This section is from the book "Myths And Folk-Tales Of The Russians, Western Slavs, And Magyars", by Jeremiah Curtin. Also available from Amazon: Myths and Folk-Tales of the Russians, Western Slavs, and the Magyars.
The following Indian myth, in which we know exactly who the actors were, illustrates this fact very well. I give the myth from memory, and in a compressed form, making first the statement that in a part of eastern Oregon and Washington, where I found it, there are two winds, as the Indians informed me, which are all, or practically all, that blow in that region. One of these is a northeast, the other a southwest wind. The Indians subdivide each one of them into five. Each of these five is a little different from the other, - that is, there are five kinds of southwest winds, and five kinds of northeast winds. Each has a proper name describing its character; and in telling the myth these names are used, just as the name Ivan the Fool, and Mirko the king's son are used in Russia and Hungary. The Northeast brothers have a sister more harassing and cruel than they, - cold, damp, fitful. She also has a name describing her character. The five Southwest winds have grandparents very old, who live in a hut by themselves. They have no sister; but the eldest has a wife, brought by him to Oregon from her birthplace in the Southern seas.
One time the Northeast winds challenged the others to a wrestling-match, in which whoever should be thrown would have his head cut off. The Southwest brothers were not free to refuse; they had to accept. All the details of this match are described precisely as if the opponents were men and not winds. The Southwest brothers were thrown, every one, and each had his head cut off; all were killed, and now the Northeast brothers were lords of that region. The old feeble grandparents were all of the family left in Oregon. The young wife went home to her parents and people in the Southern seas. The victorious brothers did as they pleased, - when they wished to knock any one down they did so; but the crowning wickedness of the victorious family was the malice of the sister against the aged grandparents. She came every morning to their hut and insulted them in a manner that will not bear recital. Weeping and helpless, they endured the foulest abuse. The evil sister rejoiced, the wicked brothers rejoiced, and all men besides were suffering. Some time after the widow had returned to her home in the Southern seas a son was born to the late eldest brother, - a wonderful boy. This posthumous child grew not by years but by days; and when he was three weeks old he had attained full growth. He was a hero of awful strength; nothing could resist him. He asked about his father; his mother told how his fathers had perished (the brothers of a father are fathers too in the Indian system) at the hands of the Northeast brothers. "I will go to avenge my fathers," said he, and started.
He reached the coast near the Columbia River, which he ascended; when at the Cascades he began to try his strength. He pulled out the greatest trees with their roots, overturned cliffs, and went on his way with delight. At last he arrived at the land where his fathers had ruled, and went first in the early morning to the hut of his great grandparents. They were very weak and wretched, but still they were able to tell of what they had suffered from the sister. "She will soon be here," said they; so he lay in waiting.
She came, and was preparing to begin her insults when he seized her and put her to a painful death. Then he challenged the five wicked brothers to a wrestling-match, threw them all, and cut their heads off. The whole country rejoiced. No one felt pain. The young hero ruled that land to the delight of all. This hero was not a month old, and since we know the characters in the story, we know that the story is true.
When, in Gaelic, we find heroes like the son of Fin Mac-Cumhail, Fialan, who at the age of three years slew whole armies, with their champion leaders,1 and the Shee an Gannon, who was born in the morning, named at noon, and went in the evening to ask his daughter of the King of Erin; or in Russian, Ivan Tsarevich,2 nine days old, who after three sleeps of three days' and nights' duration each, went in search of Peerless Beauty, his bride, - we may feel sure that we are dealing mediately or immediately with that category of powers to which old-time divinities belong, the same race of personages as the Wind brothers of Oregon.
1 See in Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland, "Fin MacCumhail and the Fenians of Erin in the Castle of Fear Dubh," p. 221, and "The Shee an Gannon and the Gruagach Gaire," p. 114.
2 See Koshchei Without-Death, p. 106.
Now we may leave American myths and say a few words of the nations to whom the three groups of myth-tales belong, - the Russians, the Chekhs, and the Magyars. It is not easy to describe any one of them in a brief space, for each is remarkable in character and history.
The Russians are difficult to describe, not only because they are many, but because of their position. The keynote of this position has sounded through their whole history, from the time of Olga and Vladimir, in the Kieff period, to the present day. Listening to this note, Russian leaders have gained political skill, while the people have confirmed their national instinct and endured burdens which they would endure only for the thing which that key-note describes. To tell what it is we must make a digression.
The first political work of the world soundly done, as men of this age, with minds of modern situation, are able to see, was the work of Rome. Rome was the first power to assimilate peoples, to destroy provincialism, to make a State, in the great modern sense of the word. After the fall of Rome as a political power, with its work done and delivered, there followed a still greater, - a new Rome, with a wider ambition, and with plans further reaching than those of its predecessor. This new Rome saw standing before its face, in the East of Europe, the youngest brothers of the Aryan race - the Slavs - still unconverted. The new Rome was as different from the old as two things may be, save in this, that both had strong will to rule. The difference was that old Rome ruled in the name of man and better social order, while new Rome ruled in the name of God and morality; but new Rome was as firmly fixed in purpose to rule by all the weapons that strong men may use in the world, as was old Rome.