Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

16th-Century Advice Applicable In '99




Only a few years ago, thanks to decades of Soviet propaganda, the word "Domostroi'' f the title of a 16th-century guide to living written by the spiritual mentor of Ivan the Terrible f conjured up images of medieval horrors, including instructions on how to beat one's wife properly. (Actually, it says simply that a man should deal "sternly'' with a wayward wife.)


Domostroi, which translates awkwardly as "home-building,'' was essentially good housekeeping for medieval Russians. Compiled in the mid-1500s by Silvester, a Russian Orthodox priest, it is a mix of Orthodox teaching and Russian folk traditions.


Seven years since it was placed on sale to the general Russian public, copies have found their way into many homes. Publishers herald it as wise moral instruction for today's lost generation. They may not be all wrong. Much about life in Russia is eternal and the Domostroi unexpectedly provides some apt guidance.


Consider:


FOREIGN GOODS: Chapter 47 encourages one "to buy all sorts of foreign goods ? as much as you want.''


Russia's manufactured goods are notorious for chronic defects and poor quality. Indeed, before a devaluation of the ruble last August, some 60 percent of the country's consumer goods were imported, and they still enjoy great popularity among Russians, even though jumping in price.


DRINKING: Chapter 15 warns, "See the embarrassment and reproach in the fruitless waste that is drinking. If you ever go away drunk and fall asleep on the road, then you'll never make it home, and you will pay dearly for it. They'll steal all your clothes from you. And if you do not regain your sobriety, you will lose both your body and your soul, for many drunkards have perished from wine and frozen to death along the roadside.''


Wintry Russian streets are still full of sleeping drunks, not only homeless people but often more propertied members of the community as well. Last year in Moscow alone, 557 people froze to death.


PREPAREDNESS: Chapter 40 says, "An upstanding man and a proper wife, and all thinking and reasonable people, are careful to store up on various items for the home, foodstuffs, and drink. ? An upstanding man and an upstanding woman will not want during a time of deficit.''


A relevant observation in August, when the ruble's 70 percent devaluation led store owners to pull goods off the shelves until the currency stabilized.


CALUMNY: Chapter 10 declares, "Do not express any lie, slander and deceit toward the Tsar, prince or any member of the aristocracy f God will destroy anyone speaking such lies.''


Alas, such exhortations have been ignored as Russia's political and economic elite have made a national sport out of publicizing compromising material against one another. In the latest round, Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov and the Kremlin have been flinging charges of corruption back and forth. Boris Berezovsky and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov have also been trading allegations f with prosecutors, with Primakov's approval, accusing Berezovsky of money-laundering and Berezovsky claiming Primakov is engineering his political persecution as a businessman.