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Article

An Eleventh-Century Poetic Divination from St Sophia’s, Novgorod

The Russian Review. 2018. Vol. 77. P. 183-199.

This article publishes for the first time a graffito inscription in St Sophia’s Cathedral, Novgorod. The graffito has been preserved in a plaster impression and dates to the third quarter of the eleventh century. It is unique in content and form: a divination made by one Iakov Noga, who refers to himself as “the ravens’ priest.” There are many examples of the worship of ravens as prophetic birds in Old Russian and Scandinavian culture, and there is a close parallel for the expression “ravens’ priest” in one of the verse passages in the “Saga of Hallfred the Troublesome Poet.” The text of the Novgorod graffito is poetic in nature, making use of assonance and alliteration as well as of elements of rhyme. It is of considerable interest as an example of the secular poetry of Rus' and as striking evidence of the syncretism of medieval East Slavic religious culture.