The purpose of this anthology is to give to those American and Western European students who are acquainted with the Russian language a direct and personal impression of medieval Russian literature through selected readings.
It must be emphasized at the outset that the basis for selection of these texts differs essentially from that of all Old Russian readers, anthologies, and chrestomathies hitherto published in or outside Russia. The traditional approach, dominated by purely philological or linguistic points of view, has been deliberately avoided. The texts are not presented as material for the study of the Old Russian language and its history, although with some caution they may be used with benefit for this purpose too. It has not been the editor's intention to reproduce literally the Old Russian manuscripts from which the texts are taken. Abbreviations and contractions, so characteristic of the originals, have been extended. Letters inherited from Old Church Slavonic, but of no importance for the understanding of the texts, have been replaced by the corresponding Russian letters; the reader will, therefore, notice the total absence of letters reflecting Old Church Slavonic iotized and nasal vowels. It has not even been considered necessary to preserve the spelling found in the original manuscripts, and in cases where the spelling was inconsistent throughout a text, the orthography has been to a degree unified and normalized.
The main task has been to facilitate the reading of texts that are at times incomprehensible even to a native Russian. Every possible means and device short of translation has been employed in order to secure the greatest possible readability and understanding. As a consequence, the texts have been edited with a maximum of latitude: texts have been divided into chapters; dialogue material in prose passages has been paragraphed; and syntactical and rhythmical units characteristic of lyrical passages have been separated. Each text is accompanied by copious annotations: where the language of the original differs too radically from modern Russian, grammatical and syntactical explanations have been provided; a separate series of annotations deals with geographical, historical, genealogical, and ideological data. A systematized glossary contains obsolete and archaic words unknown in modern Russian.
Thus, the principle followed in the editing has not been that of documentary exactness. It has been throughout a purely literary principle which may be justified by the following profession of faith.