The Triumph of Death of the Danse Macabre and the “Eschatological Optimism” of the Synodics

Keywords: Western European danse macabre, Triumph of Death, The Meeting of Three Dead and Three Living, Ars Moriendi, Dances of Death, Synodics, thanatology


Comparison of thanatological ideas in different mediaeval cultures makes it possible to understand their value categories formed through works of literature and visual art. Depictions of Death, the “great absentee” of the Middle Ages, and “the first discovery of man on the threshold of modern times” (Le Goff) occupy a leading place in European frescoes and engravings of the fifteenth century. The personification of death in the form of a disgusting monster, reaping a rich harvest from representatives of all ages and classes with a merciless sickle instilled fear and forced everyone to think about the inevitable end. According to the intention of the Catholic clergy, such fear contributed to the development of virtues and the rejection of a sinful lifestyle. The common character of axiological ideas of the culture of Old Rus’ and the countries of Western Europe, based on Christianity, seems to be able to testify to the unity of eschatological views on the problems of “minor” eschatology. However, there is reason to assert that in Russia, unlike Europe, the path to immortality was more captivating than its images, and the fear of deathly torments gave rise to a desire to atone for sins through repentance, prayer, almsgiving, and kindness. Such attitudes are clearly illustrated by the materials of the Russian Synodics, which, unlike the works of Western European danse macabre, marked the finalistic optimism of Russian culture, showing reliable ways to save the person’s soul even during their lifetime, which is why they were called “books of the living”. It was through the comprehension of these aspects of otherness that a special culture of mediaeval Russia was formed.

Author Biography

Irina Dergacheva

Dr. Hab. (Philology), Professor, Moscow State Psychological and Pedagogical University.

29, Sretenka Str., 127051, Moscow, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-4878-2027


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How to Cite
Dergacheva, I. (2022). The Triumph of Death of the Danse Macabre and the “Eschatological Optimism” of the Synodics. Quaestio Rossica, 10(4), 1394–1407.
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