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The Menaion for the month of June


Last week we published a mysterious inscription from this manuscript on Tumblr.  In response to requests for more information, we’re also sharing these excerpts from a recently prepared book history.

Written in the Raifa Monastery, near Kazan’ (Russia) in October 1624 (1623?) by the Elder Barsonophius.


Manuscript on paper 15.3 x 20.7 cm, 4to in 8s, 228 leaves; all quires intact.

Written in Church Slavonic in a single hand on a medium weight paper. Original ms. side notes, contemporary ms. record of date, scribe name and place. Light water stains, occasional spots of wax, a few edges a little frayed, tiny ink holes in two leaves, small worm trail at gutter in lower blank margins of one gathering. A very good clean copy with its original wide margins.

Bound in high quality Russian morocco over thick wooden boards. Metal bosses and centerpieces lost, remains of original brass clasps.



The Menaion (from Greek, μην, “month”, Church Slavonic minea) is the name of several liturgical books in the Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Romanian, Georgian, Serbian, etc.) Church.

The Christian calendar comprises two series of offices. There are movable feasts, falling on the days of the ecclesiastical year dependent on Easter (which is determined by the Jewish, i.e. Lunar calendar); and immovable, set to certain days of the month by the solar calendar, such as the feasts of our Lord: His Nativity (Christmas) Transfiguration, Theophany (Epiphany); of the Blessed Virgin, and of the saints. The offices for these “fixed” feasts are contained in the menaia (pl. for menaion). In the Roman breviary it corresponds to the Proprium Sanctorum.

A menaion, one for every month, contains the offices for immovable feasts, according to the liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church.


The Menaia are used by clergy for daily services. This particular menaion is of specific interest because it antedates the extensive reform by Nikon (1605-1681), the seventh Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, c.1654, revising all service books according to the Greek liturgical tradition, a fateful event that led to a deep schism in the Russian Church.

After this reform many of the pre-existing copies were discarded or burned as redundant.

All Russian service books antedating 1624, whether printed or written, are extremely rare and valuable.


The text has, sometimes substantial and important, variant readings from the standard Menaion for June. Grammatical mistakes signify that the Menaion was read aloud to the scribe rather than copied from another manuscript.


 The ms. contains 29 gatherings, 228 leaves. All gatherings contain 4 bifolia (8 leaves), except the first and last quire, which have 7 and 5 leaves respectively; apparently, first blank leaf of the first quire is used as paste-down, and two blank leaves at the end – one is cut out, the other is used as paste-down.

All quires are numbered in Church Slavonic numbers, apparently by the scribe.

Leaf numbering made in a different ink, by a different (19th cent.?) hand in Arabic numerals at the top right corner.


The text is written in elegant Cyrillic polu-ustav (semi-uncial, a minuscule) script, in a single hand, with characteristic overwriting, ligatures and abbreviations that are common in Cyrillic as well as Latin manuscripts, motivated mainly by two reasons : to distinguish sacred names and matters from ordinary ones, and to save space. Stresses are absent which is unusual for Slavonic service manuscripts. Small dots over the text suggest that it was chanted.


At the foot of the first ten leaves contemporary manuscript record of date, origin and scribe.


The inscription could be translated as: In the year 7132 of our Lord, in the month of October in 22nd day [has finished writing] this book Menaion [for the] month of June, for the Glory of the most pure Theotokos (Mother of God), in the Raifa monastery, in this same monastery tonsure monk Elder Barsonophius.

This inscription clearly indicates not only the name and position of the scribe – Elder Barsonophius, but gives us the place –Raifa monastery, and the date – 1624 (1623?).

The Raifa monastery (about 450 miles East from Moscow) dedicated to the Mother of God was established in 1613 by hieromonk Philaret. This secluded, beautiful place on the lake Sumka was surrounded by deep woods populated by wild animals.



At the very end of the manuscript, at the bottom of the last page, there is a mysterious inscription in Cyrillic characters:


The language is not Slavonic, and resists deciphering.

We assumed a possibility that our Fr. Barsonophius could have been a local man of Tatar or Cheremiss origin, and asked native speakers of those languages to look at the inscription. Alas, they failed to recognize anything familiar.

Any service book in the seventeenth century was regarded as a venerable, even sacred thing, thus the smallest mistake or a slip of the pen was considered a sin. It was customary for a scribe to finish a manuscript with a humble request to readers to correct mistakes if found. However it is only a conjecture. So far a language of this final inscription has remained an enigma for these researchers, who would be grateful for any clue.

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The Battle of Waterloo

map-2You, whose greatcoats were lithely streaming,
Reminiscent of broad sails,
Whose voice and spurs were gaily ringing
Like silver bells,

Whose eyes, like diamonds, were leaving
On hearts their delightful trace,–
The charming fops of vanished being
In time and space.
(Marina Tsvetaeva, To the Generals of 1812)

“The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday, 18 June 1815, near Waterloo in present-day Belgium, then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.”

Two hundred years ago two very ambitious generals met in the battlefield.

Napoleon Bonaparte, former Emperor of the French, and Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, had a lot in common: both were forty-six years old, born only a few month apart; both had very little interest in education, but could make rapid and precise mental calculations; overconfident and dictatorial, both were unhappily married yet loved by many women. The difference between them was one — but a major one: Wellington was born noble, while Napoleon was not… That defined their characters: almost “supernaturally balanced” Wellington was not vain in any sense, treated everyone equally, with the same directness, from monarchs to soldiers; Napoleon admired pomp, power and attention; treated people as inferiors, including kings and princes. Wellington cared for his soldiers, never sacrificed his troops for a quick victory; Napoleon was his complete opposite, could not stand rivals and claimed all credits for victories for himself. He never learned from his failures, in which he usually blamed others.

The battle of Waterloo was one of the bloodiest at the time. More than fifty thousand men and countless horses were left dead on the field at the end of the day.

It seems that fate was not on Napoleon’s side this time. It had been raining the whole night before, and by the dawn the battlefield turned into a bog. Napoleon’s cannons got stuck in the heavy mud up to the axles; Wellington’s smaller troops were positioned uphill, so Napoleon’s cavalry could not effectively attack; while Wellington was athletic and exceptionally fit, Napoleon’s suffering from hemorrhoids that day was also seen by historians as the reason for his failure; both sides were exhausted in the five hours of fighting, when Blucher with his Prussian troops arrived and decided the outcome of the battle in favor of the Allies. This ended Napoleon’s military career and the war which was going on and off since 1805.

big-book2Here in Special Collections we have a very beautiful book, A Summary of the Life of Arthur Duke of Wellington: from His First Achievements to the Decisive Battle of Waterloo, June 18, 1815, by Robert Southey.

Known mostly as one of the finest poets of the so called “Lake School”, Robert Southey (1774-1843) was also known to his contemporaries as a biographer of John Wesley and Lord Nelson, and to the majority of us as the author of “The Three Bears”.

The book in our collection is bound in a crimson morocco leather with gold tooled borders. But the most delightful secret lurks in its fore-edge paining. Practically unnoticeable to the unsuspecting reader, it suddenly reveals a battlefield when edges are squeezed properly. You can then see charging soldiers, explosions… And if you look long enough you might even hear a distant rumble of cannons!



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Aldus Manutius Romanus, 1449-1515

We do not know the exact place and time of Aldus’s birth. Most scholars agree that he was born around 1449 near Rome, and died on February 6, 1515, apparently after a long illness in Venice.


At about 1501 Aldus adopted his famous printer’s device of dolphin and anchor. According to the popular legend, Cardinal Pietro Bembo gave Aldus a denarius of Vespasian, on the reverse of which was the image of a dolphin entwined with the anchor.

Aldus’s motto σπεῦδε βραδέως (make haste slowly), or festina lente in Latin, is attributed to Augustus by Suetonius.

“The Prince of Humanists”, Erasmus, made a cheeky compliment to the “Prince of Printers” in his Adages: “Aldus, making haste slowly, has acquired as much gold as he has reputation, and richly deserves both.” The more delicate Bembo thought that the image was to symbolize Aldus’s aim to “produce much by slow action”.

It would became the most famous printer’s device of Aldus’s time, pirated by the contemporary publishers and just crooked printers, coveted by book collectors of all times.  Demand for Aldine texts was high. Aldus once remarked that the pace of work in his shop was such that “with both hands occupied and surrounded by pressmen who are clamorous for work, there is scarcely even time to blow my nose.”

Between 1494 and 1515 he produced some 134 editions: 68 in Latin, 58 in Greek, and 8 in Italian. A typical edition ran to 1000 to 2000 copies.

Aldus Manutius Romanus, 1449-1515 will be on exhibit in the Ellis Library Colonnade through February 2015.

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Blessed are the Merciful…, or Missouri to the Rescue

Only a few days separate us from Christmas, and at this time we especially remember people in need, and perhaps try to do something to help them. I wanted to recall a story of great generosity and humanity.

Russia, a major exporter of grain in the 19th century, in 1891-92 suffered one of the most disastrous famines in its history. It was a combination of inclement weather and severe drought that struck the Russian South. People starved, many died.

It was estimated that about 35 million people were affected. The exact death toll is not known, but Richard Robbins, an American historian, put it at about 300,000.

The government, and especially the royal family, did everything to alleviate the disaster; the Emperor himself gave half of his income, around five million rubles, to relief funds; he also appointed the heir to the throne, Grand Duke Nicolas, the future Emperor Nicolas II, as chairman of one of the major relief committees; many wealthy people generously donated money and personally participated in the relief efforts. Anton Chekhov, the famous writer who was a physician by training, went with other doctors to the regions stricken by cholera and typhus to treat the sick and needy; Leo Tolstoy collected and distributed relief donations and organized food stations for peasants.

Leo Tolstoy and the relief committee

Leo Tolstoy (center) and the relief committee

The United States responded swiftly and generously. Millers of Minneapolis organized a gift of flour; Nebraskans contributed one-and-a-half million pounds of corn meal; besides, Americans collected through charities about a million dollars in addition to several shipments of humanitarian aid. First to the Russian shores (the Baltic port of Libava, now in Latvia) came the steamer Missouri with the cargo of grain. Two more U.S. ships followed later.

The Missouri at sea

 The Missouri at sea ( from: W. C. Edgar, The Russian Famine of 1891 and 1892)

The future Emperor Nicolas II said:” We are all deeply touched by the fact that America sent us ships full of foodstuff.” A special resolution prepared by the distinguished representatives of the Russian public stated: “The United States show us the most moving example of brotherly feelings by sending bread to the Russian people at the time of such privation and need.”

One of the most famous marine artists, Ivan Aivazovsky, depicted the arrival of the Missouri to the Russian shores.

Ivan Aivazovsky. “Arrival of the ship “Missouri” with grain to Russia”.


And here is a depiction of the joyful reception of the American help in the Russian village by the same artist.

Aivazovsky, American help arrived


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Autograph of Alexander Blok


Sometime ago, while preparing books for visitors, I opened the first issue of the magazine Love for Three Oranges, January 1914, and was surprised to see Alexander Blok’s autograph on the title page. The slim, almost homemade, magazine was published by Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874 – 2 February 1940), a brilliant and provocative Russian theatre director, under the nom de guerre Doctor Dapertutto, and the playful, theatrical, and sometimes clownesque nature of the magazine didn’t immediately associate in my mind with the tragic figure of Blok.

Autograph 4One of the most famous Russian poets, Blok (1880-1921) was born in St. Petersburg to a refined, cultivated family of Russian gentry. The son, grandson and a son-in-law of the university professors, he was, by the definition of another poet, “the pampered child of a good home, who had been caressed by “tender women”, who, however, saw himself as an “orphaned outcast, and began to write most of his poems in the name of the man who was desperate, unsheltered, and buffeted by the wind” *Blok, student
Poet of doom and gloom, he enjoyed the unsurpassed admiration of his contemporaries, and perhaps of one or two generations thereafter.
It is impossible to convey the bewitching music of his poetry in translation, but I’d like to give this small example:
A night, a street, a lamp, a drugstore
A meaningless and dismal light
A quarter century outpours –
It’s all the same. No chance to flight.

You’d die and rise anew, begotten.
All would repeat as ever might:
The street, the icy rippled water,
The store, the lamp, the lonely night.

Or another version of the same:
Some night and street, some chemist's lantern
Is bringing senseless weary light.
Well, nothing changes, that's one pattern,
Live extra twenty-five and find.

You die to start a life all over,
All things repeat as did before.
That night, cold waters at quay border,
That light, that street, that chemist's store. (October 10th, 1912) 

Personally, I have never fallen under the spell of Blok’s poetry, even in my youth, clearly preferring to him Gumilev and Khodasevich at the beginning, later Pasternak and Mandel’shtam. But I happen to know people who could cite Blok’s poems by heart for a long time nonstop. Cultivated and highly intelligent women and men, they regarded him with almost divine reverence and admiration, not quite comprehensible to me. Even Nabokov wrote that Blok was “by far the greatest poet of the first two decades of this (20th) century”**
The inscription on the title page says: “to much esteemed Alexander Alexandrovich Smirnov as a token of sincere devotion. A. Blok.”
The addressee of this autograph was three years Blok’s junior and his complete name-sake. At 31, Alexander Smirnov (1883-1962) was a well-known and well placed philologist, specialist in Celtic, French and Spanish literatures of the Renaissance, professor at St. Petersburg University, closely acquainted with, and well established in, the circles of the poets of the Russian Silver Age. Alexander Smirnov 2
At times I think that one of the more interesting aspects of work in the Special Collections is that intoxicating thought of the many hands that had leafed through this or that old book and with whom you therefore are “in touch” throughout times and across continents. In this case, we happen to know the principal actors: Blok, Smirnov, and Meyerhold. In January 1914 they were all young, immensely gifted, looking forward to the future. The World War will begin only at the end of July***, then the atrocities of the revolution and the Bolshevik coup d’état would pounce upon them and everybody else in Russia, and their lives will be forever changed. Blok will stop writing and will drink himself to death soon thereafter; Meyerkhold will be arrested, brutally tortured by Stalin’s henchmen and finally executed in 1940; and only Smirnov will be living a long and seemingly uneventful life of a respected professor and scholar, loyal to the Soviet regime. But this small book, jolly and pert, is our window onto the world of a hundred years ago, where we can be very close to the trio of colorful characters, seemingly just one touch removed.Multicover 2.docx

*Kornei Chukovsky, “Alexander Blok as man and poet”, Ardis, 1982
**Vladimir Nabokov, Eugene Onegin, III:525, 1951-55
*** World War I started on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918

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