Legends

Legends [легенди; from Latin legenda, ‘that which is to be read’]. In the Western tradition a legend was originally a text about the life of a saint (see Hagiography) that was prescribed reading in churches on that saint's day and during meals in monasteries. Because medieval legends, such as those in Legenda aurea, were similar to fairy tales, the term was extended to refer to various kinds of tales (historical, folk, and religious). Now the term is used for tales in which the characters are actual historical personages, including saints. In Ukraine, in addition to religious legends and apocrypha, there were also legends about Rus’ princes, Cossacks, hetmans, haidamakas, opryshoks, and other famous people (eg, Marusia Churai, Hryhorii Skovoroda, Taras Shevchenko). They were published by Panteleimon Kulish in his Zapiski o Iuzhnoi Rusi, by Oleksander Afanasiev-Chuzhbynsky in his Narodnye legendy (Folk Legends, 1859 and 1921), and, chiefly, by researchers of Ukrainian fairy tales, such as Pavlo Chubynsky, Mykhailo Drahomanov, and Volodymyr Hnatiuk. Manuscripts of folk legends were collected and edited by Ivan Franko and published in 1899. The historical legends that appeared in the oldest Ukrainian chronicles were collected by F. Giliarov in his Predaniia Russkoi Nachal’noi letopisi (The Rus’ Primary Chronicle, 1878). Many legends became part of the Cossack chronicles. Istoriia Rusov could be considered a historical legend. Legends have reappeared in the historical novel and drama, and folk legends are frequently drawn upon in Ukrainian poetry.

Legend continues to play a role in contemporary Ukrainian literature. Using legends as a base Oleksander Dovzhenko wrote his scenario Zvenyhora, and Lina Kostenko compared her novel-in-verse Marusia Churai to a legend. Legends play a prominent role in the works of Dmytro Pavlychko, B. Stelmakh, Vira Vovk, Emma Andiievska, and other contemporary writers.

Dmytro Chyzhevsky, Danylo Husar Struk

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]




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