1/19/11

Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov, Sirin and Alkonost. The Birds of Joy and Sorrow (Сирин и Алконост. Птицы радости и печали)


The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Date: 1896
Technique: Oil on canvas, 133 x 250 cm

Sirin is a mythological creature of Russian legends, with the head and chest of a beautiful woman and the body of a bird (usually an owl). According to the myth, they lived "in Indian lands" near Eden or around the Euphrates River.

These half-women half-birds are loosely based on the Greek stories about sirens. They sang beautiful songs to the saints, foretelling future joys. For mortals, however, the birds were dangerous. Men who heard them would forget everything on earth, follow them, and ultimately die. People would attempt to save themselves Sirins by shooting cannons, ringing bells and making other loud noises to scare the bird off.

Sometimes Sirin is seen as a metaphor for God's word going into the soul of a man. Sometimes she is seen as a metaphor of heretics tempting the weak. Sometimes Sirin was considered equivalent to the siren or the Polish Wila. In Russian folklore, Sirin was mixed with the revered religious writer Saint Ephrem the Syrian. Thus, peasant lyrists such as Nikolay Klyuev often used Sirin as a synonym for poet.

Famous writer Vladimir Nabokov wrote some of his first novels and poems under the pseudonym Vladimir Sirin.
The Alkonost is a legendary bird in Slavic mythology. It has the body of a bird with the head and chest of a woman. The name Alkonost came the name of Greek demi-goddess Alcyone transformed by gods into a kingfisher. The Alkonost reproduces by laying eggs on the sea-shore then putting them into the water. The sea is then calm for six or seven days at which point the eggs hatch, bringing a storm. For the Russian Orthodox Church Alkonost personifies God's will. She lives in paradise but goes into our world to deliver a message. Her voice is so sweet that anybody hearing it can forget everything. Unlike Sirin, another similar creature, she is not evil.

Source 1
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