Sadko (Russian: Садко) is the principal character in an East Slavic epic bylina. He was an adventurer, merchant, and gusli musician from Novgorod.

Textual notesEdit

"Sadko" is a version of the tale translated by Arthur Ransome in Old Peter's Russian tales (1916).[1] Kate Blakey's translation of a variant, "Sadko, the Rich Merchant Guest", appeared in the Slavonic Review (1924).[2]

A bylina version collected by P. N. Rybnikov has been translated by James Bailey.[3]


Sadko of Novgorod played the gusli on the shores of a lake and river.[a] The Tsar of the Sea[1][b] enjoyed his music, and offered to help him. Sadko was instructed to make a bet with the local merchants about catching a gold-finned fish in the lake; when he caught it (as provided by the Sea Tsar), the merchants had to pay the wager, making Sadko a rich merchant.[2][3][c]

Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom by Ilya Repin.

Sadko traded on the seas with his new wealth, but did not pay proper respects to the Tsar as per their agreement. The Tsar stopped Sadko's ships in the sea. He and his sailors tried to appease the Sea Tsar with gold, to no avail. Sadko realizes a sacrifice of a live soul was being demanded. All the shipmates drew lots, but Sadko draws the unlucky lot as if by fate or magic, so he is sent overboard and he sinks into the sea.[2][3]

In the sea world, Sadko played the gusli for the Sea Tsar, whose dancing roughened the seas, so that all the sailors prayed to Mikola Mozhaisky (Mikula Mozhaysk, patron of mariners;[4] or the name Saint Nicholas is called by in variants[5]), and the saint instructed Sadko to quit playing, and break the strings if the Tsar will not let him stop. As the Tsar was bound to offer him a choice of maidens to wed in order to detain him, Mikola advised him to choose the last one, with the warning not to embrace her as a wife (consummate the marriage[5]) if he hoped ever to return to Russia. The Tsar showed Sadko a selection of 900 (or 300) maidens, and Sadko picked out Chernava (diminutive: Chernavushka) who appeared last.[6] The two then wed, but the groom made no overture to the bride on their wedding night, and Sadko the next day woke up in his hometown, reunited with his terrestrial wife.[2][3]

The Chernava is explained as the nymph of the River Chernava.[7] In Ransom's version, the Sea Tsar's youngest daughter is named Volkhov, which is the river Sadko has always cherished.[1]


In some variants, Sadko is chosen to jump overboard by throwing lots between the men. This motif, derived from the Biblical story of Jonah, is a widespread device, appearing, for instance, in Child ballad 57 Brown Robyn's Confession.[8]

Historical parallelsEdit

Sadko may be based on a certain Sotko Sytinich (or Sedko Sitinits[9]), who is mentioned in the Novgorodian First Chronicle as the patron of the stone Church of Boris and Gleb built in the Novgorodian Detinets in 1167.[10][11]

Sadko can also be viewed as a metaphor for Yaroslav the Wise. The liberation of the Novgorodian people by Sadko can also be linked to the establishment of the Novgorod Republic by Yaroslav.[original research?][citation needed]


This tale attracted the attention of several authors in the 19th century with the rise of the Slavophile movement and served as a basis for a number of derived works, most notably the poem "Sadko" by Alexei Tolstoy (1871–1872)[12] and the opera Sadko composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who also wrote the libretto.[citation needed] In 1953, Aleksandr Ptushko directed a live action film based on the opera entitled Sadko.[13] A shortened and heavily modified American version of this film entitled The Magic Voyage of Sinbad was spoofed on Mystery Science Theater 3000. (The original version of the film is available on DVD from RusCiCo).[citation needed] In 2018 an animated adaption was released.

See alsoEdit

Explanatory notesEdit

  1. ^ Ilmen Lake,[2] or Volkhov River.[1]
  2. ^ Or Tsar Morskoy, 'Ocean-king'.[2]
  3. ^ The wager is wanting in Ransome's version, where Sadko is told by the Sea Tsar to draw the fish net and finds a coffer filled with gems.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Ransome (1916) tr., "Sadko", pp. 29–42.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Blakey (1924) tr., "Sadko, the Rich Merchant Guest", pp. 57–62.
  3. ^ a b c d e Bailey (2015) tr., "Sadko", pp. 293–306. From Rybnikov, P. N. (1990). Songs 2: No. 13. Singer A. P. Sorokin, residing near Lake Onega.
  4. ^ Blakey (1924), p. 61, n2.
  5. ^ a b Bailey (2015), p. 295.
  6. ^ Picked from three sets of 300 mermaids;[3] or three sets of 100 maidens.[2] It is a choice from just 30 of the Tsar's daughters in Ransome's version.[1]
  7. ^ Blakey (1924), p. 61, n3.
  8. ^ Francis James, Child (1965). The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. V. 2. New York: Dover Publications. p. 15.
  9. ^ Michell, Robert; Forbes, Nevill eds. (1914). Chronicle of Novgorod (Camden Third Series 25). London: Offices of the [Camden] Society. p. 25.
  10. ^ Birnbaum, Henrik (1981). Lord Novgorod the Great: The historical background. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica Publishers. p. 137. ISBN 0893570885.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  11. ^ Blakey (1924), p. 57.
  12. ^ Bristol, Evelyn (1991). A History of Russian Poetry. Oxford University Press. p. 149. ISBN 0-19-504659-5.
  13. ^ Naroditskaya, Inna (2012). Bewitching Russian Opera: The Tsarina from State to Stage. OUP USA Press. p. 3–4, 216ff. ISBN 0-195-34058-2.
  • Bailey, James, ed. (2015). "Sadko". An Anthology of Russian Folk Epics. Routledge. pp. 293–306. ISBN 1-317-47693-X.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Blakey, Kate (June 1924), "Folk Tales of Ancient Russia. (Byliny of Lord Novgorod the Great)", The Slavonic Review, 3 (7): 52–62, JSTOR 4201809
  • Ransome, Arthur, ed. (1916). "Sadko". Old Peter's Russian tales. Dmitri Mitrokhin (illustr.). London, New York: Thomas Nelson and sons. pp. 29–42.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External linksEdit