The development of original literature in Kyivan Rus' was based on both a rich folk oral tradition and a dissemination of translated religious texts. The Christianization of Ukraine in 988 gave impetus to a propagation of various adaptations (from the Balkan Slav originals) and translations (mainly from Greek) of religious texts. The oldest and most noted Kyivan didactic work is 'A Sermon on Law and Grace' (1050) by Metropolitan Ilarion, the first native metropolitan of Kyiv. A more subtle form of didactic literature can be found in the numerous hagiographic works, describing the lives of saints. Modeled on translated hagiographies, lives of Saint Anthony of the Caves, Saint Volodymyr the Great, Saint Princess Olha, and others were written and collected in the Kyivan Cave Patericon, the most remarkable collection of lives in the Kyivan period. Also noteworthy are the early chronicles, which are unique for their wealth of information and their blending of fact and fiction, written sources and eyewitness accounts. Quite prevalent were apocryphal writings as well as translated tales. Also popular was the first 'travelogue' by Hegumen Danylo about his pilgrimage to the Holy Land (ca 1100). The most unusual and outstanding monument of old Ukrainian literature, however, is the secular epic poem Slovo o polku Ihorevi (The Tale of Ihor's Campaign). Particularly rich in poetic tropes (epithets, similes, metaphors, metonymy, hyperbole, and personification), the work suggests a sophistication indicative of a rich tradition of folk and martial literature with highly developed poetics. But the plea of the anonymous author for unity among the princes fell on deaf ears. The Kyivan Rus' state, disunited, was too weak to withstand the onslaughts from the East. Kyiv fell to the Mongols in 1240, and the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia became the focus of political and cultural life in Ukrainian lands. The incorporation of Volhynia into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (1340) marks the end of the period and of significant literary activity... Learn more about Ukrainian medieval literature by visiting the following entries:

CHRONICLES. The Ukrainian chronicles are the most remarkable monuments of historical literature produced in ancient Rus'. They can be divided into three parts, the Primary Chronicle (up to the 12th century), the Kyiv Chronicle (from 1118 to 1190), and the Galician-Volhynian Chronicle (from the beginning of the 13th century to 1292). They were written as annual records or annals. Besides accounts of events they contain a variety of literary materials--stories, legends, biographies, and borrowings from Byzantine chronicles. The so-called Primary Chronicle of 1097 was based on three earlier compilations and became in its turn the source for Povist' vremennykh lit (ca 1111), whose authorship is traditionally attributed to the monk Nestor the Chronicler. Povist' served as the basis for later chronicles composed in monasteries and princely courts in Kyiv and other cities of Rus'. It was continued by the so-called Kyiv Chronicle of the 12th century. The Chernihiv, Pereiaslav, and Galician chronicles did not survive, but excerpts from them have been preserved in other chronicle collections. With the fall of Kyiv and the shift of political power to the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia in the mid-13th century, chronicle writing became concentrated in these territories and produced the Galician-Volhynian Chronicle, which was written at the end of the 1280s and is the main source for the history of this period...


NESTOR THE CHRONICLER (Nestor litopysets), b ca 1056, d ca 27 October 1114 in Kyiv. Famous medieval hagiographer and chronicler; saint in the Ukrainian church. He entered the Kyivan Cave Monastery at 17 and was a hierodeacon under Hegumen Stefan of Kyiv (1074-8). He participated in the ceremonial disinterment of the relics of Saint Theodosius of the Caves in 1091. He was one of the most educated men in late 11th- and early 12th-century Kyivan Rus', renowned for his knowledge of theology, history, literature, and Greek. Nestor wrote the lives of Saints Borys and Hlib and Saint Theodosius of the Caves in the 1080s, and he supplemented and continued the text of the Rus' Primary Chronicle (written in 1093), and completed its redaction, known as Povist' vremennykh lit (The Tale of Bygone Years), ca 1111-13. The original has not been preserved. Most scholars (eg, Dmytro Abramovych, Mykhailo Braichevsky, Dmytro Chyzhevsky, Mykhailo Hrushevsky, D. Likhachev, M. Priselkov, Omeljan Pritsak, Aleksei Shakhmatov, Mykhailo Vozniak) consider Nestor the Hagiographer and Nestor the Chronicler to be one person. Some (eg, Evgenii Golubinsky, P. Kazansky, Aleksei Sobolevsky), however, believe they are different persons...

Nestor the Chronicler

HAGIOGRAPHY (LIVES OF SAINTS). Biographies, tales, and legends about saints, including accounts of miracles performed by them, particular episodes from their lives, and their martyrdom. These writings are among the most important monuments of old Ukrainian literature. By the 11th century there were already many translations of Greek and Latin hagiographic writings, individual lives of saints, patericons (collections of episodes from lives of monks), reading menologies (collections of lives and sermons arranged according to the church calendar, not for liturgical use but for daily reading), and prologues or synaxaries (collections similar to menologies but with abridged lives). Original works written in Ukraine include the Lives of Saints Borys and Hlib and the Life of Saint Theodosius of the Caves, both by Nestor the Chronicler, the beautifully composed Tale and Passion and Glorification of the Holy Martyrs Borys and Hlib, and the Life of Prince Mstyslav I Volodymyrovych. The lives of Saint Volodymyr the Great, Saint Princess Olha, Mykhailo Vsevolodovych of Chernihiv, and Boyar Fedir have come down to us only in later redactions. Fragments of the Life of Saint Anthony of the Caves and the Life of Prince Ihor Olhovych have been preserved in the chronicles. The Kyivan Cave Patericon is an important monument of hagiographic literature...

Hagiography (Lives of Saints)

KYIVAN CAVE PATERICON. A collection of tales about the monks of the Kyivan Cave Monastery. The original version arose after 1215 but not later than 1230 out of the correspondence of two monks of the monastery--monk Simon (by then the bishop of Suzdal and Vladimir) and monk Polikarp, who used the epistolary form as a literary device. The letters contain 20 tales about righteous or sinful monks of the monastery based on oral legends and several written sources, such as the Life of Saint Anthony of the Caves and the Kyivan Cave and Rostov chronicles, which have not survived. Most of the original text deals with events of the 11th century. It varies from brief accounts of particular facts to novella-like or novel-like narratives. Most of the tales tend to be antisecular in tone and favor a strict, ascetic life. Nevertheless, some do testify to the decline of monastic life (some monks, for example, own property). Besides chronological data about the monastery, the text contains a wealth of historical and cultural information about monastic and secular life. Because of its relatively simple style and its rich vocabulary, as well as its masterly characterization of individuals by means of dialogue, prayer, and 'internal monologue,' the patericon is one of the outstanding works of Old Ukrainian literature...

Kyivan Cave Patericon

HOMILETICS (SERMONS). The art of religious discourse and preaching of sermons, homilies, and catechetical instruction. It has been practiced in Ukraine since its Christianization in the late 10th century, when it was employed to propagate the new religion. Slavic homilies were initially introduced from Bulgaria; new ones were then locally created or translated from the Greek. The oldest extant Rus' sermon is the panegyrical 'Slovo o zakoni i blahodati' (Sermon on Law and Grace, 1051) by the eloquent Metropolitan Ilarion, the first non-Greek metropolitan of Kyiv. The work has had an important influence on Ukrainian and other Slavic literatures. Other famous Rus' preachers were Hegumen Moisei of the Vydubychi Monastery, the author of 'Pokhvalne slovo' (Sermon of Praise, 1198), and Bishop Cyril of Turiv (d 1182), who freely dramatized events from the Gospel. Alongside didactic sermons, describing the duties of monks, condemning paganism and social inequality, and exhorting the faithful to observe the church's teachings, a genre of Byzantine rhetoric dealing with the fine points of theology was fostered. Homiletics in Kyivan Rus' evolved until the Mongol invasion and the sacking of Kyiv in the mid-13th century, after which it was continued on a lesser scale in the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia, which was less affected by the invasions from the east...

Homiletics (Sermons)

SLOVO O POLKU IHOREVI [The Tale of Ihor's Campaign]. An epic poem of the late 12th century written by an anonymous author. Its subject is the unsuccessful campaign mounted in the spring of 1185 by Ihor Sviatoslavych, prince of Novhorod-Siverskyi, against the Cumans. Its central theme is the fate of the territories of Rus'. In addressing that theme the author condemns the various princes for their feuding and their selfishness at the expense of the general good. The poem was written in an epic lyrical style. The historical subject matter is interspersed with dreams, laments, nature's reaction to the hero's fate, monologues of princes, and other motifs and devices. Particularly rich in poetic tropes (epithets, similes, metaphors, etc.), the work suggests a sophistication indicative of a rich tradition of folk and martial literature with highly developed poetics. The language of the work is the contemporary Rus' literary language, similar to that of the chronicles, but with a marked increase in the incidence of the vernacular. A wide range of scholars, particularly Mykhailo Maksymovych, demonstrated connections between the Slovo and Ukrainian folk poetry. The original manuscript perished in the Moscow fire of 1812. The want of an original allowed a number of critics to consider the work a falsification of a later date. The majority of scholars, however, believe it to be authentic...

Slovo o polku Ihorevi

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