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Old Russian (10th century to 17th century), Modern Russian (18th century to 1917), Soviet
Russian (1917 to 1991), and Post-Soviet (1991 to the present). Although most Russian
literature to Russia beginning in the late 17th century, and during much of the 18th century,
French influence was especially strong. By the early 19th century, a native tradition had
literature marked the period after the 1917 Russian Revolution and the formation of the Union
Literature; Lithuanian Literature.
II. Old Russian Literature
Scholars generally divide the earliest Russian literature into two periods: the Kyiv (also spelled
Kiev) and the Muscovite. The Kyiv period extends from the 10th century to the mid-13th
and political activity gradually shifted north to Moscow. The Muscovite period, when Moscow
became the new power, lasted from the late 13th century to the 17th century. Much of old
Russian literature consists of historical chronicles and religious works prompted by Russian
participation in the Orthodox Church.
A. The Kyiv Period
The earliest literary works of the Russians were not in the Russian language but in Old Church
Slavonic, a related Slavic language that was the first written language in Russia. Old Church
Methodius, who used it to convert Slavic peoples to Christianity. Old Church Slavonic became
the liturgical language of the Orthodox Church, which directed literary activity in Russia. In 988
Vladimir I, Grand Duke of Kyiv, converted to Christianity and made it Russia’s official religion.
With his conversion came the need for scribes to translate and compile biblical texts, sermons,
increased, so did the available reading matter: Compilations of knowledge, historical chronicles,
and poems appeared, all translated into Old Church Slavonic. Old Church Slavonic remained the
literary language of Russia until the 17th century.
produced during the Kyiv period: sermons, lives of saints, and historical chronicles. The most
elaborate oration that was written by the head of the Orthodox Church in Russia at that time,
Boris and Gleb, appeared in the 11th century. The chronicle Povest’ vremennykh let (1113?;
Tale of Bygone Years, also known as The Russian Primary Chronicle), attributed to the monk
to the year 1110. The most celebrated work of the period, Slovo o polku Igoreve (1185?; The
Song of Igor’s Campaign), recounts in lyrical, rhythmic prose a failed raid undertaken by Prince
imagery, it stands out so markedly from other literature of the period that a number of scholars
distinguish it as genuine.
B. Muscovite Period
200 years the Tatars occupied most of Russia, and literature stagnated. Kyiv’s influence
declined and was gradually replaced by that of a new power, Moscow. By the time Ivan IV
(known as Ivan the Terrible) became tsar in 1547, Moscow had expelled the Tatars,
consolidated its power, and expanded its rule as far east as the Ural Mountains. But in 1453
Russia had been cut off from the Byzantine Empire, the original source of its culture, when
Ottoman Turks took control of Constantinople (now Istanbul), the Byzantine capital and the
Russia became isolated, just when the European continent was enjoying the Renaissance and a
largely outside developments in the West.
Russia continued to produce literature on both worldly and religious themes, but it increasingly
Zadonshchina (The Battle Beyond the Don, 1390?) celebrated victory over the Tatars. Other
to Constantinople (capital of the Byzantine Empire) to Moscow (capital of the Russian Empire).
Many existing literary works, such as saints’ lives and historical chronicles, were collected and
consolidated, signifying the regime’s desire to systematize and regulate political, religious, and
cultural life. One of the most interesting of these 16th-century compilations, Domostroi
household. The Domostroi is not a purely literary work, but it does provide insight into the
ideology and everyday culture of 16th-century Russia.
C. The 17th Century
A period of political chaos at the beginning of the 17th century marked the end of Muscovite
Russia. In literature the new century saw the end of Old Russian culture, with literary efforts
and, late in the century, Tsar Peter the Great’s fascination with European culture. The first
(nonreligious) Western culture to a small audience. The traditional genres of Old Russian
literature saints’ lives and historical chronicles were still alive, although with distinctly secular
features. The most notable example of this growing worldliness is Zhitie protopopa Avvakuma
less to traditional Church Slavonic than to the spoken Russian of his day.
For the first time, Russian poets composed verses in imitation of Western models, and the first
plays by a Russian, written by Symeon Polotsky, appeared in 1678 and 1679. In fiction the
in works such as Povest’ o Savve Grudtsyne (The Tale of Savva Grudtsyn, 1660?) and Povest’
o Frole Skobeeve (The Tale of Frol Skobeev, late 17th century). The former is a moralistic
story, but the latter is written purely for entertainment, presenting the adventures of a rogue
in the manner of the picaresque novel.