Muscovy Looks West

Marc Raeff reflects on the history of Russia as a great power during the eighteenth century

The Russian epic hero, Ilia Muromets, sat paralysed for thirty years, unable to get up from his seat or to use his hands. One day, when his parents had gone to the fields and left him sitting in front of his house, three pilgrims came up and asked him for a drink of water and food. When he told them that he could not get up and fetch it they ordered him to stand up and to bring the water – and lo, behold, he did get up and draw water from the well. The pilgrims told him to drink the water and so he did, they then asked him how he felt. 'If there were a ring attached to the world, he said, I would overturn the whole world'. The pilgrims ordered him to drink some more and this time Ilia Muromets felt his strength halved; the pilgrims went away and the young hero set forth from his house to do valiant battle for Prince Vladimir, the Beautiful Sun, of Kiev.

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