Become A Hero: Russian Folktales Can Teach You How To Be A Man

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If you want to live in a country and understand its people, you need to have an understanding of the stories that they grew up with. Whether these are folk tales, fairy tales, or movies, they leave an impact on the psyche of the individual person. They serve as a reminder of the traditions, as well as the moral values that the majority of the population holds dear.

Russia, and the surrounding countries of eastern Europe like the Ukraine or Belarus have a rich history of different folk traditions, among which the telling of folk tales and heroic epics is preeminent. Many of these traditions are shared between the three countries, while others exist only in some particular regions. These stories have been recounted from one generation to another. Many a grandson spent his nights sitting on his grandfather’s knee, listening to these wonderful tales, sparking his imagination with messages of courage and valor.

Russian folklore is based on old pagan Slavic mythology, mixed with newer Christian beliefs and historical events. Together with stories about princes, giants, and Baba Yagas (witches), you catch glimpses of mythical cities, powerful enemies, and old wise men with magic powers. These stories not only reflect the beliefs and history of the various peoples who tell them, but also serve as a way to impart moral lessons to the succeeding generations.

Old Heroes Could Kick Ass

One of the most well-known characters of the old heroic tales is Ilya Muromets. Ilya was a big guy, who however suffered from various illnesses as a kid, which left him unable to walk. So until the age of 33, he spent most of his life sleeping on an oven. Then one day, he is miraculously cured by two old wise men. From that day forward, he turns into a powerful warrior and goes on to perform many outstanding deeds, including saving the city of Kiev from invaders.

His story takes place in the era of the Kievan Rus, but mixes in various different time periods. Some parts of the tale recount historical events that happened in the 9th century, while others deal with events that happened in the 12th century. So just like a medieval James Bond, Ilya Muromets always stays the same age through various eras, battling enemies and slaying dragons.

His story can also serve as an inspiration for young men growing up, since Ilya transformed himself from being an incapacitated cripple to a bogatyr, a fighter and the savior of a nation. His courage, strength and willpower were meant to be an example to help instill these qualities in the younger generation.
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Madman Or Genius? The Man Who Wrote The Book On Chivalry

There was a country in which it happened that there lived a wise Knight who had long maintained the Order of Chivalry and who, by the strength and nobility of his great courage and wisdom, had ventured his body in various wars, jousts and tournaments. Because he thought in his heart that he would not live much longer — as one who, by the course of nature, had long been near his end — he chose a hermitage for himself. For age had weakened the natural strength within him so that he no longer had any power nor strength to wield arms as he was accustomed to do. Therefore, he left all his inheritance and riches to his children and made his dwelling place in a great forest abundantly provided with water, large trees and fruit-bearing bushes of various kinds.

Thus starts the “Book of the Order of Chivalry”. The basic premise of the first chapter is the story of a knight who has become old and who decides to become a hermit and spend the rest of his life in contemplation. This fable is fiction, but it does have certain parallels to the life of the author of the book: Ramon Llull.

Llull was not a knight, but a medieval Catalan writer, philosopher, logician, and theologian, a Renaissance Man a few centuries before the Renaissance. Today, he is best remembered as one of the first writers in the Catalan language and one of the first writers of novels in Europe.

This short description, however does not give justice to the wide range of the man and his interests. His significance and story surpasses mere words and enters the world of legend, for he left a powerful, but controversial legacy that has remained influential throughout the ages.

The life of Ramon Llull

Ramon Llull’s real life story begins in the High Middle Ages, during the times of the Reconquista. He was born in 1232 on the island of Mallorca into a family of Catalonian colonists. After the conquest of the island from the Muslims, many Christian families from the mainland began moving there. Llull’s family was one of them, immigrating to the island from Barcelona.

At the beginning of his adult life, Llull spent some time as the chief administrator of the royal household, but also as a troubadour, a wandering poet. He was married and had a family, but also spent a lot of his time chasing other women. He was a real ladies man, who composed poems and songs in order to win their hearts.

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However one day, he had an epiphany. He supposedly saw visions of Jesus Christ. After that day, Llull swore to change his life, and become a real man going his own way. He abandoned his wife and family, stopped chasing other women, and became a Franciscan monk, spending the next 9 years in solitude. Ramon Llull chose the path of a hermit, just like the protagonist of the first chapter of his book on chivalry.

Knighthood and chivalry

Unlike the protagonist of his story, Llull never became a knight, and did not even strive to become a knight. However he saw the importance of the order of knighthood. For Llull, knights formed the backbone of society. They were the ones who were supposed to ensure law and order among people. The knight was a warrior, scholar and commander, and chivalry was his code of conduct.

They had a special purpose in life and had to be prepared to fit the part. The description in the book gives a forceful commentary on knights and their roles. They are almost superheroes, the select few with a mission and duty to hold society from falling apart. Out of the mystical past the order of knighthood and chivalry arose:

When charity, loyalty, integrity, justice and truth grew weak in the world, then there began cruelty, injury, disloyalty and falseness. Thus error and trouble came into the very world where God had planned for man to know, love, serve, fear and honor Him. Fortunately, however, no sooner had laxness in enforcing the law first arisen than fear in turn caused justice to be restored to the honor in which she was formerly held. Therefore, all the people were divided by thousands. Out of each thousand there was chosen a man more notable than all the rest for his loyalty, his strength, his noble courage, his breeding and his manners.

That man, one out of a thousand, became a knight, sworn to protect the weak and become a pillar of his community. For Llull, the knights were examples of moral virtues that served as inspirations for others. They not only protected the society through the force of arms, but through their personal conduct served as moral icons to be emulated.

The exceptional nature of his courage has caused a Knight to be picked out from among all other men, who are beneath him in service. Therefore, exceptional habits and upbringing are also appropriate to a Knight. For extraordinary bravery may not achieve the high honor of chivalry without selection also based on virtues and good habits. Thus it behooves a Knight to be well-stocked with good habits and manners. Every Knight ought to know the seven virtues which are the source and root of all good habits and are the path to everlasting heavenly glory. Of these seven virtues, three are called “theological” or “divine” while the remaining four are “cardinal.” The “theological” ones are faith, hope and charity. The “cardinal” ones are justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude.

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Knights had to not only take care to work their bodies and their outward skills, but they also needed to work their minds and spirits:

If the practice of knighthood were, in fact, more a matter of physical strength than of inward resolve, the Order of Chivalry would be concerned much more with the body than with the soul. And if that were so, the body would be more excellent than the soul, but that is obviously false. Thus inner courage cannot, when it is functioning properly, ever be vanquished or overcome by any mere man.

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The Ten Thousand: A Story Of Courage And Determination

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They had been marching for days, and their bodies were tired and hungry. Thousands of miles from home, in a country unfamiliar to them, betrayed by their friends, their commanders murdered, a sense of hopelessness began to descend upon them. Their thoughts were increasingly being haunted by doubt. Were they going to see their families and their home country ever again?

It was dark and it was cold. Many of the men did not have a fire to warm themselves up with. Several of them did not even make it to camp, instead sleeping wherever they could. Deep sleep was out of the question, for the enemy was near and could strike at any time.

However they were not done for. This bleak moment was also the start of an amazing journey that went down in history, their tale a lesson in the strength of character that has been retold countless times ever since. These were the famous Ten Thousand and their story was made immortal in the “Anabasis”.

These men originated from many of the city states and regions of Ancient Greece. They were from Athens and Sparta, Megara, Arcadia, Crete, Thessaly, even Syracuse in Sicily. What brought them together was their skill in warfare and the need to earn a paycheck.

They were mercenaries, but also bound by honor: to their homeland, to their employer and to each other. They were recruited by Cyrus the Younger, a Persian prince who wanted to overthrow his brother Artaxerxes II and become the King of Persia, thus rule over the biggest empire in the world at that time.

When they had gathered together for the first time, they were not disclosed the true purpose of their journey. They were marched deep into Syria and only there were they told their true mission. Only then did they realize that they were to aid Cyrus to overthrow his brother.

They understood this challenge and accepted it. The Greeks continued on and marched into Mesopotamia in order to confront the armies of Artaxerxes. Finally, they met his forces at the Battle of Cunaxa.

The battle did not last long. The Ten Thousand crushed the troops of Artaxerxes while suffering minimal loses themselves, but the victory came to nothing.

Cyrus the Younger was killed in battle as he tried to charge against his brother’s position. Undefeated in battle, but losing their employer, the Greek mercenaries did not know what to do. They offered to make their Persian ally, Ariaeus, the new King, but he refused.

They tried to negotiate with Tissapharnes, the leading satrap of Artaxerxes, but he told them that they needed to lay down their arms. This they refused.

Tissapharnes was a cunning fellow and he managed to win Ariaeus over to his side. The Greeks had no Persian allies left. They were still a force to be reckoned with and the Persians knew that they needed to negotiate.

Deep into the negotiations, the Greek commanders were invited to a feast thrown by Tissapharnes. Trusting that their host would be bound by honor and the sacred rights of the guest, they accepted.

A delegation consisting of most of the leading commanders and their guards came over to the camp of Tissapharnes late in the evening, thinking that they were going to discuss a deal between the two sides. Instead, the leading generals were taken prisoner and later beheaded, while the remainder of the delegation was slaughtered on the spot.

This left the rest of the Ten Thousand without commanders.
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Everybody Wants To Be A Ninja

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Seriously, who hasn’t thought about becoming a ninja? That is something that every kid dreams about! 🙂 As kids we have a very vivid and wild imagination and there are a lot of things that fascinate us. I remember that as a kid, I loved to listen to my grandfather’s stories of times long gone and especially his war stories. I also watched many movies and when I learned to read, I also read a lot of things. Somehow I learned about ninjas. Whether it was through my fascination with the movie “Karate Kid”, or through watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or just trading stories as kids, the subject of ninjas grabbed my attention very early on.

These ancient Japanese warriors could use their hands and other parts of their bodies to defeat much larger and stronger opponents and use their tricks to do all kinds of cool things. They could climb walls, throw shurikens (metal stars), create different potions and disappear in clouds of smoke. I was not the only kid that had this fascination and the ninja sparked the imagination of many a kid. We all wanted to be ninjas, playing games where we pretended to be powerful ninja warriors or spies on a mission. Whether the image of the ninja that we have is accurate or not, it is a powerful image and one that still fascinates me to this day.

The theme of ninjas was reflected in many different things during the 1990s. There were movies, cartoons, books, video games and martial arts classes. For example, characters based on ninjas played main roles in such popular cultural phenomenon as Mortal Kombat (mostly video games, but also movies), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (where the word ninja was even in the name), even G.I. Joe (cartoons, action figures), where several of the characters strongly resemble ninjas.

These characters then sparked our wonder in the real ninjas that they were based on. With ninjas, it is hard to separate fact from fiction. Much of what we hear about ninjas is based on legends passed down from generation to generation. Some of the images of the ninja are, on the other hand, based on modern myths invented only recently. Even the term “ninja” is of more recent origin, as older texts usually refer to shinobi. However all these myths and legends are based on real events and real people.
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Were Prehistoric Men Stronger And Faster Than Us?

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Every year, records in all types of sports are broken. Men are running faster, jumping higher and enduring more. This generation is taller than their parents generation, which was taller than the previous generation. If we were to look at it, it would seem as if the current generation is the most gifted physically and has the largest brainpower. There is no way that the previous generations could have achieved the same accomplishments as the men of today. Yet this view is most likely very wrong. In ancient times and even more so in the prehistoric times beyond, men were achieving similarly (if not more so) impressive feats.
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