Swords: Kladenets (also Samosek or Samosyok)


Sword Kladenets

Dobrynya Nikitich. He rides next to Ilya Muromets in this 1898 painting by Viktor Vasnetsov.
Mech-kladenets (Russian: меч-кладенец. [mʲet͡ɕ kɫədʲɪˈnʲet͡s]) is a fabulous magic sword in Russian fairy tales and byliny, rendered “sword of steel”, “hidden sword”, or “magic sword” in English translations.

The “self-swinging sword” or mech-samosek (also mech-samosyok, самосёк. [səmɐˈsʲɵk]) is also regarded as equivalent by certain commentators, though others consider them to be distinct.

Etymology

Max Vasmer’s dictionary defines kladenets as a “magic sword in Russian tales”, and the sword kladenets has been translated “magic sword” in texts.

The word “kladenets” can putatively be linked to the Slavic word klad (клад) “treasure, hoard,” although “a number of philologists doubt” that this word-stem figures in the derivation of “[this] Russian epithet of this sword.”

Some sources point out that kladenets, being a treasure, is frequently connected with the motif of being hidden inside a wall, under a rock, or under a sacred tree, waiting to be discovered by the bogatyr hero, and George Vernadsky goes as far as to translate kladenets as “the hidden sword”. Although Vernadsky fails to elaborate, an alternative etymology connects the term kladenets to klast’ (класть) “to lay or put”, and his rendering lies in this camp.

One rational explanation derives the word from uklad[ny] (укладъ, укладный) “steel”, hence kladenets is defined as meaning “made of steel” in the Dictionary of the Russian Language published by the Russian Academy of Sciences (and later in the Dictionary of archaic and obsolete words, published by Nauka). Hence some sources render “sword of steel”.

Another explanation, credited to Alexander Veselovsky (1888), theorizes that kladenets may be a corrupted pronunciation of Kgl’arentsya or Kgl’adentsya (кгляренцыя, кгляренция or кгляденцыя, кгляденция),[a] the sword of Bova Korolevich [ru]. The Russian tale of Bova was adapted from the medieval Italian romance of Buovo d’Antona, in which the original sword name is Clarença or Chiarenza. This etymology has been endorsed by Max Vasmer’s dictionary, under the entry that defines kladenets as a “magic sword in Russian tales”, or “magic sword”.

Attestations

In some versions of the wonder-tale (skazka) on the bogatyr “Yeruslan Lazarevich”, mech-kladenets is mentioned alongside the Firey Shield and Flame Spear (Огненный Щит Пламенные Копья).

The sword is mentioned in passing in the tale Storm-Bogatyr, Ivan the Cow’s Son (Afanasyev No. 136) but plays no significant role in the tale.

Samosek

While Vernadsky mentions “the self-swung sword” (mech-samosek) alongside mech-kladenets as commonplace elements in Russian folktales, he presents the swords as distinct from one another, since the kladenets sword needs to be wielded by a bogatyr.

Other sources however, present these two swords (mech-kladenets and mech-samosek) as equivalent, for example, a mythology dictionary with Yeleazar M. Meletinsky as supervising editor. The reasoning is not well-clarified, but this dictionary explains its view that kladenets (treasure) is often connected with the motif of being hidden inside a wall, and in the tale example it gives, the “Tale of the City of Babylon” (Skazanie o Vaviloné grade Сказании о Вавилоне-граде), the samosek-sword is also called “Asp The Serpent” (Аспид-змей), and it was ordered hidden inside the wall by the sword’s owner, Nebuchadnezzar.

Elsewhere, the self-swinging sword under command of St. George beheads a Tatar tsar.

This artifact is a part of SwordTemple Library

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