07 April 2009

Dracula & Orthodox Hymnography

In Chapter III of Bram Stoker's Dracula (I shall refer to The Annotated Dracula, ed. Leonard Wolf [NY: Clarkson N. Potter, 1975], which exactly reproduces the text of the 1st ed.), when the Count is giving Jonathan Harker a late-night history lesson on Trasylvania and the Dracula family in Harker’s entry after midnight for the 5 May, Dracula tells Harker:

When was redeemed that great shame of my nation, the shame of Cassova [Kosovo], when the flags of the Wallach and the Magyar went down beneath the Crescent, who was it but one of my own race who as Voivode [this is identified on p. 32, n. 19, as John Hunyadi—generally believed by scholars to have been of Romanian descent] crossed the Danube and beat the Turk on his own ground? (p. 31)

Later on, in Chapter XVIII, Mina Harker’s journal entry for 30 September records a short history lesson on Dracula himself given by Dr Van Helsing. The ‘great specialist’ tells the assembled vampire hunters, ‘He must, indeed, have been that Voivode Dracula who won his name against the Turk, over the great river on the very frontier of Turkey-land’ (p. 214).

I don’t recall whether there are other uses of this word ‘Voivode’ in Dracula, but there are at least these two. In a note after the first use, Wolf tells us, simply: ‘A Romanian word for “prince”. Webster’s defines it as a military commander or governor of a town or province’ (p. 32, n. 18). The note is a bit misleading, however. It was indeed used in Romania for centuries to refer to the princes of Moldavia and Wallachia, but it was not a native ‘Romanian’ word, but rather a Slavic one. Many people do not realise that Slavonic was the literary and ecclesiastical language of the Romanian lands until the eighteenth century, and even then Romanian was often written in the Cyrillic alphabet (here, for example, is the Our Father in Romanian from a book printed in the 1850s).

So the word ‘voivode’ derives originally from the OCS words for ‘soldier’ and ‘leader’ and originally referred to a military commander or warlord. It gradually came to denote a leader whose duties were primarily civil, although in the Slavic languages it obviously retained its etymological connection to the military (the modern Russian word for ‘war’ is voina, for example). As a rabid Dracula fan, and a geeky kid fascinated with foreign languages, I knew about this connotation before my teen years. So imagine my fascination when I became Orthodox and, eventually, discovered the Church Slavonic translation of the Kontakion for today’s feast, the Annunciation (‘To thee the Champion Leader’):

Взбранной Воеводе победительная, яко избавльшеся от злых, благодарственная восписуем Ти рабы Твои, Богородице, но яко имущая державу непобедимую, от всяких нас бед свободи, да зовем Ти: Радуйся, Невесто Неневестная.

The words ‘Champion Leader’ (Ὑπερμάχῳ Στρατηγῷ in Greek) are here translated Vzbrannoi Voevode. The Theotokos is addressed with the title of (and, in the icon above, depicted as) a mediæval Slavic warlord! I for one thought this was really cool!


Zarayskiy said...

Being Vlad and from Moldavia cannot leave this post uncommented :-)

Voevoda (vojvoda) is a common Slavic term that can be roughly translated as a duke (in terms that dux, duche was originally a military leader term). Because of that, it became common to call provincial leaders voevoda - Polish Voivodeships are equivalents of Western provinces, Serbian province of Vojvodina still bears this name.

In Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania voievod was a part of the princely title of gospodars/lords as in America the President also is called the Commander in Chief.

And yes, Взбранной Воеводе победительная!
Happy Annunciation Day!

aaronandbrighid said...

Thank you for your comment, Vlad, and Happy Annunciation to you (though I suppose you follow the New Calendar?)! I hope to have the opportunity to visit Moldavia someday, but in the meantime, I welcome you to my blog!

When I was working on this post it was getting quite late, and I elected to leave out a lot of the details on the historic use of 'voivode' just to save time and 'cut to the chase' as it were. Thank you very much, though, for providing some of those details for us in your comment.

As a Romanian, I hope you are not offended at my frequent references to Dracula and my loose connections of the book to Orthodox history and faith. As I have mentioned here before, it was my interest in this book that directly led me to learn more about the Orthodox Church, and in part I credit Bram Stoker and, subsequently, Prince Vlad Ţepeş, whatever their faults may or may not have been, with my conversion to Orthodoxy!

Bună ziua!