Bylyna (Russian: bylina). An epic song of the Kyivan Rus’ era that has not survived in Ukraine but are still sung in northern Russia, where it is called starina. The Ukrainian origins of the bylyny and their enduring presence on Ukrainian territories can be seen from the clear traces they have left in other forms of Ukrainian folk oral literature—in legends, carols, wedding songs, etc—as well as from references to certain bylyny heroes in old Kyivan Rus’ chronicles and literary works of the 16th–17th century. The bylyny are divided into several cycles. The pre-Christian cycle, which is richest in mythological themes, consists of bylyny about the heroes Mykula Selianynovych, Sviatohor, and Volha Vseslavych; the songs about Volha Vseslavych are reflected in tales about Prince Oleh the Seer and Princess Olha found in the chronicles. The Kyiv bylyny cycle presents Prince Volodymyr as the central figure, combining in him the characteristics of princes Volodymyr the Great and Volodymyr Monomakh. Other heroes of this cycle include Illia Muromets (Murovets in the older sources) from Chernihiv, whose grave at the Kyivan Cave Monastery was still visited in the 17th century; Dobrynia; and Alosha (Oleksander) Popovych. The main themes of the Kyiv cycle concern the demise of bylyny heroes and depict the struggle with the nomadic hordes. Another series of bylyny are connected with the Volhynian and Halych principalities (see Principality of Galicia-Volhynia). They deal with Prince Roman Mstyslavych, Diuk (Duka) Stepanovych, Churylo Plenkovych, Mykhailo Kozaryn, and others. According to Ukrainian scholars, the bylyny ceased to be sung by the Ukrainian people in the 17th century, when turbulent events gave rise to a new epic song form—the Cossack duma. In 2003 Valerii Shevchuk published a collection of Ukrainian-language bylyny and fragments of bylyny, some of which he discovered in ethnographic materials collected in the 19th century by Volodymyr Lesevych.

Petrov, N. ‘Sledy severno-russkogo bylevogo eposa v iuzhnorusskoi narodnoi literature,’ TKDA (1878)
Dashkevich, N. K voprosu o proiskhozhdenii russkikh bylin (Kyiv 1883)
Veselovskii, A. Iuzhnorusskie byliny, 1-2 (Saint Petersburg 1881); 3-11 (Saint Petersburg 1884)
Khalanskii, M. Velikorusskie byliny kievskogo tsikla (Warsaw 1885)
Loboda, A. Russkie byliny o svatovstve (Kyiv 1904)
Hrushevs’kyi, M. Istoriia ukraïns’koï literatury, 4 (Kyiv 1925)
Berezovskii, I. (ed). Byliny: Kievskii tsikl: Obraztsy bylinnogo eposa (Kyiv 1982)

[This article was updated in 2019.]

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