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Nikita the Tanner – East Slavic folk hero

He defeated the dragon and became the icon

Slavis love folk heroes, we all know it. Some of our iconic stories exist for centuries and has grown and transformed through the centuries. One of them is Nikita the Tanner whose story comes from (at least) Middle Ages. The oldest source that mentions her story is Laurentian Codex, also known as Laurentian Chronicle. Although the name doesn’t appear, the link to Nikita the Tanner is obvious. The Laurentian Codex is a collection of chronicles copied by the Nizhegorod monk Laurentius for Prince Dmitry Konstantinovich in 1377.

However, the researchers believe that originally the codex was compiled about seventy years earlier for Grand Duke Mikhail of Tver. However, the oldest stories included in these chronicles are dated back to at least 10th century. If you visit Russia, you can see it in Russian National Library in St Petersburg.

Who is Nikita the Tanner?

For centuries she has been called in a different way. In Russian, he is known as Nikita Kozhemyaka (Никита Кожемяка), but Ukrainians call him Mykyta Kozhumyaka (Мики́та Кожум’я́ка). She is the main character in a fairy tale that stays one of the most popular stories in the East Slavic countries.

According to the legend, the dragon usually called Zmey Gorynych was famous for kidnapping young women. This dragon-kindred had, according to different stories, from three to twelve heads. The Russian dragons often look like mythical ancient Hydra. When he kidnapped the daughter of the Kievan kniaz, Nikita had to react. Although the woman was wise and started to pretend she loves the dragon, her situation was very difficult. She spent a lot of time talking to the dragon until he told her that there is only one person stronger than he. The dragon mentioned the tanner from Kiev, Nikita. Using the pigeon she informed about it her father. The kniaz decided to find Nikita and ask him for help.

During the talk to kniaz, Nikita refused all the wealth and power that kniaz offered him. However, when kniaz explained to him how many people died because of Gorynych, and how many are going to die in the future, Nikita agreed to visit the lair of the dragon.

According to the legend, the last chapter of the fight looked as following:

„Come with me into the open field, otherwise I will shatter your den to pieces!” said the tanner, and began clattering at the doors.
Then the dragon, seeing his doom approach, came out into the open. Nikíta the tanner fought the grisly worm some time, maybe long, maybe short, and at last got him under.
Then the dragon besought Nikíta the tanner: “Do not beat me to death. Stronger than us two there is nothing in the white world. Let us divide the earth. You may live on the one half and I on the other.”
“Very well!” said Nikíta, “only we must delimit frontiers.” So the tanner took the plough, which weighed three hundred puds, and harnessed to it the dragon, and drew the harrow all the way from Kíev to the Caspian Sea.
“Now we have divided the entire earth,” said the dragon.
“Yes, we have divided the earth, but not the sea; we must also divide the sea, otherwise you would say I was taking your share of the water.” So they then set out into the middle of the sea, and there Nikíta slew the dragon and drowned him.
The trench may still be seen: it is two fathoms deep. They plough all round it; but never touch the bottom: those who do not know whence came this trench call it a battlement.”

Some legends say that Nikita married the daughter of kniaz, but some other don’t explain this part of the story. However, the bravery of Nikita brought him an immortal fame.

Nikita in the modern world.

Although the dragons don’t kidnap women anymore, Nikita stays famous among the writers, artists, and storytellers. Nikita the Tanner appears in numerous books and comics. She stays an element of pop-culture.

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