Attributions to Andrei Kurbskii and Inferential (Bayesian) Probability

in Canadian-American Slavic Studies
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Attributions of original works, letters, and translations to Prince Andrei Mikhailovich Kurbskii (d. 1583) have been contested for almost 45 years. This article proposes that Bayesian or inferential probability be applied to a number of the main points of contention. Of central importance to the attribution question are the so-called Kurbskii miscellanies (sborniki Kurbskogo), which date no earlier than the mid-1670s. Among the works in the Kurbskii miscellanies are the History of the Grand Prince of Moscow, letters addressed to Tsar Ivan IV, the “Lithuanian” letters, and the History of the Eighth Council. Proponents of attributing these works to Kurbskii tend to weight the evidence differently from the way the skeptics of those attributions do, and both camps find explanations favorable to their respective positions for unexpected oddities in the evidence. No one issue has been defined conclusively in the favor of one side or the other, but placing the differences in the context of inferential probability may allow us to continue to discuss the contentious issues of the attributions in a productive manner.

Attributions to Andrei Kurbskii and Inferential (Bayesian) Probability

in Canadian-American Slavic Studies



ErusalimskiiSbornik Kurbskogo1: 3.


A.A. Zimin“Kogda Kurbskii napisal ‘Istoriiu o velikom kniaze Moskovskom’?” Trudy Otdela drevnerusskoi literatury 18 (1962): 305–308.


K. Iu. Erusalimskii“Ideal’nyi sovet v ‘Istorii o velikom kniaze Moskovskom’,” in Tekst v gumanitarnom znanii. Materialy mezhvuzovskoi nauchnoi konferentsii 22–24 aprelia 1997 g. ed. O.M. Meduzhevskaia M. Iu. Rumiantseva K. Iu. Erusalimskii and V.V. Zvereva (Moscow: Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi gumanitarnyi universitet 1997) pp. 79 86–87.


Inge Auerbach“Gedanken zur Entstehung von A.M. Kurbskijs ‘Istorija o velikom knjaze Moskovskom’,” Canadian-American Slavic Studies 13 nos. 1–2 (1979): 169 171.


Iu. D. Rykov“Redaktsii ‘Istorii’ kniaza Kurbskogo,” Arkheograficheskii ezhegodnik za 1970 godpp. 130–135.


Ibid. p. 137.


KaluginAndrei Kurbskii i Ivan Groznyi p. 39.


Inge Auerbach“Identity in Exile: Andrei Mikhailovich Kurbskii and National Consciousness in the Sixteenth Century,” in Culture and Identity in Muscovy 1389–1584ed. A.M. Kleimola and G.D. Lenhoff (Moscow: ITs-Garant 1997) p. 19.


ErusalimskiiSbornik Kurbskogo1: 679–689; and 1: 422–425.


Brain J. Boeck“Eyewitness or False Witness? Two Lives of Metropolitan Filipp of Moscow,” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 55 no. 2 (2007): 161–177.


Brian J. Boeck“Misellanea Attributed to Kurbskii: The 17th Century in Russia Was More Creative Than We Like to Admit,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 13 no. 4 (Fall 2012): 960–961.


Inge AuerbachAndrej Michajlovič Kurbskij. Leben in osteuropäischen Adelsgesellschaften des 16. Jahrhunderts (Munich: Otto Sagner1985) p. 21 fn. 5. A brother Roman is mentioned by the translator in an eighteenth-century (?) preface to a translation of John of Damascus which has been attributed to Kurbskii. See Juliane Besters-Dilger Die Dogmatik des Johannes von Damaskus in der Ubersetzung des Fursten Andrej M. Kurbskii (1528–1583) (Freiburg: U.W. Weiher 1995) pp. xlviii–xlix.


AuerbachAndrej Michajlovič Kurbskij p. 70. The History states: «умре потом на другое лето» which Fennell translated as “he died in the following year” (IVKM p. 67; Kurbsky’s History pp. 70–71).


FiliushkinAndrei Mikhailovich Kurbskii p. 24 fn. 41 (= 1553); idem Andrei Kurbskii p. 284 (= 1552 in Iaroslavl’).


Boeck“Miscellanea Attributed to Kurbskii” p. 953.


ErusalimskiiSbornik Kurbskogo 1: 311–313. Auerbach made an attempt to account for the varying styles found in the works attributed to Kurbskii in general by supposing phases of influence by successive literary advisors. Auerbach “Identity in Exile” pp. 17–24.


Cf. KeenanKurbskii-Groznyi Apocrypha pp. 62–63. Even the work commonly referred to as the “History of the Kazan’ Tsarstvo” (История о Казанском царстве) used Skazanie in its own title: Сказание о начале царства Казанскаго и о взятыии онаго. PSRL 19: 1. Freydank proposed that Kurbskii used the word istoriia in the Latin sense — as an account of contemporary events — in contrast to the Greek sense — as an investigation of long past events. Dietrich Freydank “A.M. Kurbskij und die Thorie der antiken Historiographiie” in Orbis mediaevalis. Festgabe für Anton Blaschka zum 75. Geburtstag am 7. Oktober 1967 ed. Horst Gericke Manfred Lemmer and Walter Zöllner (Weimar: H. Böhlaus Hachfolger 1970) pp. 57–62. Such an understanding of istoriia would fit the intellectual context either of sixteenth-century Poland or of late seventeenth-century Russia.


KeenanKurbskii-Groznyi Apocrypha pp. 35–46.


J. Thomas Looney“Shakespeare” Identified in Edward de Vere the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford (London: C. Palmer1920) pp. 92 and 84–92 for a discussion of each characteristic.


Charles Halperin“Edward Keenan and the Kurbskii-Groznyi Correspondence in Hindsight,” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 46 (1998): 390; Filiushkin “Putting Kurbskii in His Rightful Place” p. 968. Excerpts from the 1581 “Instruction” to the envoy O.M. Pushkin were published by B.N. Floria in his “Novoeo o Groznom i Kurbskom” Istoriia SSSR no. 3 (1974): 144–145.


KeenanKurbskii-Groznyi Apocrypha p. 206 n. 8; and Ostrowski “Closed Circles” pp. 276–277.


ErusalimskiiSbornik Kurbskogo 2: 351–409.


KeenanKurbskii-Groznyi Apocrypha p. 210; Edward L. Keenan “Response to Halperin ‘Edward Keenan and the Kurbskii-Groznyi Correspondence in Hindsight’” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 46 (1998): 412. He wrote that the manuscript attribution of these letters to Kurbskii occurred in “late copies.” Keenan also attributed the Preface to Novyi Margarit to this Andrej. Keenan “Response” p. 412.


F.I. Delektorskii“Kritiko-bibliograficheskii obzor drevnerusskikh skazanii o Florentiiskoi unii,” Zhurnal Ministerstva narodnogo prosveshcheniia 300 (Aug. 1895): 177.


KaluginAndrei Kurbskii i Ivan Groznyi p. 88.


A.I. FiliushkinAndrei Kurbskii (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia2008) pp. 286–287.


KeenanThe Kurbskii-Groznyi Apocrypha p. 210.


See Valerii Zema“Sprava viry,” Kyivs’ka starovynano. 3 (2001): 190–199.


AuerbachAndrej Michajlovič Kurbskij p. 377. Keenan translated “по руски” here as “in Ruthenian” rather than “in Russian” to mean “the several literary languages or stylistic registers employed roughly 1500–1700 by non-Muscovite East Slavs of the Dniepr Basin.” Keenan “Response” p. 407. But languages can be written in the Latin alphabet. I take the meaning of the document to be that Kurbskii could not write using the Cyrillic alphabet.


See Nikolay Andreyev“Kurbsky’s Letters to Vas’yan Muromtsev,” Slavonic and East European Review 33 (1955): 417–418.


ErusalimskiiSbornik Kurbskogo 2: 355–357.


Auerbach“Gedanken zur Entstehung von A.M. Kurbskijs ‘Istorija o velikom knjaze Moskovskom’” p. 170; idemAndrej Michajlovič Kurbskij pp. 379–380 399–400; idem “Ein Analphabet als Schriftsteller? Zur Entstehung und Überlieferug des ‘Novyi Margarit’” in Andrej Michajlovič Kurbskij Novyj Margarit. Historisch-kritisched Ausgabe auf der Grundlage der Wolfenbütteler Handschrift ed. Inge Auerbach Band 3. Lieferugn 11–15 (Bl. 319–466 S. 1–51) (Giessen: Wilhelm Schmitz 1987) pp. 17–18.


Edward L. Keenan“Was Andrei Kurbskii a Renaissance Intellectual? Some Marginal Notes on a Central Issue,” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 27 nos. 1–4 (2004–2005): 25–31.


KeenanKurbskii-Groznyi Apocrypha pp. 208–209; Edward L. Keenan “A Landmark of Kurbskii Studies” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 10 nos. 1–2 (1986): 245–246.


AuerbachAndrej Michajlovič Kurbskij pp. 375–379; idem “Ein Analphabet als Schriftsteller?” pp. 15–51.


Francis J. Thomson“The Corpus of Slavonic Translation Available in Muscovy: The Cause of Old Russia’s Intellectual Silence and a Contributory Factor to Muscovite Autarky,” in Christianity and the Eastern Slavsvol. 1: Slavic Cultures in the Middle Ages ed. Boris Gasparov and Olga Raevsky-Hughes (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press 1993) pp. 188–189.


Thomson“Corpus of Slavonic Translations” p. 208 n145.


Vasilii Kalugin“Literaturnoe nasledie kniazia Andreia Kurbskogo (Spornye voprosy istochnikov),” Palaeoslavica 5 (1997): 86; idemAndrei Kurbskii i Ivan Groznyi pp. 17–23.


Keenan“Response” p. 408 fn. 15.


ErusalimskiiSbornik Kurbskogo1: 79–80.


Boeck“Miscellanea Attributed to Kurbskii” p. 959.


ErusalimskiiSbornik Kurbskogo1: 755.


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