Franciscus Skorina, Scholar-Printer of the Renaissance

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Franciscus Skorina, scholar-printer of the Renaissance

FRANCISCUS Skorina, archetypical figure of Byelorussian culture, was the first to translate, provide a commentary, print and publish the Bible in the language of the east Slavs.

He was born 500 years ago into a fur and hide trader's family at Polotsk, a city known to have existed since the ninth century. His education began there, but it was at Cracow University from 1504 to 1506 that he studied the "seven liberal arts"--grammar, logic, rhetoric, music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy--as well as philosophy.

There is no further trace of him until 1512, when he took his doctorate in medicine at the University of Padua in Italy. Medical practice did not appeal to him, however. Modeling himself on St. Luke, who after healing men's bodies dedicated himself to healing their souls, Skorina embarked on the translation of the Scriptures into the Slavic language.

In 1517, he left for Prague, where he spent two and a half years. His first publication was a psalter, at that time used as a reading primer, followed by his translation of twenty-two books of the Old Testament, which he called "The Russian Bible".

This was a considerable achievement, as the work consisted of 2,400 pages of text, forty-nine engravings, and hundreds of decorative vignettes, initials and finials. Skorina wrote twenty-five prefaces and twenty-four postfaces which were something more than mere commentaries on the text; they provided clear and topical interpretations of biblical allegories and parables. In this way Skorina introduced his readers to the humanist ideas of the great Renaissance thinkers.

The format adopted for his Bible was remarkably simple, with a clear and legible typeface. …