The Slavic Race and Languages; the Eastern and Western Stems; the Alphabets; the Old or Church Slavic Language; St. Cyril's Bible; the Pravda Russkaya; the Annals of Nestor.
THE SLAVIC RACE AND LANGUAGES.—The Slavic race, which belongs to the great Indo-European family of nations, probably first entered Europe from Asia, seven or eight centuries B.C. About the middle of the sixth century A.D. we find Slavic tribes crossing the Danube in great multitudes, and settling on both the banks of that river; from that time they frequently appear in the accounts of the Byzantine historians, under different appellations, mostly as involved in the wars of the two Roman empires; sometimes as allies, sometimes as conquerors, often as vassals, and oftener as emigrants and colonists, thrust out of their own countries by the pressing forward of the more warlike Teutonic tribes. In the latter half of the eleventh century the Slavic nations were already in possession of the whole extent of territory which they still occupy, from the Arctic Ocean on the north to the Black and Adriatic seas on the south, and from Kamtschatka and the Russian islands of the Pacific to the Baltic, and along the banks of the rivers Elbe, Muhr, and Ruab, again to the Adriatic. They are represented by early historians as having been a peaceful, industrious, hospitable people, obedient to their chiefs, and religious in their habits. Wherever they established themselves, they began to cultivate the earth, and to trade in the productions of the country. There are also early traces of their fondness for music and poetry.
The analogy between the Slavic and the Sanskrit languages indicates the Oriental origin of the Slavonians, which appears also from their mythology. The antithesis of a good and evil principle is met with among most of the Slavic tribes; and even at the present time, in some of their dialects, everything good and beautiful is to them synonymous with the purity of the white color; they call the good spirit the White God, and the evil spirit the Black God. We find also traces of their Oriental origin in the Slavic trinity, which is nearly allied to that of the Hindus. Other features of their mythology remind us of the sprightly and poetical imagination of the Greeks. Such is the life attributed to the inanimate objects of nature, rocks, brooks, and trees; such are also the supernatural beings dwelling in the woods and mountains, nymphs, naiads, and satyrs. Indeed, the Slavic languages, in their construction, richness, and precision, appear nearly related to the Greek and Latin, with which they have a common origin.
Following the division of the Slavic nations into the eastern and western stems, their languages may he divided into two classes, the first containing the Russian and the Servian idioms, the second embracing the Bohemian and the Polish varieties. The Slavi of the Greek faith use the Cyrillic alphabet, so called from St. Cyril, its inventor, a Greek monk, who went from Constantinople (862 A.D.) to preach to them the gospel. It is founded on the Greek, with modifications and additions from Oriental sources. The Hieronymic alphabet, particularly used by the priests of Dalmatia and Croatia, is so called from the tradition which attributes it to St. Hieronymus. The Bohemians and Poles use the Roman alphabet, with a few alterations.
St. Cyril translated the Bible into the language called the Old or Church Slavic, and from the fact that this translation, made in the middle of the ninth century, is distinguished by great copiousness, and bears the stamp of uncommon perfection in its forms, it is evident that this language must have been flourishing long before that time. The celebrated “Pravda Russkaya,” a collection of the laws of Jaroslav (1035 A.D.), and the “Annals of Nestor,” of the thirteenth century, are the most remarkable monuments of the old Slavic language. This, however, has for centuries ceased to be a living tongue.