Anthology of Old Russian Literature

By Adolf Stender-Petersen | Go to book overview

HEROIC AND EPIC LITERATURE
One of the most original features of Old Kievan literature was the conscious and constant effort to establish heroic and epic literary forms. The simple glorification of a heroic figure by rhetorical means was not regarded as satisfactory by the medieval Russian artist. Even when infused with elements of deep lyricism, hagiography was not able to produce an epic work expressive of the mind and taste of early feudal Kievan Russian society. Even when it betrayed sporadic epic tendencies in portraying the nation's past, annalistic literature never truly became popular reading for members of this society. The religious genres, impregnated with purely lyrical and rhetorical methods of self-expression (sermons, prayers, etc.), were unable to assume heroic or epic traits, because of their attitude of humility and supplication. Nevertheless, Old Kievan literature constantly endeavored to create new forms with which to express the heroism of the Russian feudal mind, to create an epic literature. The methods used in attaining this objective were various, but in the end the goal was reached. The following epic works are illustrative of this main tendency in Old Russian literature:
The Igor Tale, in which a pure lyrical style was adapted to the narrative of a recent political event
The Narrative of Batu Khan's Invasion of R'azan', in which a slightly rhythmical prose was interwoven with clearly emotional passages
The Discourse on the Ruin of the Land of Rus', in which the past is glorified in the lamentatory style of Serapion of Vladimir
The Don Tale, an adaptation of The Igor Tale style to an event of prime historical importance.

THE IGOR TALE

The Igor Tale, or The Tale of Igor's Expedition, was the earliest and most notable result of the heroic and epic trends in Old Russian literature. Written about 1187 by an anonymous poet, it was based upon an historical event: the unsuccessful expedition undertaken in 1185 against the nomads of the steppes by Prince Igor of Novgorod-Seversk; his brother, Prince Vsevolod of Trubčevsk; his son, Prince Vladimir of Putivl'; and his nephew, Prince Sv'atoslav of Ryl'sk. It is characteristic of the nature of Old Russian literature that not a glorious victory, but a national disaster was selected as the theme for the first Russian

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Anthology of Old Russian Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Introductton v
  • Contents xix
  • Abbreviations xxii
  • Old Kievan Literature 1
  • Annalistic Literature 3
  • Hagiography 34
  • Rhetoric and Lyricism 109
  • Heroic and Epic Literature 153
  • Old Muscovite Literature 187
  • Hagiography 189
  • Historiography 239
  • New Muscovite Literature 315
  • Historiography 317
  • Hagiography 380
  • Fiction 425
  • Glossary 471
  • Index of Authors and Titles 505
  • Index of Names 511
  • Genealogical Tables 529
  • Errata 541
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