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Its Hour of Glory

Дата публикации: 10 сентября 2018
Автор: V. Yanin
Публикатор: Шамолдин Алексей Аркадьевич
Номер публикации: №1536578436 / Жалобы? Ошибка? Выделите проблемный текст и нажмите CTRL+ENTER!

V. Yanin, (c)

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by Academician Valentin YANIN

Novgorod the Great keeps rewarding inquisitive archeologists from its treasure chest of antiquities. Yours truly, who was among a field party that discovered the first birch-bark writs (scrolls) back in 1951, had the good fortune of witnessing yet another hour of glory of Russian archeology, of experiencing a discoverer's ineffable happiness. For a second time!.. But let me begin at the beginning and tell you everything in turn.

That happened on July 13, 2000. A devil's dozen! A jinx! And yet... At the close of that working day a most unusual find landed slap on the laboratory table of a party searching in the Troitsky-XII dig under Alexander Sorokin in charge. That find was composed of three wooden tablets (made of lime wood, as we found later), 19х15 cm and 1 cm thick, held together by dowels, or pins, likewise of wood. An ancient manuscript! The two outer tablets served as front and back covers. The front tablet bore an image of the cross and had a rather modest ornament; and on the inside it had a recess filled with wax. And inscribed on it were twenty-three lines of some text done in a small and lovely hand. The back tablet also carried a text on its inner surface, and its outer side was decorated with a cross too. The middle tablet was waxed and inscribed on both sides. So, the booklet had four pages in all. The front cover preserved best. The other three sheets were ravaged by time: bits of the wax peeled off here and there, in patches and in smaller fragments, with separate letters or their clusters. However, rather large chunks of the second, third and fourth pages survived.

My eyes went dim as I glanced at the first sheet with its text as good as intact. All keyed up, I felt I wouldn't be able to read so much as a word... You can well understand my emotions: the find was recovered from habitation deposits reliably dated to the end of the 10th and the early quarter of the 11th century. Now judge for yourselves: it lay 20 centimeters beneath what remained of the first row of beams making up a big frame dated back to the year 1039 by the method of dendrochronology (that is by the age of wood). Since the annual accumulation rate of habitation (cultural) deposits is estimated to be 1 cm, the probable dating of our find should be about the second decade of the 11th century. Meanwhile the earliest manuscript available today - one written in the Cyrillic alphabet - goes back to the years 1056/57. This is the famous Novgorodian Evangelion (Gospels) done for posadnik (governor) Ostromir. The other earliest writs are dated to the latter half of the 11th century. But ours was half a century older! So our find happens to be of momentous significance - not only for the history of our Russian culture, it is also meaningful for the Bulgarian, Serbian, Croatian and Macedonian cultures: as a matter of fact, the Slavonic world knows of no other manuscript older than the Ostromir Evangelion. Something to throw you into a tizzy and dim your eyes!

But then the scales fell from my eyes and I could make out the first

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legible phrase: "At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, both the chariot and the horse are cast into a dead sleep." The holy text, the Psalms! Yes, indeed, it was Psalm 75, and just above and below it were other verses attributed to Asaph, one of the three precentors of the quire under King David.

The intact fragments of the other pages fit well into Psalms 75 and 76: the second page carries the end of Psalm 75 and the beginning of Psalm 76; the third page continues Psalm 76, and the fourth has the ending of Psalm 76. Then comes a lacuna (gap) where a few lines might have been written, and next are verses 4, 5, 6 of David's Psalm 67. Upon perusing the text, we wondered: why the text had no opening line of Psalm 67, "Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered..."? But then we learned: the beginning had been erased to make room for the closing of Psalm 76. That is to say, here the waxed sheet was a palimpsest - the original text was obliterated for another one. Waxed tablets (cerae in Latin) were like a slate or a blackboard at school: you write something on it and then wipe it off. An analogy to a slate makes sense: Was not the Novgorodian Psalter used as an ABC teaching-aid?

Now let's travel back in time and consider the chronological context of the Evangelion... Early 11th century.. Twenty or twenty-five years ago the Novgorod principality embraced Christianity. Here is a Psalter for the flock to learn their letters!.. Our forefathers, by the way, had for centuries been using the Psalter as a primer of sorts. Parishioners would read and memorize the verses they could hear during divine services. Russian Christians knew many a psalm by heart. Here's a remarkable episode related to our Novgorodian find, or the Novgorodian codex as we say. Now the ending of Psalm 76 has these words: "Thy way is the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known". Well, this is something to warm the cockles of your

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heart when you recall Alexander Pushkin and Ms famous poem 19 October (1825)-namely the lines addressed to Fyodor Matyushkin, a friend of his with whom he studied at His Majesty's Lyceum, and who became a seafarer: "...You hopped to ship right from the lyceum's lee, your path is now on the high sea." The allusion to Psalm 77 is quite obvious.

We obtained brilliant proof that the Novgorodian Psalter was meant as a teaching manual. The rims of the cerae kept traces of barely legible scratchings done with the same hand as the text on the waxed sides. It was Academician Alexander Zaliznyak who managed to spell that out. He did a job of work, drudging day in and day out, with a magnifying glass in hand, and straining his eyes good and hard. Here are some of those inscriptions: "Not for church service, not for burial service"; "For all people avid for learning". The latter phrase is quite explicit as to the designation of the booklet. And further we read: "This here book Psalter is for the solace of orphans and widows... It is a motionless sea for voyagers, and a laudable undertaking for serf children."

The Novgorodian Psalter, Prof. Zaliznyak says, was written by an ethnic Russian. The language is naturally Old Slavonic (Old Bulgarian); even today the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates divine services in Old Church Slavonic only. However, the text contains about a dozen of errors that no Bulgarian could ever make - those were typically Russian errors. All the Slavonic languages of the day, except Old Russian, clearly differentiated between the letters "U" and "Yus big" because they denoted different sounds: "Yus" stood for a nasal sound absent with the native Russians. But the scribe of the Novgorodian scroll had "U" instead of "Yus" and vice versa. We cannot tell whether the man was a Kievan missionary or a native Novgorodian, but this is not so important gauged against the significance of the find.

The Slavic world has several old manuscripts in the Cyrillic which bear no date and are tentatively referred to the 11th century. Well, the Novgorodian Psalter will be a good yardstick for comparative studies in search of reliable datings. Today manuals on Russian history are inconceivable without making mention of birch-bark scrolls; hopefully, manuals of the future will begin their tale on the Russian culture and literature with this unique writ.

The Novgorodian find has begotten many problems. That of restoration, for one. The Psalter has survived because the wood of the tablets was saturated with moisture all through, and that kept off the air and thus prevented decay. Consequently, for as long as a thousand years microorganisms were unable to enter the wood and do their destructive work. The conventional methods of wood stabilization by means of drying and solidification were no good for us, because they could impair the wax and the texts inscribed. So we had to take off the wax layer and put it on some other substrate. The world practice knows of no precedent like that. But one expert artist and restorer, after a good deal of painstaking hesitation, agreed to lend a hand. That was Vladimir Povetkin, who put disjointed bits and pieces into proper trim. Furthermore, as good as illegible texts were discovered under the layer of wax; but their interpretation will take a lot of time and effort.

The discovery of the Novgorodian Psalter was preceded by yet another remarkable find: unearthed from the depositions of the early third of the 11th century was a birch bark with images of human figures on both sides. One side pictured Jesus Christ, and the other had Santa Barbara in a crown with a crucifix in hand (the name is clearly distinct above).

What, an icon? But how did it land there, in Chemitsina * ulitsa (street), named so after Santa Barbara convent nearby? Needless to say, there could be no nunnery or cloister in the early 11th century there, for the first Russian cloisters appeared only in the latter half of the 11th century As to the Santa Barbara convent, its first mention in the chronicles goes back to the year 1138. This saint maiden happened to be revered with much fervor on the Slav-populated coast of the Southern Baltic; and it was from those parts that the first Slav settlers trekked to Novgorod. Their descendants never severed ties with their motherland. Santa Barbara was venerated as a protectress of fishermen and seafarers. By the way, fishing gear and related items were found in great abundance within the deposits where the Santa Barbara "icon" was recovered.

And yet something else just as curious. The image of Santa Barbara has a date scribbled below. Academician Zaliznyak read it as the year 6537 from the creation of the world, or 1029 A.D. The first, third and fourth figures are rendered in Slavonic characters, while the second one, according to philologist S. Bolotov, was a Latin sign. This means that the man who portrayed Santa Barbara did not know the Slavonic figure "500", but he knew what the Latin character for it was. It might be that the Santa Barbara cult had so much sway that decades after the year 1029 a convent was founded in that part of the town, Novgorod the Great.

* From the Russian chemets, chemitsi, meaning monk and nun respectively. - Ed.


Опубликовано 10 сентября 2018 года

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