The significance of Old Russian literature lies in the fact that it helps us to understand the achievements of Russian literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Old Russian literature is the source of the civic spirit and ideological content found in Russian literature of the modern period. Old Russian literature passed on to Russian literature of the modern and most recent period its noble ideals, vast experience, and rich flexible language and imagery.

All Russian writers, in their own way, hold the writer’s vocation in great esteem. Each of them is to some extent a prophet and denouncer, and some are teachers, disseminators of knowledge, interpreters of reality and participants in the civic life of their country.

This sense of the noble calling of the writer was also handed down to the literature of the modern period. Russian literature was influenced by its creators’ strong sense of civic responsibility. This has been a constant feature of Russian literature throughout its development.”

Academician Dmitry Likhachev

The earliest surviving specimens of Russian literature date back to the 11th century. Old Russian literature covers the period up to the late 17th and early 18th centuries, after which comes the literature of the new age. These seven centuries saw the creation of such world masterpieces as The Lay of Igor’s Host (comparable, in spite of its relative shortness, with the French Chanson de Roland and the Spanish Cantar de Mio Сid), The Lay of the Ruin of the Russian Land and The Tale of Batu’s Capture of Ryazan, which all deal with the Mongol invasion, the works about the famous Battle of Kulikovo Field, an important milestone in Russia’s struggle for independence, the fascinating account of Afanasy Nikitin’s Voyage Beyond Three Seas, the gripping Life of Archpriest Avvakum and many others.

This history of Old Russian literature was edited by the distinguished specialist on Russian mediaeval literature and the history of Russian culture, Academician Dmitry Likhachev, and is the best book on the subject. It analyses the fundamental principles of Russian literature from the 11th to the 17th centuries, tracing its development in the context of Russian history.

A team of eminent Soviet specialists and research workers in the Section of Old Russian Literature at the Institute of Russian Literature of the USSR Academy of Sciences have contributed to this invaluable work.

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