Blesok no. 30, January-February, 2003

The Literary-Historical Composition in Macedonian Medieval Literature

Maja Jakimovska-Tošić

     In the genres system of medieval literature, the historical-chronological texts are distinguished as a special literary-historical genre with a specific expressional form, created and modeled in close dependence of the amount of the historical information.
     Clarifying the category of the literary genre as a historical category, D.S.Lihacov points out that no genre is “everlasting”, in literature, because throughout times the principles of differentiating certain genres change as well as their types, characters and functions.
[1] The differentiation of Lihacov concerning the mutual relations of literature genres presented by the material from old Russian literature, can be used also in the old Slavic literature, because it defines the typological traits of the genre system typical for all Old Slav territory. As general base for the genre differentiation of Old Slavic period was the theme, or the subject, to whom it was dedicated. That, on one side, was leading to unclearly distinguished genres. The literary (structural-composition) signs of the genre at its demarcation had no great importance. Their existence and endurance in the Old Slavic period greatly depended upon their exercise in practical life, which does not match the modern definition of genre. Because of that, genres in the medieval period are defined as reflections of the way of living, of every day life and habits.[2] The appearance or disappearance of certain genres was a process that was connected with the objective necessity of the medieval feudal state and the social estate, the social order, as well as the functions defined for literature to accomplish. The social and political conditions characteristic for the feudal social order were an important factor also in the process of defining the forms, contents and the direction in the development of the Macedonian historiography. The tempos and the specifics of this social process, also define the hierarchy order of certain literature genres.
     The genres also differ by their use in the spheres of the church and worldly social life. So, the general differentiation is present in the medieval literary of the spiritual (church) and the worldly (profane). The official Old Slavic literary developed exactly out of these two genre-theme directions: in the spiritual-religious, liturgical and worldly course.[3] So, for example, according to its own function, the writs were spoken in the church, the hagiography were read on different occasions, and were closely connected with church masses and monastery rules. The development of the worldly genres was also submitted to the practical, working necessities of the society. Under the influence of the official copy different kinds of writings, letters and epistles appear; further, different kinds of travelogue genres (“hozdenie”) emerge, as well as different kinds of acts of the state government and so on. But, also the church, for her needs, introduces the practice of writing annals and chronologies, records and letters of non-religious nature.
     The genres did not appear suddenly by the will of their author, but they were happening according to the requests of the ones who made their orders – the church or the official worldly governments (rules, aristocrats), and were used to a certain address. Every genre has its own tradition, elaborated physiognomy of the author, writer or performer. In the medieval period the genres reflected a collective view of the world, collective feelings. One's own physiognomy as a performer had the hagiography genre, quite different from the physiognomy of the authors of chronological compositions, historical sermons and so on.
     The artistic idea of the work did not tend to reveal the individuality of the author. The traditional physiognomy of the author, as well as the traditional artistic expression, guided the reader or the listener into a certain direction. On the one side that marked the absence of an unexpected character, an unexpected style procedure, leading to stereotyping, but on the other side the reader, or the listener, had a clear vision of where the narration was going. For that reason, extensive titles appeared, explaining the subject of the narration within the framework of a tradition very well known to the readers. These kinds of titles, used in the headlines of some works: hagiography, writs, sermon, epistles, story etc. gave a certain orientation in the Old Slavic genre system. But, in a lot of cases it is hard to figure out to what level a certain title have the characteristics of a genre. In some cases, a connection with few genre traits in the name of the work were made: “story and sermon”, “hagiography and deeds and hozdenie”, “historiography and writings” and so on, which tells us not only about the doubts of the writer what sign to choose to define the work, but that this kind of connection sometimes was a result of the old literary works that encompassed several genres. Through the fate of a great deal of titles of Old Slavic genres, the process of marking the subject of narration can be followed. This process gradually developed all of these literary features with which that subject was connected in accordance to the medieval literary labeling, and after that it was transformed into genre marks in the real sense of the word.[4] Because of that, three classifying principles used in the literary compositions were determined: structural and compositional, functional and thematic.[5] Their essence is closely related to their division in type and context.
     The development of the genres system in the Middle Ages advanced also under the influence of the blooming ritual, and ceremony of literature depending upon the increased intellectual interests of the medieval authors and readers. Representatives of the ruling feudal class also stepped forward with their own requests for the writers who were creating the literary process. That served as a practical incentive in the process of formation of new genre forms. Genre in old literature is not only defined as a literary concept, but also as concept beyond the field of literature connected to a certain use in church and political life. Social movements and ideas influence literature at all times, however the change of style touches every genre differently. The literary genres in old literature in a significantly greater extent are related to certain types and styles unlike modern genres. So, there was uniqueness in style of festival letters, chronicles, chronographic texts, etc., even though on the borders of each genre individual features of specific literary development can be noticed. A different relation in the treatment of the artistic time in narrative literature and in the chronologies might be noticed, even a different relation on the borders of every genre towards solving certain questions connected with the medieval philosophy and views of life.[6] The constant connection of literary and non-literary creations facilitated the development of the literature. This connection and conflict of the two tendencies as a characteristic can be seen in the formation process and in the further development of the historical-chronological genre.
     The medieval historical compositions, chronicles and annals, have a typical medieval form derived from their literary character. That is why we don't regard them as scientific works. The basics of medieval chronicles and annals consist of various materials: written testimonies with a historical and literary character, legendary short stories, folklore traditions, personal impressions, etc. This kind of content emphasises their historical, and at the same time, literary character. Beside the tendency of the documentary in presentation, chroniclers create works as incomplete historical documents because they find themselves under the influence of certain religious and political believes, so they follow the events judging subjectively with their own comment. The authors of the literary-historic works in the medieval period did not undertake scientific analysis of the reasons and consequences stipulating active reality and the course of events. They used familiar actions of narrative literature – descriptions, dialogues, comparison etc., and they used to fall under the strong emotional forms, thus reducing the objective grade of the actions. That is why we say that in the medieval period historical stories with literature value were actually created and not real scientific works. This period does not note any formed scientific-historiography opinion. The formed historical-chronicle compositions and chronicles, as a medieval genre, were changing in accordance with the development of historiography as a social realization and of artistic literature in general.

     In the early period of development of historical ideas, the historiografic works were perceived with only the first elements of historical performances expressed through individual reproduction of certain events. Because of that, only by theoretically deliberated internal relations between the events, that forms the scattered facts in a realistic system of active relations, followed from the knowledge of certain historical facts towards the active erudition of history, while the historical knowledge are transformed into historical science.[7] Because historical works in the medieval period reflected the testimonies of the events, and by the mediation of the author's interpretation the spirit of the epoch was represented, at the same time they fulfilled the function of historical sources and historiografic monuments.
     During the medieval period different works united into one basic historiografic genre. This process recognizes the presence of three basic features: 1) expression of the historical connection and perception between events by following their consecutive chronology; 2) expression of a certain political tendency; 3) the practical course of the events.[8] Therefore, while establishing the scope and the character of the Old Slavic historiography under no circumstances should the notions historical work and historical source is mixed. This brings up the question about the possible specification of the borders of the historiographic genre in relations to the other genres, taking into account the process of interwoven genre expression as a feature for medieval literature in general. In these works, the intertwinement of history with hagiography is obvious, as well as history with apocryphal literature, and between history and descriptive narratives etc.[9] On the other hand, literary works that relate to other literary forms because of their genre characteristics, possess a certain historical level. The most dominating historical-genres formal transformations can be noticed in hagoigraphics, apocryphal and publicity texts. Because of that, in some cases, works that possess certain historical information or chronological elements, such as the works of Crnorizec Hrabar and Prezviter Kozma, who express current events of their time, are included in the historiographic genre. Further on, part of the hagiographical and hymnographical production and other works, varieties of official appeals in written form known as letters or epistles, legal objects and so on are also included in the historiographic genre. These literary compositions belong to other genre forms and the main reason for their intertwinement with the historiographical genre and not divided in a separate genre is in the nature of the Old Slavic literature. Basis of the distinction of genres was the subject or the theme of the dedicated work and their further use in practice. The modus (modus, a way of presenting or an aspect) appeared to be a significant factor of forming a given theme and function. Also, the style, the thematic material and the function of the presentation converted into a literary composition.[10] So, the historical themes have a tendency to be connected with the only conventional sum of stylistic instruments, and as expected – with the narrative modus characteristic for the chronicles depending upon which genre they belong and whether they realized in a certain genre form. The literary features of the genre, as the basis for their distinction, were placed in the background.
     A characteristical example of possessing a significant scope of historical information in its substance is the Old Slavic hagiographical works. The hagiographies are religious compositions by form, but because of their historical fund, they are important also to the medieval literary-historical idea. Hagiographical works of true historical events and facts are: The Spacious Hagiographies of the Holy Brothers Cyril and Methodius (Panon legends), the Greek Hagiographies of St. Clement of Ohrid – the larger one of the Archbishop Theophilact and the shorter one of Dimirija Homatijan, The First and the Second Slav Hagiography of Naum of Ohrid, the hagiographies devoted to the Slavs recluses: St. Jovan Rilski, St. Prohor Pchinski, St. Gavril Lesnovski and St. Joakim Osogovski, where the monasterial chronicle is elaborated hagiographically. Besides the political tendencies and the authencity of the historical information represented in the hagiographical compositions, this data plays a second – degree role in the hagiographical narratives because, according to the Christian tradition first of all the idolized character of the saint and his deeds are treated, and afterwards the hagiographical characteristics and deeds are added. And something more, when in a hagiography, thanksgiving note or writ, the author is talking about past events, he is not presenting the actions in the order as they follow, but mainly writes a summary, concentrating on their result, or approaches them in a symbolic way rather than relating them to their real period.[11] That is why the hagiographical genre is considered part of this genre. The hagiographical genre had its own evolution, separate from the development of the historical-chronological genre, however, a reciprocal relation exists in the genre intertwinement process. An illustration of this reciprocal relation is the evolutionary development of the hagiographical genre, which in the initial period of its formation the historical facts and figures in the hagiographies were covered and presented within the probable. The hagiography, in its further evolution, was losing its credibility, the historiographical elements were weakening, and fantasy was slowly taking over offering interesting forms to the medieval man. D. Bogdanovic points out that the hagiography in the course of its development moved on the borders of history and legend,[12] and in different periods domination by one of these two elements was noticeable. Confirming the process concerning the intertwining genres belonging to one general genre, or to different kinds of genres, was important in defining the features of the historiographical genre that, by its literary form, composition, and style was different from the rest.

     In the process of studying medieval historical literature from the Old Slavic genre system we realize that there was constant use of the terms “historiographic”, “historical-descriptive”, and “historical – chronological” work. This kind of manipulation of terms, that mainly refers to the original Slav historiographic literature, was caused by the characteristics of the content in relation to those created in Byzantium and West Europe where mainly classical forms presented in the chronicles and histories prevailed. The conversion of the Slavs and their accepting Christianity as their official religion, and as a result of the literary-cultural diffusion by the Byzantine literature, acceptance of the chronicle as a classical form of historiography in Old Slavic literature can be noticed. At the same time, the adaptation of the local circumstances and influences took place, and as a result, the stimulation of the development of the original Slav historiographical literature in other forms and contents.
     The works that we have today are witnesses of the diversity in the historiographical genre. These literary compositions differ in scope, form, conception and so on. This heterogeneous composition includes works of classical type in Slav chronicles, and also compositions with chronological content – notes and inscriptions, short stories and so on. Before the appearance of every new form and after the already existing form a mutual relation of approval and further improvement existed, not only to the style but also to the ideas represented in them. Thus, we can say that a historical-chronological tradition in the system of the Old Slavic literacy and culture fully existed.
     The procedure of systematization of historiographical works is of a great importance in the course of defining the genre development of Old Slavic historical literary. By applying this procedure a better review of the works within the certain genre is made possible, as well as their essential typology in accordance with the preciseness of their characteristical structure, contents and functional distinction. In the course of classifying the literary-historical works, it is necessary, within the objective possibilities, to separate those literary works that according to their literature form, composition and style are detached from the works that belong to other genres in Old Slav literature. However, every attempt of systematization of the historiographical literary has a conditional character and represents more a working than a final classifying scheme. This conditioning also is a result from the fact that the exact systematization of the genre groups in the Old Slav literature did not receive a precise and final type.
[13] This entails the necessity of typology of the literary-historical works that would enable the classification into certain structural subgroups. The structural-compositional and thematically classified principle would be used, enabling us to follow through the development of the certain historiographical works within the literary-historical genre.
     According to their function and scope of historical report, the literary historical-chronological works can be classified as: chronicles (original and translated), annal short stories, apocrypha chronicles and marginal-note-chronicles and inscriptions.
     We must underline that within each of these structural subtypes, smaller groups according to their theme, structure and size of certain works can be differentiated, caused by the process of internal development of the historical genre and underlining the basic forms established as a permanent occurrence in the genres system of historiography.[14]
     The annal, according to its nature, belongs to the literary-historical genre in the complex of the medieval Southern Slav literature and in the Russian literature, while from a functional and semantic aspect it is a term that means “years descriptions”.[15] The basics of the annal goes back to the Byzantine chronicles, whose formation of a separate genre form dates back to the early Christian period. There the stories are given in a chronological order from the time of “genesis” of the world, through the legendary history from the Middle East to the birth of Jesus Christ. Further on, the Old Greek history sublimated through the motives and legends, the history of Constantine the Great (324-327) follow, continuing with the history of Byzantine, represented in more than one case all the way to modernism of the chronicle author.[16] Also in the Middle Aged South Slav literatures – in Macedonia, Serbia, Bulgaria, as well as in Russia, translations of the most famous Byzantine chroniclers: Joan Malala (VI cen.), Georgi Sinkel (VIII cen.), patriarch Nikiphor (VIII-IX cen.), Georgi Amartol (IX cen.), Theophan Ispovednik (IX cen.), Simeon Logotet – Metaphrast (X cen.), Joan Skilica (XI cen.), Joan Zonara (XI-XII cen.), Georgi Kedrin (XI-XII cen.), Constantine Manasij (XII cen.) etc. have been made. The writers used different sources: The Holy Bible, holy fathers, the works of the antique writers and the Early Middle Age writers, the folklore and so on defines their mosaic structure.
     The chronicle as a historical work expresses the best characteristics of the Christian historiography. In its content, data of church history intertwines with the history of the state, as well as Bible data and world history. Basically, their philosophical conception is the idea of the commission and predestination, that overlaps with the intertwined idea of the continuation the world-historical process, constant development and improvement of human society (for an example, the development from paganism to Christianity).[17] The idea of the divine lordship power is clearly expressed in these works. That way, following the biblical content in some works, the authors represent the historical characters as saints, as long as they are canonized by the church, and certain historical events are shown hagiographically or in a miraculous form.

     The Byzantine chronicles content different presentations about world history. Depending upon how the events are presented, depending on their form, they can be short and extensive. The short structural form came into existence in the VI century, while the historical material is treated as a short list of rulers starting from Adam and all the way to the writer of the chronicle and of the important events, mostly wars, covered without a commentary. The extensive structure of the chronicle is known as “worldly” and has a complex content composition. The Byzantine chronicle in both structural forms became the basis for the development of the original as well as the translated historical-chronicle production in the Slav environment, among which Macedonia.
     The necessity of knowing the general history of the world, as well as the necessity of identification of its own (national) historically developed process entails the approval and development of the chronicle works in the genre system of medieval Slav literature. Slav translation of the Byzantine chronicles appeared in the period between the IX – X century when general completion of the literary-genre system took place.
[18] The first works with historographic problems were with defined genres because the writers adopted theoretical knowledge about the constituted genre propositions – composition, style and language. The writers of the chronicles were often paying attention to certain particularities in the presentation, and sometimes were adding big parts of other works. Because of that, the chronicle with such a variety of subjects and the way of their interpretation, became very interesting texts in among Byzantine readers. Also, Slav historical-chronicle texts, in reference to their nature and character, were very much like the Byzantine, following the ideas and structural modulations of the chronicle production.
     Since the beginning of the creation of the Slav literacy the first historical work written in Slavonic language “Histories” or “The Chronological Table” appeared whose author was a student of Methodius – Constantine Prezviter. This chronicle belongs to the short story type of Byzantine chronicles. The author has made a list with the names and years of ruling of different biblical characters and worldly rulers, starting with Adam and ending with the contemporary of the author, in other words, until the rule of the Byzantine Vasilevs – Lev VI Philosopher (896-911).[19] The chronicle was made in accordance with – The Short Chronograph of the Constantinopole Patriarch Niciphor. Besides this source, the chronicle contains additional materials from different sources or written by Constantine himself, as a result of his studies. The example with “Histories” indicates the response of the strong Byzantine influence in the field of short chronicles.
     The further development of medieval Slav chronicle leads to the knowledge that that path was at the same time evolutionary, but also very gradual. In the following periods, besides the creation of original texts, a compilation of Byzantine chronicles and Southern Slav historical events was made. The biggest production, again, was noticed in the field of translation of Byzantine chronicles. The development of Southern Slav chronography marked the production of works that reflected certain events, often without a connection between them, a process that did not result in creation of a universal worldly chronicle extensively presenting the events that could influence Macedonian Middle Age society. In that respect, we underline “The Anonymous Chronicle” from the XV century as the best creation, that followed the coming of the Turks from Asia Minor on the Balkan Peninsula and the wars from 1296-1417 with some mistakes in the chronology and data connected with the names of the participants in the events. So, “The Anonymous Chronicle” is a fully worldly creation that reflects exceptionally important events of the life on the Balkan and contains a true historical value of the events. But, beside its importance as better documentation and authentic presentation, it does not go beyond the limits of short chronicles. Actually, the missing continuity between some works with historiogrphical character and appropriate perception of different historical periods or events reflected in them was the main quality from Byzantine historiography. Therefore, the break through and the production of the historiographical works in the Macedonian medieval literature are not seen in a continuous and synchronized order that should result with the creation of global universal chronicle.
     The historical-chronological works, identified in our medieval literature, are characterized by absence of monoliths within the genre, and the works differ according to their form, idea and composition. But, beside the certain amount of discontinuity, the Macedonian chronological production, although not so rich, shows an interesting variety within the genre. Thus, the historical-chronological production is marked where events from the history of the church and the state are treated presented through the level of the historical awareness of the intelligence, anticipating its impact over the people who are interested in obtaining historical knowledge. This chronological literature continuous the tradition of the short chronicles, but in a new form, connected with panegyric literature. In our chronicle tradition the occurrence of the literary form annal story is noticed. Its content usually treats one historical event, not a chain of events, and in the interpretation the public relation towards the presentation and the knowledge of the historical and spiritual value of the nation is noted. The apocrypha chronicle appears as an independent chronicle cycle as a more informative form in expressing the historical idea of the period of the Byzantine lordship (XI-XII century). Evident is the connection with folklore tradition, while their construction differentiates them as apocalyptic stories of biblical motives formed as certain episodes of current historical events. The production of the literary-historical works in Macedonian medieval literature is explained by the influence of the rich Byzantine chronicle tradition, the domestic historiographical sources, and with intuitive compositions that draw closer, or are distant from certain models thanks to the characteristic procedure of genre blending from the medieval genre system within one creation.[20]
     The historical-chronicle literature in the genre system of the Slav medieval literature is very important as a phenomenon in both forms – the translated and the self-reliant, original. The translated appears as an indicator of the cultural field of the medieval feudal society and its interests. At the same time, what is translated and how it is translated the development of our intellectual environment in different periods can be seen, as well as the educated field of writers and readers, the new ideological phenomena that brings forth literary atmosphere of the specific time. This translated historical-chronological literature shows the interests and tastes of the ruling class and its interest for worldly non-religious matters significant for learning about the past of the world. Through this translated historiographical literature, the Southern Slav reader was indirectly connected with Byzantine literature, and with some earlier cultures. The contact with the East and the Hellenistic culture was made through the translations from Greek language of the historical stories, apocrypha, and histories. In their first version they come from India, Palestine, Egypt. The connection with the ancient culture, again, is seen through the original Byzantine literature that accepts the ancient traditions in relation with the genre or contains data about the ancient.[21] Through the Byzantine chronicles the Slav writers in the Middle Age come into the ancient world, while in the original works they add a number of ancient ideas in different forms. Furthermore, they meet with the Old Greek poets, philosophers and scientists.
     On the other hand, again as original literature, the historical-chronicle literature points out not only the interest toward certain events of the history of nations, but also expresses important national tendencies mixed with national assignments with dominate personal feelings and perceptions, and thus, historical narratives receives a typical artistic treatment. The original in literature is expressed in the contents; seen from different aspects as problematical, as a literary tendency, an expression of defined ideas, as an atmosphere of relevant time. In the original production the contradictions and the basic tendencies in the Macedonian social system, expressed through the collision of relevant ideas, and connecting various cultural levels are apparent.


1. D.S. Lihacov, Poetics of Old Russian literature (translated by D. Bogdanovik), Belgrade 1972, pg.51.
2. D.S. Lihacov, Poetics…, pg.60.
3. Katica Kulafkova, The continuity of the Macedonian literary history – (some literary– historical and theoretical-methodical confrontations), Literary context, 1, Skopje 1995, pg.36.
4. D.S. Lihacov, Poetics… , pg. 55-56.
5. Krasimir Stancev, Styles and genres of Old Bulgarian Literature, Sofia 1985, pg. 58.
6. D.S. Lihacov, Poetics… , pg. 69-70.


7. Milijana Kaimakova, Bulgarian medieval historiography, Sofia 1990, pg. 12.
8. N.L. Rubinshtein, Russian historiography, Moskva 1941, pg.17.
9. Ivan Bozilov, Old Bulgarian Literature, Historical Events, part three, Sofia 1983, pg. 22.
10. Norman Ingm, Narative Mode and Literary kind in Medieval Orthodox Literatures: Theses, Old Paleobulgarica, Sofia 1993 (XVII), No.3, pg. 39-40.
11. Norman Ingm, Narative mode… pg.42.
12. Dimitrije Bogdanovic, Preface to “The Ways of Byzantine Literature” from Hans Georg Beck, Belgrade 1967, pg.51.


13. Krasimir Stancev, Styles and genres…, pg. 56-97.
14. Milijana Kaimakamova, Bulgarin medieval… , pg. 22.
15. Ilija Velev, Macedonian Literature XIVcentury, Skopje 1996, pg. 255.
16. Svetlina Nikolova, Chronicle, – In: Old Bulgarian literature – Encyclopaedia, Sofia 1992, pg. 498.
17. Djordje Trifunovic, Serbian Alphabet Book of Medieval Literary Terms, Belgrade 1990, pg. 365.


18. Ilija Velev, Macedonian…, pg.257.
19. Vera Antic, From Medieval Literature, Skopje 1976, pg.43-49.
20. Ivan Bozilov, Historical… , pg. 26.
21. Donka Petkanova, Old Bulgarian literature IX-XVII century, Sofia 1992, pg. 25.

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