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Abstractness in Hagiographical Literature


There is another feature that is characteristic of hagiographical literature. It is seen most clearly in later hagiographical works of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but can already be found in the vitae of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This feature is abstractness. The author deliberately avoids being definite, precise, omitting all details that would indicate the particular, individual nature of the situations described. This is not fortuitous, but a deliberate attempt to see the saint’s Life, as it were, outside time and space as a set of ethical rules, eternal and universal. Thus, for example, The Life of St Theodosius of the Caves contains an account of the internecine strife in 1073 (when princes Vsevolod and Svyatoslav drove Grand Prince Izyaslav out of Kiev) which reads as follows: “Incited by the cunning foe (i.e., the Devil) discord broke out among the three princes, blood brothers: two of them waged war upon the third, their elder brother, the Christ-loving and truly God-loving Izyaslav. And he was driven out of his capital city, and they came to this city and sent for our blessed father Theodosius…” No mention is made of the names of the princes who oppose Izyaslav or of Kiev (it is merely referred to as the “capital”), and the feudal strife is depicted as the result solely of the Devil’s work. It is typical of the abstracting tendency that proper names are omitted and people are referred to by their social position (“a certain boyar”, “that man” or “a certain general”; in the latter case the Greek term strategus is used instead of the usual Russian term voevoda), geographical names, exact dates etc., are also omitted. This tendency had just begun to appear in the hagiographical literature of Kievan Russia. It found fullest expression later, as already mentioned, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.95