(BEING CONTINUED FROM 21/11/15)
2.2. Arguments against a proto-Slavic script
The most representative view that interprets rusъskymi of VC as indicating something other than “Russian” or “Slavic” would be the “Syriac” hypothesis, maintained by A. Vaillant (1935), R. Jakobson (1944), D. Gerhardt (1953), H. Lunt (1958/1962, 1964), R. Auty (1967), and others. On the one hand, they reject the possibility of the existence of proto-Slavic letters because it is unlikely that the Slavs lived in Crimea around the ninth century (Birnbaum 1999), and the cultural level of the Slavs of that period was not high enough to have translated biblical manuscripts into their own script (Tachiaos 1993: 62). On the other hand, they argue that the mysterious rusъskymi is a metathetical form of surъskymi ‘Syriac’ resulting from a scribal error. They bring other examples of similar scribal errors in old Slavic manuscripts. For instance, chapter XVI of VC contains the list of nations already praising the Lord in their own tongue. This includes the Syrians, Suri, but Lunt (1964: 218, fn. 6) points out that in two of the older and more accurate copies they were referred to as Rusi. He also notes that in the Novgorod First Chronicle, the mitropolitz surъskyi (‘Syrian bishop’), whose arrival in Kiev constitutes the sole entry under 6412/1104 in the oldest copy (Synodal), has been written as ruskyi in all other copies.
Grounded on these parallels, the “Syriac” hypothesis seems highly plausible, being “an act of sober textual criticism, not of arbitrary fantasy,” as Auty put it (1967: 115). However, it is also true that this argument is only based on indirect evidence. As Istrin (1963: 18-19, 103-106) and Tachiaos (1993: 62-63) criticize, the argument, depending on a scribal error, is convenient but the text does not feature the allegedly correct form surъskymi in any extant copies.
In addition to the “Syriac” theory, several arguments have been put forward to resolve this issue by interpreting the circumstantial context in the given and other texts, along with the historical environment of that period. One such attempt is Harvey Goldblatt’s interpolation theory (1986),
according to which the expression rusъskymi was inserted in Muskovy by the fifteenth-century copyists to “convey a message conforming perfectly to the ideological atmosphere of the 15th-c. ‘Rus’ian lands’” (325), when Moscow gained hegemony over the East Slavic region and identified itself as a protector of the Orthodox Church. This interpretation appears to be in harmony with the context of Skazanie o gramote Rousьtei from the mid-fifteeth century. In Skazanie, Constantine is described not as the inventor of the Slavic letters and translator of Greek books into Slavic, but as a passive carrier of “Rus’ian writing” to the Western Slavs.
Alternatively, Tachiaos (1993: 64, fn 70) argues, against Goldblatt’s interpolation theory, that it is unlikely that the fragments of the text of VC existed separately and were gathered and interwoven by the fifteenth-century scribes after more than 500 years since Constantine’s death. Instead, he insists that the Gospel and the Psalter in “Russian letters” were actually drafted by Constantine himself when he was still in Constantinople.8 While in Cherson, Constantine could have had his drafts of the Slavic alphabet sent from Constantinople, and with the help of a native Slav he met there he could have master the Slavic language and completed the alphabet. However, it would be strange if Constantine already had a draft of a Slavic alphabet by the time of his Khazar mission (860), because it was after the Khazar mission that the Byzantine emperor asked Constantine to go to the Slavs, expressing his concern over the lack of a Slavic alphabet (VC chapter XIV).9
2. 3. Recapitulation and assessment
Thus far, I have examined diverse extant explanations of the phrases in question from the two narrative sources. I have admitted that it is plausible that before Constantine’s Moravian mission the Slavs used some adaptations of Roman and Greek letters. However, they could neither have been referred to as “strokes and carvings” nor “Russian letters.” As Xrabr exemplifies, the use of Roman and Greek letters for transliteration must have been done with significant difficulties because Slavic speech contained many sounds that did not exist in Roman and Greek. This problem must have been serious, because Constantine’s creation of a new alphabet representing all Slavic sounds was reported as an important event that initiated Slavic literacy in VC, Xrabr’s treatise, and even certain Latin documents such as Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum. Also, as will be seen in the next section, the formal difference between Glagolitic and Greek letters cannot be explained by the theory that Glagolitic was a mere adaptation of Greek letters to Slavic speech.
The question about rusъskymi, in contrast to some Russian scholars’ arguments, does not necessarily relate to the “strokes and carvings.” The most reasonable account of the phrase appears to be the metathesis theory, although the alleged authentic reading was not revealed in any extant copies of VC. Nonetheless, the examples of metathesis in the same root in the given text and other Old Russian manuscripts reasonably support this account. Of course, there cannot be any definitive theory regarding this issue due to the lack of direct evidence, but the other theories are based more on circumstantial speculations than the “Syriac” theory.
Auty’s comparative textual analysis of VC chapters 6, 8, and 14, which describe missions to the Saracens, the Khazars, and the Slavs respectively, is illuminating in this respect (1971). He observes that the narrative structures of the three passages are repetitive and conventional, consisting of the arrival of a message to Michael III, asking for a teacher, the emperor’s commands, and Constantine’s reply. However, the Moravian part is distinct from the other two because it includes their discussion of the language and script question. Auty convincingly argues that this deviation
indicates that the duty of creating a script was particularly important in the preparation of the Moravian mission and that the emperor’s statement that the Slavs did not have boukъvy (‘letters’) should be interpreted not as a mere narrative convention but as the report of a real historical event. This also supports the conclusion that there was no pre-Constantine alphabet.
3. Models of Glagolitic
If there was no proto-Slavic script (other than relatively simple Greek/ Roman adaptations) before Constantine’s Moravian mission, we can safely conclude that the alphabet Constantine created is Glagolitic (since Glagolitic preceded Cyrillic, based on independent evidence). On what principle, then, did Constantine make the script?
It is widely known that Glagolitic was modeled on Greek, but this does not hold for every Glagolitic letter: Glagolitic consisted of 38 letters while Medieval Greek only contained 24. In addition, the phonological systems of the Greek and Slavic languages were not identical, and thus Constantine needed to devise a number of non-Greek letters to fully transcribe Slavic-only sounds. There were other alphabet systems that the creator of Glagolitic could consider for this purpose. In the next sections, I will examine what systems could have served as models for Glagolitic.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
Seoul National University, KOREA
8 This interpretation is crucially based on Tachiaos’s reading of the word obrěsti not as ‘to find’ but as ‘to receive, to accept,’ as is sometimes attested in Old Russian manuscripts.
9 Also see Birnbaum (1999: 14) for a similar opinion.