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Kuritsyn, Fyodor Vasilevich


(died c. 1502), state secretary (diak ) and accused heretic under Ivan III.

From an unknown family, but recognized for his linguistic, literary, and administrative talents, Fyodor Vasilevich Kuritsyn was one of Ivan III's chief diplomats in the 1480s and 1490s. Kuritsyn's most important mission was to Matthias Corvinas of Hungary and Stefan the Great of Moldavia from 1482 to 1484 to arrange an alliance against Poland-Lithuania. Kuritsyn then became one of the sovereign's top privy advisors and handled several affairs with Crimea and European states, including secret matters. Fixer of the first official Russian document with the two-headed eagle, Kuritsyn was also involved in Muscovy's initial land cadastres. The dis-appearance of his name from the written sources after 1500 may have been connected with the fall of Ivan III's half-Moldavian grandson and crowned co-ruler Dmitry.

The traces of Kuritsyn's intellectual life are intriguing. According to testimony obtained from a Novgorod priest's son under torture, Kuritsyn returned from Hungary and formed a circle of clerics and scribes that "studied anti-Orthodox material." Other "heretics" found refuge at his home, so Archbishop Gennady concluded that Kuritsyn was the "protector and leader of all those scoundrels." According to Joseph of Volotsk's exaggerated Account, the Novgorodian heresiarch-archpriest Alexei and Kuritsyn "studied astronomy, lots of literature, astrology, sorcery, and secret knowledge, and therefore many people inclined toward them and were mired in the depths of apostasy." Kuritsyn's milieu probably did have access to some philosophical and astronomical treatises.

The only work with Kuritsyn's name as conveyor or translator-copyist is a brief poem with an attached table of letters and coded alphabet, sharing the deceptive, New Testament-Apocryphal title, "Laodician Epistle." The poem is of the chain type, on the theme of the sovereign soul enclosed in faith, linking wisdom, knowledge, the prophets, fear of God, and virtue. The table gives phonetic and, where appropriate, grammatical characteristics of the letter symbols in their dual function as letters and numbers. It uses both Greek and Slavic termsthe latter having the metaphorical symmetry of vowel-soul and consonant-bodyand may contain some hidden meanings or utility for divination. An anonymous explanatory introduction is close to the likewise anonymous "Outline of Grammar," both possibly by Kuritsyn. They promote the sovereignty of the literate mind and treat letters as God's redemptive gift to humanity and the source of wisdom, science, memory, and predictive powers. Not strictly heretical, but akin to Jewish wisdom literature, these works sat on the humanist fringe of the acceptable in Muscovy.

Kuritsyn also may have composed, redacted, or simply conveyed from Moldavia the underlying text of the Slavic "Tale of Dracula." This string of semi-folklorish anecdotes about the "evil genius" Wallachian voevoda Vlad the Impaler recounts the just and unjust beastly reprisals of this self-styled "great sovereign" without moral commentary except in the description of his purported apostasy to Catholicism. Implicitly "Dracula" teaches that despots must be humored and envoys trained and smart.

Kuritsyn probably died around 1501. In 1502 or 1503 Ivan III reportedly knew "which heresy Fyodor Kuritsyn held," and in 1504 allowed Fyodor's brother, the diplomat-jurist state secretary Ivan Volk, to be burned as a heretic or apostate. Fyodor's son Afanasy was also a state secretary.

See also: ivan iii; russian orthodox church


Taube, Moshe. (1995). "The 'Poem on the Soul' in the Laodicean Epistle and the Literature of the Judaizers." Harvard Ukrainian Studies 19:671685.

David M. Goldfrank

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