The Tale of Peter and Fevronia
|Original title||Повесть о Петре и Февронии Муромских|
|mid 16th century|
The Tale of Peter and Fevronia of Murom (Russian: Повесть о Петре и Февронии Муромских, Povest o Petre i Fevronii Muromskikh) is an 11th-century Russian tale by Hermolaus-Erasmus, often referred to as a hagiography.
Apanage prince Paul (Russian: Павел) is disturbed, as a guileful snake has gotten into the habit of visiting his wife disguising himself as the prince. His wife finds out that the only man who can defeat the snake with a magiс sword is Paul's brother, Peter (Russian: Пётр). Peter defeats the snake, but its blood spills on him and his body is covered with aching scabs. No doctors can help, but suddenly Peter hears of Fevronia (Russian: Феврония), a wise young peasant maiden, who promises to heal him. As a reward she wants to marry Peter. When healed, he does not keep his promise and instead sends rich gifts to Fevronia. However, soon Peter's body is again covered with scabs. Fevronia heals him again and this time they get married. Prince Paul soon dies and Peter and Fevronia come to reign in Murom. The boyars are unhappy to have a peasant woman for princess, and they ask Fevronia to leave the city taking with her whatever riches she wants. Fevronia agrees, asking them to let her choose just one thing. The boyars find out that the wise maiden's wish was to only take her husband, so Peter and Fevronia leave Murom together. The city remains without a prince. The boyars start strifes over the reign, Murom is in havoc, and finally Peter and Fevronia are asked to return. They reign wisely and happily until their last days, which they spend in monasteries. They know they will die on the same day and ask to be buried in the same grave. The Russian Orthodox tradition does not allow for a monk and a nun to be buried together, but the bodies are twice found to disappear from the original coffins and finally remain in the common grave forever.
There exist 4 redactions and an abundant copies of the tale, which speaks of the immense popularity of this piece in the 16th-17th centuries.
The author of the tale is Hermolaus-Erasmus (Ермолай-Еразм), who came to Moscow from Pskov in mid 16th century to become a protopope of one of the palace cathedrals. In 1560s he became a monk and is thought to have left Moscow. Despite the established authorship of the piece, most scholars admit that at its basis lie the oral legends of Murom.
Dmitry Likhachev asserts that the story of Peter and Fevronia existed in written form already in the 15th century, before Hermolaus-Erasmus. This assertion is proven by a recorded church service from the 15th century, which praised the Murom prince Pyotr (Peter), the victor over the snake, and his young wife Fevronia, with whom he was buried in the same grave. It is surmised, that the main characters of the piece are historical figures. Pyotr stands for the Murom prince David Yurievich (Russian: Давид Юрьевич), who reigned in Murom but died as a monk in 1228. This prince supposedly married a peasant woman. However a lot of the facts that one could infer about the prince from the tale are imaginary and were created and modified over time in the oral legends of Murom.
Genre and Literary Importance
The folkloric origin of this tale explains the stark differences between this work and canonical hagiographical works. In 1547 Peter and Fevronia were canonized and the tale started to be interpreted as a hagiographical piece. It was not, however, included in the Great Menaion Reader (Velikie Minei Chetii in Russian) because of its unconventional form and largely secular contents.
Soviet scholars have looked at The Tale of Peter and Fevronia as the initial stage of the secularization of Russian literature. Many scholars notice the personalized nature of the piece, its focus on the life of an individual. This indicates the growing interest and attention of the society to the individual and foreshadows the development of the Enlightenment values in Russia.
Many of the motifs found in the tale come not only from Russian folklore, but can also be found in Western European literature of the Middle Ages. The motifs of a prince's victory over a snake or dragon, his magical healing by a beautiful maiden and the motif of wise women outwitting lustful men and protecting their honor, can be seen, among others, in the Legend of Tristan and Isolde and in Boccaccio's The Decameron.
The Tale of Peter and Fevronia served as one of the sources to the Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov opera The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya (Russian: Сказание о невидимом граде Китеже и деве Февронии, Skazaniye o nevidimom grade Kitezhe i deve Fevronii).
An English translation is available as "Peter and Fevronia of Murom" in Medieval Russia's Epics, Chronicles and Tales by S. Zenskovsky (New York: Meridian, 1974).
- Kuskov, V. V. (2001). Drevnerusskie kniiezheskie zhitiia. Moskva, Krug.
- Likhachev, D. i. S. and Institut russkoi literatury (Pushkinskii dom) (1980). Istoriia russkoi literatury X-XVII i.e. desiatykh-semnadtsatykh vekov : uchebnoe posobie. Moskva, Prosveshchenie.
- R. P. Dmitrieva, Povest' o Petre i Fevronii (Leningrad: Nauka, 1979)
- Full Old Russian text online http://old-russian.chat.ru/10fevron.htm