Academic journal article Kritika

Miscellanea Attributed to Kurbskii: The 17th Century in Russia Was More Creative Than We like to Admit

Academic journal article Kritika

Miscellanea Attributed to Kurbskii: The 17th Century in Russia Was More Creative Than We like to Admit

Article excerpt

Konstantin Erusalimskii, Sbornik Kurbskogo (Kurbskii's Miscellany), 2 vols. Moscow: Znak, 2009. 1: Issledovanie knizhnoi kul'tury (A Study of Book Culture). 888 pp. ISBN-13 978-5955103051. 2: Issledovanie knizhnoi kul'tury (Intended title Publikatsiia tekstov [Publication of the Texts]). 536 pp. ISBN-13 978-5955102894.

Nearly 40 years after Edward L. Keenan questioned the dating, attribution, and authenticity of Istoriia o kniazia velikogo moskovskogo delekh (the History of the Grand Prince of Moscow, henceforth the History), the first comprehensive study of its manuscript tradition and its reception in Russia has appeared in print. Konstantin Erusalimskii has devoted over a decade to carefully studying and comparing the manuscript miscellanies that contain the History. Sbornik Kurbskogo is more than a study of the History but less than a study of all the texts associated with the different miscellanies containing works attributed to Kurbskii (sborniki Kurbskogo). Even the publication's title, which in the singular either overemphasizes the putative contribution of Kurbskii or presumes the existence of an "original" miscellany, belies many of the larger problems and ambiguities of this important study.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am a second-generation skeptic trained by Keenan, and I am preparing a study that argues against the probability that any version of the History could have been written by Kurbskii. Since this review is paired with one by a proponent of the traditional view, which no doubt outlines the publication's merits and addresses its flaws from that perspective, here I mainly address the arguments of Sbornik Kurbskogo from a skeptical perspective. Like other skeptics, I contend that most historical narratives about 16th-century Russia have been hopelessly compromised and seriously contaminated through the indiscriminate use of late and unreliable sources. (1)

As four decades of lingering controversy have demonstrated, most scholars of Russian history, regardless of their country of origin, have disengaged from a debate that relies heavily on meticulous, technical arguments. Nonetheless, the age of Ivan the Terrible can only be reimagined by reexamining the dating, attribution, and provenance of all sources about the period. Therefore, the first section of my review is addressed to the field in general and keeps discussion of technical matters to a minimum. The second section of the review, a technical assessment, evaluates a number of key issues that did not receive satisfactory treatment in the book due to the author's conviction that Kurbskii was indeed the author of works attributed to him by either 17th-century compilers of miscellanies or 19th-century scholars.

General Assessment

To state my own conclusion plainly, Erusalimskii has not proven that Prince Andrei Kurbskii put together a miscellany of his own works some time before his death in 1583 in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Nor has he established that Kurbskii's authorship of the History in the late 16th century is a more probable proposition than its fabrication in the late 17th century. He has not subjected the two texts that most overlap in contents with the History--the unpublished tale of persecutions and Lyzlov's source (see below)--to the levels of scrutiny that they merit in an argument that hinges entirely on the dating of the History. And he has not analyzed all the texts that one finds in the miscellanies.

On the positive side, this publication has numerous merits that will make it central to all future discussions of early modern Russian history. Erusalimskii has conducted a more extensive analysis of the manuscript tradition than any of his predecessors. He has uncovered new information about connections between the History and other texts that have been attributed to Kurbskii. He has proven that the late 17th century was a vital, generative time for the manuscript tradition in Russia. …

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