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The Household Management


The Hundred Chapters contained the basic rules for religious worship and ritual in Old Russia, and The Great Menology determined the Russian’s range of reading, the Household Management offered a similar set of rules for private, domestic life. Like other works of the sixteenth century, the Household Management was based on an earlier literary tradition. This tradition included, for example, such an outstanding work of Kievan Russia as Vladimir Monomachos’ Instruction. Russia had long possessed homiletic miscellanies containing instructions and remarks on questions of everyday conduct (such as The Emerald and the Chrysostom collections). The sixteenth century saw the appearance of a work entitled the Household Management (i.e., rules for domestic life) and consisting of three parts: on worship of the Church and the Tsar, on “wordly management” (relations within the family) and on “household management” (economy). The first redaction of the Household Management, compiled before the middle of the sixteenth century, contained (in the descriptions of everyday life) some very vivid scenes of Moscow life, for example, the story of the procuresses who tempted married gentlewomen.4 The second redaction of the Household Management belongs to the middle of the sixteenth century and is linked with the name of Sylvester, a priest who belonged to the narrow circle of most influential people close to the tsar, a circle later referred to (in the writings of Andrew Kurbsky, who was closely associated with it) as the Select Council. This redaction ended with Sylvester’s epistle to his son Anfim.5 At the centre of the Household Management is the sixteenth-century household, self-contained and cut off from the outside world. This household is in a city and reflects the life of the prosperous city-dweller, rather than the landowning nobility. The master is a thrifty, practical man with retainers and servants, bondmen or hired freemen. He acquires all the basic objects at the market, combining trading and craftsman­ship with money-lending. He fears and respects the tsar and the powers-that-be. “He who opposes the sovereign, opposes God too.”

Sylvester removed from the Household Management the most striking scenes of everyday life found in the first redaction, but preserved the main theme: austerity and strictness in private life, compulsory handiwork for members of the family, thriftiness even to the point of stinginess, guarding against dangerous relations with the outside world and the strictest keeping of all family secrets. Moderation and caution are prescribed in all things; in particular, in corporal punishment of one’s wife, children and servants: “strike courteously with the lash, holding both hands … and do so not in anger, but let no man know or hear of it…”

The creation of The Hundred Chapters, The Great Menology and the Household Management was largely for the purpose of controlling the development of culture and literature. The well-known literary historian, Nikolai Tikhonravov, rightly re­marks that these measures “speak eloquently to us of the arousing of conservative elements in the intellectual movement of Muscovite Russia of the sixteenth century”.6 This control over culture and literature became particularly strict during the Oprichnina estab­lished by Ivan the Terrible in 1564. The tsar, to quote his enemy Kurbsky, “locked up his tsardom as if in an infernal fortress”, not allowing any literature from Western Europe where the Renais­sance and Reformation were developing at this time. Book printing, which had begun in the 1550s and 1560s, ceased in somewhat unclear circumstances: due to harassment “from many superiors and churchmen” who accused him of “heresy”, the first Russian printer, Ivan Fyodorov, was forced to flee to Western Russia (Ostrog and later Lvov).7

But the change of direction in the development of Russian culture in the sixteenth century did not mean that this develop­ment ceased. The sixteenth century was an unfavourable time for fiction or what was then called “useless tales”. Many tales known in the fifteenth century stopped being copied altogether in the sixteenth, such as Stefanit and Ikhnilat, The Tale of Dracula, the Alexandreid and the tales about Solomon and Kitovras. But the “useful” (from the viewpoint of official ideology) tales of an historical and religious-didactic nature continued to develop. Many vitae arose, both in The Great Menology and independently. Chronicle-writing, although now centralised, was carried on with great care right up to the middle of the 1560s. A new type of literature, particularly characteristic of the sixteenth century, also became widespread, namely, secular publicistics, which discussed the most important questions of the day.