Sergey Ivanov
Prof., PhD Institute of Slavic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow State University of St. Petersburg Russian State University for the Humanities

Spiritually Beneficial Tales in Byzantine and Slavic Literature - Foreword

  • Summary/Abstract

    The term "hagiography" is deeply anachronistic, since it brings together on a non-literary basis a variety of literary genres. Byzantines were not familiar with this term. It was Paul of Monemvasia himself who introduced a special term for the pieces he was writing: "Diegeseis psychopheleis". Therefore we can suggest that Byzantines had a sense that this was a special genre. The word ‘Diegesis’ (Narrative) underlines the literary, conventional nature of a text, especially as opposed to the term "bios kai politeia", which stresses its "authenticity". A Vita as a whole is called "historia psychopheles" only once - the term is applied to an uncommon hagiographic text such as the novel of Barlaam and Ioasaph which lacked the characteristic features of a common Byzantine Vita Based on the contexts in which ‘diegesis’ occurs in hagiography we can figure out that it meant a precise piece of narrative, with a well-confined plot. The "tales" plots are commonly rich in twists and details that are redundant from the edification point of view, and this trait distinguishes "tales" from fables and parables. Apparently when "tales" spread beyond the monasteries’ quarters, when city dwellers emerged in their plots, and the actual stories grew more complicated, this modified the genre, emphasized the entertaining element and further diminished the tale’s edifying value. The articles of the following collection are published in chronological order. Our collection is a first attempt to trace the fate of a poorly studied yet extremely interesting genre, which may shatter some of the current preconceptions about Byzantine literature.

Four Byzantine "Spiritually Beneficial Tales" Preserved Only in Slavonic Translations

  • Summary/Abstract

    Many Byzantine works reached us only in their Slavic versions. In addition to numerous religious texts, there are several secular stories which may be referred to belles lettres. The most famous of them is the Tale of the Empress Theophano. Much less known to the Byzantinists is The Tale of the Emperor Khazar and his wife. Although both literary pieces have moral implications that can be treated as spiritually beneficial from some point of view, they were written in a milieu too different from the one which produced “spiritually beneficial tales” stricto sensu. Speaking of the latter genre, we can also point out many tales which did not survive in their original versions, or whose Greek originals were neither published nor signaled by F. Halkin or J. Wortley. The author does not intend to cite all such cases. The goal is to draw the attention of scholars to this poorly explored type of Byzantine literature. Four tales published in this article are picked as examples thereof.

A Russian "Spiritually Beneficial Tale" Featuring Andrew The Fool

  • Summary/Abstract

    The text of “A Sermon on a very sinful” man which is published in this article came down to us in seven copies dating back to the late 16th – 17th centuries. In several cases, it is included in the Russian translation of the Life of Andrew the Fool, but it has no Greek prototype either in this vita or in Byzantine hagiography in general. At the same time, the text follows the rules of Byzantine hagiography. Some of the Greek “spiritually beneficial tales” exhibit a pattern that can be labeled as “reconciliation between the quick and the dead”. These tales could be known to Old Russian litterati through their Slavonic translations. The Vita of Andrew the Fool was immensely popular in Rus’: its Russian translation survived, until the beginning of the 17th century, in 56 manuscripts, but the appearance of Andrew the Fool as a character of the “spiritually beneficial tale” at the first glance looks strange: not a single episode of his vita resembles reconciliation between “the quick and the dead”. The Greek tradition has not preserved any tales in which a criminal guilty of abominable crimes would address for absolution first to a hermit and later to a holy fool. Yet, such tale could easily have existed, since we have a Latin story in which this happens. Since the setting of the novel is obviously Early Byzantine, it can be surmised that there has existed its Greek version which could also have been known to the author of our text. The first half of the text is a heart-rending story of an evil woman and her malicious parents who entangled her husband killing his own parents. There are no analogies to such tale in Byzantine hagiography. We can suppose that the tale combines some hagiographic and some folklore features. It is an original story which demonstrates how the Byzantine genre developed within the Russian cultural milieu of the post-Byzantine epoch.

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