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Key words
snakes, heraldry, coat of arms, Pruzhany, Bona Sforza the Queen, oral narratives
About the Author
Tel.: +7(499) 727-24-85
31, Vasily Botylev str., Rublevo township, Moscow, 121500, Russian Federation
PhD (Philology), associate professor, department of Linguodidactics and Crosscultural Communication, Moscow State University of Psychology and Education

 The author considers the problem of interpretation of traditional folk plots during information revolution period of the end of the 20th — beginning of the 21st centuries as exemplified in the toponymic oral narratives about the Belarusian town of Pruzhany, which include an international motif: a serpent swallows / spits out a child.

Pruzhany is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious town in the West of Belarus. Its history is connected with Bona the Polish Queen of Sphorza the ruling family of Milan, whose coat of arms became the prototype of Pruzhany coat of arms. Heraldic picture (a snake swallowing / spitting out a child) became text-producing and provoked certain toponymic legends. Toponymic narratives that explain the name of the town include motives about a serpent or are associated with fairy tales about a snake, as well as with other folklore genres. Toponymic legends recorded in the 21st century from Pruzhany and nearby localities were transformed under the influence of various historical and geopolitical circumstances and changing landscape features of the territory. The coat of arms with the serpent appeared in the late 16th century and in the end of 18th, when Pruzhany became a part of the Russian Empire, it was replaced by another one. Then it was returned twice. Discreteness of the heraldic tradition along with probable multi-ethnic cultural influence had an effect on the plot of the toponymic narratives which either exploit the snake motive actively or dispensed without it.

Pruzhany, according to the legend, got its name because of Pruzha (Prusa) — the daughter of the Queen, — who drowned in the river or was eaten by a serpent. According to another version, the town was built on the bank of a shallow river, which had been cursed by the Queen because of her misfortune.

The change in the plot touched its ideological basis: in accordance with the new understanding, which goes back to the official interpretation of the Italian coat of arms, snake doesn’t not swallow, but spits the baby out of its mouth in order to save him. This interpretation which was presented in mass media and book adaptations of the legend, is also reflected in the oral tradition.


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