Varlaam i Ioasaf

Varlaam i Ioasaf (Barlaam and Joasaph). A medieval philosophical narrative about the conversion to Christianity of the Indian prince Joasaph (or Josaphat) under the influence of the hermit Barlaam, who told him many parables. Modeled on Indian tales about Buddha, it was written in Greek by a monk called John at the Saint Sava Monastery near Jerusalem ca 630 AD and translated, with various revisions and additions, into Persian, Arabic, Hebrew, Ethiopian, Armenian, and Georgian in the 1st millennium AD. A new Greek version was adapted from the Georgian text at Mount Athos at the beginning of the 11th century. Latin translations (1220–33) of the Greek became popular throughout Western Europe and were translated, in turn, into German, French, Italian, and other languages. A Church Slavonic translation from Greek was made in Kyiv no later than the 12th century. Thereafter the tale was widely read in Ukraine. It was transcribed over 1,000 times, in many variants; themes from it were depicted in icons, frescoes, and miniatures; and parables from it were included in numerous religious didactic collections (eg, the Menaion and Prolog). Cyril of Turiv used it as a source for one of his tales. The first printed Ruthenian translation, made by Y. Polovko using J. Billio's Latin version, appeared in 1637 at the Kutein Epiphany Monastery near Orsha, in Belarus; its text is notable for its incorporation of details of 16th- and 17th-century Ukrainian folkways. The tale left a distinct mark in 17th- and 18th-century Ukrainian literature (eg, in the works of Sylvestr Kosiv and Lazar Baranovych, the Bohohlasnyk) and folklore. Verses from it were sung by lirnyks. In the 19th century Ivan Franko rendered its parables into poetry and, in 1897, published a monograph about it (his PH D diss, reprinted in Franko's collected works, vol 30 [Kyiv 1981]). The full Old Slavonic text with I. Lebedeva's long scholarly introduction and annotations appeared in Moscow in 1985.

Roman Senkus

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

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