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The legend of Vladimir in Russia (960?-1015)--a lusty, polygamous pagan ruler known both as fornicator immensus and as ""(darling beautiful) Red Sun,"" who was a great warrior, diplomat and administrator, was converted to Christianity, then Christianized the land and spent the rest of his life building churches--is equal to King Arthur's in England and Charlemagne's in France. Descended from a line of Vikings, and bastard son of the famed, far-traveling conqueror Svyatoslav (who died at about 30), young Prince Vladimir's first job was to make a hardened warrior of himself, under the tutelage of his uncle, and then (at 12!) to govern impudent Novgorod while his two half-brothers governed Kiev. Vladimir was an early believer in spirits and the beyond. Later, he abandoned Novgorod to his one surviving brother and, as a man, went on a period of wandering with his troops, then of battle (""They had spent hours killing, and the sombre intoxication of battle, that special eroticism known only to people who have fought with cold weapons, dimmed their eyes""). After raping Rogned before her father's eyes, then killing him and her brothers he took her as his second wife. After murdering his brothers, he took her as his full rule of the land, with his capital at Kiev for the remaining 37 years. With his five wives and 1,100 concubines, plus ""numberless married women whom he seduced and unmarried girls whom he violated,"" he gourmandised until ""dinners and suppers. . .often fused into one gigantic meal,"" all the while remaking Kiev into a city of wondrous beauty. Then, at 25, not altogether accountably, comes the Greco-Christian light: all his lands, joy of the sword and Viking bloodlust, women and food mean nothing before the tremendous mystery of Christ. He marries Princess Anna, sister of Basileus of Constaninople; she baptizes and heals him of illness until ""his face shone like the sun."" Vladimir enters strict monogamy, continence, moderation, the acceptance of Christ within him and sets out on the evangelization of Russia. . . After death his body was dismembered and sent to various shrines and he was not merely sanctified but called ""Equal to the Apostles."" Lively, sometimes humorous, apparently faithful life based on now-shadowy documents. Vladimir's conversion--and conversion generally--is discussed at great length, which may account for this book's popularity in Europe.

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 1985
Publisher: Overlook--dist. by Viking