Nestor the Chronicler, also Nestor Pechersky, Nestor of Kyiv (c. 1056-1114) — Old Russian chronicler, hagiographer of the late XI — early XII centuries, monk of the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves.
Traditionally considered as one of the authors of The Tale of Bygone Years, which, along with the Chronicle of the Czechs by Cosmas of Prague and the Deeds of the Princes of the Poles by Gallus Anonymus, is of fundamental importance for Slavic culture.
The farther from us the life of a person along the time axis, the more difficult it is to tell about it more or less accurately. Sometimes it is even difficult to convincingly assert that this or that character is a real historical person, and not the work of a talented fiction of idle chroniclers.
Not everything is clear with many legendary founders. The first emperor of Japan, Jimmu, according to many chronicles, was born on February 13, 711 BC, and died on April 9, 585, having lived 126 years. However, all archaeological evidence suggests that the Japanese state arose a thousand years later. But for such words once they could have been imprisoned…
Well, the founders of powers have such fate — to remain in history with an embellished biography. But what about, for example, the philosopher Socrates? His works have not come down to us, and what they write about him is so poorly combined with each other that some people believe that there was no Socrates — Plato simply invented him as a training example. And they make a pretty convincing proofs…
Many are sure of the existence of the terrible vampire Dracula — and, by the way, he actually lived, but was not a vampire, although he really was distinguished by cruelty. Even the epic Ilya Muromets, even though he hardly killed the Nightingale the Robber, he really existed, moreover, in 1643 he was canonized as a saint and his relics are now stored in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.
And not far from Ilya Muromets are the relics of another legendary person, we have enough evidence to prove his existence — his works are published even now, anyone can read them. Not everything about him has come down to us through the thickness of time, but information is collected bit by bit, because he is interesting to everyone — at least as the creator of the languages we speak.
He was born around the same time that Yaroslav the Wise died — the last of the princes who single-handedly ruled all of Kievan Rus. Dashing and funny times began, fraught with a bunch of events, and, as the poet Mykola Glazkov rightly said, “… the more interesting a century is for a historian, the sadder it is for a contemporary.” The historian was in demand — and he was not slow to be born.
In what family — do not even try to find out, too much time has passed. It is unlikely that in a very noble one — such young man would most likely be persuaded to continue his father’s affairs. It is unlikely that in the very poor — the presence of a certain education and an obvious craving for knowledge was clearly laid down from childhood.
The times were not particularly stable religiously — St. Volodymyr baptized Russia, and little by little the entire population was Christianized, but pagan resistance had to be suppressed for centuries. Moreover, Nestor obviously came from a family that adopted Christianity not only as the official religion, in which it was ordered to believe if you don’t want trouble, but also with heart and soul.
Where he studied — one can only guess. Once he lived in Kyiv, he could finish school at the St. Sophia Metropolitan Residence, such assumptions are made. If so, he almost certainly knew Greek to some extent. It seems to be true, or rather not to know…
TO THE VOCATION
At the age of seventeen, on his own initiative, he came as a novice to the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves, founded about five years before his birth by the monk Anthony Pechersky and his associate Theodosius. It was Theodosius who was the first mentor of the young man.
Already the successor of Theodosius, hegumen Stefan, carried out the tonsure of Nestor as a monk. At the same time, the future chronicler was immediately awarded the rank of hierodeacon. Such an initiation meant a break with the tempol life, was accompanied by an indispensable vow of celibacy, and was to determine the rest of life.
He immediately earned the respect of the monastic brethren. Among other reverend fathers, he participated in the exorcism of the demon from the hermit Mykyta, “tempted by Jewish sophistication”. I don’t know how exactly it was expelled, but Mykyta later became a Novgorod hierarch…
An educated monk who knew the Greek language, the Holy Scriptures and the works of the holy fathers, was clearly inclined towards the work of a scriptor — a copyist of sacred books and a scribe. I think that he quickly found a desire not only to rewrite other people’s texts, but also to compose his own.
THE STORY ABOUT BORYS AND HLIB
Correspondence of sacred books was then the most important and necessary thing — four centuries remained before the invention of book printing in Europe, and the need for church literature in the course of the ongoing general Christianization of Rus’ was great. But if there is a craving for creativity, it still doesn’t work to hide it for a long time. So Nestor had his own compositions.
The first of these was the book Reading about the Life and Destruction of the Blessed Passion-Bearers Borys and Hlib, written shortly after the transfer of their holy relics to Vyshgorod, which took place in 1072. This is a story about the death of two brothers of Yaroslav the Wise, who were killed by the insidious Svyatopolk.
The main thing in this book is the glorification of the innocently murdered martyrs who know that they will be killed, but do not want to oppose their criminal brother. Borys dies with the words, “As the Lord pleases, so it will be,” and his servants say, “What goodness you are filled with, that you did not want to resist your brother for the love of Christ, and yet how many soldiers you kept under your arm!”
In the same way, without resistance, Hlib also dies, before his death asking God to save not only his father, brothers and squad, but also Svyatopolk, who is destroying him. This work is the life of the saints, and Borys and Hlib behave like exemplary Christian saints, showing nobility and fearlessness.
THE STORY ABOUT THEODOSIA
His next well-known work is the life of a man personally known to him, his first mentor Theodosius of the Caves. It is not very similar to the usual standard of the lives of the saints, it is full of bright everyday details, colorful images and descriptions of events.
The Life of Theodosius is distinguished by the liveliness of the literary characteristics of the characters. Nestor achieves the illusion of plausibility in describing the miracles performed by Theodosius, skillfully portraying the dialogues of the main characters and even random characters that enliven the story.
The image of mother of Theodosius is especially prominent in the Life Of Theodosius: contrary to tradition, Nestor doesn’t depict a pious Christian not devoid of any individual features, appearing in the conditional role of the mother of a saint, but a completely living person, not without flaws.
He describes a domineering, stern woman who resolutely opposes the religious aspirations of her son, who does not stop at brutally beating or chaining the boy, who dreams only of charitable deeds and tonsure. It’s rare for life…
Nestor’s participation in the canonization of his teacher was not limited with this — in 1091, it was Nestor, whom hegumen John instructed to go in search of the relics of Theodosius, which, as it is customary to write in hagiographic writings, were miraculously found by the hands of Nestor and two more monks.
But the work of Nestor that we now know and honor most of all is, of course, The Tale of Bygone Years. The author began it with the words: “Here are the stories of the past years, where did the Rus’ land come from, who was the first to reign in Kyiv, and how the Russian land arose.” Massive application!
The beginning is no less ambitious: not exactly from Adam and Eve, but from the sons of Noah — Japheth, Shem and Kham. According to Nestor, it was from the eldest son of Noah Japhet that the Slavs descended — in particular, the polans Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv. So then it was supposed to, but this not quite historical preamble quickly ended. Since the year 6360, from the creation of the world — in our opinion 852 the real facts have begun to be told.
Describing the times before his own birth, Nestor, of course, used numerous sources — the Ancient Code, recreated only by reference to it, additions made to it by the monk Nikon, the Byzantine Сhronicle of Georgy Amartola, stories of the old boyar Jan Vyshatych, memoirs of warriors and travelers. The completeness and detail of his work is unique.
He describes the arrival of Rurik, and the campaigns of Oleg, and the death of Igor, and the revenge of Olga, and the victories of Svyatoslav, and the dispute about faith at the court of Volodymyr, and the difficult path to power of Yaroslav — many of these events have already been mentioned in our rubric, and information of Nestor was important and valuable.
Records of times before Nestor’s work began are more lapidary. Sometimes there is nothing but the number of the year in them. But the information about the years in which he lived is more detailed and, perhaps, more emotional. This is evident even with all the external attributes of impartiality that he observes.
In the annals, he calls himself either “ignorant”, then “unworthy”, then “rude”, then “full of many sins”, than even “the least of all in the monastery”. Just as befits a modest and humble monk. But The Tale of Bygone Years is not only the most important source of invaluable historical information — it is a great literature, undoubtedly of world-class.
AFTER THE NESTOR
Nestor brought his chronicle up to 1110 — while he still had the ability to continue working. In all likelihood, he died in 1114. The man left this world, and his book began its independent life, also not without sharp turns and curious adventures.
The first edition of The Tale of Bygone Years, in the form in which Nestor created it, has not survived. In 1113, the patron of the Pechersk Monastery, the Kyiv prince Svyatopolk Izyaslavich, died, and his place on the Kyiv table was taken by Volodymyr Monomakh, who began to conflict with the leaders of the Kyiv Pechersk Monastery and transferred the annals to the Vydubetsky monastery.
In 1116, abbot Sylvester from Vydubets somehow edited the last pages of The Tale of Bygone Years, trying to emphasize the merits of Volodymyr Monomakh, to show him as a wise prince and defender of Rus. This is how the second edition of The Tale of Bygone Years appeared.
It seems that two years later, in 1118, the manuscript went through another editing. The customer and, possibly, the author of this edition was the son of Volodymyr Monomakh Mstyslav. For the annals of those times (and not only those), noble editing was in the order of things.
But even this edition did not come down to us independently, but as part of other, later chronicle collections. The oldest of them is the Laurentian Chronicle, written by the monk Lavrenty in 1377 and accidentally found only in the 18th century by Prince Musin-Pushkin in St. Petersburg.
It is also included in the Ipatiev Chronicle, and there its list is somewhat more complete — there is information that is absent in the Laurentian Chronicle. Let’s say, only there it is indicated that the Varangian Rurik settled in Ladoga — this date is not in the Laurentian Chronicle. There are other minor differences…
If even the reality of William Shakespeare, who lived half a millennium later, is doubted, it is not surprising that Nestor did not manage to avoid this fate. A number of historians have questioned his very existence, considering the chronicler as a kind of conditional, collective image.
They found a number of contradictions between the individual information contained in The Tale of Bygone Years about the Kyiv Monastery of Caves, and the same information contained in other works of Nestor — let’s say, in The Life of Theodosius. But this happens…
In the Lavrentievsky and a number of other lists, the text is interrupted by the entry of the abbot of the Vydubetsky monastery Sylvester “Hegumen Sylvester of St. Michael wrote books and a chronicler.” But this is just easy to explain — it is indicated above that he edited the final articles…
The name of Nestor is indicated only in the so-called Khlibnykovsky list, written on paper of the 16th century — there the manuscript is signed with the words “Nestor, Chernorites of the Feodosievsky Pechersky Monastery”. His name is also mentioned in the Kyiv Caves Patericon, where Saint Polycarp remembered the author of The Tale of Bygone Years as follows: “Nestor, who wrote the Chronicler.”
So it seems that he really existed and created his works — just like Shakespeare, Socrates and, unfortunately, Dracula. His memoirs of 1096 about the Polovtsian raid on the Caves Monastery were clearly written by a person who personally experienced it. So don’t hesitate…
Nestor the Chronicler is officially canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church and other churches, not only Orthodox ones — for example, under the name Nestor the Chronicler of the Caves, he is one of the saints of the Roman Catholic Church. His relics are in the Near Lavra Caves.
In the USSR, two postage stamps dedicated to him were issued — in 1956 and 1978. There is such stamp (from 1998) in Ukraine. And the National Bank of Ukraine in 2006 issued a gold commemorative coin of 50 hryvnias dedicated to Nestor the Chronicler.
Monuments to Nestor the Chronicler were erected in Kyiv, Boryspil and a number of other cities. There are streets of Nestor the Chronicler in at least eight different settlements in Ukraine. And in Kyiv, two churches were erected in the name of the Monk Nestor the Chronicler: on Promyslova Street and Dobrokhotov Street.
November 9, the day of honoring the memory of Nestor the Chronicler since 1997, is celebrated as the Day of Ukrainian Writing and Language. And this is understandable — after all, Nestor is, perhaps, the first writer known to us for all speakers of East Slavic languages. Undoubtedly — Ukrainian too.
All illustrations from open sources