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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Monday, April 1, 2013

Historical Tidbit: The Russian Grimm

Did you know...?

Alexei Mikhailovich
The father of Peter the Great of Russia was named Alexei Mikhailovich. He declared war on storytellers in 1649. According to him, storytellers destroyed souls with their "idle talk and merry-making and blasphemy." All skomorokhi (minstrels, peddlers, jesters, harlequins, and other tale spinners) were outlawed and/or banished.

Two hundred years later, the ban still hadn't been lifted. Aleksandr Afanas'ev--sometimes called Russia's answer to the Brothers Grimm--was denounced for "collecting stories." In his lifetime, Afanas'ev was a most prolific story collector. He published articles, compiled biographies, collected everything from pagan myths to children's tales, and put together the collection of fairy tales for which he is best known. 
Aleksandr Afanas'ev
The logic behind the denunciation was the following: "The legends published by Afanas'ev are thoroughly blasphemous and immoral. They offend pious sentiment and propriety. Religion must be safeguarded from such profanity."

Anyone curious as to Afanas'ev's reply? 

The stories, he said, "contained 'a million times more morality, truth and human love' than the 'sanctimonious sermons' of his Holiness."

Oh snap!

But of course back then, no one--even awesome dudes like Afanas'ev--took on the church. His apartment was ransacked, he was dismissed from his post and then forced out of his home. He had to sell his beloved books in order to eat, and spent the last few months of his life in mundane clerical work for a Moscow court. He died of consumption at the age of 45.

(Source: Myths and Legends of Russia, Afanas'ev, Aleksandr, "Introduction," pg. iii)

Aren't you glad our society no longer frowns on the telling of stories? I often wonder why earlier societies--or at least the powers-that-were--did. I think it's because stories give people knowledge about the world and power in themselves. People who read a lot are more educated than non-readers by nature, and more prone to insurrection if they feel oppressed.

In the middle ages, the Church (Catholic and/or Greek Orthodox) and the monarchy were the only powers people were answerable to. Given that their power came from the ability to sway (i.e. control) the people, you can see why they wouldn't want 'stories' to circulate. I think we often take our freedom to be bookish for granted. We should always remember the ones who came before who were persecuted for doing the things we love the most.

What do you think? Does telling stories bring us power? And how? 


  1. Steep price to pay for standing by your words. He'll be this month's hero! I love your historic tidbits-- thank for sharing.

  2. All the world's a stage...adapted from a book, of course. :-)

  3. As a history fan, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Yes, stories are very important. I sure am glad I live during such times as ours, when stories are embraces not forwn upon.
    Hope to see more A to Z Challenge posts.
    Silvia @ Silv not frown uponia Writes