Some problems of the Second South Slavic influence in Russia

Ilya Таlev





There have been many misconceptions in the traditional understanding of the causes of the second South Slavic influence on the Russian literary language and literature of the late 14th - 15th centuries, as well as of the extent of that influence and of the mechanisms behind it. In this dissertation, the prevailing authoritative opinions and arguments on the problem have been examined, and in many cases revised, with the aid of historical counterarguments and data from the medieval Slavic literatures.


The Turkish conquest of the South Slavic countries — Bulgaria and Serbia — did not cause, nor even accelerate, the second South Slavic influence in Russia, but rather created obstacles to the cultural interchange among the Christian nations in the area and destroyed some prominent Slavic cultural centers in the Balkans. The historically unjustified linking of the Turkish conquest of Bulgaria and Serbia (which was accomplished from 1364 to 1459) with the second South Slavic influence in Russia was brought about by the assumption that there were Bulgarian and Serbian "refugees” in Russia in the late 14th - early 15th centuries. There is no historical evidence that such "refugees" existed; the appointment of two Bulgarians — Kiprian and Camblak — as Metropolitans of Muscovite Russia and Russian Lithuania, respectively, is in no way related to the Turkish





invasion of the Balkans. Only a very few Bulgarian manuscripts were brought to Russia before 1649-1655, when, in connection with Nikon's reform, Arsenij Suxanov brought to Moscow 700 Greek and South Slavic manuscripts.


The beginning of the second South Slavic influence on Russian is connected with the efforts of the Russians themselves to renovate their literature after two centuries of Tatar domination, and to create a national Russian literary language devoid of narrow dialectal grammatical and lexical features. In the initial efforts by Russians in this direction, South Slavic revised editions of Church Slavic texts were used as models, but their characteristic orthographic, grammatical and lexical features were carefully avoided in the Russian copies. The establishment of the Middle Bulgarian orthography — and, partially, grammar and lexicon — as normative for the Russian literary language at the end of the 14th and in the early 15th century, must have been caused by two factors: the authority of the Russian Metropolitans of Bulgarian origin, Kiprian and Camblak, who doubtless regarded the Middle Bulgarian language of the second half of the 14th century as the best, most truly supranational Church Slavic; and the prestige of the 14th — century Bulgarian revised editions in the monasteries of Constantinople and Mt. Athos. Almost all of the Middle Bulgarian manuscripts were copied by Russians in these centers of Church Slavic literature. This gave Russian copyists





the opportunity to learn the meanings of various South Slavic words unknown in Russia, and then to replace them by Russian or OCS synonyms in their own copies. In the same way many morphological and syntactic innovations in the South Slavic prototypes were replaced either by Russian or by OCS forms. Thus even in the first Russian copies from South Slavic manuscripts, many local features of the language were eliminated, making it a very difficult task to establish the national origin of a certain Church Slavic text from the early period — and all the more from later periods.


By the first half of the 14th century, the Middle Bulgarian literary language had acquired the characteristics of a supradialectal and, in great measure, a supranational medium of communication. Most of the OCS translations from Greek were corrected and reconciled with the texts of the originals. The revision of the Middle Bulgarian texts and language was a process which must have begun with the political unification of Bulgaria under Ioan Asěn II (1218-1241) and the re-establishment of the Church Slavic liturgy in connection with the restoration of the Tərnovo Patriarchate in 1235. This process of revision of the Church Slavic books continued through the entire 14th century; by 1337 and 1355/56, when King Ioan Aleksandar's Psalter and Four Gospels (IAG) were written, the orthographic, grammatical and lexical norms of the 14th-century Middle Bulgarian literary





language were firmly established. There is no single historical or linguistic evidence that there was ever an orthographic and linguistic reform initiated by the Tərnovo Patriarch Euthymius, or by the Hesychasts. Patriarch Euthymius was a very prolific Bulgarian writer, one of the many translators who participated in the revision of Church Slavic texts (the Služebnik, for instance), but his role in the development of the Bulgarian literary language was modest, and in the second South Slavic influence — negligible, since he wrote mostly vitae of Bulgarian saints not celebrated by the Russian Church. The role of the Bulgarian Hesychasts in the creation of a new South Slavic hagiographic genre has been much overstated, while the contribution of the 13th — 14th century Serbian hagiographic tradition has been underestimated by many scholars. The belief that the new South Slavic style was devised by the Hesychasts, and that it was confined to the vitae, is incorrect. It was actually the predominant style in the South Slavic literature of the 13th - 14th centuries, borrowed from contemporaneous Byzantine literature, and is to be found even in the language of Golden Bulls and chronicles.


Hesychasm was a mystical philosophical-religious movement, confined to the last decades of the existence of Bulgaria and Byzantium; it had nothing in common with the humanism of the Renaissance. Hesychasm never spread in Russia as a trend in the spiritual life of the country. The





Metropolitan Kiprian was never known as a Hesychast, while the Metropolitan Camblak, at the time when he became head of the Russian-Lithuanian Church, severed all ties with the Byzantine Church and accepted the leadership of Rome, thus bringing Russian Lithuania temporarily into the Western cultural sphere.


The Middle Bulgarian literary language of the 14th century, in its best samples — books made for the King, manuscripts in the prosperous monasteries in Constantinople and on Mt. Athos — was a highly normalized system. Most of the innovations in the orthography (relative to that of the known OCS texts of the 10th and 11th centuries) are in the direction of the firm establishment of morphonemic spelling rules and the avoidance, as much as possible, of phonological spellings reflecting typically Bulgarian features. The only two instances in which the scribe failed to rise above the Bulgarian phonological system were in the confusion of the letters denoting the two OCS nasal vowels, and in the use of the letters and ѣ to represent both etymological *ě and *ja. But in the latter respect, the Middle Bulgarian texts are not very different from the OCS cyrillic texts, with the exception that a new mechanical principle of distribution is consistently applied to these letters:

ѣ  after a letter denoting a consonant, in word initial position or after a letter denoting a vowel. In their orthographical devices, the good Middle Bulgarian texts of





the 14th century strikingly resemble both the classical cyrillic OCS texts and the contemporaneous Byzantine texts; this made them attractive models for imitation by Russians seeking to revive the Church Slavic literature of the older period and to bring it up to the level of the Byzantine literature of their own time.


The grammar of the best Middle Bulgarian texts is little different from the grammar of the OCS texts from Bulgaria. There are very few instances of systematic grammatical innovation in the literary language, and most of the archaic and newer alternating forms are already registered in the OCS texts. The drastic grammatical changes in the structure of the Bulgarian dialects by the 14th century are very seldom represented in the literary language; they were easily avoidable, in copying, as "mistakes". But most of the Balkan structural features of Bulgarian, appearing sporadically as freely alternating forms in the literary language, cannot be considered innovations, since they are attested in the OCS texts from Bulgaria. Moreover, they are valuable tools in determining the Bulgarian origin of a Russian or Serbian copy, when a Bulgarian copy is lacking for comparison.


The Middle Bulgarian texts differ from OCS mostly in the lexicon. While there are few neologisms in the revised OCS translations, many archaic and dialectal words, as well as foreign borrowings, have been purged from the





language, and the attested OCS words are used more precisely in different contexts, and less in free alternation, than in OCS. Thus the old translations were brought closer to the Greek originals, made more correct and improved stylistically. In the newer translations from Byzantine Greek, many neologisms, especially compound words, were created, following Greek derivational models and OCS tradition. But the problem of Middle Bulgarian word formation should be treated separately in a special study.


With all its orthographic, grammatical and lexical peculiarities, the language of the revised OCS translations, newer translations and original Slavic writings in 14th — century Bulgaria had unique qualities which made it acceptable, with slight modifications, as a supranational literary language. This is the main reason it played such a major part in the second South Slavic influence on Russian.


So far it has been impossible fully to determine the extent of the second South Slavic influence on the Russian literature of the late 14th and 15th centuries, because of the enormous number of manuscripts of the period, kept in Soviet libraries and museums. But while the influence of the Middle Bulgarian language — orthography, grammar, lexicon — has been established earlier by Sobolevskij and Lixačev, and the causes and mechanisms of this influence have been re-examined in this dissertation, any real influence of Bulgarian manuscript illumination in Russia is most





improbable, as is the very existence of a Bulgarian school of manuscript illumination, Bulgarian art and literature of the 14th century, in their best exemplars, definitely lack national characteristics: they were part of the Byzantine culture, and were prized by the Russians exactly for that reason. Thus the second South Slavic influence in Russia, generally speaking, served as a shortcut in raising the Russian literature and cultural and spiritual life to the level of their Byzantine counterparts.


[Back to Index]