Translated Literature

In the study of old Russian literature, the phrase translated literature usually refers to the body of writing which was translated, mainly from Greek, into the old church Slavic language in the late-9th and 10th centuries. The work of translation was carried out in the south Slavic lands, mainly in Macedonia and Bulgaria.

The activity of translation was conducted by churchmen, often with the patronage of secular rulers. The translations were intended to serve the church in the conduct of its daily business and in the pursuit of its spiritual goals. For this reason, the translated literature consists almost exclusively of works of an ecclesiastical or religious character. The main categories of translated works include: service books (guides to the conduct of church services); selections from scripture (for reading the Old Testament and New Testament lessons in church, and for reciting the Psalm(s) appointed for a particular service); apocrypal works (stories or legends of a quasi-Biblical character); hagiographies (the lives of saints); chronicles (historical accounts arranged year-by-year but with events always assigned a religious explanation and significance); and homiletic works (sermons and other writings of a theological character). Only a small number of non-ecclesiastical works made their way into the translated literature.

The significance of the translated literature for the development of old Russian literature was enormous. We need to remember that prior to the coming of Christianity (and, along with it, literacy), literature was completely unknown in Rus'. The early Russian writers had no tradition of literature to draw upon. In order to write they had no choice but to follow the example shown to them in the translated literature. As a result, the style and themes of old Russian literature reflect very closely the style and themes of the Greek literature upon which the translated literature was based.

For further discussion of the translated literature consult Terras' "History of Russian Literature," Chizhevsky's "A History of Russian Literature from the End of the Tenth Century to the Baroque," or Fennell's "History of Old Russian Literature."