Russian Primary Chronicle

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Tale of Bygone Years in Radzivill Chronicle

The Primary Chronicle (Template:Lang-cu; Russian: Пóвесть временны́х лет, Povest' vremennykh let; Template:Lang-uk, Povist' vrem'anykh lit; Template:Lang-be Apovests' minulikh chasoũ often translated into English as Tale of Bygone Years), or Russian Primary Chronicle,[1] is a history of Kievan Rus' from about 850 to 1110, originally compiled in Kiev about 1113.

Contents

Three editions

The original compilation was long considered to be the work of a monk named Nestor and hence was formerly referred to as Nestor's Chronicle or Nestor's manuscript. His many sources included earlier (now-lost) Slavonic chronicles, the Byzantine annals of John Malalas and George Hamartolus, native legends and Norse sagas, several Greek religious texts, Rus-Byzantine treaties, and oral accounts of Yan Vyshatich and other military leaders. Nestor worked at the court of Sviatopolk II of Kiev and probably shared his pro-Scandinavian policies.

The early part is rich in anecdotal stories, among which are the arrival of the three Varangian brothers, the founding of Kiev, the murder of Askold and Dir, the death of Oleg, who was killed by a serpent concealed in the skeleton of his horse, and the vengeance taken by Olga, the wife of Igor, on the Drevlians, who had murdered her husband. The account of the labors of Saints Cyril and Methodius among the Slavic peoples is also very interesting, and to Nestor we owe the tale of the summary way in which Vladimir the Great suppressed the worship of Perun and other traditional gods at Kiev.

In the year 1116, Nestor's text was extensively edited by hegumen Sylvester who appended his name at the end of the chronicle. As Vladimir Monomakh was the patron of the village of Vydubychi where his monastery is situated, the new edition glorified that prince and made him the central figure of later narrative. This second version of Nestor's work is preserved in the Laurentian codex (see below).

A third edition followed two years later and centered on the person of Vladimir's son and heir, Mstislav the Great. The author of this revision could have been Greek, for he corrected and updated much data on Byzantine affairs. This latest revision of Nestor's work is preserved in the Hypatian codex (see below).

Two manuscripts

Because the original of the chronicle as well as the earliest known copies (the Laurentian codex and the Hypatian codex) are lost, it is difficult to establish the original content of the chronicle, word by word.

The Laurentian codex was copied by the Nizhegorod monk Laurentius for the Prince Dmitry Konstantinovich in 1377. The original text he used was a lost codex compiled for the Grand Duke Mikhail of Tver in 1305. The account continues until 1305, but the years 898-922, 1263-83 and 1288-94 are missing for reasons unknown. The manuscript was acquired by the famous Count Musin-Pushkin in 1792 and subsequently presented to the National Library of Russia in St Petersburg.

The Hypatian codex was discovered at the Ipatiev Monastery of Kostroma by the Russian historian Nikolay Karamzin. The Hypatian manuscript dates to the 15th century, and incorporates much information from the lost 12th-century Kievan and 13th-century Halychian chronicles. The language of this work is the East Slavic version of Church Slavonic language with many additional irregular east-slavisms (like other east-slavic codices of the time).

Numerous monographs and published versions of the chronicle have been made, the earliest known being in 1767. Aleksey Shakhmatov published a pioneering textological analysis of the narrative in 1908. Dmitry Likhachev and other Soviet scholars partly revisited his findings. Their versions attempted to reconstruct the pre-Nestorian chronicle, compiled at the court of Yaroslav the Wise in the mid-11th century.

Assessment

Unlike many other medieval chronicles written by European monks, the Tale of Bygone Years is unique as the only written testimony on the earliest history of East Slavic peoples. Its comprehensive account of the history of Kievan Rus is unmatched in other sources, although important correctives are provided by the Novgorod First Chronicle. It is also valuable as a prime example of the Old East Slavonic literature.

References

  • A collation of the chronicle by Donald Ostrowski in Cyrillic is available at http://hudce7.harvard.edu/~ostrowski/pvl/ together with an erudite and lengthy introduction in English. This is an interlinear collation including the five main manuscript witnesses, as well as a new paradosis, or reconstruction of the original.
  • There is an English translation and commentary by Samuel Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor, The Russian Primary Chronicle. Medieval Academy of America Publication No. 60 (Cambridge: Mediaeval Academy, 1953).
  • The main codices (Laurentian, Hypatian, Novgorodian) are available in Cyrillic on http://litopys.org.ua/
  • http://www.uoregon.edu/~kimball/chronicle.htm Excerpts of primary chronicle, including founding of Novgorod by Rus, Attacks on Byzantines, and Conversion of Vladimir. Also mentions several slavic tribes by name.

Further reading

Source

References

See also

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