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Mors magistra vitae - a different reading of Slovo meštra Polikarpa

Old Church Slavonic Institute
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  • Literature


Mors magistra vitae - a differnet reading of Slovo meštra Polikarpa The text entitled Slovo meštra Polikarpa is found in two Croatian Glagolitic manuscripts from the 15th century, the Petris Miscellany and the Ljubljana Miscellany. It is written in the form of a dialogue between master Polikarp and personified Death, in which Death teaches the principles of good Christian life. From the viewpoint of genre theory it can be included into the genre of contrasts. As with other contrasts, this text is also based on antithesis. However, Slovo meštra Polikarpa is different from the other extant Croatian Glagolitic contrasts because the fundamental trait of irony is present. As a rethorical trope, irony can be identified in many parts of Death's monologues, but in this text irony is also a structural principle. One of the most obvious proofs of this sight incompatible, the roles of Antagonist (Enemy) and Adjuvant (Helper). Yet, their mutual unexclusiveness and coexistence are allowed for by the will of God, who gives Death the task to teach Polikarp so as to make his mervellous experience ad admirandum for the recipients. Irony is the compositional principle which holds the key to the understanding of Slovo meštra Polikarpa. The term slovo in the title of the text opens some questions pertinent to genre theory and it indicates that so called "title terms" are not necessarily generic terms. The action (the verb) connected with slovo is to speak - but from the whole of its content and form this work should have been entitled Slovo Smrti, because Death is the character which speaks and calls to eternal life - mors magistra vitae. From this fundamental message, from extraliterary traits and from the position of Death in the actantial model, it becomes clear that Croatian Glagolitic medieval works do not spring from Christianity only by their subject-matter, but that they are also permeated by Christianity on structural and compositional levels.

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