Sobolev N. I. Literary history of the tale of st. abraham: textual criticism, poetics // Studia Humanitatis Borealis / Северные гуманитарные исследования. 2014. № 1. С. 64–68.

Выпуск № 1 (2014)


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Literary history of the tale of st. abraham: textual criticism, poetics

PhD in Philology, Senior Lecturer,
Department of Russian Literature and Journalism, Philological Faculty,
Ключевые слова:
Old Russian literature
translational literature history in Russia
textual criticism
St. Abraham
Ephrem the Syrian
Аннотация: The article is devoted to the literary history of The Tale of St. Abraham, which is ascribed to Ephrem the Syrian. The Tale was widely spread in the Christian tradition of the West and the East. The article summarizes the results of a study of the 60 Slavic manuscripts of the Tale (Russian, Bulgarian, and Serbian), as well as its publications in the XVII—XIX centuries in Syriac, Greek, Latin, and Polish, which are based on early manuscripts of the Tale. As a result, textological research showed that the Tale was exposed to editing several times in its literary history. We can mark seven editions of the Tale, which are spread in the Slavonic manuscripts. The Main Edition is represented by 42 copies of the XII—XVIII centuries; the First Prologue Edition is represented by a Russian copy of the XII century; the Second Prologue Edition is represented by ten copies of the XVI—XVII centuries; the First Solovetskaya Edition is known in the handwritten tradition through two re-written copies of the XVI—XVII centuries; the Second Solovetskaya and Sofia Editions are familiar only through one re-written copy of the XVI century; the Speculum maius Edition is represented by ten copies of the 1st translation from the XVII—XVIII centuries. The copies’ analysis lets us establish its genealogy and, thus, recreate the existing history of the Tale’s text in the Ancient Rus booklore

© Петрозаводский государственный университет

Creation the translated literature’s history in Russia is an essential object of the modern literary studies. According to A. I. Sobolevsky, number of the original works in the Russian literature of the Pre—Mongol period is less than one percent. [1; 94] Translated Byzantine and Latin works quickly came into general use, predestining development of the original Old Russian literature. Hereafter, in the modern history, translated works turned out to be a literary wellspring, which many famous writers of the XIX century had appealed to.

The Tale of St. Abraham (hereafter, the Tale), which is ascribed to Ephrem the Syrian, is one of the most popular and respected translated hagiographic works in the Ancient Rus, as evidenced by a relatively big number of re-written copies (catalogue of the re-written copies of the XII—XVIII centuries contains around 60 units), and by the Tale’s impact on the original Old Russian works, such as The Life of St. Abraham of Rostov, The Life of Nilus of Stolben Island, The Life of Abraham of Smolensk, The Life of St. Stephen of Perm.[2; 12—43] [3; 537—544] Nevertheless, there are still no scientific works, dedicated to the literary history of the Tale in the Russian medieval studies. This article is aimed to filling this gap.

The Tale is written in the Syriac language. The eldest copy — Mus. Brit. cod. add. 14,644 fol. 28—44, V—VI centuries. The attribution of the work to Ephrem the Syrian was challenged by Th. J. Lamy based on the fact that this work contains the real facts of the life of St. Abraham the Great of Kidunja, who lived in the V century, whereas Ephrem the Syrian (Classic Syriac: Mār Aprêm Sûryāyâ) is a well—known representative of the Christian Syrian literature who lived in the IV century (deceased in 373 AD). [4, 5—9]

The Tale was translated into the Greek language not later than in the X century. Translation into Slavonic was accomplished in Bulgaria during the rule of Simeon I the Great in the X century. [5; 27—81] [6; 146—148, 398—405] It was attributed to Ephrem the Syrian, and, according to the Byzantine tradition, it was included in the Paraenesis (Greek: παραίνεσις — exhortation) under the number 48, along with other insightful works. The Paraenesis was widely spread all over the Rus in the XI—XVII centuries.

Around 985 AD, the edited copy of the Tale was included in the Menologion of Basil II and, in the XII century, in the Rus Lands, it was translated for the 2nd time as a part of the Synaxarion.

Owing to the translations into Latin, the Tale became familiar in Germany, Poland, and other countries of the Western Europe. In the XVI century, the changed edition of the Tale was included in the Speculum maius, in the form close to the Exempla.

In the XVII century, within the first translation of the Speculum maius, the Tale was adopted from the Polish literature into the Old Russian literature.

The history of the Tale in the Rus Lands in the XI—XVII centuries was quite complicated. On the one hand, there was a traditional form for such works in the miscellanies of a constant structure (Prologue, Paraenesis, and Speculum maius); on the other hand, the Tale was included in the miscellanies of a combined structure where it could be presented in the changed or modified form; therefore, a lot of Tale’s editions were made. As a result of a textological research of the Slavic re-written copies of the Tale, we can mark seven editions: the Main Edition, the First Prologue, the Second Prologue, the First Solovetskaya Edition, the Second Solovetskaya Edition, the Sophia Edition, and the Speculum maius Edition.1

Altogether, there were 60 copies of the Tale that existed in the Rus ‒ Syrian re-written copies published by Th. J. Lamy [4; 10—49], a Greek re-written copy of the Tale published by G.S. Assemani[7], a Polish re-written copy published in the Speculum maius in 1624 [8; 327—330] — to study its literary history.

The Tale consists of three separate parts2 typical for the Byzantine tradition of hagiography. The first part of the Tale is dedicated to the Abrahams life as a Hermit and his further holy life. Willed by the bishop, Abraham travels to a pagan settlement to turn pagans into Christianity. He lives there for three years, suffering from humiliation and beating, until pagans feel sympathy for Abraham and adopt Christianity. The second part is about Abraham going to a desert where he is tempted by the devil. The third part describes how Abraham saves his niece Maria, who he has brought up from brothel. The Tale ends with a description of the last years of Abraham and Maria’s life.


Search for the Greek script of the Tale translated into Slavic


Although there are no Slavic copies of the documents dated earlier than the XII—XIII centuries, the translation of the Tale, as it was mentioned before, can be referred to the earliest period of the Slavic writing (the X century).

One of the issues of studying the Tale is finding the original Greek script, which was translated. We are familiar with only one re-written copy of the Tale, published by G. S. Assemani [7; T. II; 4—20], which makes the whole situation quite complicated. Researchers as A. S. Arkhangelsky, G. Boykovsky, and A. P. Kadlubovsky used it as a basis to find the best reading in their monographs. However, a macro textual comparing of Assemani’s copy with the earliest Syrian copy translation (Mus. Brit. № 14,644, the V—VI centuries)3 and one of the earliest Slavic (Russian National Library, Pogodin 71a catalogue, XII—XIII centuries) copies of the Main Edition present us with many variant readings. For example, description of Abraham turning into a hermite after baptizing the people of the pagan settlement is presented only in the Greek and Slavic copies. Moreover, the Greek copy has got a richer description of the people baptized by Abraham. There are quite many variant readings in the copies.

Can these variant readings be explained by the fact that the copy of Assemani is some another Greek edition of the Tale and not the one that was taken as a basis for the translation into Slavic? While analyzing various readings, one can get the impression that a Greek copyist changed the text on purpose to make it more space. Can it be explained by the fact that the Greek original later than the X century was exposed to changes, which are reflected in the copy of Assemani, and that is why the familiar Greek copy is full of secondary readings? Only one thing is clear: the Assemani’s copy is not the document that was translated into Slavic. Therefore, the issue of finding the exact Greek copy, which was translated into Slavic, remains open.

Comparison of the Pogodin 71a catalogue, Russian National Library, with the translation of the earliest Syrian copy showed that the texts’ composition is identical. Therefore, it is possible to speak not only of genetic bond between the Pogodin 71a catalogue and the oldest Syrian re-written copy, but also of the supposition that the assumed Greek original of the Tale occurred as a result of a precise translation of the from Syrian into Greek, which was further precisely translated into Slavic.


The Main Edition


The Main Edition (ME) is represented by 42 re-written copies of the XII—XVIII centuries (Elder re-written copies of the Russian National Library, Pogodin 71а catalogue, until 1288, Russian State Library, Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius catalogue 7, XIII century).4 The presence of ME in the Slavic tradition is connected with the Paraenesis of Ephrem the Syrian. 33 of 42 re-written copies of ME are included in the Paraenesis where they steadily take the 48th place, being included in the number of the main articles of the miscellany. The exceptions are the following re-written copies: Russian National Library, Main Catalogue  of the Script Books F1—201, 47th place, Russian Academy of Sciences Library, Main catalogue  31.7.2 – 49th. The title in the copies of the Paraenesis is constantly the same (“The Tale of St. Abraham”); only one re-written copy – Russian National Library, Solovetskoe 173 catalogue (173) ‒ has a different title The Tale of St. Abraham and his foster daughter Maria, which occurred under the impact of poetical Prologue. All other ME re-written copies are included in the miscellanies of combined structure; they have inessential differences. Titles of many re-written copies of the XV century were changed under the impact of the Prologue editions. For example, text of the New Collection of Script Books, I, F—149, Russian National Library, is entitled The Life of Abraham the Hermit and Maria the Blessed; text if the Main Collection of Ancient Artifacts, Q—50, Russian National Library, is titled The Life and Acts of Moral Courage of Reverend Abraham the Hermit (impact of the Prologue’s 2nd edition). The text’s ending of the Sinodalnoe 1063/4 catalogue, State History Museum, is missing. All re-written copies of ME included in the miscellanies of combined structure have missing fragments, because of the mistakes made by writers.

Traditionally the Tale is presented together with The Tale of Joseph and The Tale of Antichrist by Ephrem the Syrian, the Life of Mary of Egypt, The Ladder by John Climacus, insightful words of John Chrysostom, words of Athanasius of Alexandria, of Dorotheus of Gaza, patericons. The presence of the Tale in the line with the works of the Reverend Fathers shows that its readers in the Ancient Rus considered it to be one of the most authoritative and readable works.


The First Prologue Edition (FPE)


The Prologue Editions were widely spread in the handwritten tradition. A Prologue originates from the Byzantine Synaxarions; the lives of the Saints are arranged there according to the days they are remembered in church. In the Rus, the Prologue became the most favorite book to read. There are more than three thousand Prologues scripts of various types. There are three main types of an ordinary prologue: the Slavic Synaxarion, the 1st Russian edition, and the 2nd Russian edition. There is also an independent, a so—called “poetic” Prologue. The Tale is described in all types of prologue. [9]

Literary history of FPE is connected with the Synaxarion, the poetic Prologue and the 1st Edition of the Prologue.

The Slavic Synaxarion can be found only in one Russian re-written copy of the end of the XII century and in some of the Serbian and Bulgarian re-written copies of the XIII—XIV centuries. In this particular research we work with the Russian re-written copy (Russian National Library, Sofiyskoe 1324 catalogue, end of the XII century).

The Synaxarion, as well as its Byzantine source (Menologion of Basil II, around 985, together with the additions from the XI century), is a calendar corpus of lives together with the troparions for the most important Saints. October, 29 ‒ is the day of remembrance of Reverend Abraham. According to V.A. Moshin, the Synaxarion was translated not later than in the beginning of the XII century, so FPE can be dated by the XII century.

FPE, as well as the prologue stories, in general, is notable for the very short descriptions. There are no descriptions of the Abraham’s saint deeds in a pagan settlement and of demons tempting him. The maker of the Synaxarion left only the most significant episode of the Tale: the story about saving the niece Maria, which is delivered as a recitation of main events.

Such choice of an episode corresponds to the idea of a miscellany. Originally, the Synaxarion was intended for the church use (for instance, the rules of the Monastery of Stoudios ordered to read the Synaxarion during the service), that is why the Saints whose lives were included into a miscellany had to build a strict hierarchy according to their Christian act of moral courage: the apostles of pagans belonged to apostle sainthood, martyred for faith – to martyr sainthood, saints honored for monastic acts of moral courage – to reverend sainthood and so on. Apparently the acts of moral courage that were described in the lives in Synaxarion including the article about Abraham had to correspond to the sainthood that the saint belonged to. According to this, the author chooses only one event from all described in the Tale that is connected with the moral act of courage of the reverend. Abraham saves his niece at the cost of his Christian life. The Saint wears military clothes and enters wanton house where Maria is. In order not to be noticed, he drinks wine and eats meat. In such way, he breaks all monastic bans that are equal to death in monastic life. But here is the paradox of Christianity: just as Christ sacrificed himself to make amends for all people’s sins by his death and resurrect, so Abraham sacrifices his Christian life to return the lost soul to reformation path and as paradoxically as it may sound to save himself. In such way, the Saint follows the gospel commandment “Greater love has no man than this, that a man gives up his life for his friends” (John 15:13). At the same time, the author of edition omits the apostle act of moral courage of Abraham who baptized pagan settlers. That is why Abraham expectedly called “reverend” in the title of FPE as opposed to ME where he is called the Saint. The question of author’s choice of Saint’s act of moral courage can be explained by the assumption that in the Story Abraham’s saving of Maria is a top of his service because in this act of moral courage he is compared with the Savior. That is why Maria’s saving is infinitely more serious than his apostle acts.

The creation of the Prologue’s 1st edition dated from the beginning of the XIII century; it is familiar only in the Russian re-written copies. [9] The copies of the State History Museum, Sinodalnoe 239, 240 catalogue s, were used during the research.

1st edition is bigger than the Synaxarion; under each number there is a patericon story or a lection. The section with the lives fully corresponds to the Synaxarion; and the article for October, 29, dedicated to Abraham, also fully corresponds to the article from the Synaxarion.

The Poetical Prologue is an independent type of a prologue. It was not widely spread in Russia. The Poetical Prologue of the New Jerusalem Rules was translated from Greek in Serbia in the XIV century. It is called “poetical” because before the articles of lives there were short poems honoring the Saints. (In this research the Poetical Prologue is presented by 2 copies of the XVI—XVII centuries). Greek copy of the Poetical Prologue is unavailable.

The article about Abraham in the Poetical Prologue compared to the article from the Synaxarion has two differences: firstly, before the story about Abraham there is a poem: “Telesnaya vsya oudesa Avraamie oumertvil oumer zhitelstvouyeshi s besplotnymi angely ostavl’she telesnye rachitelya Marie dushevnomu rachitelyu pripletayeshi”; secondly, the titles of the articles differ:

The Synaxarion

(re-written copy, Sofiyskoe 1324 catalogue,
Russian National Library)

Pamyati prepodobnago Avraamiya         


The Poetical Prologue

(re-written copy, Kirillo—Belozersky Monastery
12/1251 catalogue, Russian National Library)

Prepodobnago ottsa nashego Avraamiya

I Marii agnepasii yego

 In the Poetical Prologue, the commemoration of the Abraham’s reclaimed niece Maria is actually legalized, although, there is nothing said about Maria’s penance. Apparently, the Tale, being so widely spread in the Greek and Slavic traditions, was so well—known that the author didn’t see proper to mention why Maria belonged to sainthood.


The Second Prologue Edition of the Tale (SPE)

 SPE is read only as a part of the Second Edition of the Prologue.

 2nd Edition of the Prologue was made in the end of the XII century in Turov (During research 10 re-written copies of the XVI—XVII centuries are used). The revision of the Synaxarion is used as a basis for this edition. It is supposed that bishop Cyril of Turov, famous writer and church activist, was the initiator of this revision. The 2nd Edition is a result of a full and consistent revision of the Synaxarion. Many articles were retrieved, some were removed to another number, new Saints were added, and the Synaxarion lives were enlarged or replaced by the new ones.

 The article about Abraham, as well as in the Synaxarion, is dated October, 29, but the title and the content were fairly changed. For the first time, Abraham is called the Hermit in the title. Later due to the wide expansion of the 2nd edition of the Prologue, this honorable name got into some re-written copies of ME of the end of the XV—XVI centuries primarily from the miscellanies of combined structure. The content of the article of SPE is drastically changed: the episode about Abraham’s saint deeds is added, some factual differences are present. If in SPE it is said that Abraham left the town for three courses then there is nothing mentioned about it in FPE. According to FPE Abraham spent nine years in hermitage, according to SPE he spent ten years like that and so on. Generally, the text of SPE is more stylistically marked, full of additional details:

The Synaxarion

(re-written copy of the Sofiyskoe 1324 catalogue, Russian National Library)

Sklyuchisya zavistiyu besovskoyu vpasti i vpade I v bloudnoye posem i v gostin’nitsyu i ti s bludnitsami

The 2nd Edition of the Prologue


(re-written copy of the Main Collection of Script Books FI—268, Russian National Library)

Sklyuchisya ei zavist’yu besovskoyu vpasti v bloud i otbezhi strama radi ot roditelya svoego i v gorshe yavisa vsyade i ide vo in grad i prebyst’ v gostinitsy c bludnitsami zlaya deyushche


 The difference of the 2nd Edition is also in opposition with the idea of the Synaxarion as the result of greater number of episodes included in the article: reverend Abraham commits not only a saint but also monastic act of moral courage so he is honored as a reverend. It can be supposedly explained by the idea of the 2nd Edition of the Prologue. In the Rus, in contrast to Byzantium, the Prologue was not so much liturgical as favorite book for reading. This tendency is supported by the 2nd Edition of the Prologue, which due to the mentioned changes factually turned into an orthodox encyclopedia. That is why the author of the 2nd Edition of the Prologue included as many miracles and episodes from the lives of the saints into the lives section as possible, without taking the original idea of the Synaxarion into consideration.

The Prologue Editions of the Tale were mostly spread in the Old Russian writing and probably made an impact on ME. It shows that non—specialist audiences were familiar with the Tale in its Prologue editions and that the Prologue promoted the Tale’s popularity with the Old Russian writing.


The First Solovetskaya edition (FSE)


FSE is known in the handwritten tradition through two re-written copies of the XVI—XVII centuries. (Russian National Library, Solovetskoe 833/943 catalogue, Russian Academy of Sciences Library, Arkhangelskoe 878 C catalogue). Both copies are in the miscellanies of combined structure. The oldest copy of the Russian National Library, Solovetskoe 833/943 catalogue of the XVI century is not an autograph, because it contains mistakes, which occurred during copying. The copies have some inessential various readings. In title:


Russian National Library, Solovetskoe 833/943 catalogue

Ot zhitiya Avraamiya Zatvornika perechen’, kako diavola pobedi


Russian Academy of Sciences Library, Arkhangelskoe 878 C catalogue

Slovo o zhitii Avraamiya Zatvornika Pechyorskago, kako Diavola pobedi



The reading Pechyorskago in (Russian Academy of Sciences Library, Arkhangelskoe 878 C catalogue) stands out because it is not connected with the text of the Tale. Abraham lived not in peshchera (cave) but in hizhina (hut). Moreover, we don’t meet this reading in any other copy. It can be explained by writer’s misreading who has probably read Pechyorskogo instead of perechen due to some similarity in letter forms. It also signifies that the copyist was not familiar with ME and that is why he made a mistake that turned out to be factual.


Other various readings also signify the replication of copy from the Arkhanelskoe 878 C catalogue , Russian Academy of Sciences Library:

Russian National Library, Pogodin 71a catalogue   Russian National Library, Solovetskoe 883/943 catalogue




Russian Academy of Sciences Library, Arkhangelskoe 878 C catalogue



ni vo vnynie oulozhiti, ni mysli go ostaviti ot Boga


ni vo ounyniie vlozhiti ni pomysly ego Bogaostaviti


ni vo unynie vlozhit ni pomysly ego ostavista


 The Solovetskoe 833/943 catalogue, Russian National Library, gradually repeats the oldest copy of ME from the Pogodin 71a catalogue, Russian National Library (excluding the metathesis in “Boga ostaviti”), whereas the copy from the Arkhangelskoe 878 C catalogue, Russian Academy of Sciences, contains derivative readings: missing of the word “Boga” and the wrong form of the word “ostavista” (the dual number, 3rd person) instead of “ostaviti” (the Infinitive).

Russian National Library, Pogodin 71a catalogue


Russian National Library, Solovetskoe 833/943 catalogue


Russian Academy of Sciences Library

Arkhangelskoe 878 C catalogue

pobezhyu i sblazn stvoryu im


pobezhi ya i soblazi sotvoryu im


pobezhi ya i soblazn sotvoryu im


 The copy of the Arkhangelskoe C catalogue, Russian Academy of Sciences Library, contains the secondary reading: the pronoun “ya” (I) is added. Copies from both Solovetskoe 833/943 catalogue , Russian National Library, and Arkhangelskoe 878 C catalogue, Russian Academy of Sciences Library, have similar various reading to the copy from the Pogodin 71a catalogue , Russian National Library, the pronoun “ya” (I) is also added (“pobezhi ya”).

Russian National Library, Pogodin 71a catalogue


Russian National Library, Solovetskoe 833/943 catalogue


Russian Academy of Sciences Library, Arkhangelskoe 878 C catalogue


i vzpiv sotona reche o lyute mne


i vozopiv satana reche ou lyuteye mne


vozopiv satana ou lyuteye mne


If the copy from the Solovetskoe 833/943 catalogue, Russian National Library, repeats the copy of the Pogodin 71a catalogue, Russian National Library, then the word “reche” in the copy of the Arkhangelskoe 878 C catalogue , Russian Academy of Sciences Library, is missing.

So the copy of the Arkhangelskoe 878 C catalogue, Russian Academy of Sciences Library, is obviously secondary to the one from the Solovetskoe 833/943 catalogue, which contains more archetypical readings and dates to the archetype closer to FSE.

The copy of ME served as a basis for FSE because the copies of FSE and ME contain only inessential various readings, which can be explained by the writers’ mistakes.

The time of creation the edition (around the end of the XV – beginning of the XVI century) can be detected by its title where Abraham is called the “Hermit”, which is a sign of the SPE’s impact. As it was previously mentioned, Abraham is called the “Hermit” in the titles of many texts of the Tale of ME, which are a part of miscellanies of combined structure of the end of the XV – beginning of the XVI centuries, under the impact of SPE. This means that FSE was made on the basis of the copy of ME, which originates from a miscellany of combined structure of the end of the XV – beginning of the VI centuries.

The content of FSE is an intentional linguistic review of ME. The author of FSE excluded the first and the last parts of ME and left the central part about demons tempting Abraham without any change. Besides, the edition’s author wasn’t aimed at smoothing the inconsistencies that occurred as a result of editing. For instance the story suddenly begins with “omolivsya idee v keliyu svoyu ide zhe be prezhde, sotvori zhe inu keliyu malu v neyudi pervyya…” and ends also illogically for a life’s canon: “Smotreniye bozhiye be v pyat’ bo desyat’ let chernechestva yego posluzhisha yemu vlasyanyya rizy yezhe noshashe”. The part, which is left without any context, is a “catalogue” with the episodes describing how devils differently disguised came to the Saint and wanted to tempt him or kill him, but he was always stronger than that due to his prayers and following monastic rules. Due to its briefness the “catalogue” reminds of a patericon story with the aim of showing the weakness of pitch—dark world comparing to the person who keeps God’s commandments.

The Second Solovetskaya Edition (SSE)

SSE is familiar only through one re-written copy of the XVI century from the Solovetskoe 209/843 catalogue, Russian National Library. This copy is included in the same miscellany as The Ladder by John Climacus. The date of the creation remains unknown. The top border might be the XVI century, which is the time of making the manuscript. The text contains a lot of defects. The title of the article differs from ME which this text dates back to:

Russian National Library, Pogodin 71a catalogue


Russian National Library, Solovetskoe 209/843 catalogue


Povest’ blazhennogo Yefrema o svyatom Avraamii


Povest’ blazhennogo Yefrema Sirina o svyatom otsy Avrami



In the copy of the Solovetskoe 209/843, Russian National Library, the words Sirina and otsy are added.

By the nature of transformations made by the author of edition SSE can be compared only with FSE. As well as in FSE the author of SSE leaves only part of the Tale about Abraham being tempted by devils but quantitatively the narration is even more cut. As a matter of fact SSE is a description of temptations which the saint suffered. With its shortness and demonology images intension it is close to a patericon story.

The appearance of such an edition may be partially explained by the ideology of the miscellany. The main work of the miscellany is The Ladder (an insight to monastic life of John Climacus). John put in his work the principle of spiritual development of a person expressed in 30 steps (23 are dedicated to sins and 7 to virtues). The spiritual development may be realized only in a monastic “supernatural” life. Among the types of monastic life John names three: alone, with one or two cellmates and in a cenobium. SSE could be an illustration to the first type of monastic life and at the same time a warning of the dangers of solitary life. John Climacus himself considered the second variant to be royal, the best in achieving the spiritual development.


The Sofia Edition (SE)

SE is familiar in one re-written copy of the XVI century – Russian National Library, Sofiyskoe 1420 catalogue. The text of SE is connected with ME, which can be proved by gradual repetition of extracts from the text from ME by SE. These extracts were not edited. The copy from the Sofiyskoe 1420 catalogue, Russian National Library, is not an autograph because it contains a lot of defects. It is known from the notes of the owner that the manuscript belonged to the library of the Kirillo—Belozersky Monastery (“The Miscellany Book of Kirillo—Belozersky Monastery”) where many of the Paraenesis re-written copies came from. That is why it is logical to suppose that SE itself came from the Kirillo—Belozersky Monastery.

The text of SE is a definite remake of ME. The title “Povest’ blazhennogo Yefrema o svyatem Avraamii izhe sotvori na starosti svoyu” reflects the aim and the nature of the remaking. From the whole text of ME the author leaves only the introduction about the Saint leaving his home and the conclusion where the saving of Maria by Abraham is described unchanged or changed a little. In the first part of the edition, the author describes very shortly: “Mnogo chernechestva yego v dobre ispovedanii i chyudesa velie sodela i tserkov’ vo yellinekh sotvori i veru yellinskuyu k Bogou prevrati i mnogy ot yellini srasti pretre i oukrepi ye”. The second part is omitted. The stitches which occurred as a result of editing are carefully smoothed. As a result of all, we have a story composed in accordance with the life canon. Short introduction and epilogue frame the main part about the Saint’s act of moral courage.

The main topic of SE is an omnipotence of confession. The image of repenting Maria was close to the psychology of a simple person who equaled himself with her. At the same time, Abraham is simple and understandable to the reader in the episodes of Maria’s saving as a dearest and nearest person.

All the new things make SE more interesting and close to the reader.


The Speculum Maius Edition (SME)


SME is closely connected with the handwritten tradition of the Speculum maius, miscellany of legends and lections of moral content. SME was a part of the life section of the miscellany. Speculum maius was translated twice from Polish into Russian in the end of the XVII century. The Polish book Wielkie Zwierciadlo Rrzikladow dates back to the famous Latin miscellany Speculum exemplorum ex diversis libris in unam laboriose collectum, published in the Netherlands in 1481—1591.[10; 5] Speculum… is made by an unknown monk as a miscellany of examples for catholic preachers around 1480. It contains 1266 tales. The Tale got into the miscellany in the framework of the early Christian Byzantine texts. The time of making the edition is unknown because before the Tale was included in Speculum… it might have been remade. At the end of the XVI – the beginning of the XVII century, the other catholic monk John Major added 160 new examples to the miscellany, put the whole material into alphabetically ordered headlines and added his own comments. John Major entitled the miscellany Speculum Magnum exemplorum ex diversis libris in unam laboriose collectum. During the XVII century, the miscellany was filled up many times. Speculum Magnum exemplorum… was translated into Polish in Krakow by Simon Vysotsky who made a small change in the miscellany’s content. It was published in this changed version in 1612. SME is under number 1346 in this miscellany. During the XVII century, the miscellany was published several times. [11; 165]

The first Russian translation of Speculum maius took place in 1676—1677 at the direction of Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich (Alexis of Russia) by translators of Polish prikaz. [12; 27—29] The translation was made from the Krakow edition of 1633 and was notable for closeness to the Polish original: the detailed contents and extensive title were saved. At the same time, there were some differences: the contents placed not in alphabetical order, names are changed, and the Catholic Church realia vocabulary is excluded. [10; 42—44] But the main difference is in the shortening miscellany’s size caused by incompleteness of translation. [13] Nevertheless, SME got into the first translation of Speculum maius in Mercifulness section and wasn’t exposed to any essential changes by translation into Russian.

There are 10 familiar copies of Speculum maius of the 1st translation from the XVII—XVIII centuries.[12; 156—171] Special attention should be paid to the fact that in some copies of Speculum maius of the 1st translation, SME was replaced by references to the Prologue or the Paraenesis. For instance, the copy of the Pogodin 1382 catalogue, in Russian National Library, says: “O Avraame Pustynnitse, izhe spase Mariyu ot bluda, dshcher brata svoyego, Zri Prolog”. The copy of the Dvinskoe 3 catalogue, In Russian Academy of Sciences Library, says: “O Avraamii Pustynnitse, izhe spase Mariyu ot bluda, dshcher brata svoyego, Zri Prolog, oktovriya v den KI. A prostranneye vo Yefreme”. P.V. Vladimirov explains it by the fact that the Tale was already familiar and popular in Russia and that is why the copyist didn’t see it right to re—write in once again. He only made a reference to the other sources. [10; 55—56] E.K. Romodanovskaya considers this fact to be strong for the credibility of translated miscellany. [11; 168]

The peculiarity of SME is in the fact that it contains only one third of the whole text of the artifact. SME describes Maria’s saving by Abraham. It can be seen in the title: “O Avraame pustynnitse, izhe spase Mariyu ot bluda, dshcher brata svoyego”.

SME repeats ME in the description of the saving.

The comparing of the Polish and the Russian texts of SME shows that the translation into Russian was made literally.

The change of the episode from the whole Tale can be explained by the gradual orientation on catalogue of small interesting stories in the content of the miscellany. In these stories “the plot is told in such a way that the reader clearly sees religious and moral sense of the described events”.[14; 411] The episode with Maria’s saving ideally goes in accordance with these principles because it consists of some adventurous collisions which gives an author the possibility to intelligibly present theological didactics.

Textological research showed that the Story was exposed to editing several times in its literary history. We can mark seven editions, which can be grouped by the nature of editing to:


1)         The Prologue Editions – texts, which contain a very short hagiographical narration. These texts are connected with the idea of the Prologue by function and join the Prologue article genre.

2)         FSE, SSE, SME contain more space texts which occurred as a result of exception some of the parts of ME.


Although both edition groups existed in different types of miscellanies we managed to find out the impact of the Prologue Editions on ME, FSE and SSE which shows that they were more familiar and popular and as a result had a greater impact on literary fortune of the Story.

 Aiming at uniformity of terminology we take the translations of the Tale into Slavic and the editions appeared in the Russian handwritten tradition on the basis of some translations as separate editions.




  1. Sobolevsky A. I., The Old Russian Translationed Literature: Lithographic Course of Lectures, St. Petersburg, 1892—1893.
  2. Kadlubovsky A. P., The Outlines of the Old Russian Literature History of Lives of the Saints, Warsaw, 1902.
  3. Sobolev N. I., The problem of the Literary Sources of The Life of Saint Stephen of Perm, Works of the Old Russian Literature Department, Issue 52, St. Petersburg, 2001,
  4. Lamy Th. J., Acta Beati Abrahae Kidunaiae Monachi Aramaice, Analecta Bollandiana, Paris, Bruxelles, 1891. T. 10. Fasc. 1.
  5. Sreznevsky I. I., Information and Notes, St. Petersburg, 1867. T. 1, Issue 1, # 5—9.
  6.  Sreznevsky I. I., Ancient Slavic Artifacts of Yus Writing. St. Petersburg, 1868.
  7. Assemani G, Sancti patris nostri Ephrem Syri opera omnia quae exstant, Græce, Syriace, Latine, Roma, 1732—1746. T. 2. V. 4—20.
  8. Welke Zwercadlo Przykladow. Krakowie, 1624.
  9. Fet E. A., Prologue, Dictionary of Scribes and Booklore of Ancient Rus. Leningrad, 1988. Issue 2. P. 1.

10.Vladimirov P. V., Speculum Maius: From Russian Translated Literature History of the XVII Century. Moscow, 1884.

11.Romodanovskaya E. K., Speculum Maius, The Dictionary of Scribes and Booklore of Ancient Rus. Leningrad, 1992. Issue 3. P. 1.

12.Derzhavina O. A., “Speculum Maius” and Its Fortune on Russian Land. Moscow, 1965. 439 p.

13.Walczak—Sroczynska B., Wielkie Zwierciadlo Przykladow – drzieje tekstologiczne, Slavia Orientalis. 1976. №4.

14. Adrianova—Perets V. P., Translated Western Stories, Russian Literature History. Moscow; Leningrad, 1948. T. 2. P. 2.

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