The Martyred Princes Boris and Gleb: A Social-Cultural Study of the Cult and the Texts

Gail Lenhoff

The murdered princes Boris and Gleb enjoy a privileged status in the pantheon of Russian saints. Their vitae are ranked among the masterpieces of medieval Kievan literature. Nonetheless, fundamental questions remain about the circumstances of their life and death, the propagation of their legend and the nature of their veneration. Traditionally, the history of the cult and the texts have been the subject of separate scholarly studies. Lenhoff takes a comprehensive socio-cultural approach, arguing that the literary sources are the products of a particular Sitz im Leben which reflects the saints' cult as well as broader cultural systems that ordered the life of the community. The introductory chapter develops a protogeneric model for the etiology and typology of writings which were not conceptualized as belletristic. Chapter Two reconstructs the roots of Boris' and Gleb's initial cult and the history of their canonization. Individual chapters are devoted to the liturgical texts, the vitae, and the chronicle reports, analyzing their generation and their function for a particular audience. On the basis of miracle accounts and services to the saints, Lenhoff concludes that Boris and Gleb were initially the subject of popular, syncretic veneration and only later came to be identified as imperial patrons. She traces the heterogeneous forms and viewpoints of the anonymous Skazanie, the chtenie and the chronicle reports to specific socio-cultural contexts. The monograph is part of a long-term project to reassess the nature of Old Russian writing in terms of the cultural systems of medieval Rus'. "Lenhoff hat, gestuezt auf ihre theoretischen Vorgaben, eine in sich abgeschlossene und widerspruchfreie Argumentation vorgelegt. Moegen aus dem angekuendigten Projekt weitere aehnlich gruendliche Arbeiten hervorgehen!" (Jahrbuecher fuer Geschichte Osteuropas) "...excellent and provocative study ... Lenhoff's book is well written and conceived. The thorough treatment of the subject ... should serve as an example for future studies." (SEEJ)