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Literature as an Intermediary. Genres of Translated Literature


Literature as an Intermediary. There is yet another specific feature characteristic of mediaeval literatures—the existence of literatures which acted as intermediaries or “go-betweens”. For the Southern and Eastern Slavs the intermediary was Old Bulgarian literature. It included both works of early Christian literature (translations from the Greek) and works created in Bulgaria, Moravia and Bohemia, and later in Russia and Serbia.

This intermediary literature united the literatures of the Slavonic peoples (particularly of Bulgaria, Serbia and Russia) for a very long time, almost up to the modern period, although naturally the relative importance of original works grew increas­ingly in each of the individual national literatures.8

Genres of Translated Literature. The Holy Scriptures. Let us now consider the main genres of translated literature in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries. This broad time span is a necessary convention, because for the most part the works of this period have survived only in later copies, and we can establish the time of their translation or appearance in the literature of Old Russia from indirect evidence only.

The foundation of the Christian faith and philosophy were the books of the Holy Scriptures, and also the writings of the Church Fathers, Byzantine and Slav theologians and preachers.

The Bible was not fully translated in Russia until the fifteenth century, but Bulgarian and Russian translations of individual books were already known in Kievan Russia. The most widespread at that time were the books of the New Testament and the Psalter. It is probable that some of the Old Testament books were also known (the Pentateuch and the books of Joshua, Judges, Kings, Prophets and Ruth). It is hard to say when they appeared in Russia because the oldest surviving manuscripts belong to the fourteenth century. Yet indirect evidence enables us to conclude, for example, that the whole of the Pentateuch, the books of Joshua, Judges, and Kings and fragments from some other Old Testament books were included in a chronograph compilation of the mid-thirteenth century.9

Russian readers could become acquainted with the content of the Old Testament books also through Greek chronicles (in particular the Chronicle of Georgios Hamartolos) and through the paleya which expounded and interpreted the text of the Old Testament.

The Scriptures, the paleya, the chronicles and writings of the Church Fathers were intended for independent reading by believers. In church, however, other books, specially intended for church services, were used.

These included, first and foremost, the Aprakos Gospels and Aprakos Apostles (from the Greek apraktos meaning “festive”)— selected readings from the Gospels and the Acts and Epistles of the Apostles arranged in the order in which they were read in church services (certain readings for certain days of the week or church feasts). The Paroemia was read (a selection of passages from the Holy Scriptures prescribed for certain church services), liturgical menologies (books containing encomiums to the saints arranged in the order of their feasts days), collections of anthems, canons, etc.10

Apart from their purely instructive and liturgical functions, the books of the Holy Scriptures and liturgical works were also of considerable aesthetic importance. The Bible contained vivid stories, the books of the Prophets were full of strong emotion, striking imagery and impassioned denunciations of vices and social injustice, the Psalter and the menologies were fine examples of religious poetry, although their Slavonic translations were in prose.