Sadko played the gusli on the shores of a lake. The Sea Tsar enjoyed his music, and offered to help him. Sadko was instructed to make a bet with the local merchants about catching a certain fish in the lake; when he caught it (as provided by the Tsar), the merchants had to pay the wager, making Sadko a rich merchant.
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's crew forced him to jump into the sea. There, he played the gusli for the Sea Tsar, who offered him a new bride. On advice, he took a mermaid named Chernava, the last from all of 900 mermaids, and lay down beside her.
He woke up on the shore of the river Chernava and rejoined his wife.
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.
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) and the opera Sadko composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who also wrote the libretto. In 1953, Aleksandr Ptushko directed a film based on the opera entitled Sadko. 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).
Sadko can 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. Sadko may also be based on a certain Sedko Sitinits, 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.
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