Ilya Repin, Sadko, 1876

Sadko is the main character in an East Slavic oral epic poem. As the story goes, Sadko played a gusli (a plucked string instrument) on the shore of Lake Ilmen one evening, singing a sad song about not having a wife to love. The song touched the heart of the merman Tsar Morskoi, the King of the Sea. The Sea Tsar helped Sadko catch a golden fish and win a bet with merchants. Sadko won a hefty sum, became a merchant himself, bought a villa on the river, and found a lovely wife.

Later while Sadko was on a business trip in one of his ships, the sea became rough and the ship’s captain explained that the Sea Tsar was angry. The crew tried throwing gold and jewels overboard as an offering, but to no avail. To appease the Sea Tsar, Sadko jumped into the sea with his gusli and sunk down to find the merman on his throne. Sadko played for the SeaTsar who danced with delight and offered Sadko to pick a mermaid bride from his 11 daughters, although Sadko only wanted his wife on shore. One whispered “Pick me, and I will show you the way home.” He did, and she brought him back to his wife at home.

Here we see Sadko being forced to choose a mermaid bride while longing for his wife on shore, seen in the upper left.

Leave a Reply