Povist’ vremennykh lit

Povist’ vremennykh lit (The Tale of Bygone Years). A chronicle of events in Kyivan Rus’ in the 12th century, under the editorship (in the opinion of most scholars) of Nestor the Chronicler. A valuable historical source and an excellent example of medieval Rus’ literature, it begins with an account of the Flood and Noah's division of the world among his sons; then it proceeds to a description of the dispersal of the Slavic tribes in Eastern and Central Europe and a recounting of the apocryphal sermon of Saint Andrew on the banks of the Dnipro River. The history of Kyiv and the Polianians is central to the narrative. After an account of the founding of Kyiv by Kyi, Shchek, Khoryv, and their sister, Lybed, the chronicle deals with the question of who first ruled Rus’; it ascribes the origin of Rus’ to the summoning of the Varangians and the establishment of the Riurykide dynasty. Subsequent events in Rus’ history are described in annal form to the year 1110.

The Povist’ is based on earlier Kyivan and Novgorodian chronicles, mainly the Primary Chronicle written (possibly by the monk Nykon) at the Kyivan Cave Monastery, in which events are described to 1093. It draws on contemporary Byzantine chronicles, such as that of Georgios Hamartolos, and includes the texts of Rus’-Byzantine treaties of 907, 912, and 972. Folk legends, such as the accounts of Princess Olha's revenge on the Derevlianians, Kozhemiaka's defeat of a Pecheneg champion, and the 997 Pecheneg siege (see Pechenegs), are recounted.

Three redactions of the Povist’ were compiled. The first, now-inextant redaction was completed in 1113 by Nestor the Chronicler, who edited the Primary Chronicle and supplemented it with descriptions of events of the late 11th and early 12th centuries. The detailed account of the Kyivan Cave Monastery in the years 1094–1110 supports the view that Nestor was the chronicle's compiler. The redaction provides eyewitness accounts of internecine conflicts among the sons of Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise, the blinding of Prince Vasylko Rostyslavych of Terebovlia in 1097, and the Liubech congress of princes, Vytychiv congress of princes, and Dolobske council of princes.

The second redaction was completed in 1116, at the behest of Grand Prince Volodymyr Monomakh, at the Vydubychi Monastery by Hegumen Sylvestr. Sylvestr added, among other things, Monomakh's speech at the Dolobske council of princes in 1103. The redaction was preserved in the later Laurentian Chronicle and Radziwiłł Chronicle. The third redaction was composed in 1118 at the Kyivan Cave Monastery by an unknown author. The text focuses on the events pertinent to the Monomakhovych line (Volodymyr Monomakh, his father, Vsevolod Yaroslavych, and his son, Mstyslav I Volodymyrovych). The redaction was preserved in the Hypatian Chronicle of ca 1425.

The central idea of the Povist’ is the unity of the Rus’ land and state, as symbolized by the Riurykide dynasty in Kyiv. The Povist’ served as the basis of most later Rus’ chronicles (eg, the Kyiv Chronicle and the Galician-Volhynian Chronicle). Until the 16th century all of them began with the text of the Povist’. The language of the Povist’ is a combination of Old Church Slavonic and the contemporary Rus’ vernacular.

The Povist’ has been translated and published in French (by Louis-Paul-Marie Léger, 1884), Swedish (by A. Norrback, 1919), German (by R. Trautmann, 1931; and Dmytro Chyzhevsky, 1969), Romanian (by G. Popa-Lisseanu, 1935), Russian (by D. Likhachev and B. Romanov, 1950), English (by S.H. Cross and O.P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor, 1953), Czech (by K. Erben, 1954), Polish (by F. Sielicki, 1968), and Ukrainian (by V. Blyznets, 1982; Leonid Makhnovets, 1990; and Vasyl V. Yaremenko, 1990).

Shakhmatov, A. O nachal’nom Kievskom letopisnom svode (Moscow 1897)
Polnoe sobranie russkikh letopisei, vol 2: Ipat’evskaia letopis’, ed A. Shakhmatov, 2nd edn (Saint Petersburg 1908)
Shakhmatov, A. Razyskaniia o drevneishikh letopisnykh svodakh (Saint Petersburg 1908)
Povest’ vremennykh let. Vol 1: Vvodnaia chast’, tekst, primechaniia, ed A. Shakhmatov (Petrograd 1916)
Povest’ vremennykh let, ed D. Likhachev, 2 pts (Moscow and Leningrad 1950)
The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text, trans and ed S.H. Cross and O.P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Cambridge, Mass [1953])
Aleshkovskii, M. Povest’ vremennykh let: Sud’ba literaturnogo proizvedeniia v drevnei Rusi (Moscow 1971)
Müller, L. (ed). Handbuch zur Nestorchronik, 3 vols (Munich 1977–9)
Tvorogov, O. (ed). Pamiatniki literatury Drevnei Rusi: Nachalo russkoi literatury, XI–nachalo XII veka: Povest’ vremennykh let (Moscow 1978)
Pritsak, O. On the Writing of History of Kievan Rus’ (Cambridge, Mass 1988)
Litopys rus’kyi za Ipats’kym spyskom, trans and ed L. Makhnovets’ (Kyiv 1990)
Povist’ vrem'ianykh lit: Litopys (za Ipats’kym spyskom), trans and ed V. Iaremenko (Kyiv 1990)
The Pověst’ vremennykh lět: An Interlinear Collation and Paradosis, ed D. Ostrowski (Cambridge, Mass 1990)

A. Zhukovsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

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