Peresvetov, Ivan Semenovich
Dates of birth and death unknown. Author and social critic. Progressive mid-16th-century Russian social and political thinker.
Peresvetov emigrated to Russia from the western Russian territories, where he had been a member of the lower nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. He served in the Polish-Lithuanian army in the 1520’s and 1530’s before arriving in Russia via Moldavia in late 1538 or early 1539. At the end of 1549, Peresvetov presented his works, entitled “Two Books” (17th-century copies of which are still extant), to Ivan IV Vasili-evich (the Terrible). The works were in the form of tales about the conquest of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmed, but their real purpose was to denounce the boyars and support the principal demands of the “fighting men”—the dvoriane. [At that time the term dvoriane referred to members of the military service class.] In his view, promotion in rank should be based on personal merits rather than on birth.
Peresvetov denounced the wealthy and aristocratic dignitaries and called down the tsar’s “terror” upon them. He favored an aggressive policy toward the Kazan Khanate and noted the sympathy for Russia felt by the Slavic populations enslaved by the Turks. In internal affairs, he defended the need for strong autocratic rule. The governmental reforms that he advocated coincided to a considerable extent with the policies of the Selected Council (Izbrannaia Rada). However, Peresvetov’s assertion that truth is higher than faith and his condemnation of all forms of indenture could not be approved by Ivan IV. Peresvetov placed great emphasis on the importance of knowledge and philosophical wisdom, which the monarch was to be guided by in implementing reforms. His works are written in a direct and energetic language, almost entirely free of Old Church Slavonic elements and resembling folklore and the spoken language.
WORKSSoch. Moscow-Leningrad, 1956.
REFERENCEZimin, A. A. I. S. Peresvetov i ego sovremenniki. Moscow, 1958.
A. A. ZIMIN