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Trojan Tales

 

The Alexandreid was not the only work in Old Russian literature that had classical roots. In the late fifteenth and the early sixteenth century, several lengthy tales about the Trojan War came to Russia. Before the fifteenth century the myths of the Trojan cycle as retold in Book Five of the Chronicle of John Malalas had been known, but we can assume that this book was not very widespread in Old Russia. In the fifteenth century the Byzantine Chronicle of Constantine Manasses became known in Russia in a Bulgarian translation, which gives a detailed account of the events of the Trojan War. Some manuscripts with this translation also include a separate story about the Trojan War known as The Tale of Kings. The compiler of The Russian Chronograph at the beginning of the sixteenth century created his own Tale of the Creation and Capture of Troy combining passages from the main text of Manasses’ Chronicle and The Tale of Kings. This tale was included in one of the chapters of the 1512 redaction of the Chronograph, and was also included in miscellanies as a separate work.

In the late fifteenth or the early sixteenth century, evidently from a German printed edition of the late fifteenth century, a translation was made of another lengthy story about the Trojan War written at the end of the thirteenth century by the Sicilian Guido da Colonna. This story gives a detailed account of the events preceding the Trojan War (the voyage of the Argonauts, Jason’s winning of the Golden Fleece in Colchis with the help of the priestess Medea and the first destruction of Troy by Jason and Hercules), the campaign of the Greeks against Troy, the capture of the town after a ten-year siege, and the fate of the main heroes of the Trojan War—Agamemnon, Odysseus (Ulysses) and Pyr­rhus. In Guido da Colonna’s romance, alongside the descriptions of battles, combats, military stratagems and noble exploits, considerable space is devoted to the “romantic subjects” charac­teristic of mediaeval tales of chivalry: the love of Medea and Jason, and Paris and Helen, the fickle Briseida beloved by Prince Troilus, and Achilles’ love for Priam’s daughter Polyxena. These themes were rare in Old Russian literature (if one does not count the above-mentioned Serbian Alexandreid), but undoubtedly aroused great interest among readers—all these subjects have been preserved even in the short reworkings of Guido da Colonna’s Trojan History that had appeared already by the sixteenth century, but were particularly widespread later, in the seventeenth.21

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