restricted access The Grammar of Oral Narrative in the Povest vremennykh let
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Christina Y. Bethin, ed. American Contributions to the 14th International Congress of Slavists, Ohrid, September 2008. Vol. 1: Linguistics. Bloomington, IN: Slavica, 211–26. The Grammar of Oral Narrative in the Povest´ vremennykh let Alan Timberlake The Povest´ vremennykh let is a text written in a regular and polished language. Yet much of the chronicle derives from oral tales told by the druzhina. These tales span a range of genres from ancient legends through tales of heroism or perfidy (hand-tohand combat; taunting by the enemy; the druzhina’s counsel) to military reportage.1 The paradoxical fact that the content of the Povest´ vremennykh let is oral but its form, written, raises questions about the mechanism whereby these tales were written down and about the language used in the oral tales and in their written reflexes. We know that the content is based on oral tales because the chroniclers sometimes tell us who their sources were. The most notable case is the chronicler who composed the Nachal´nyi svod of the early 1090s and continued writing annalistic entries thereafter. Recording the death of Ian at 90 years of age (in 1106), this chronicler states: “^ !g"#$g % &'( )!#"& *+#,g*& *+r-&.!· g$g % ,/%*&.! , +h0#/%*&!1% *g)1· ^ !g"#$g *+r-&.!! ” (Lvr 281.10–12).2 In 1093, when Sviatoslav Iziaslavich made the intemperate recommendation that Rus engage the invading Polovtsy, “/2%*0#!.3 *#,h03 *g)3 *)r*+g!%% )3$%· "!1 % /2#4%%” (Lvr 219.22–23). This “prudent man” Ian was the chronicler’s source for the reports of the conflicts through the 1090s. Elsewhere, chroniclers indicate their eyewitness sources obliquely.3 Ian’s father Vyshata led Vladimir Iaroslavich’s ill-fated expedition in 1043 to Constantinople and later went with his son Rostislav to Tmutarakan, “5 +h0# 6572. 6h$& 7#*0%*+&,( 8)30#2#9&!:, *;!( 5#+#h$& ?#2h%, 5;-&0&, *;!( @*02#)%21, ,#A,#h$&” is singular, and only a singular son of Ostromir is mentioned. In birchbark gramoty, double names are sometimes used where one is a “&'()*+,-”: could that be the case here? 212 ALAN TIMBERLAKE brother of Chud (“!"#$% &'()*+”), lectured Iziaslav in 1068 on how to deal with Vseslav (Lvr 171.12–13); his death is reported in 1078 (Lvr 200.10). A half century earlier, Iaroslav, defeated by Sviatopolk, wanted to flee to Scandinavia: “!",-.#/0 1g 2"!!h34' 5,/03,",(0 ) 6,$h4g !h1#$) 7# 8,"g· ) 2,-#(*)9% :,-*#$)*%· -*=% ;,!"r*+ - 5,/3,",(+mg !)$) -% ?,.g-.#/,8% ) -% @$=,2,.9,8+· *#=#4# -9,$% -%!)"#$)· ^ 801# 2, ·(=· 90*r” (Lvr 143.17–23). It was Kosniatin who confronted Prince Iaroslav and Kosniatin who told the tale. Thus, the chroniclers themselves name members of the druzhina who participated in, and could tell tales about, the events, often with the detail only an eyewitness could supply. The monks who wrote the chronicle, to state the obvious, were not on the battlefield or in the prince’s chambers; their knowledge of the events could only have come from sources such as Kosniatin, Vyshata, Chud, and Ian. A moment’s reflection should convince us that essentially all factual narrative in the chronicle must derive from oral reports by members of the druzhina, from the participants themselves or their associates or their descendants. If the narrative of the chronicle, from legends to reportage, was oral in origin, chroniclers must somehow have recorded the narrative. It is not obvious how they did so. The process of recording may have been different at different times. The oldest tales—legends and tales of the 10th century—were most likely recorded at the very beginning of chronicling, in the interval from 1031 to 1044.5 After that, from the 1040s through the 1080s, events were recorded and appended directly to the end of the chronicle, by series of as many as half a dozen chroniclers (Timberlake 2004). Most eyewitness narrative in this period is laconic. There are indeed some expansive entries in the interval from 1015 through 1087. These, however, show signs of having been edited at a later time. The Boris and Gleb cycle includes motifs from Christianus’ life of Wenceslas, which came to Kiev only in the 1090s (Timberlake 2006b). Other entries—Iaroslav’s instruction to his heirs and the related homily on brotherly respect in 1073, the death of Feodosy in 1074, the internecine conflict of 1078—were all amplified by the editor of the Nachal´nyi svod (Timberlake 2006a). That editor, who was also an annalist, may have used a technique different from that of his predecessors. In principle, one could imagine that this chronicler might have heard the tales, learned...


Subject Headings

  • Slavic philology -- Congresses.
  • Slavic literature -- History and criticism -- Congresses.
  • Slavic languages -- Congresses.
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