Retroversion as a Tool of Interpretation

Alexander Kulik, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The overwhelming majority of early Slavic documents are translated texts. Unlike Greek, Latin, and some other medieval sacral languages with developed pre-Christian literary traditions, Old Church Slavonic was initially created as a lingua translationis from Greek, and mainly from the"Semitized" Greek of the Bible and early Christian literature. Many of the Slavic writings could hardly be properly interpreted without referring to their Vorlage. This problem is especially striking when we deal with those
texts for which there are no surviving originals or versions in other languages. For these texts, referring to their Vorlage means an attempt to reconstruct (or "retrovert") it. There are instances when this is possible, sometimes with a high level of confidence.

The absence of a developed general methodology of retroversion (which, moreover, must differ for different cultural patterns) deprives us of the advantage of an a priori methodological approach. The elaboration of principles and tools for the retroversion based on Slavonic material (accompanied by practical application to a wide range of texts and the accumulation of successful solutions) should be among the primary goals for students of mediaeval Slavic written culture. This paper will present typical problems of interpretation of different kinds of medieval Slavic translated texts and also propose a methodology (based on concrete examples) for their solution involving different retroversion techniques.