a Ph.D. in History, senior research fellow at the Ukrainian Ethnological Centre Department of the Maksym Rylskyi Institute of Art Studies, Folkloristics and Ethnology of the NAS of Ukraine
a Ph.D. in Philology, senior research fellow at Ukrainian and Foreign Folklore Studies Department of the Maksym Rylskyi Institute of Art Studies, Folkloristics and Ethnology of the NAS of Ukraine
Swears and Self-Plights of the Ukrainians in Medieval and Early Modern Periods
The article considers pragmatics and semantics of swears and self-plights used in resolving various, especially legal, conflicts between people of different social strata of the Ukrainian society in the late Middle Ages to Early Modern Times. In theoretical and methodological terms, the study belongs to the field of historical anthropology, one of the most important areas of which is the research of the history of mentality. Its feature consists in analysing medieval and early modern texts; though, materials of the XIXth–XXIst centuries are almost not involved, since the symbolism of the rituals of swears in pre-modern times was significantly distinct than that in our time, as is the mentality of people in pre-modern and modern periods. Therefore, modern fieldwork experience is taken into account only to a small extent: mostly theoretical statements involving swears and self-plights are examined. The sources for studying are already published documents of deeds and some other texts that reflect the Ukrainian tradition of the XIVth–XVIIth centuries. Self-plights are present in swears and oaths while concluding agreements between princes and among other dignitaries. Individuals of various statuses and positions also took an oath by resolving their disputes, especially in court. Although in most cases, sources do not provide the content of swears and descriptions of accompanying ritual actions, however, such texts exist. Of interest are the oaths, which included self-plights archaic in origin and content, indicating a sanction for possible breaches. With the help of self-plights, those who swore incurred the wrath of higher powers and various misfortunes in case of violating their oaths, thereby encouraging their co-signatories to trust them. Self-plights were perceived by people of the Middle Ages to early Modern Times as those posing a real threat to the lives and well-being of violators. Therefore, people in court often tried to avoid swearing and not to provoke their utterance by others, even opponents. After all, it was considered a mortal sin. Thus, swears in late medieval and early modern times were an important component of judicial and legal conflicts in particular, and communicative actions in general. The attitude towards them was extremely serious and did not fit into the framework of any rational action. Those who swore were especially wary of self-plights, which were believed to have great power over oath-takers.
swear, self-plight, curse, oath, swears to God.
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