May 01, 2012

Izmail Ivanovich Sreznevsky

Izmail Ivanovich Sreznevsky

Until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, few people took an interest in Russia’s ancient linguistic or cultural history. There were, of course, a few scholars who studied ancient texts and historians who collected old manuscripts, but for most Russians, Russian antiquity was far from their everyday concerns.

After the reign of Peter the Great, Russia applied considerable effort to adopting European culture, as a result of which, traditional Russian culture was given short shrift. This situation was not, however, unique to Russia. Something similar had taken place in the West. The eighteenth century was the age of Classicism. The only antiquity that mattered was that of ancient Greece and Rome, the eternal and immutable culture that was seen as Europe’s common heritage. The heroes, gods, and legends of Greek and Roman antiquity offered the ideals against which everything else was to be measured.

But for some reason, with the passage of time, the situation began to change. As the nineteenth century progressed, more and more Russian writers, philosophers, and historians began to ponder their own country’s past, what it was that made Russia unique, its folklore, its ancient culture, its rituals and customs. What had only recently been viewed as no more than the uncivilized behavior of simple folk now became a subject of study and contemplation.

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