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Tales. The Dispute of Life and Death


Secular tales were less widespread in the literature of the sixteenth century than in that of the second half of the preceding century. They also differed radically from the tales of the preceding period in character also.

The tales of the sixteenth century are predominantly didactic, openly instructive. Examples are The Dispute of Life and Death and The Tale of Queen Dinara. The tale written at the end of the century about an important historical event, the defence of Pskov against King Stephen Bathory of Poland in 1581, occupies a somewhat special place.

The Dispute of Life and Death. In sixteenth-century manuscripts we find very few translated tales, either those known in Russia in the fifteenth century or new ones. The only work of a similar genre that became fairly widespread in the sixteenth century is The Dispute of Life and Death translated in 1494 (from the German original) in the circle of a well-known opponent of heresy, Archbishop Gennadius of Novgorod. This work was readily transcribed in the sixteenth century in the main centre of church life, the Volokolamsk Monastery of St Joseph.22

In form The Dispute of Life and Death was a dialogue between Everyman and Death. Everyman asks Death to spare him; Death refuses. Here we have a work close to the dramatic genre (in the German original Everyman was a play acted by the German Fastnachtsspiel (Shrovetide carnival theatre), but there is no dispute and hardly any action in it. Everyman begs Death to spare him for a short while: “Oh, Death, spare me until morning that I may repent and put my Ife in order.” Death refuses and explains to the reader at length that one must repent and pray at all times, for Death can come for any man at any time. At the end Death takes Everyman.