The Peculiar Nature of the Form in Which Old Russian Literature Existed
Russian literature of the eleventh to seventeenth centuries developed in somewhat exceptional circumstances. It was entirely handwritten. Book printing, which appeared in Moscow in the mid-sixteenth century, did little to change the character and means of distribution of literary works. Even in the seventeenth century literary works continued for the most part to be copied out by hand. In the process of copying the scribes inserted their own corrections, changes and abridgements, or developed and expanded the text. As a result Old Russian literary works did not have a fixed text. New redactions and new types of works appeared in response to new practical requirements, or under the influence of changes in literary tastes.
Some Old Russian literary works were read and copied over several centuries. Others disappeared quickly, but those parts to which the scribes took a liking were included in other works, since the sense of authorship was not yet sufficiently developed to protect an author’s text against amendments or insertions from other works. In this respect there is a certain similarity between the works of Old Russian literature and folklore.