Do the Parallels Meet? The Vita Constantini and the Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadīm on the Origin of Rusian Script


Wednesday, October 21, 2020, 2:30pm to 4:00pm


YouTube (public); Zoom (registration required)

Andriy Danylenko, Professor of Russian and Slavic Linguistics, Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, Pace University

Vita Constantini and the Fihrist of al-NadīmThe paper deals with the statement in the Vita Constantini about a gospel text and the psalter written in ‘Rusian letters’ (rousьskymi pismeny) by adding to the discussion an account found in Kitāb al-fihrist (Liber index) compiled in AD. 987–98 by Muḥammad ibn Isḥāq al-Nadīm about Rusian writing. Since Frähn (1836) this account has been in the focus of numerous studies concerned with the attribution and decipherment of the inscription (e.g., Magnússon, Sjögren, Gedeonov, Talankin, Serjakov, Lewicka-Rajewska). The author proposes to ascertain the ethnic origin of al-Rūsiya (Rus’) in order to determine the type of writing used by them at the time of al-Nadīm and Constantine the Philosopher.

Conceivably, both a specimen of Rusian writing adopted by al-Nadīm to Arabic script and ‘Rusian letters’ discovered by Constantine the Philosopher in Kherson refer to one and the same proto-Slavic script used by Rus’ before the Moravian mission. Arguably, al-Nadīm reproduced a sample of either (1) a runiform script as used by the Varangian Rus’ in Old Ladoga, Great Novgorod, and further south or (2) a pre-Christian Slavic script as attested in “primary writing” (parchments, birch-bark, wooden tablets).

Andriy Danylenko is professor of Russian and Slavic linguistics in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures at Pace University (New York) and an associate at the Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University. He holds a Ph.D. in General Linguistics from the Moscow People’s Friendship University (Russia). He is the editor and author of several books on Slavic linguistics and philology as well as dozens of studies on a wide array of topics ranging from Indo-European to standard Ukrainian. Among his latest books are Slavic on the Language Map of Europe: Historical and Areal-Typological Dimensions (in co-editorship with Motoki Nomachi, Walter de Gruyter, 2019), From the Bible to Shakespeare: Pantelejmon Kulis (1819–1897) and the Formation of Literary Ukrainian (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2016). Danylenko has been recipient of several prestigious fellowships, including two Fulbright research grants (Harvard University, 1997; Warsaw University, Poland, 2016), Eugene and Daymel Shklar Fellowship (Harvard University, 2008), and Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Hokkaido University, 2013). He is a reviewer for numerous scholarly publications and programs in Europe, Japan, and the US, including the Polish-US Fulbright Commission. He is the editor of a new book series, Studies in Slavic, Baltic, and Eastern European Languages and Cultures (Lexington Books-Rowman & Littlefield). His current book project is titled Constantine the Philosopher and Ibn al-Nadīm on Rusian Writing: Rus’, Slavs, and their Neighbors in Arabic-Islamic Sources until the mid-11th Century.

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