaven to destroy the fortress and fortifications, and to burn down the cities and villages? Then, perhaps, the people of the Troyan country may come to see the great wickedness and repent.'

               St. Elias said to her these words, 'Our sister, holy Mary, do not do this thing! Rather let us all pray God to allow us to give some warning to the people--that He orders snow to fall on Mitrovdan, and remain until St. George's day; [4] and another snow to fall on St. George's day, and lie on the earth until Mitrovdan; [3] so that no seeds can be sown, and no ewes can rear their lambs. In this way, perhaps, the pride of the earth may be subdued, and the people brought at last to repentance.'

               All the saints approved the proposal of St. Elias, and acted as he had said. Then a great snow fell on Mitrovdan, and remained until St. George's day, and a second snowfall came on St. George's day, and lay on the earth until Mitrovdan. No seed could be sown, therefore, and no lambs could be reared. The people suffered greatly throughout the year; they would not, however, repent and mend their ways. Some of them had part of last year's corn in their garners, and shiploads of grain were brought from countries beyond the seas, and so they got somehow through the year, and went on living just as wickedly as before.

               The holy Mary, seeing this, went a second time to the assembled saints weeping. After the exchange of the customary greeting, St. Elias asked her what was the reason of her tears, and she told him that she was sorely grieved because the people of the Troyan country, notwithstanding the chastisement they had suffered, still continued living in wickedness. Then the saints resolved to send down a second warning. So they prayed God to send down the curse of the small-pox. Thereupon the small-pox appeared amongst the Troyans, and raged in their country for three full years, carrying off all the strength and beauty of the people, so that only the old remained to cough, and the little babes to cry.

               But, when the children grew up, they behaved just as their parents had done, and neither improved nor repented. Weeping bitter tears over her white cheeks, the holy Mary went the third time to the assembly of the saints, and reported how disorderly and madly the people of the Troyan land were still living. She said, it was quite evident that they could not be brought to repentance, and that, therefore, she intended now to pray God to send down his lightnings and destroy the cities and villages.

               But St. Elias said again, 'Not so, my dear sister! not so! Let us give them yet a third warning.' So the saints prayed to God for the third warning, and God granted their request.

               Next morning, close by the king's palace in the chief city of the Troyans a green lake appeared, and therein was an insatiable dragon feeding on young men and maidens. Every morning, for breakfast, the monster required a young man who had never been wedded; and every evening, for supper, he demanded a youthful and blooming maiden.

               This went on for seven years, until, at length, the turn came to the only daughter of the king. Then the queen cried loudly and bitterly, and clasped her arms closely round the neck of her child. Mother and daughter wept together three days, and when the fourth day dawned, the queen fell into a light slumber by her daughter's side. As she slept, she dreamed that a man appeared to her, and said, 'O queen of the Troyan city! do not send your daughter this evening to the lake; but send her to-morrow, when the day dawns, and the sun shines. Tell her, when she goes to the lake, she must bathe her face, and then, turning towards the east, let her call on the name of the true God. She must, however, be careful not to mention the idol of silver. This done, she must wait patiently, ready to accept whatsoever the true God ordereth for her.'

               The queen, awakening from her sleep, related at once her dream to her daughter, and impressed on her the necessity of carrying out faithfully her instructions. Weeping bitterly, the king's daughter took leave of her mother at daybreak, begging the queen to forgive her the milk with which she had been nourished in her babyhood. Then she went down to the lake shore, bathed her face, and, turning eastwards, prayed to the true God. This done, according to her mother's instructions, she sat down and awaited whatever might happen to her.

               Suddenly there appeared a strange knight mounted on a magnificent charger. He greeted the maiden 'in the name of God!' and she, springing up quickly, returned the greeting courteously. Then the strange knight, seeing she had been weeping, asked what it was that troubled her, and wherefore she sat waiting there alone. In answer to these questions the maiden related the whole sad story of the dragon, and the fearful fate which seemed to await her.

               When she had finished her narration, the knight dismounted, and, removing his kalpak from his head, said, 'Now I desire to sleep a little, and I wish you to pass your hand through my hair that I may sleep more pleasantly.' The girl tried to dissuade him from this, lest the dragon should come whilst he slept, and devour him also. She said it would be a pity for him to perish thus needlessly. However, she could not prevail on him to abandon his purpose, and he fell at once into a gentle slumber, and slept as quietly as a young lamb.

               Very soon, however, the waters of the lake were agitated, and the terrible dragon appeared coming towards them. Then the unknown knight sprang up quickly into his saddle, and, stretching out his arms, lifted the maiden up and placed her behind him on his charger. This done, with one stroke of his lance, he pinned the dragon down to the bottom of the lake, where it remained bleeding, but not dead. Then the knight took the girl back to the palace of the king, her father, and the queen, who had been watching anxiously everything that passed, met him at the gate and delivered up to him the keys of the city.

               The knight, who was no other than St. George, now walked through the streets of the Troyan city, and, having gathered the people around him, spoke to them thus, 'Listen to me, my children! Pray no more to the idol of silver, pray only to the one true God! And you, young people, reverence your elders. All of you remember that near relatives cannot be permitted to intermarry. Keep holy the Sabbath, as well as all the other holy days and saint days.' Having thus admonished them, the holy knight ordered that the temple should be opened, and when his commands had been obeyed, he took out of it the silver idol, and melted it into a variety of ornaments. In the place of the silver idol he placed a holy picture, and then consecrated the temple, and it became a church. When this was done, he turned again to the people, and said, 'If you will promise to do as I have told you, I will kill the dragon in the lake; but if you refuse to do what I have asked of you I will let him loose again, and I think he will soon make an end of you.'

               Then all the people bowed themselves to the earth before the holy knight, and shouted aloud, 'O good and unknown knight! our brother in God! Deliver us from the dragon in the lake, and we will do and live just as you have counselled us!' Whereupon they received the true faith. When they had so done, St. George returned to the lake, and made the sign of the cross over it with a stick, and at that very moment both the lake and dragon disappeared as if they had never been.

               Having done all this, St. George went back to the heavenly kingdom to recount to the saints there assembled the conversion of the Troyan people.



[1] The 'koom' is a sort of godfather or sponsor. See 'Popular Customs of Serbia.'

[2] In some versions of this poem this 'Troyan' is changed into 'India.' Probably there is here a reference to the theory that the Turks and Troyans were the same people. Knolles, in the opening chapter of his 'General Historie of the Turkes,' says, 'Some, after the manner of most nations, derive them from the Troians, led thereunto by the affinity of the words Turci and Teucri; supposing--but with what probability I know not--the word Turci or Turks to have been made of the corruption of the word Teucri, the common name of the Trojans; as also for that the Turks have of long most inhabited the lesser Asia, wherein the antient and most famous city of Troy sometime stood.'--Editor.

[3] 'George's day,' 25th April, O. S.


[4] Mitrovdan, 25th October, O. S.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Legend of St. George, The
Tale Author/Editor: Mijatovich, Elodie L.
Book Title: Serbian Folk-Lore (2nd Edition)
Book Author/Editor: Mijatovich, Elodie L.
Publisher: Columbus Printing, Publishing and Advertising Company
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1899
Country of Origin: Serbia
Classification: ATU 300: The Dragon-Slayer

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