Vasilissa, The Priest’s Daughter or Vasilisa Poponov

Summary: “Vasilissa, the Priest’s Daughter,” is in the Afanase’ev collection. The title character is not at all interested in “womanish” things. She has dressed in male clothes since childhood, goes hunting with the guys and calls herself Vasily Vasilyevich, which means Basil, son of Basil. The tsar hears a rumor that this guy is a girl and, on the advice of a “backyard witch,” makes various attempts to trick her into giving herself away (just like the mother of the genius in “The Girl Who Became a Boy”). His final attempt is a suggestion that they go hang out in the royal steambath. By the time the tsar has removed his royal robes, his intended target has finished the bath and left a neener-neener note.


In a certain kingdom, in a certain country, once there lived Vasili the pope and his daughter, Vasilisa Vasilyevna (which means Vasilisa, daughter of Vasili). She used to dress in male fashion, used to sit astride on horseback; shot with her gun, and did nothing like other girls ; and there were very few who knew that she was a maiden. It was always thought that she was a man, and they called her Vasili Vasilyevich (which means Vasili, son of Vasili). And the main reason that they so called her was because Vasilisa Vasilyevna loved vodka — a custom ill-befitting a maid.

Once Tsar Barkhat^ (this was the name of the King) was traveling through this same country hunting deer, and Vasilisa Vasilyevna met him: she was riding out to hounds in a man’s clothes. When Tsar Barkhat saw her, he asked: ” Who is this young man ?”

And an attendant answered him: “Tsar, this is no young man, but a maiden. I am certain of it ; she is the daughter of Pope Vasili, and her name is Vasilisa Vasilyevna.”

The Tsar had hardly reached home before he sent a note to Pope Vasili, bidding his son Vasili Vasilyevich come and dine with him at the imperial table. And he, in the meantime, went to his old evil-tempered housekeeper and bade her devise some means of eliciting whether Vasili Vasilyevich were a maiden.

The old evil housekeeper said : “Hang an embroidery-frame in your palace, at the right hand, and a gun on the left; if she is really Vasilisa Vasilyevna, she will, as soon as ever she enters the palace, first take hold o£ the frame; but, if it is Vasili Vasilyevich he will lay hands on the gun.”

Tsar Barkhat obeyed the counsel of his ancient evil housekeeper and ordered his attendants to hang an embroidery-frame and a flintlock up in the palace.

As soon as ever her father Vasili received the Tsar’s message he communicated it to his daughter, Vasilisa Vasilyevna, who at once went into the stable and saddled the grey horse with the silver mane, and rode straight out to the courtyard of Tsar Barkhat.

Tsar Barkhat came to meet her. She humbly prayed God, crossed herself as is ordained, bowed to all four sides, and greeted Tsar Barkhat friendwise, and with him entered the palace. They sat down to table together, ate sweetmeats, and drank strong wine. After the dinner Vasilisa Vasilyevna went for a walk with the Tsar through the palace. As soon as ever she saw the embroidery-frame she began to scold Tsar Barkhat: “Whatever nonsense have you hanging up there. Tsar Barkhat? I never saw such girlish trash in my father’s house, and I have never heard of it, and yet you find it hanging in Tsar Barkhat’s palace!” And she promptly bade a courteous farewell to the Tsar and rode home.

And the Tsar was still in a quandary whether she were a maiden or not. Two days later Tsar Barkhat sent another message to Pope Vasili, begging him send his son Vasili Vasilyevich. As soon as Vasilisa Vasilyevna heard that she went into the stable and saddled the grey horse with the silver mane, and galloped away to Tsar Barkhat’s courtyard. Tsar Barkhat came to meet her, and she greeted him friendlily, modestly prayed to God, crossed herself, as is becoming, and bowed to the four quarters of the wind. At the advice of the old and evil housekeeper he had commanded a sweet pie to be made for supper and pearls to be mixed in it, for the old hag said : “If it is only Vasilisa Vasilyevna, she will take up the pearls; but, if it is Vasili Vasilyevich, he will throw them under the table.”

So they passed the time merrily and they sat down. The Tsar sat at table and Vasilisa Vasilyevna on his right. They ate sweetmeats and they drank strong wines. Then there came the pie, and as soon as even Vasilisa Vasilyevna’s spoon touched it, it tingled on the pearls ; and she flung them and the pie under the table, and began to scold the Tsar. “Who,” she asked, “put these into the pie? Whatever nonsense have you here, Tsar Barkhat? I never saw such girlish trash in my father’s house, and I have never heard of them, and yet you find them in Tsar Barkhat’s food!” And she bade farewell courteously and rode home.

Still the Tsar was utterly at a loss whether it were a maiden, and he had made up his mind to find out. So, two days, later, the Tsar, at the advice of the old evil- minded housekeeper, had the bath heated, for the old woman said: “If it is only Vasilisa Vasilyevna she will not go into the bath together with the Tsar.” So the bath was heated, and Tsar Barkhat sent Pope Vasfli another message that he would like to have his son Vasili Vasilyevich as his guest; and when Vasilisa Vasilyevna heard of it she went into the stable and saddled the grey horse with the silver mane, and galloped away to Tsar Barkhat’s courtyard. He received her at the state entrance. They greeted each other friendlily, and she trod on velvet pile into the palace. As she came in she prayed devoutly, crossed herself, as is seemly, and bowed to all four quarters, and sat together with the Tsar at table. They ate sweetmeats and drank strong wine.

After the dinner the Tsar said: “Will you not come with me into the bath, Vasili Vasilyevich?”

“If you wish it, mighty Tsar,” Vasilisa Vasilyevna answered. “It is a long time since I have had a bath, and I should like a steam bath.”

But before ever the Tsar had had time to undress in the front room, she was in the bath and out of it, so quick was she, and the Tsar was as puzzled as ever. In the meantime Vasilisa Vasilyevna had written a letter and bade the attendants give it to the Tsar as soon as he came out of the bath. And this was what she wrote:

“O you crow, you Tsar Barkhat! The crow has not caught the falcon in the garden. I am not Vasili Vasilyevich, but Vasilisa Vasilyevna!”

This was the way in which Tsar Barkhat was hoodwinked; and you see how clever and beautiful Vasilisa Vasilyevna was.


Contributed by Leslie Slape
Accessed from the Internet on 8 June 2015

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