The ritual practices surrounding death often provide the observer with a window into a culture. But as with much else in the study of the early Eastern Slavs, the actual data is difficult to interpret. Along the rivers in the area surrounding Lake Ladoga, we find numerous graves in the form of burial mounds. This form of burial is typical of Scandinavian grave sites, and many of these mounds contain jewelry typical of Scandinavian culture, in particular oval brooches. But these, along with the numerous other personal artifacts found in the graves, need not signal that the grave pertained to a Scandinavian, but perhaps just an inhabitant of the region benefitting from the numerous trade routes along which Scandinavian wares made their way. Moreover, these burial mounds exhibit a feature quite uncharacteristic of Scandinavian burials: the central focus of the grave consists of a hearth with cooking utensils (Almgren et al., 1975).
In Gnezdovo, where the Dvina and Dnieper rivers make their closest approach, we find some 3,000 burial mounds. Some of these are non-descript, containing swords which were commonly available along the trade routes through the region. But some are of distinctly Scandinavian origin: they contain the remains of burnt ships, a practice indicative of the Norse culture of the period.
The practice of the ship burial is in part what makes untangling the relationship between Scandinavian, Rus, and Slav so difficult. In particular, the Baghdad diplomat Ibn Fadlan describes in great detail a ship burial performed near Itil, at the mouth of the Volga. But he ascribes the practice to the people he terms the Ru:s (Montgomery, 2000):
|He ignited the wood that had been set up under the ship after they had placed the slave-girl whom they had killed beside her master. Then the people came forward with sticks and firewood. Each one carried a stick the end of which he had set fire to and which he threw on top of the wood. The wood caught fire, and then the ship, the pavilion, the man, the slave-girl and all it contained. A dreadful wind arose and the flames leapt higher and blazed fiercely.|
|They built something like a round hillock over the ship, which they had pulled out of the water, and placed in the middle of it a large piece of birch (khadank) on which they wrote the name of the man and the name of the King of the Ru:s. Then they left.|
The practice as described clearly derives from Scandinavian burial rituals. This leads one to suspect that at this date the term Rus still signified a foreign-born gentry that had come to live in and among the Eastern Slavs. This of course holds only if we suppose that what Ibn Fadlan means by Ru:s is the same as what the Primary Chronicle, say, means by Rus -- by no means a solid assumption.
Part of the interest in the ship burials practiced among the Scandinavians in the region, from a literary point of view, is how the ritual figures prominantly in the Primary Chronicle's story of Olga's Revenge. In particular, after killing her husband Igor, the inhabitants of Dereva send envoys to Olga to ask her to marry their prince Mal. Though the premise itself seems odd, Olga's ensuing actions betray her cunning: she tricks the envoys into forgoing transport by horse or cart and instead opting to demand that they be carried into town in a boat. Olga has the boat thrown into a pit and orders her people to bury them alive. The story resounds with the overtones of Scandinavian ship burials, to such a degree that it's hard to imagine how the Derevlian envoys could not have seen what was coming as they were transported overland in a boat.
The particular circumstances in which Christianity entered the early Russian state and led to its adoption had a profound impact on the character, symbolism, and practice of the religion throughout the rest of its history. The early literary monuments make it clear that Christianity had already gained popularity among some of the Varangians before Vladimir's conversion. This is evidenced by the example of Olga, as well as other Varangians who had come back from their visits to Byzantium as converts to the new religion. At the same time the pagan religion was still popular before the conversion, as shown in dramatic form by Svjatoslav's rejection of his mother's new religion, based on the fact that he would be the laughing-stock of the bojars whose support he required for his political ambitions.
A notable story from this era is that of the Varangian Feodor and his son Ioann. Feodor had returned from his travels to Byzantium as a Christian convert. But this fell precisely during the time when Vladimir decided to institute paganism as the official state religion. The lot fell to Ioann to function as sacrifical victim to sanctify the institution of the new pagan idols. His father Feodor, however, refused to let his son die as part of a pagan ritual. An incensed mob sought out the father and son and killed them both.
As a result of these literary accounts, as well as archaeological and other evidence, scholars generally believe that Christianity took another two centuries to take hold after Vladimir's official acceptance of the religion. In the transitional period, the two competing systems seem to have existed side by side. This led to a situation termed dvoverie or dvoeverie (dvovje'rije or dvojevje'rije): "ditheism" or "dual faith". By this term scholars denote the persistence of two different systems of belief alongside one another (Andreyev, 1962). Just what constitutes this dual faith remains a matter of some debate: some assert that the system of dual faith belies a concerted effort among the rural population to maintain the "old ways" of paganism while putting on the airs of Christian faith; others simply suggest by "dual faith" that the earlier pagan beliefs did not die out completely, but rather they persisted in a way that showed that adaptation of earlier ritual and supernatural understanding provided a manner of incorporating the new Christian teachings into the lives of members of a more rural segment of the population.
In fact many rural practices of the recent past, and even extending into modern times, display hallmarks of a mixing of religions, rather than a replacement of one by the other. Traditional remedies and symbolism were never completely abandoned, as exhibited by the fact that "[m]agic roots, snake skins and skulls were worn in charms next to the Christian cross. Forest and water demons lived on in the popular imagination alongside angels and cherubim" (Warner, 2002). Though the byliny took up the themes of the saints' lives, they never completely abandoned the heroic personages of the pre-Chrisitan era.
Some scholars suggest that, in fact, the unique characteristics of the earlier pagan religion played an important role in how certain stories of early Russian Christianity captured the cultural imagination while others did not. One such story is that of Boris and Gleb, the first Russian saints, who "died not for the sake of Christ but in the name of obedience to their elder brother, laying the foundations, as it were, for the essentially Russian idea of nonresistance to evil." (Andreyev, 1962)
Briefly, Boris and Gleb were sons of Vladimir, the same Vladimir who converted the Kievan state to Christianity. When Vladimir died, his eldest son Svjatopolk, one of the brothers of Boris and Gleb, assumed the throne. Worried that his brothers might seek to depose him, he plotted their demise. Though Boris's advisors urged him to take the throne for himself, he determined that he would not raise a hand against his brother. Unmoved by this promise, Svjatopolk nevertheless sent a group of bojars to put Boris to death.
Through similar treachery Gleb met his demise. Leading Gleb to think Vladimir was gravely ill but still alive, Svjatopolk summoned him to their father's deathbed. Though warned of the impending plot by their brother Jaroslav, Gleb nevertheless succumbs to the treachery and his body is cast into the woods.
To the Scandinavian ear of the Rus nobles, reared upon tales of Norse gods, this story would have likely contained some familiar overtones. In particular, the Havamal tells of Odin's self-sacrifice hanging himself from the World Tree. In emulation of this, a Scandinavian cult arose whereby in cases of dire need, the self-sacrifice of none other than the king could find favor with the gods and alleviate the distress. For example, in search of fair winds for his retinue King Vikar sacrifices himself (Reisman, 1978).
In hearing the story of Boris and Gleb, the bojar would likely have associated on some level their story with the functions of the Odin cult. On the one hand, we have the parallel of self-sacrifice among the trees: Odin hanged himself from the World Tree, while Gleb's corpse was cast "between two tree-trunks" (Reisman, 1978). Moreover they were princes (Scandinavian kings) who sacrificed themselves for the good of the kingdom.
It would certainly be a stretch to suggest that the tale of Boris and Gleb grew out of Scandinavian tradition or was directly influenced by it. But the parallelism of the story with an important aspect of Scandinavian religious and political tradition may go some way to explaining why the particular story of Boris and Gleb captured the Kievan cultural attention (Reisman, 1978). We notice that there were earlier Scandinavian-born Rus who died martyrs for the new Christian religion: the story of Feodor and Ioann provides just such an example. Yet those men never attained sainthood. Perhaps one crucial ingredient of the story of Boris and Gleb was their royal status: to the Varangian, only the self-sacrificial actions of a king could serve the greater good of the populace. Boris and Gleb came from the family of kings, and their self-sacrifice showed elements of the Odin cult familiar to the Scandinavians (Reisman, 1978). In this way we can see how the peculiar nature of Russian Christianity, while not dictated by any Scandinavian heritage, may have been helped to take its unique form precisely through the interaction of Scandinavian and East Slavic culture.
We finally arrive at the culmination of the story of Olga's Revenge. Again she resorts to cunning rather than force. She lays waste to the Derevlian home and imposes harsh conditions of servitude. The passage lists lines 143-164.
143-147 - volga zhe razdaja voemu' po golubi komuzhdo, a drugimu' po vorobi'evi, i povelje' komuzhdo golubi i ku' vorobi'evi prive^zyvati cje'ri', obertyvajushche vu' platki maly, nitu'koju poverzyvajushche ku' koemuzhdo ixu'.
147-149 - i povelje' oli'ga, jako smertche se^, pustiti golubi i vorobi'i voemu' svoimu'.
149-153 - golubi zhe i vorobi'eve poletje'sha vu' gnje'zda svoja, ovi vu' golubniki, vrabi'je've zhi podu' strje'xi. i tako vu'zgaraxu se^ golubi'nici, ovo klje'ti, ovo vezhje', ovo li odriny.
153-154 - i ne bje' dvora idezhe ne gore^shche, i ne bje' li'zje' gasiti. vsi bo dvori vu'zgorje'sha se^.
154-156 - i pobje'gosha ljudi'e izu' grada. i povelje' oli'ga voemu' svoimu' imati e, jako vze^ gradu' i pozhi'zhe i.
157-159 - starje'ishiny zhe grada izu'nima, i protchaja ljudi ovyxu' izbi. a drugija rabotje' predasti' muzhemu' svoimu'. a proku' ixu' stavi platiti dani'.
159-162 - i vu'zlozhisha na ne^ dani' te^zhi'ku, .v. tchasti dani ideta kievu, a treti'jaja vyshegorudu k oli'zje'. bje' bo vyshegorodu' gradu' voli'zinu'.
162-164 - i ide voli'ga po deri'vi'stje'i zemli su' synomu' svoimu' i su' druzhinoju ustavle^jushchi ustavy i uroki.
volga zhe razdaja voemu' po golubi komuzhdo, a drugimu' po vorobi'evi, i povelje' komuzhdo golubi i ku' vorobi'evi prive^zyvati cje'ri', obertyvajushche vu' platki maly, nitu'koju poverzyvajushche ku' koemuzhdo ixu'. 147-149 -
i povelje' oli'ga, jako smertche se^, pustiti golubi i vorobi'i voemu' svoimu'. 149-153 -
golubi zhe i vorobi'eve poletje'sha vu' gnje'zda svoja, ovi vu' golubniki, vrabi'je've zhi podu' strje'xi. i tako vu'zgaraxu se^ golubi'nici, ovo klje'ti, ovo vezhje', ovo li odriny. 153-154 -
i ne bje' dvora idezhe ne gore^shche, i ne bje' li'zje' gasiti. vsi bo dvori vu'zgorje'sha se^. 154-156 -
i pobje'gosha ljudi'e izu' grada. i povelje' oli'ga voemu' svoimu' imati e, jako vze^ gradu' i pozhi'zhe i. 157-159 -
starje'ishiny zhe grada izu'nima, i protchaja ljudi ovyxu' izbi. a drugija rabotje' predasti' muzhemu' svoimu'. a proku' ixu' stavi platiti dani'. 159-162 -
i vu'zlozhisha na ne^ dani' te^zhi'ku, .v. tchasti dani ideta kievu, a treti'jaja vyshegorudu k oli'zje'. bje' bo vyshegorodu' gradu' voli'zinu'. 162-164 -
i ide voli'ga po deri'vi'stje'i zemli su' synomu' svoimu' i su' druzhinoju ustavle^jushchi ustavy i uroki.
143-147 Olga distributed a pigeon each to her soldiers, and to the others a sparrow each. And she commanded them to fasten sulfur to each pigeon and to each sparrow, wrapping it in a small cloths, tying it with a thread to each of them. 147-149 And as it grew dark, Olga commanded her army to release the pigeons and sparrows. 149-153 The pigeons and sparrows flew to their nests, the former to their cotes, the sparrows under the eaves. And then the cotes began to burn, then the sheds, next the barns, and finally the hay-lofts. 153-154 There was no house where it was not burning, and there was no way to put it out. All the houses were consumed. 154-156 And all the people fled from the city. Olga commanded her soldiers to capture them, as she took the city and set it ablaze. 157-159 She captured the leaders of the city, the remaining people among them she killed. Others she handed over to her men in servitude. The rest of them she demanded to pay tribute. 159-162 And they imposed upon them an intolerable tribute: two parts of the tribute went to Kiev, but the third to Vyshgorod for Olga. For Vyshgorod was Olga's city. 162-164 And she went throughout the land of Dereva with her son and her retinue, establishing boundaries and dues.
Old Russian has numerous past participle formations. We have already encountered one of these in Section 18 with the resultative, or l-participle. In this section we introduce the remaining types of past participle.
The resultative participle which we saw in Section 18 is in fact a specific type of past active participle. Its use, however, is generally restricted to the construction of compound or periphrastic verbal tenses. Because of this somewhat auxiliary role, some authors term this the past active participle 2.
Old Russian, like Old Church Slavonic, also possesses another past active participle. Because of its ubiquity it is sometimes referred to as the past active participle, or as the past active participle 1. This particular participle has its origins in the Proto-Indo-European perfect participle. This participle employed a suffix *-ues-, which in o-grade was *-uos- and *-us- in zero-grade. The Proto-Slavic past active participle seems to derive from the zero-grade suffix. In the masculine nominative singular the final *-s fell off, while in the remaining case forms it shifted to *-u'sh- via retraction of the sibilant (cf. Section 6.5) and the weakening of PIE *u. After stems ending in a vowel, the suffix developed an on-glide: *-vu'sh-. The feminine nominative singular appends the ending -i to the suffix: -(v)u'shi.
Old Russian typically appended the -(v)u'sh- suffix to the infinitive-aorist stem of verbs (cf. Section 4.2). As mentioned above, the bilabial glide -v- appears with stems ending in a vowel. With verbs of class IV, the final palatal glide -j- generally fronts the jer of the suffix, resulting in -i'sh-. For example the class IV verb prositi 'to ask' yields masculine nominative singular proshi', from earlier *pros-j-u'. In those verbs whose stem ends in a vowel that derives from an original nasal, such as natchjati (cf. first person singular present natchi'nu), the nasal reappears in the past active participle (which therefore uses the suffix -u'sh- since it is attached to a consonant). Verbs with the -nu- suffix frequently, but not always, drop the suffix when forming the past active participle. The following table provides examples of the different formations.
31.1.1 Past Participle Active: Short Form
As with other adjectives, the past active participle inflects in both a definite (long) form and an indefinite (short) form. The verb nesti 'to carry', with stem nes-u'sh- serves to illustrate the declension of the short form of the past active participle.
31.1.2 Past Participle Active: Long Form
As we have seen with the present active participle, the past active participle inflects with long-endings belonging to the soft declension of adjectives. Again nesti 'to carry', with stem nes-u'sh-, serves to illustrate the paradigm.
The past passive participle denotes an action already viewed as completed by the time of the action represented by the main verb of the clause, and it implies that the referent of the noun modified underwent or received the action. The Old Russian past passive participles function analogously to their English cousins, such as eaten or (having been) washed.
Old Russian preserves three basic suffixes representing the past passive participle: -tu', -nu', and -enu'. Each suffix yields an adjective which declines according to the hard twofold adjective declension. A given verb typically forms a past passive participle with only one of the suffixes, though exceptions do occur. This parallels the situation in English, where eat, say, only forms the participle with the suffix -en (eaten), not with the suffix -ed (*eated). Precise rules for the distribution of the suffixes, however, are difficult to formulate.
31.2.1 The -tu' Suffix
We find the -tu' suffix employed to form the past passive participle with a number of verbs. Often these verbs have infinitive stems in -ja- which derives from an original nasal CS *-e^-. We also find the suffix with roots containing -l- or -r-. Moreover we find the -tu' suffix with some verbs that take the -nu- suffix, as well as some with stem in -i-. The following table lists some examples.
31.2.2 The -enu' Suffix
The past passive participle in -enu' tends to appear in a wide array of verbs, typically those whose infinitive-aorist stem ends in a consonant or a palatal glide. Often verbs taking the -nu- suffix will drop the suffix and append -enu' to the resulting stem. The following table lists a number of examples.
We see in the participles of retchi 'to say' and dvignuti 'to move' that the initial vowel of the -enu' suffix triggers first palatalization in stem-final velars.
31.2.3 The -nu' Suffix
The past passive participle in -nu' tends to occur with roots whose infinitive-aorist stem ends in -a- or -je'-. However, znati 'to know' also forms a participle in -nu' even though the stem properly ends in a glide ([znaj-]). The following chart provides some examples.
The present passive participle in general denotes an action contemporaneous with the main verb of the clause, and which is acting upon the referent of the noun modified. English has no specific morphological formation to represent the present passive participle and so must resort to periphrastic constructions, such as being eaten. Consider the statement I saw a hamburger being eaten yesterday. Here being eaten is the present passive participle modifying hamburger. Since the whole statement refers to past time, this action is not occuring at the time of utterance; rather being eaten represents an action that was still ongoing when the action of the main verb, saw, took place.
Old Russian forms the present passive participle by means of one of three suffixes: -omu', -emu', and -imu'. Verbs of classes I and II generally employ the suffix -omu'. Verbs of class III typically employ the suffix -emu', while class IV verbs show -imu'. The suffix is generally added to the present tense stem. The following chart lists some examples.
Old Russian may employ the present passive participle in a periphrastic construction to approximate a true passive, as in English: nesomi suti' 'we are being carried'. The tense of the construction is determined by the tense of the finite verb, here suti'.
Verbs of the second conjugation are characterized by the presence of a nasal suffix -n- added to the stem in the present tense. This is then followed by the thematic vowel, historically *-e/o-, in a manner analogous to that of verbs of the first conjugation. Thus we find a suffix -nu- in the 1st person singular and 3rd person plural, but elsewhere we find the suffix -ne-. This suffix typically remains throughout the entire present system, and we also find it in the infinitive. In the past system (apart from the imperfect, whose stem often derives from the present stem), we find variable behavior: some verbs retain the nasal suffix in the past system, others drop the nasal element, and still others show forms both with and without the suffix. For this class of verbs, therefore, one cannot necessarily obtain the aorist stem, say, by simply dropping the infinitive suffix -ti and undoing any changes to the final consonants: with certain verbs one must additionally remove the nasal suffix -nu- that appears in the infinitive. Moreover, the final consonant of some verbal roots undergoes a shift when the nasal element is affixed, and this change must be undone to arrive at the proper stem. The following table lists some verbs that belong to Class II.
|Infinitive||Meaning||1st Sg.||2nd Sg.||Infin.-Aor. Stem|
Note in the above chart how, for each verb, the infinitive-aorist stem exhibits a final consonant which frequently does not appear in those forms which employ the nasal suffix.
The verbs dvignuti 'to move', stati 'to stand', and u-su'nuti 'to fall asleep' illustrate the paradigms of Class II verbs. Note that, rather uniquely among Class II verbs, stati 'to stand' does not exhibit the nasal suffix in the infinitive. Moreover this verb only forms the aorist with forms lacking the nasal suffix. The other two verbs, by contrast, show two distinct new aorist formations: one with the nasal suffix, one without. In particular in those aorist forms of u-su'nuti 'to fall asleep' which lack the nasal suffix, the stem-final -p- appears before the desinences. In addition, we note that root-final consonants are subject to the rules of palatalization in those forms which lack the nasal suffix. Consider the chart below.
|Pres. Act. Part.|
|Pres. Pass. Part.|
|Past Act. Part.|
|Past Pass. Part.|
The Old Russian genitive case serves a wide range of functions. In general it provides a complement to both verbs and nouns. In its widest sense, the genitive case denotes a sphere of validity for the words which it complements. This sphere of validity might describe the whole, of which the modified noun specifies a specific part: compare English one of my cookies, where the genitive of my cookies describes the class of objects from which one denotes a specific item. Or the genitive might denotes a quality: English a statue of gold, where of gold describes the material of which the statue is made. The sphere of validity might denote possession: Theresa's book, where the genitive Theresa's serves to denote that the book belongs to her. Or the genitive might denote a more general relation, such as familial: Olga's son. Moreover, within Common Slavic the original ablative case disappeared, and the genitive case adopted many of its functions: denoting separation, e.g. far from here, or source, e.g. a man from Idaho.
When the genitive denotes the entirety out of which a part is being selected, scholars generally term this the partitive genitive. The following provides an example of this use of the genitive: bje' bo ixu' malo 'For there was a small number of them' (Olga's Revenge).
The following example, by contrast, illustrates the ablatival genitive, where the genitive serves to denote source or separation: bje'zhi grje'xa 'flee from sin!' (set expression, cf. Le Guillou, 1972)
More typical, however, is the possessive genitive. This simply denotes to whom or what the complemented noun belongs. Consider the following examples:
Though Old Russian frequently employs the genitive of a noun to denote possession, this is by no means the only method of signalling possession, or more generally relation. Old Russian quite frequently employs a so-called possessive adjective with the same goal. Consider the following examples:
The term 'possessive adjective', however, is something of a misnomer. The particular relation expressed by the adjective need not be one specifically of possession. More generally it can be one of simple relation: o pu'lku Igorevje' 'about the campaign of Igor' (Igor Tale). It would be difficult to argue here that Igor 'owns' the campaign. The possessive adjective Igorevu' simply relates the modified noun to Igor.
Some verbs in fact typically take their complement, i.e. what can be thought of as their direct object, in the genitive case. Such verbs often have meanings that denote perception (e.g. hearing or seeing), filling, lacking, or other senses which describe either an essential separation or division of a part from the whole. Consider the following examples of the genitive complement of specific verbs:
Among the uses of the genitive with verbs is its use as the complement of the supine. Inasmuch as the supine is a verbal noun, this amounts to an instance of the objective genitive, i.e. a use of the genitive to denote the object of the action described by another noun. We find similar usage in English: the assassination of Lincoln, where of Lincoln represents the the recipient of the underlying action denoted by the noun assassination. Consider the following example of the genitive object of the supine: prixodisha otu' Rima utchitu' vasu' 'They came from Rome in order to teach you' (Primary Chronicle). Perhaps more literally, '... for the teaching of you'.
We have already seen that Slavic languages in general, and Old Russian in particular, have extended the use of the genitive to direct objects of any transitive verb under certain conditions (cf. Sections 15 & 29): if the direct object is a male human being, or if the verb is negated. Scholars generally view the use of the genitive with male human direct objects as having started with proper names, then extending to an ever-increasing class of nouns. We provide here some further examples of the genitive-accusative for convenience.
The following provides for convenience a further example of the use of the genitive with negation: ili ne budeti' na nemi' znamenija 'but if there is no mark on him' (Russian Truth [Russkaja Pravda]). Scholars generally suppose that the genitive with negation, in particular with the subject of the verb, likely begins with the sense of a partitive genitive: 'there is none of a thing'.
As part of its role of marking the sphere of validity, the genitive may serve to mark a segment of time. The following examples illustrate the use of the genitive of time at which or within which an event takes place.
One way of understanding the difference between active and passive voices is through the distinction among the roles of the agent, patient, and the grammatical subject of a clause. Let us begin with an example from English: the dog bites the man. The agent of this clause is the dog. Generally, we say the agent is the participant who logically performs the action. The action here is that of biting, of latching one's teeth onto the skin of another, and the dog is the one doing the latching of teeth. By contrast, the man is here the patient. In general we say that the patient is the one logically undergoing or receiving the action. If we understand latching-of-teeth as the action, then the man is the one receiving this action, not the one performing it. Finally, we say the grammatical subject is the participant "doing the verb" as it appears in the clause. Here bites is the verb as stated in the clause, and the one who bites is the dog. Thus the dog is the grammatical subject, while simultaneously being the agent. When grammatical subject and agent coincide in this way, we say the clause expresses the active voice.
However we can also express this same action, the latching of teeth that the dog is doing on the man's skin, in such a way that the dog is no longer the subject. In fact we can make the patient, the man, the subject. In English we accomplish this as follows: the man is bitten by the dog. This represents the same logical action: the dog latches his teeth onto the man's skin. Thus the dog remains the agent, since his teeth do the latching; and the man remains the patient, since he's the unfortunate recipient of this latching-of-teeth. But now the grammatical subject has changed: when we seek who does the verb as stated, namely who is bitten, now it is the man. The man is now the grammatical subject. And he is simultaneously the patient. When the grammatical subject and patient coincide in this way, we say the clause expresses the passive voice.
As one can see from the above discussion, the verb form itself actually plays a crucial role in determining whether the clause appears in the active or passive voice. If we decide at the outset that we wish to express the logical action in which a dog's teeth latch on to a man's skin, then by choosing to use the specific verb form bites, we must necessarily cast the clause into the active voice; while if we choose to employ the verb form is bitten, then we must necessarily equate the grammatical subject with the patient and employ the passive voice. In this way we can say that English verbal morphology itself expresses voice, both active and passive: bites is an active verb form, is bitten is passive.
We may make one further distinction. Consider for a moment a different situation: the man soaked the rag in the sink. Here we have once again an active statement: the agent, the man, is also the grammatical subject. And again we may rephrase this in the passive voice: the rag was soaked by the man in the sink. Now the patient, the rag, is the grammatical subject. But consider one more variation: the rag soaked in the sink. This is new: the rag still receives the net result of the action, if we conceive of the action as "get something wet", as in the initial rendition of the sentence. But here there is no external agent, and so if anyone or anything is logically "doing" the action of getting something wet in this third rendition, it seems to be the rag that's getting it done. And the rag is the grammatical subject. This, therefore, seems to occupy a middle ground between the active and passive voices, combining elements of both, and so scholars tend to call this the middle voice.
Archaically, Proto-Indo-European itself distinguished active and passive voices by means of verbal morphology. For example, Greek phero: 'I carry' expressed the active voice, while a change in verbal ending to pheromai 'I am (being) carried' denoted the shift to the passive voice. In fact the forms of the passive voice were also emplyed for the middle voice, and so we sometimes find these desinences termed the mediopassive endings. Though this state of affairs in verbal morphology was inherited by many of the daughter languages, such as Latin, others seem largely to have lost this feature. Among those who lost the majority of the specifically passive verbal morphology were the Slavic languages. However this merely left the door open for the Slavic languages to develop their own expression of the middle and passive voices, a different method of morphological encoding of the same idea. In this section we discuss the particular expression of the middle and passive voices found in Old Russian.
Old Russian, along with Old Church Slavonic, actually did inherit one particular manner of constructing the passive voice directly from Proto-Indo-European. Though Slavic did away with "simple" passive morphology, that is a passive voice expressed by specific endings applied directly to the verbal root, it retained a periphrastic or compound formation that we also find in the majority of the subfamilies of Indo-European. In fact the example discussed above employed the English reflex of this same passive construction: is bitten. That is, Old Russian and OCS together can form the passive voice by joining a conjugated form of 'to be' with a passive participle. The English example specifically employs the past passive participle, bitten; English has no present passive participle and must therefore use an additional collocation with being: is being bitten. Old Russian and OCS preserve both present and past passive participles, however, and may employ either in a periphrastic passive formation.
The present passive participle denotes that the action continues during the time frame of the finite verb, that it was not complete by the time of the main verb. Consider the following examples.
When the passive construction employs a past passive participle, the connotation can straddle the border between emphasis on the completed action and emphasis on the state resulting from the completion of that action. Consider the examples below.
In contrast to an action expressed through the passive voice, we may also note some actions as expressed are reflexive. A reflexive action is one in which the object of the action happens to be identical with the subject. Returning to our example of the dog and the action of latching teeth, the reflexive action would be the dog bites himself. English denotes the reflexivity of the action by marking the direct object him as reflexive, or anaphoric, by appending -self. This is properly distinct from the passive voice. With the passive expression the dog is bitten, we may ask by whom; with the dog bites himself, we know the answer.
We have already seen (cf. Section 8.2) that Old Russian has a reflexive pronoun sebe 'oneself'. Whereas the English reflexive pronouns change depending on number and gender, as in herself or themselves, the Old Russian reflexive remains constant for person and number. Its form only marks case.
Within the Slavic family of languages, it seems that the reflexive pronoun was early co-opted to form a new expression of the passive voice, or even the middle voice. Originally this started as a true reflexive, and throughout Old Russian and Old Church Slavonic the reflexive pronoun can retain its true reflexive meaning. But at all stages of the written language we also find uses of the reflexive pronoun where reflexivity of the action seems not to be the author's intention, but rather a middle or passive expression of the action. In this sense Old Russian and OCS both parallel to a large degree modern Spanish. While the modern Spanish reflexive se is cognate with Old Russian sja, in a collocation like se habla espan'ol, one is not saying that "Spanish speaks itself", as if Spanish were endowed with the capacity of self expression, but rather that "Spanish is spoken (here)".
Such mediopassive constructions expressed through the use of the reflexive pronoun early allowed for fairly free placement of the pronoun. Typically such constructions employed the accusative form sja or dative si. As enclitics these often followed the first accented word of the clause. But as the mediopassive-reflexive construction evolved, these forms tended to follow immediately upon the verb. Starting in the 14th century we find the reflexive reduced to -si' when following verb forms ending in a vowel. Slowly the post-verbal position became the norm, and in modern Russian it has become the rule. But this latter state of affairs does not seem to have become fixed until sometime around the early 18th century. Up until that time, the reflexives could occur somewhat freely within the clause. Where the verb generally required a dative object, the form si generally denoted the middle or passive: hence suditi 'to judge' (with dative), but suditi si 'to be judged'; similarly sosniti 'to join (to)' (with dative), but sosniti si 'to be joined, to join together'. The following list provides some examples.