Monday, November 28, 2005

Franciszak Skaryna of Polatsk, Belarus

"For we are born into this world not only for ourselves, but rather to serve God and the common wealth"

Franciszak Skaryna,
Preface to the book of Esther the Queen. Prague 1519

"Franciszak Skaryna, a leading Renaissance scholar and humanist, was born in the north Belarusian city of Polatsk on the river Dzvina, in 1486. His father, Lukasz, was a merchant.

After leaving his native city as a youth, Skaryna matriculated at the arts faculty of Krakow university, and in 1504 he graduated as a Bachelor of Arts. He evidently pursued his studies with some success for in 1509 he was filling a post of Secretary to Jan, King Of Denmark, at his Court in Copenhagen. From thence he traveled from Germany to Italy, and in 1512 he took Doctor's degree in medicine at Padua University.

Little is known of Skaryna's life from 1512 to 1517, but it is surmised that he devoted the years to the study of the techniques of printing and engraving, possibly in Venice, Nuremberg, and Ausburg. He must also have begun to prepare his monumental work, the translation of the Bible [into Eastern Church Slavonic and Belarusian], the greater part of which he printed and published in Prague from 1517-19. Skaryna then returned to Vilna where from 1525-27 he published the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles, and a collection of prayers entitled Malaja Padarozhnaja Knizhica (Little Itinerary Book). Some time after completing his work he is thought to have visited Moscow, though as a "heretic Lithuanian" he was given a poor welcome by the authorities and the Muscovites publicly burned his books." ...


Polatsk, Belarus had been a major center for Slavonic Orthodox chant composition and study as early as the 10th century C.E.

Franciszak Skaryna (Франці'шак (Францыск) Скары'на) was famous as the printer of the first book in an Eastern Slavic language (Eastern Church Slavonic and Belarusian).

Text and image credit: Guy De Picarda and the Virtual Guide to Belarus - a collaborative project of Belarusian scientists and professionals abroad.

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