The Belarusian Tristan
Introduction and Translation
by Zora Kipel


Author and Audience
The Belarusian version of the Tristan roman, the only extant Slavic version of the Tristan, exists in a single 16th century - manuscript located in the Raczynski Public Library in Poznan; Poland. <...>
In order to understand 16th-century Belarusian society, a few remarks of an historical nature are in order. The Belarusian territory at that time constituted the core of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a commonwealth made up of Belarusians, Lithuanians and Ukrainians. The Grand Duchy, in turn, joined Poland to constitute a commonwealth in 1569, with Belarusian as the official language. The documents of the Duchy, the Code of Laws, chronicles, and diplomatic correspondence with neighboring Slavic nations were conducted in this language. Besides its official use, the Belarusian language was the language of the nobility, which in the 16th century still professed the Eastern Orthodox religion and Belarusian culture for the most part. The Polonization of the Duchy, and especially of its noble classes, began later in the 17th century, well after the religious union of 1596 with Poland had occurred. The noble classes were educated, knew foreign languages, and had economic and cultural relations with their western neighbors, the Poles and the Czechs, the South Slavs, and other Europeans, especially the Italians and the Germans. Through travel they amassed sizable libraries, and then supported persons who were in charge of those libraries and had private scribes for their correspondence. These few rich and powerful titled families set an example for and influenced the lesser nobility (Shliakhta), who emulated them in every way possible. Thus, it is not surprising that in this atmosphere of a community of culture and languages, a literature for translation developed which was especially vigorous in 16th century Belarus. The codex owned by the Unikovski family is a only part of this literature; besides the Tristan it contains a translation of Buovo d'Antona and the Story of Attila. <...>
The language of the manuscript, with its rich vocabulary, is well established. It is the 16th century Belarusian literary language, but with enough dialectal characteristics to make the researchers speculate about the time and provenance of the work and the place of origin of the of the translator or scribe. <...>
Sources and Influences
<...> The dream of King Marko is not found in any other Tristan texts. It is, however, curiously reminiscent of Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun's Romance of the Rose, especially the beginning and the ending. Whether the Belarusian translator added this interesting piece, or whether it was already introduced in previous versions that served as a source cannot be determined with certainty. The fact remains that no known French or Italian Tristan version contains this beautiful account, which incidentally provides a plausible explanation of Izhota's suspicion of Braginia, and ties in nicely with Bragina's allegorical story about Izhota's ''drowning her flower'' at sea.

The Belarusian Tristan
[The King's Dream]
Then King Marko said to fair Izhota: ''I had a dream: there was a very fine kingdom and within it grew a very pretty rose bush, with very beautiful flowers on it; some knights were saying: ''This is a good country for this beautiful rose.'' The lord of this kingdom was saying: ''The kingdom is mine, but the rose is not mine; whoever will pick the rose flower, will have the bush''. Many knights came to this kingdom, and every knight wanted a flower from this rose, but no one could take it; then came one knight and extended his hand to this bush and took away one rosebloom. And the knights said, ''This is a wonder: for so long no one could take a flower from that bush, but this knight , as soon as he came, took the flower''. This knight was very happy about the rose, but when he wanted more flowers, he was not able to grab them. At this time I woke up from my dream''. Izhota said, ''My lord, it seems to me that knight who took the rose flower - the bush will be his''. The king thought that no one would comprehend it, but Izhota was very wise and understood why the king was saying this; she thought that Braginia had recounted to him her and Tristan's love-making. Izhota was very angry with Braginia and thought that she should not be alive.
Extracted from The Byelorussian Tristan. Introduction and translation by Zora Kipel. Garland Library of Medieval Literature. Volume 59. Series B. garland Publishing, Inc. New York & London. 1988

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