Fire and Ice

As a long-standing student of Russian language and culture and a much more recent student of the language and culture of modern Greece, I am intrigued by the links between them. So this is the first in an occasional series exploring these links in a bit more detail.

I am sure there must be scholarly tomes on the subject, but I have not yet found anything. If you know of any studies on these cultural links, then please let me know. I would be delighted to hear about them.

One of the most obvious similarities is the alphabets.

The Russian (Cyrillic) alphabet developed from the Glagolitic alphabet that SS Cyril and Methodius first used to standardise the language of the Slavs in order to translate the Bible.  Cyril and Methodius were ninth century Byzantine Greeks from Thessaloniki who were sent as missionaries to Moravia to convert the Slavs to Christianity.

They based their Glagolitic alphabet on Greek but modified it to cope with the different sounds in the Slavic languages. Later, in Bulgaria the Glagolitic alphabet was simplified into the Cyrillic and Old Church Slavonic became the official language.

Interestingly, part of the reason behind the later developments of the Cyrillic alphabet is political. The Bulgarian ruler wanted to diminish the influence of Byzantium and Byzantine Greek priests who celebrated the liturgy in Greek. Using Old Church Slavonic as both a liturgical and standard language was one way of maintaining distance and independence from the influence of Byzantium.

Eventually the Cyrillic alphabet spread east to Kievan Rus and to other Slavonic language speaking countries.

Here’s the Greek alphabet:

Here’s the Glagolitic alphabet:

… and the modern Cyrillic alphabet:

5 thoughts on “Fire and Ice

  1. св. св. Кирил и Методий са създали БЪЛГАРСКАТА азбука (глаголицата), не гръцката!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Hi Stefan,
      Thanks for commenting in Bulgarian! As I understand it both the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets are based on the Greek alphabet. Glagolitic was developed initially by SS Cyril & Methodius using mainly Greek letters to map the sounds of Old Bulgarian. Cyrillic was then based on this alphabet by their later disciples. Could be wrong, but think this is the generally accepted view. Peter.

  2. Pingback: Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki | wordscene

  3. Pingback: Fire and Ice: similarities and differences between Greek and Russian | wordscene

  4. Thanks for your posts exactly answering my search question. I was surprised at the similarities in alphabet, some vocabulary and church iconography on a recent holiday to Greece.

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