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The New Tale of the Most Glorious Russian Tsardom


The New Tale of the Most Glorious Russian Tsardom, written in 1610-1611, is based on a literary reinterpretation of official genres. The anonymous author calls his work a “letter” (pismo) (which is a synonym for gramota): “And may you read this letter without any doubt… And he who takes this letter and reads it, let him not keep it to himself, but pass it on to his brethren, Orthodox Christians, to read briefly … and not to those who … have turned from Christianity and become our enemies … do not tell them of it and do not give them it to read.”

In his appeal to free the realm from the Polish invaders, the anonymous writer concentrates on his agitational task. He is interested only in the alignment of political forces at the end of 1610. His sympathies and antipathies are expressed clearly, and consequently the characters in the New Tale are either patriots and heroes, or villains. The author is ardent in his praise of Patriarch Hermogenes. He is an unshakeable pillar supporting the vaults of the “great chamber”—of the Russian land. Its arch­enemy is Sigismund III, the “wicked and strong godless one”, who is seeking to win himself a bride by force—Moscow. The bride’s “kinsfolk” and well-wishers are the people of Smolensk, who will not surrender to the Poles, and the leaders of the embassy to Sigismund, Philaret Romanov and Prince Vasily Golitsyn, who are acting for the whole of Russia. The “cursed bride-groom” Sigismund is helped by traitors, the seven boyars who are ruling Moscow and have sworn allegiance to Sigismund’s son, Prince Wfadyslaw.

One of these boyars, the treasurer Fyodor Andronov, is compared in the New Tale to Ikhnilat, the crafty royal counsellor in Stefanit and Ikhnilat In order to debunk this puppet ruler, the author creates a comic effect with the use of rhymed speech (on the comic effect of rhyme in Old Russian culture see the section entitled “Versification”).

Федор Андронов “ни от царских родов, ни от боярских чинов, ни от иных избранных ратных голов; сказывают, что от смердовских рабов. Его же, окаяннаго и треклятаго, по его злому делу не достоит его во имя Стратилата, но во имя Пилата назвати, или во имя преподобнаго,— но во имя неподобнаго, или во имя страстотерьпца,— но во имя землеедца, или во имя святителя,— но во имя мучителя, и гонителя, и разорителя, и губителя веры христианьския”.

Fyodor Andronov is “ not of royal birth, nor of boyar rank, nor from a great general’s family. They say he is of bonded peasant stock. Cursed and damned, he should be named not after Stratilates[1] but after Pilate; not the Reverend, but the irreverend, not a martyr, but a man-eater, not a prelate, but a predator, and persecutor and destroyer of the Christian faith.”

As a literary device rhymed speech is most effective in texts intended for declamation. The author of the New Tale was undoubtedly well aware of this: his “letter” was intended to be read out at meetings “of his brethren”, so rhymed passages were particularly suited to it. The author is striving to make his readers and listeners actively resist the foreign invaders. He is an agitator, not an historian. Therefore he deals only with matters of the moment and does not reflect on the past or on the reasons for Moscow’s struggle.

[1]  St Theodore Stratilates, in whose honour Andronov was given the Christian name of Fyodor—the Russian form of Theodore.— Tr.