Early Russian Autobiography: Old Texts, New Readings
The article discusses research perspectives in the study of Russian pre-modern first-person writings that are commonly called autobiographies. Its first part starts with definitions of what is “early Russian” and “autobiographical,” briefly introduces six texts, gives a condensed review of the approaches to the study of these texts by literary and cultural historians from 1950s to present, and concludes with suggestion of some new perspectives to their analysis. The article argues that re-questioning of early Russian autobiographical writings is prompted by some recent important changes in the humanities and social sciences and by some insights from historians and literary scholars that study first-person texts of the Western tradition. The second part of the article is a case-study that examines one autobiographical text, The Life (Zhitie) of monk Epifanii (? – 1682) and focuses on one topic: representation of the hero/author’s pain and healing. The analysis of this representation is conducted in relation to concrete social and political contexts of the text. The study concludes that contextualizing pre-modern first-person narratives as social activities embedded in historically specific reality helps in better understanding of their meanings.
The article focuses on the most famous Russian pre-modern autobiography The Life by protopope Avvakum (1621/22–1682) to discuss his wife Natas’ja Markovna as one of its essential characters. Being the leader of the movement against religious reform in the seventeenth century Russia, Avvakum composed his life story in accordance with hagiographical canon of the martyr to send a propaganda message to his followers. The figure of Natas’ja Markovna in his text also works for this aim. In accordance with women’s hagiographic canon she is portrayed as wife and mother completely subjected to her husband’s will and doomed to share all hardships of his life. Though Avvakum’s autobiography was widely read, this religious/social context was often understood as insignificant for understanding its meanings. The same is true for the figure of the protopopica, which was used by Russian scholars and writers of the twentieth century to establish a canon of the model wife.
This study focuses on the interaction between Russian princes and nomadic Cumans (Qipčaqs, Polovcians). The starting point of our work are names and family ties of individual Cumans captured in the oldest Russian chronicles which represent "minimum quanta" of the historical information. N. M. Karamzin in the notes to his History drew attention to the fact that some of the names of the Cuman families representatives are obviously associated with Russia. These "Russian" names, in our opinion, are the most important indicator of the cross-dynastic interaction, contacts between Russia and the nomadic world. What is the composition of the corpus of Russian names of Cuman elite representatives? In essence, it consists of only a very limited number of anthroponyms: Yuri (George), Daniil, Roman, Gleb, Yaropolk, Davyd (?), Vasili. It is crucial that all of these names are regularly used as dynastic by the Rurikids in the 11th — beginning of 13th century. Most of the names, borrowed by Cumans from Russians, are Christian names. At the same time attention is drawn to the non-trivial distribution reflected in the information of sources; while discovering Christian names of some representatives of the highest Cuman nobility, we do not find any mention of the fact that any of the owners of these names, their fathers and other close male relatives took baptism. On the contrary, they are consistently characterized as pagans. Moreover, ancient chronicles contain no reports of Cuman princes taking baptism until the beginning of the Tataro-Mongol invasion. Interestingly, Christian names of those few Cumans of whose conversion we can speak more or less confidently cannot be found in any records, whether it is a Cuman wife of a Russian prince, an anonymous monk of Kiev-Pechersk Monastery, an author of an inscription on the church wall or a powerful Cuman Prince, who was baptized on the eve of the Battle of the Kalka. In our work we have sought to demonstrate that the cause of the appearence of Russian names in this environment is a cross-dynastic, intergenic anthroponymic communication, a desire to consolidate the alliance with the Russian princes, but not a conversion of the male representatives of the Cuman elite. The set of "Russian" names used by Cumans allows us to determine the circle of their "anthroponymical donors" among the Rurikids and identify a number of rules and laws on which this communication in the language of names was carried out.
Most studies of pre-modern first-person writings suggest their contextualization. One common way of placing these writings into a context is to approach them in relation to others of the kind – earlier, contemporary or later. The other way, comparatively new and much less common, is to approach them in relation to the concrete social contexts of their appearance and functioning. The article suggests that this second way is particularly helpful for understanding pre-modern first-person narratives better. To prove this suggestion it offers a reading of one such piece of writing as a constituent part of historically specific social activity. The text under discussion is the autobiographical Life (Zhitie) of a Russian monk Epifanij, written around 1675-1676. The analysis of this text is focused on one topic: representations of pain and healing. Within this topic three sections are read in detail: on the author‟s genitals, fingers and tongue. The paper concludes that although each of three refers to a different part of Epifanij‟s body and each is narrated in a different manner, all three have two major characteristics in common. First, they refer to Divine Providence as the only source of healing, and, second, they send a strong propagandist message to their readers. These characteristics support the idea that socio-historical contextualization of pre-modern first-person writings allows for deeper comprehension of their meanings and compositional structures.
This article discusses the legend of Saint Alexius from the perspective of the “discovery of the individual,” an issue that for many decades has been intensively debated by historians of European culture.
The article describes the structures of autobiographical narration in the novels and essays of the austrian writer E. Canetti.
That there were contacts between Byzantium and the Viking world is well-known in outline, and many scholars have published work on particular aspects of those contacts. But our literary sources offer very few narratives of these contacts, beyond Byzantine accounts of Rus attacks and the Rus’ Primary Chronicle’s materials on Russo-Byzantine trade-agreements and the conversion of Prince Vladimir c.988. Not only are narrative sources lacking for contacts between Byzantium and the wider Viking world: we also lack a conceptual framework within which to place the numerous and disparate items of evidence of contacts. As a result, modern works of synthesis on the subject are exceedingly rare, and seldom very effective. The book that we aim to publish soon should amount to an illuminating, authoritative synthesis. Among the contributors are archaeologists and specialists in runes, numismatics, sagas, and Byzantine literary sources.