Alexander Afanasyev

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Alexander Afanasyev
Alexander Afanasyev 7.jpg
Born(1826-07-11)11 July 1826
Boguchar, Voronezh Governorate, Russian Empire
Died5 October 1871(1871-10-05) (aged 45)
Moscow, Russian Empire
Occupation Slavist, folklorist, literary critic, historian, journalist
Alma mater Imperial Moscow University (1848)
Notable works Russian Fairy Tales , Poetic Views of the Slavs on Nature

Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev (Afanasief, Afanasiev or Afanas'ev, [1] Russian : Александр Николаевич Афанасьев) (23 July [ O.S. 11 July] 18265 October [ O.S. 23 September] 1871) was a Russian Slavist and ethnographer who published nearly 600 Russian fairy and folk tales, one of the largest collections of folklore in the world. [2] The first edition of his collection was published in eight volumes from 1855–67, earning him the reputation as being the Russian counterpart to the Brothers Grimm. [3]

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.

Old Style and New Style dates 16th-century changes in calendar conventions

Old Style (O.S.) and New Style (N.S.) are terms sometimes used with dates to indicate that the calendar convention used at the time described is different from that in use at the time the document was being written. There were two calendar changes in Great Britain and its colonies, which may sometimes complicate matters: the first was to change the start of the year from Lady Day to 1 January; the second was to discard the Julian calendar in favour of the Gregorian calendar. Closely related is the custom of dual dating, where writers gave two consecutive years to reflect differences in the starting date of the year, or to include both the Julian and Gregorian dates.

A Skazka – is a Russian word literally meaning "story", but used to mean fairy tale or a fantasy tale.



Alexander Afanasyev was born in the town of Boguchar in the Voronezh Governorate of the Russian Empire (modern-day Voronezh Oblast of Russia) into a family of modest means. His mother Varvara Mikhailovna Afanasyeva came from common people. Alexander was her seventh child; she became very ill after giving birth and died by the end of the year. The children were raised by their father Nikolai Ivanovich Afanasyev, a Titular councillor who served as a prosecutor's assistant on probable causes and whom Alexander described as a man of high intellectual and moral qualities, "deservedly known as the smartest person in the whole uyezd". [4] [5]

Boguchar Town in Voronezh Oblast, Russia

Boguchar is a town and the administrative center of Bogucharsky District in Voronezh Oblast, Russia, located on the Boguchar River, 243 kilometers (151 mi) south of Voronezh, the administrative center of the oblast. Population: 11,811 (2010 Census); 13,756 (2002 Census); 8,499 (1989 Census).

Voronezh Governorate former governorate in Russia

Voronezh Governorate was an administrative division of the Tsardom of Russia, the Russian Empire, and the early Russian SFSR, which existed from 1708 until 1779 and from 1796 until 1928. Its seat was located in Voronezh since 1725.

Russian Empire former country, 1721–1917

The Russian Empire, also known as Imperial Russia or simply Russia, was an empire that existed across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917.

In three years the family moved to Bobrov, Voronezh where Alexander spent his childhood. He became addicted to reading early in his life, having access to the well-stocked library left by his grandfather (a member of the Russian Bible Society), as well as to various magazines.

Bobrov, Bobrovsky District, Voronezh Oblast Town in Voronezh Oblast, Russia

Bobrov is a town and the administrative center of Bobrovsky District in central Voronezh Oblast, Russia, located on the right bank of the Bityug River, 148 kilometers (92 mi) southeast of Voronezh, the administrative center of the oblast. Population: 19,738 ; 20,806 (2002 Census); 21,258 (1989 Census). It was previously known as Bobrovskaya Sloboda.

The Bible Society in Russia is a Christian non-denominational organization for translating and distributing the Bible in Russia, in languages and formats accessible to anyone.

In 1837 he was sent to the Voronezh male gymnasium, and in 1844 he entered the Law Faculty of the University of Moscow which he finished in 1848. [6] There he attended the lectures of Konstantin Kavelin, Timofey Granovsky, Sergey Solovyov, Stepan Shevyryov, Osip Bodyansky and Fyodor Buslaev. He published a series of articles on government economy during the times of Peter the Great, on the Pskov Judicial Charter and other topics in the Sovremennik and Otechestvennye Zapiski magazines. Despite being one of the most promising students, he failed to become a professor. The conservative Minister of National Enlightenment, Count Sergey Uvarov, who oversaw the final exams, attacked Afanasyev's essay which discussed the role of autocracy in the development of Russian criminal law during the 16th and 17th centuries. [7]

Gymnasium (school) type of school providing advanced secondary education in Europe

A gymnasium is a type of school with a strong emphasis on academic learning, and providing advanced secondary education in some parts of Europe comparable to British grammar schools, sixth form colleges and US preparatory high schools. In its current meaning, it usually refers to secondary schools focused on preparing students to enter a university for advanced academic study. Before the 20th century, the system of gymnasiums was a widespread feature of educational system throughout many countries of central, north, eastern, and south Europe.

Moscow State University university in Moscow, Russia

Moscow State University is a coeducational and public research university located in Moscow, Russia. It was founded on 23 January [O.S. 12 January] 1755 by Mikhail Lomonosov. MSU was renamed after Lomonosov in 1940 and was then known as Lomonosov University. It also houses the tallest educational building in the world. Its current rector is Viktor Sadovnichiy. According to the 2018 QS World University Rankings, it is the highest-ranking Russian educational institution and is widely considered the most prestigious university in the former Soviet Union.

Konstantin Kavelin Russian academic

Konstantin Dmitrievich Kavelin was a Russian historian, jurist, and sociologist, sometimes called the chief architect of early Russian liberalism.

In 1849 Konstantin Kavelin helped him to get a place at the Moscow's Main Archive Directorate under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Empire, and here Afanasyev worked for the next 13 years. During that time he met many people of science and culture, collected a lot of ancient books and manuscripts that formed a huge library. His articles, reviews, ethnographical and historical works regularly appeared in the leading Russian magazines, newspapers, almanacs and scientific periodicals. His essays on Russian satire of the 18th century and on the works of prominent writers and publishers resulted in an 1859 monograph «Русские сатирические журналы 1769—1774 г.» ("Russian Satirical Magazines of 1769—1774"), published in 'Otechestvennye Zapiski' (Nos.3, 4 of 1855; No.6 of 1859). [7]

Minister of Foreign Affairs (Russia) Minister of Foreign Affairs in Russia

This is a list of foreign ministers of Tsardom of Russia, Russian Empire, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, Soviet Union, and Russian Federation.

<i>Otechestvennye Zapiski</i>

Otechestvennye Zapiski was a Russian literary magazine published in Saint Petersburg on a monthly basis between 1818 and 1884. The journal served liberal-minded readers, known as the intelligentsia. Such major novels as Ivan Goncharov's Oblomov (1859) and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Adolescent (1875) made their first appearance in Otechestvennye Zapiski.

In 1855 he headed the state commission responsible for publication of legislative, historical and literary works. From 1858 to 1861 he also worked as the main editor of the short-lived magazine "Bibliographical Notes" ( ru:Библиографические записки ) which actually served as a cover for collecting materials, censored and revolutionary literature for the socialist in exile Alexander Herzen. In 1862 the authorities arrested the Narodnik Nikolay Chernyshevsky, while other people associated with Herzen,i ncluding Afanasiev, came under suspicion. His flat was searched, and while nothing was revealed, he still lost his place at the Moscow Archives. [7]

Alexander Herzen Russian author, philisopher, revolutioner

Aleksandr Ivanovich Herzen was a Russian writer and thinker known as the "father of Russian socialism" and one of the main fathers of agrarian populism. With his writings, many composed while exiled in London, he attempted to influence the situation in Russia, contributing to a political climate that led to the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. He published the important social novel Who is to Blame? (1845–46). His autobiography, My Past and Thoughts, is often considered the best specimen of that genre in Russian literature.

The Narodniks were a politically conscious movement of the Russian middle class in the 1860s and 1870s, some of whom became involved in revolutionary agitation against tsarism. Their ideology was known as Narodnichestvo (народничество), from the Russian народ, narod, "people, folk", so it is sometimes translated as "peopleism" or, more commonly, "populism". A common slogan among the Narodniks was "хождение в народ", meaning "going to the people". Though their movement achieved little in its own time, the Narodniks were in many ways the intellectual and political forebears of the socialists-revolutionaries who went on to greatly influence Russian history in the 20th century.

Nikolay Chernyshevsky Russian revolutionary democrat, materialist philosopher, critic, and socialist (1828-1889)

Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky was a Russian revolutionary democrat, materialist philosopher, critic, and socialist. He was the leader of the revolutionary democratic movement of the 1860s, and had an influence on Vladimir Lenin, Emma Goldman, and Serbian political writer and socialist Svetozar Marković.

After his dismissal he couldn't find a stable job for several years and had to sell his library to feed his family. After that he worked as a secretary at the Moscow City Duma and at the Moscow Congress of Justices of the Peace while continuing his ethnographical research. He wrote a large theoretical work (three tomes of 700 pages each) - "The Poetic Outlook of Slavs about Nature" ( ru:Поэтические воззрения славян на природу ) - which came out between 1865 and 1869. [3] [8] In 1870 his Русские детские сказки (Russian Children's Fairy Tales) were published.

Afanasyev spent his last years living in penury. He died in Moscow aged 45, suffering from tuberculosis. He was buried at the Pyatnitskoye cemetery. [9]


Afanasyev became interested in old Russian and Slav traditions and stories in the 1850s ("folklore" as an area of study did not exist at the time). His early scholarly articles, including - «Ведун и ведьма» ("Wizard and Witch", published in «Комета», 1851); «Языческие предания об острове Буяне» ("Pagan legends of Buyan Island", published in «Временнике общ. ист. и древ. росс.» of 1858 No.9) - drew upon the so-called Mythological school that treated legends and tales as a mine of information for the study of more ancient pagan mythology (see his definitive work on the subject « Поэтические воззрения славян на природу » ("The Poetic Outlook on Nature by the Slavs", 1865—1869). In such an interpretation, he regarded the fairy tale Vasilisa the Beautiful as depicting the conflict between the sunlight (Vasilisa), the storm (her stepmother), and dark clouds (her stepsisters). [10] A great archivist, his works provide copious information, evidence, documents, and passages of the old chronicles relating to Old Russian culture, history and tradition, as well as other Indo-European languages, folklore and legends, in particular German traditions (he knew to perfection German as well as all Slav languages and ancient ones).

In the early 1850s, being already known for his articles, Afanasyev began to think about a collection of folk tales. He was then asked by the Russian Geographical Society (ethnography section) of Saint Petersburg to publish the folktales archives that the Society had been in possession of for about ten years. These archives are at the start of his Collection. Afanasyev chose 74 tales out of these. He added to them the enormous collection of Vladimir Dal (about 1000 texts), from which he kept 148 numbers, finding the other ones too distorted, his own collection (of about 10 folktales from the Voronejh region), and a few other collections. He added already published tales (such as Maria Marievna, The Firebird, The Grey Wolf, etc.), a few tales coming from epic songs, stories about the dead, a few medieval satirical texts (such as The Shemiaka Sentence), and anecdotes.

He owes his prominent place in the history of Slavonic philology chiefly to these Russian Fairy Tales («Народные русские сказки»), published between 1855 and 1863, and inspired by the famous collection of the Brothers Grimm. From the scientific point of view, his collection goes further. He had at his disposal a lot of contributors, he tried to give the source and place where the tale was told, he never tried to give any definitive version of a folktale: so, if he gathered 7 versions of one folk type, he edited them all (this is the case for The FireBird for instance). His collection was ahead of his time.

In 1860 a scandal was provoked following the publication of the «Русские народные легенды» ("National Russian Legends", 1860), a collection of folk tales from all over the country based on the lives of Jesus and Christian saints. The result was a unique blend of Christianity with paganism and social undertones. Some of them were labeled as unorthodox by the Most Holy Synod and the book was officially banned. [7] He also prepared Заветные сказки ("Treasured Tales"), an assortment of redacted tales from «Русские народные легенды» plus other potential controversial stories - published as Russian Forbidden Tales in Switzerland anonymously because of their obscene and anticlerical subject matter. [11] [12]


  • Afanasyev, Alexander (1851), Ведун и ведьма [Wizard and Witch] (in Russian)
  • Afanasyev, Alexander (1858), Языческие предания об острове Буяне [Pagan legends of Buyan Island] (in Russian), alt link
  • Afanasyev, Alexander (1865), Поэтические воззрения славян на природу [The Poetic Outlook on Nature by the Slavs] (in Russian), 1
  • Afanasyev, Alexander (1868), Поэтические воззрения славян на природу [The Poetic Outlook on Nature by the Slavs] (in Russian), 2
  • Afanasyev, Alexander (1869), Поэтические воззрения славян на природу [The Poetic Outlook on Nature by the Slavs] (in Russian), 3
  • Afanasyev, Alexander (1859), Народные русские легенды [Traditional Russian Legends] (in Russian), alt link
  • Afanasyev, Alexander (1984) [1873], Народные русские сказки [Traditional Russian Tales] (in Russian) (2nd ed.), 3 vols, (first edition 1859)



Prior to Afanasyev's works in the 1850s, only a few attempts had ever been made to record or study the folk beliefs of peasant Russia. Though written Church Slavonic had existed since the 10th century, it was used almost solely by the church and only for parochial written works. It was not until the 18th and 19th centuries that a sizable body of secular literature developed in vernacular Russian. Thus, Afanasyev's collections made a highly valuable contribution to the dissemination and legitimization of Russian culture and folk belief. The influence of these folk tales can be seen in the works of many writers and composers, notably Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov ( Sadko, The Snow Maiden ) and Igor Stravinsky ( The Firebird , Petrushka , and L'Histoire du soldat ). [13]

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Russian Fairy Tales, or Russian Folk Tales may refer to :


  1. Jones, Steven Swann (2002), The fairy tale: the magic mirror of the imagination, Routledge, p. 141
  2. Riordan 2003, p. 221.
  3. 1 2 Gruel-Apert 2011.
  4. Народные русские легенды[Russian National Legends], Moscow: Direct-Media, pp. 189–243, ISBN   978-5-4458-9828-3
  5. Balandin, Arkady, ed. (1988), Живая вода и вещее слово / Zhivai︠a︡ voda i veshchee slovo[Water of Life and a Spoken Word], Moscow: Sovetskaya Rossia, p. 6, ISBN   5-268-00848-X
  6. Zipes 2000, Afanasyev, Aleksander..
  7. 1 2 3 4 Afanasyev, Alexander; Barag, Lev; Novikov, Nikolai, eds. (2014), Russian Fairy Tales, 1, at p. 464—514 in 2014 reprint ISBN   978-5-4458-9824-5
  8. Tatar 2002, p. 335.
  9. "Афанасьев Александр Николаевич (1826-1871)", (in Russian), Alexander Afanasyev's tomb
  10. Tatar 2002, p. 334.
  11. Zipes 2000.
  12. Haney, Jack V. (Fall 1998), "Mr Afanasiev's Naughty Little Secrets: Russian Secret Tales Russkie zavetnye skazki", SEEFA Journal, III (2)
  13. Riordan 2003, p. 219.


Further reading