Background Information

Origin: Russian Folk Epic, Russian Bylina
Dragons Slain: Gorynytch

Background: Dobrynja's mother often warned him not to ride to the Saracen Mountains, not to trample baby dragons there, not to free Russian captives there. She also warned him not to bath in the Puchai River, for it is an angry and ferocious river. [2] Its first waves belch flame; the second showers sparks, and the third spouts steam. [1]

Dobrynja did not heed these warnings.

Dobrynja, the Dragon Slayer

Dobrynja was a hero, fearless and handsome and reckless. [1] His mother was the honorable widow of Ofimya Alexamdrovna, [3] and he was Nikita's son. [2]

One day, he rode his steed for many hours and found himself by the Puchai River. Being scorched by the sun, he took off his armor and clothing to refresh himself. [1] As he bathed, he saw that the river was as calm as a pond, and Dobrynja pondered his mother's claims that the river spewed fire. [1]

Suddenly, the sky turned black without a cloud, [1] and the waves blazed fire, then sparks, then smoke as his mother had warned. [3] Then appeared the dragon Gorynytch. [1] In some stories, the dragon is female with twelve trunks; [3] in others, the dragon is male and has three heads. [1] Flames poured out of the dragon's mouth and smoke from her ears; her claws were iron. [1]

Gorynytch said an old prophecy claimed that Dobrynja would slay her, [1] yet she meets him, helpless and naked, ready at her mercy. She speaks to him:

'Hail to you, my young Dobrynya, Nikita's son!
If I want I'll devour Dobrynya whole,
If I want, I'll crush Dobrynya with my trunks,
If I want, I'll carry Dobrynya off as a captive.'

-- Russian Bylina of Dobrynja and the Dragon [3]

Not willing to be consumed or captured by a dragon, Dobrynja hastened to the shore to fetch his weapons. [1] Upon his arrival, he realized that, between the darkness and the dragon confounding him, he retreated to the wrong shore. Neither is steed nor his armor was there. [4]

Just as he realized his death was near, Dobrynja's eyes spotted a hat from the Greek land, [4] or by some accounts, a helmet. [1] This hat was substantial in weight and made for a powerful weapon. [4] When the dragon approached, Dobrynja struck at the dragons' trunks with it, [4] so hard was his first strike that one of the dragon's heads came off! Soon his efforts overwhelmed his foe, [1] and he pressed the dragon down with his knees while he looked for a way to cut off the rest of her heads. [4]

Gorynytch, however, pleaded for her life for the sake of her hatchlings. [1] The dragon implored him:

'Hail to you, my darling Dobrynya, Nikita's son!
Dobrynya, be my big brother
And I'll be your little sister.
Let's take a solemn vow:
You're not to ride to the Saracen Mountains,
You're not to trample little baby dragons,
You're not to rescue Russian captives.
I'll be your little sister:
I'm not to fly to Holy Russia,
I'm not to take any more Russian captives,
I'm not to carry away any Christian people.'

-- Russian Bylina of Dobrynja and the Dragon [4]

Dobrynja took pity for the dragon and her brood because he believed the dragon's foul words of peace. He let Gorynytch go. [1]

Dobrynja sought his clothing, weapons, and steed on the other shore. His horse was gone, as were his weapons and saddlebags. He redressed in his cloths and took his armor and set out to return to the city of Kiev, to his home. [4]

That night, he attended a banquet thrown by the gracious Prince Vladimir of Kiev, but merriment seemed a rarity at the event. Finally, Vladimir of Kiev announced that his melancholy came from the loss of his niece Zabava, Potyata's daughter. That very day, the accursed dragon had stolen her away. [5] This same dragon had taken many people from Kiev, but none dared to ride out to rescue and of them. And now, none volunteered to face the dragon to save Zabava. [1]

Alyosha Levontyevich, one of the guests, heard the news of the dragon's oath from Dobrynja himself earlier that evening, pointed out that Dobrynja Nikitich was the dragon's sworn brother. [5] Since the dragon promised him that she would not kidnap anymore people, she should hand over Zabava to Dobrynja without a fight. [6]

Vladimir, the Prince of Kiev, commanded Dobrynja to retrieve his niece under pain of death. [6] Dismal and defeated, Dobrynja returned home and told his mother everything that had transpired, [1] including the loss of his horse and his weapons. [6]

His mother told him to use his grandfather's horse, [1] Burko, the good steed, who had been neglected for years. He stood up to his knees in manure in his stall. Dobrynja led Burko out of his stall and into the stable. He took care in cleaning him and fed him the finest wheat and some mead to drink. [7]

After this, his mother said, 'The morning will be wiser than the evening.'* [7] And so the hero closed his eyes. That night as he slept, his mother prepared him a seven-fold silky whip, [1] a Shemakhan whip. [8]

In the morning, before he set off, Dobrynja's mother told him that Burko will trample the dragon's brood. [1] If Burko cannot gallop and cannot shake the baby dragons from his feet, then he needed to lash him between his ears and remind Burko to trample them underfoot. [8]

Dobrynja rode to the Saracen Mountains and immediately set Burko to trampling the dragon hatchlings. Burko slowed, for the baby dragons gnawed at his fetlocks. [8] Remembering his mother's instructions, he lashed Burko, and as sure as the sun goes down, the hatchlings expired under Burko's hooves.

Gorynytch flew out of her cave at the sound of her brood's demise. Seeing them dead, she cursed Dobrynja for breaking his oath to her as her brother. [1] But he did not fall for her foul lies; he demanded she give him Zabava without battle, lest he be forced to slay her. [9] But she refused to surrender her. [1]

For three days they battled, Dobrynja and Gorynytch, but Dobrynja could not kill the dragon. [1] At the end of the third day, he was ready to flee having failed, but a voice came down from the sky instructing him to fight for three more hours. [9] Dobrynja persevered, and with his whip, finally overwhelmed Gorynytch at the end of that third hour. [1] With no pity left for the creature, he hewed off all of her heads. [1]

Gorynytch's blood flowed from eat to west, but the earth would not swallow up the blood, so noxious was the creature's blood. [10] For three days and nights, Dobrynja bathed in the blood of his foe, horrified and stuck where he stood. The venom of the dragon seeped through its blood and nearly killed him. [1] At the end of the third night, the voice came down from the sky again and told him to strike the earth with his Tatar spear and recite a charm, only then would it swallow up the poisonous blood and free Dobrynja. [10] In some accounts, Dobrynja uses his whip to open the earth. [1]

When the blood disappeared into the earth, Dobrynja was finally able to enter the dragon's caves. He let out countless Russian captives, including princes from other cities, but he did not find Zabava. He broke through eleven caves, freeing hundreds of victims, but she was not there. [1]

In the twelfth cave, the most hidden and best protected, he found Zabava. [1] Golden chains held her prisoner to the far wall, but he broke those and guided her out of the caves. The rest of the captives had waited for him, and Dobrynja assured them all that Gorynytch would never bother them again. She was dead, and even her poison had been swallowed by the earth. [11] He told them all to return with this good news to their homes and families and courts. [11]

Dobrynja took Zabava on the good steed Burko and rode towards Kiev. [11] She told Dobrynja she wanted to thank him for his service, but she could not call him father or brother, but perhaps beloved friend. He told Zabava that they could not be in love, for she was of princely birth and he was of peasant birth. [11] Thus, he returned Zabava, niece of Vladimir, Prince of Kiev, to her rightful home. [11]

* Russian Proverb meaning 'sleep on it.'

Quick Facts

  • Dobrynja failed to heed his mother's many warnings; thus, he met Gorynytch the dragon. [3]
  • He bathed in the Puchai River, and Gorynytch found him naked and without a weapon. [1]
  • Gorynytch had reason to kill Dobrynja, as an old prophecy predicted he would slay her. [1]
  • After fending off her first attack, Dobrynja took pity on the dragon for sake of her brood because she promised not to hurt anyone else. He became her sworn brother, and she his sworn sister. [4]
  • Dobrynja lost his horse, saddlebags, and weapons due to this first encounter with Gorynytch. [7]
  • Gorynytch stole Zabava, the niece of Vladimir, Prince of the city Kiev. [5]
  • Under pain of death, Dobrynja had to retrieve Zabava from the dragon. [6]
  • Dobrynja told his mother everything, and she diligently helped him prepare for the dragon. [7]
  • His mother made him a Shemakhan whip [8] to replace his lost weapons.
  • For a horse, she told him to take his grandfather's horse, the good steed Burko, who knew how to trample dragon hatchlings. [7]
  • Burko successfully trampled all the baby dragons before Gorynytch could stop them. [1]
  • Gorynytch and Dobrynja battled for three days and three hours before he finally slew the dragon. [9]
  • Even after the dragon's death, Dobrynja's work remained undone, for the earth would not swallow her toxic blood and Dobrynja was trapped in it slowly being poisoned for three days. [10]
  • At the end of the third night, Dobrynja struck the earth, either with his whip or his spear, and chanted. Only then did the earth absorb the dragon's blood. [10]
  • Dobrynja freed hundreds of captives, including Zabava. He sent the others home with the good news that he slew Gorynytch. [11]
  • Dobrynja returned Zabava to her home in Kiev. [11]


  1. Gorynytch, the dragon and Dobrynja, the heroe
  2. Bailey 84
  3. Bailey 85
  4. Bailey 86
  5. Bailey 87
  6. Bailey 88
  7. Bailey 89
  8. Bailey 90
  9. Bailey 91
  10. Bailey 92
  11. Bailey 93

For more information on footnotes and references, please see the bibliography.