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The Lay of the Twelve Dreams of Emperor Shakbaishi


The Lay of the Twelve Dreams of Emperor Shakhaishi originates from an Oriental source. This source is unknown, but motifs of a similar character and content have been found in a Tibetan legend, a Buddhist tale and a number of other Oriental works.20 The Lay became known in the South-Slavonic countries and either came to Russia from there or was translated directly from the Oriental original. This question has not yet been answered.21 Nor is it known when the work first appeared on Russian soil. We assume that it was in the thirteenth or fourteenth century (the earliest of the known manuscripts is fifteenth-century). The extant manuscripts of the Dreams of Emperor Shakhaishi can be divided into two redactions. In many manuscripts the Emperor is called Mamer. In those manuscripts where the Emperor is called Shakhaishi, Mamer is the name of the philosopher who interprets the Emperor’s dreams.

According to Mamer’s interpretation, Shakhaishi’s dreams mean that “bad times” will come in the distant future. Each dream betokens poverty and need, the destruction of the foundations, the collapse of morals, “when those bad times come”.22 There will be rebellion and strife, there will be no truth—people will speak sweetly, but conceal malice in their hearts, the laws will no longer be observed, children will cease to obey their parents and elders, licentiousness and dissipation will be rife, even nature will change its pattern—autumn will come in winter, winter in spring or in the middle of summer, and so on.

Sombre eschatological pictures of the future of the world were widespread in mediaeval literature. These apocalyptic themes usually appeared during troubled times. The mood of The Lay of the Twelve Dreams of Shakhaishi corresponded to the period of the Mongol invasion. It is indicative that at a later date this work was widely read by Old Believers persecuted by the tsarist government.

The Old Russian reader’s striving to understand the world, his dreams of a just, prosperous life on earth and his philosophical reflections on man’s need for earthly happiness are reflected in literary works like the tales we have examined. These questions were also raised in original works. In particular, the legends about the existence of an earthly paradise were treated in an interesting way in the Epistle of Archbishop Basil of Novgorod to Bishop Theodore of Tver.

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