World Academy of Carpatho-Rusyn Culture


Literature, Early manuscripts

Literature, Early manuscripts — written documents, primarily ecclesiastical texts, ranging from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century. Although authentic documents of Carpathian origin go back only as far as the sixteenth century, surviving fragments of texts from earlier times and historical evidence suggest the existence of literary activity in *Carpathian Rus’ as early as the tenth or eleventh century. In addition to liturgical books, the principal genres of early writing were sermons, hagiography, polemics, chronicles, and spiritual and secular songs. The typical book in the Carpathian region was a collection of heterogeneous texts. Up to the fifteenth century, Carpatho-Rusyn manuscripts belong to the supranational *Church Slavonic linguistic tradition that had its origins in the Balkan Slavic area and are an expression of the widespread Slavic religious and cultural community. However, as scribes produced new copies of manuscripts, they introduced regional peculiarities into the unified literary language. From the sixteenth century Carpatho-Rusyn texts represent local variants of the Church Slavonic tradition and manifest distinctive linguistic and cultural features.

In the early years of Slavic Christianity, most written literature consisted of translations based on ancient liturgical models. It is possible that copies of religious texts from the *Constantine/Cyril and Methodian mission were available in fortified Subcarpathian towns such as Uzhhorod, Mukachevo, Khust, and Vyshkovo. It has also been suggested that certain *Glagolitic translations and Czech vitae may have been copied in Carpathian Rus’. However, no Carpatho-Rusyn written monuments, translated or original, survive from the ninth, tenth, or eleventh centuries. Decades of wars, catastrophes, and religious struggles in the region resulted in the rampant destruction of ancient monuments. The few surviving texts contain hints that many more once existed. For example, the “Church Slavonic charter” (Tserkovnoslavianskaia hramota) of 1404 was written on a piece of parchment that was later used as the cover of a Latin manuscript book. This secular document confirms the grant of land by the Maramorosh voevoda Balitsa to the *Hrushevo monastery. Written in Sighet, the language of the text is a Bulgarian recension of Church Slavonic, with admixtures of linguistic elements from local Subcarpathian dialects.

The oldest dated Carpatho-Rusyn documents are the Mukachevo and Imstychovo fragments of the gospel and minei (monthly readings) copied from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. The origins of the Mukachevo Psalter, a copy of a fifteenth-century South Slavic text, are uncertain. Traces of the Romanian language suggest that the Psalter may have been copied outside of Carpathian Rus’, although the language would not be inconsistent with authorship in the Hrushevo monastery. The Uzhhorod polustav, a 209-page collection of daily prayers and monastery rules from the second half of the fourteenth century, was intended for use by monks and reveals few traces of the local dialect. The Uzhhorod text is believed to have been copied from a polustav of the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev, which may have been brought to Carpathian Rus’ by a monk in the retinue of Fedor *Koriatovych. Marginal notes made at a later time in Romanian and ungrammatical Hungarian lead researchers to believe that the Uzhhorod polustav belonged at one time to the Hrushevo monastery. Another important monument from this period is the Subcarpathian or Korolevo Gospel from 1401, which bears the name of the scribe, the date, and the name of the village where it was copied. Written in a fine, careful hand with colored ornamentation, the manuscript is in Church Slavonic, interspersed with East Slavic dialectalisms and elements of Rusyn vernacular. An appended document, in which the patron, Shtefan Vints’, presents the gospel to the local church, is one of the oldest Subcarpathian documents written under the influence of vernacular Rusyn. Other documents of translated literature copied in Carpathian Rus’ include the fifteenth-century Uzhhorod minei for feast days, as well as numerous minei, gospels, epistles, prayerbooks, and other service books from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Translated literature from the Lemko Region includes the following manuscripts, all from the sixteenth century: the Szlachtowa Ievangeliia (1542), the Wojkowa Apostol, the Krynica Ievanheliia, and the Liturgikon from Kostarowce. Particularly noteworthy was the activity of the eighteenth-century priest Ioann *Pryslopskii, from Kamienna, who translated numerous religious texts into Lemko vernacular.

While the official religious culture stressed the exact transcription of the revealed word of God in the sacred Church Slavonic language, from the sixteenth century there is evidence of the development of a distinct national character in the language and style of the so-called prology, miscellanies and interpretive epistles, which became the most popular forms of religious literature. The term prolog, known throughout Kievan Rus’ from the twelfth century, refers to a collection of short hagiographic compositions arranged according to the calendar of saints. In time, prology became popular reading outside of church, and the hagiographic material was supplemented by didactic and narrative writings. The sixteenth-century Tereblia prolog was copied in Carpathian Rus’ from such a diverse source. It consisted of 12 volumes, one for each month, of which only 416 pages from the September volume have survived. While half of the material in the Tereblia prolog represents traditional saints’ lives, there are also numerous episodes from individual vitae written in an entertaining narrative style, as well as short, edifying moral stories. Moreover, much of the material in the Tereblia prolog comes from legends, tales, fables, and apocrypha. The language, which differs according to the individual text, is basically Church Slavonic of the East Slavic recension, with numerous Rusyn dialectalisms.

Another popular form of religious literature was the interpretive gospel, or postilla (from the Latin post illa verba, “after these words”). In these collections of readings for Sundays and feast days the Church Slavonic gospel texts are supplemented by didactic interpretations intended as sermons and written in the Rusyn vernacular. This linguistic compromise reflects the belief that only Church Slavonic was an appropriate medium for divine revelation and the sacred liturgy, while, to ensure the intelligibility of Christian teaching for the masses, the vernacular was preferable. The *Gerlachov interpretive epistle from the end of the sixteenth century is the oldest Subcarpathian Rusyn popular literary document. Numerous interpretive gospels were subsequently copied in Carpathian Rus’ during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for use outside of church, as well as in religious rituals. The local copies of such texts do not reproduce the originals exactly. Rather, the scribes freely adapted from the original, adding material from various sources, including folklore, and using a language rich in Rusyn local dialectalisms and popular sayings.

The influence of the Protestant Reformation is felt in the interpretive gospels’ emphasis on vernacular speech and in their clearly polemical tone. The Odrzechowa interpretive gospel (Uchytel’na Ievhanheliia, 1666) from the Lemko Region dates from the beginning of the sixteenth century. The Niagovo postilla, which survives in two manuscript copies from the seventeenth century (which, in turn, are based on a sixteenth-century model), is considered the first original monument of Subcarpathian Rusyn literature. The author, an Orthodox priest from Maramorosh county, avoids Church Slavonic and bookish expressions in favor of the local Rusyn vernacular. The content of his texts includes references to serfdom and social injustice. Other interpretive gospels from Subcarpathian Rus’, the Presov Region, and the Lemko Region manifest their Rusyn origins in language and content, including those from Wysoczany (1635), Danylovo (1646), from Presov, Ladomirov, Uhlia, Hrabske—all from the seventeenth century—and from Kolochava and Nizny Mirosov in the eighteenth century. The language of interpretive gospels is based on the local vernacular of the scribe, often with the addition of numerous polonisms and magyarisms. The orthography varies from one text to another; some follow the Bulgarian orthography, others follow Russian. In their deviations from the original and their inclusion of local material, interpretive gospels represent the first example of original Rusyn literary creativity.

Didactic miscellanies, or sbornyky/izborniky, were intended for use outside of church rituals. The miscellanies could have the desired instructional effect only if they satisfied the aesthetic requirements of their audience. Therefore, alongside the words of the Holy Fathers of the Church appeared artistically reworked narratives from the Bible and saints’ lives, as well as secular tales and even folklore and superstitious materials. For example, the Rakoshyno sbornyk/miscellany and the Uhlia sbornyk/miscellany (known as Kliuch, the Key) from the seventeenth century contain interpretations of dreams. The Torun’ sbornyk/miscellany, copied in several hands from various old Rus’, Polish, Czech, and other sources, contains incantations against the devil, a book of predictions, and “fortune-telling answers” to be used in divination. It includes subjects of translated and original literature from East and South Slavic traditions, as well as western European ecclesiastic literature. These collections, written in a mixed and varied language that includes Church Slavonic, local dialectalisms, polonisms, and magyarisms, are an original encyclopedia of philosophy and life’s wisdom as understood by the common people. Among Carpatho-Rusyn miscellanies are those from Bonarowka (sixteenth century), Sokyrnytsia (seventeenth century), and from Litmanova and Uzhhorod (eighteenth century).

There is evidence that a Carpatho-Rusyn historical literature, centered at the *Mukachevo Monastery of St. Nicholas, existed from at least the fifteenth century, but no manuscript copies of early chronicles survive. What chronicle literature does exist consists of occasional notes on blank pages of old manuscripts or printed books, which transmit important historical information on the ownership history of the given book as well as economic and meteorological facts and historical events. The Huklyvyi Chronicle is the name applied to the notes written by local priests in the parish record book occasionally from 1660 to 1760 and regularly from 1780 to 1830. It is an account of current events observed by the compiler, who mentions such historical events as the uprising led by *Ferenc II Rakoczy, the episcopate of Bishop *Bachyns’kyi, the death of Empress Catherine II of Russia, and Russia’s defeat of Napoleon.

An exceptional secular literary monument from the seventeenth century is the “Letter of the boyar Gorzov to his son,” cited in a letter from Ivan *Fogarashii to Ivan *Orlai. Gorzov’s letter recalls in content and style the “Instruction” of the medieval Kievan grand prince, Vladimir Monomakh. It combines patriotic exhortations with practical advice in a language that mixes Slavonicisms with Rusyn vernacular vocabulary. In the Lemko Region, original Rusyn-language verses by anonymous authors are recorded in the margins of seventeenth-century minei.

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Elaine Rusinko

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