Дата публикации: 09 ноября 2022
Автор(ы): by Valery SOMOV, Cand. Sc. (Philology), Arts Appreciation Institute, Russian Academy of Education
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Источник: (c) "Science in Russia" Date:05-01-2000
Номер публикации: №1667954917

by Valery SOMOV, Cand. Sc. (Philology), Arts Appreciation Institute, Russian Academy of Education, (c)

Articles in this rubric reflect the opinion of the author.- Ed.

Not a few personalities in human history have come to symbolize the human spirit, pitched high or low. As symbolic names they have always excited interest. Nay, not only as symbolic names, but rather as symbol names as well. Or just symbols...

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Most of this lot are creators, the demiurges. We see myriad stars: the philosophers (Heraclitus, Aristotle, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Pyotr Chaadayev) and the artists (Apelles, Francesco Albani, Andrei Rublyov, Titian); the musicians (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven) and the savants (Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Archimedes, Euclid, Plutarch, Ilya Mechnikov)... Add to this galaxy the poets (Homer, Anacreon, Virgil, Moliere, Alexander Blok, Sergei Yesenin) and their antipodes: the caustic mockers (Bavius, Maevius, Vassily Trediakovsky), malicious cavilers (Zoilus) and pedants, the prigs (Aristarchus).

Power-dressing fancy names are of no smaller significance either. The rulers who have built up the might of their countries (Augustus Octavianus, Charlemagne, or Charles the Great; Yaroslav the Wise, Peter the Great, Catherine II); the victorious warlords and generals (Alcibiades, Hannibal, Alexander Suvorov); the lawgivers and statesmen (Comte de Mirabeau, Yakov Dolgorukov). The archvillains and failures (Pyrrhus, Herod, Nero, Mamai, Hitler) are in the rogues' gallery for good. Still others are the controversial figures (Genghiz Khan, Tamerlane, Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon Bonaparte, Lenin, Stalin).

Next comes a legion of power antagonists-the fighters of tyranny, reformers, revolutionaries, martyrs, impostors, pretenders, rebels and conspirators (Marcus Antonius, Marcus Junius Brutus, Aristogiton, Harmodius, Martin Luther, Awakum, Grigory Otrepyev, Stepan Razin, Yemelyan Pugachev, Jean Paul Marat, Maximilien Robespierre, Pavel Pestel, Kondraty Ryleyev, Grigory Makhno).

Other standouts to gain fame or notoriety are a motley crowd: the altruists (Aspasia and Maecenas who patronized the liberal arts); the egotists and adventurers-a bunch of self-loving creatures, money-grubbers, ambitious go-getters (Croesus, Hero-stratus, Lucullus, Hemando Cortez, Casanova, Georges Dantes, Grigory Rasputin).

The symbolism of a proper name (noun) often comes up in the plural or in the form of a collective noun (cf. the lines penned by Gavrila Derzhavin, one of the patriarchs of Russian poetry: "As well as the Antonini(*) on the throne,//so the bond Epicteti(**) on their own//Grand are by souls fair); such symbolism is alive in similes (Pushkin: "Like Aristogiton, he had his sword in myrtle twined..."); in various metaphors ("Epictetus' lampion, our Aristippus, offspring ofAristippus(***)); in sundry epithets and antonomasia (Hannibalian oath, lever of Archimedes, Lucullian feast, Pyrrhic victory; maecenas, hooligan, messalina).

Symbolization obeys certain laws of its own (the greater a historic personality, the more chances it has to become a symbol); but odd chance is not ruled out either. We might recall Gavrila Derzhavin's lines from the poem On the Capture oflsmail (1790); "...Up one climbs the rampart, bold,//Down another plunges into gehenna cold,//each Curtius, Decius, Boirose!" Depicting the storming of the Turkish fortress Ismail, the poet compares the Russian soldier to heroes of the past so as to stress his valor, courage and self-

* Antoninus Pius-Roman emperor in 138-161 A.D. Continued the policies of his predecessor, Emperor Hadrian (117-138); avoided wars and fortified the Roman borders. -Ed.

** Epictetus (ca. 50-140 A.D.)-a libertine Greek Stoic philosopher who lived in Rome (first a slave with one of Nero's favorites, then manumitted).-Ed.

*** Aristippus (435?-356? B.C.)-Greek philosopher and pupil of Socrates; founded the Cyrenaic school in northern Africa.-Ed.

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sacrifice in battle. Derzhavin uses transferred, symbol names of real historic persons epitomizing definite human virtues. The names of the Roman heroes Curtius and Decius were long-standing symbols; yet the very last name, that of the French captain Boirose (18th cent.), came to symbolize valor only under Derzhavin's quill. To make it clear to the reader, the poet explained the above lines: "The first one /Curtius/ is a Roman equestrian who flung into a yawning abyss /on the Roman Forum/ to scotch a murrain rampant in Rome; the second /Decius/ is a warlord who rushed to fight the foe in the front ranks; and the third one /Boirose/ is a French captain who, during a storm, climbed up a cliff 80 sazhens /more than 170 meters/ high by means of a rope ladder and captured the fortress."

In one of his poems ("Epistle to Lyda", 1816) the young Pushkin mentioned the name of the French belle, Ninon (Anna) de Lenclot (1616-1706), as a symbol. That beauty came into fame not only through her literary salon-her love-affairs were a byword. Pushkin: "Disciple of the wise faith of the Anacreons and Ninons", i.e. he sees himself as a devotee of Venus. None of the other Russian poets has ever alluded to Ninon as a symbol name. But she was a remarkable, versatile woman, a clever lady of easy virtue who has become an epitome of grace, intelligence and libido.

Russian poetry presents a fairly long string of occasional symbol names in a routine, matter-of-fact choice of vivid images haunting both poetic diction and, above all, speech communication. However, the presence of a pantheon of symbolic personalities in the history of world culture is a sociocultural rather than a linguistic phenomenon. Although Russian poets have looked into this pantheon for idols every now and then, they would never stop at that but raise a temple of their own.

The symbol names haunting the Russian poetry of the past three centuries confirm the common truth: that each time and age has its idols. In the eighteenth century those were Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, Virgil, Augustus Octavianus; late in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries-Aristides the Just, Aristippus, Aspasia; Yakov Dolgorukov, Catherine the Great, Nikolai Karamzin... Two or three generations of Russian poets-from Mikhail Lomonosov (18th cent.) to Apollon Maikov (19th cent.)-worshipped Anacreon, a Greek lyric poet (5727-488 B.C.); and the next generations, from Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) down to Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) looked up to Dante Alighieri as a paragon. Quite a few symbol names endured even longer than that: Marcus Junius Brutus, one of the conspirators who murdered Julius Caesar; the Tartar khan Batu, Peter the Great, Mikhail Lomonosov, Gavrila Derzhavin, the obscene 18th-century poet Ivan Barkov and many others. The poetry of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is hallowed by such giants as Napoleon Bonaparte, George Byron and Alexander Pushkin, with Alexander Blok and Osip Mandelstam joining up in our century

Like any other word, a symbol name may be in common usage or it may be a glossa (gloss), that is, a rare, archaic or technical term that requires explanation. The modem interpretation of the gloss goes back to the ideas set forth in the Aristotelian Poetica (Poetics); said Aristotle: "Commonly used I call such /a word/ that is employed by everybody, while a glossa is one that is employed by the few. Clearly, one and

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the same word may be both a glossa and one in common usage, but not only with the same people."

The Russian poetry of the 18th and 19th centuries often cites symbolic names of men and women virtually unknown to our contemporaries (Aristides the Just, Aspasia, Apelles, Yakov Dolgorukov); names that a modem reader often has to look up in glossaries and encyclopedias. Yet some names are passed over in silence even there (like that of Captain Boirose)-these are obscure names, nomina obscura, to use the Latin phrase. We can speak of the gloss as a phenomenon ofsociocultural communication in cases when the author of a poetic text knows an obscure name that his reader does not. If the author and his readers are not contemporaries, they may be separated by a communication gap in the form of a long-forgotten real thing, name, quotation, motif, and all that. But such gaps may also open among contemporaries if the author and his readership live in different communication media.

We know of curious paradoxes when the author happens to be ignorant of what is known to almost everybody among his readers. One of the most popular classical poets among Russian men of letters at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro, 70-19 B.C.). Yet the unknown author of the poem "Pegasus's Complaint" (1793) thought Vergilius and Maro to be different persons, and he penned these gimpy verses: "Virgil rode me and Maron, //Meek I bore them on and on."

In another amusing episode, the dean of Russian poetry Gavrila Derzhavin had these lines in his poem "Urn" (1797): "Who, Maecenas or Maedicis,//Is bewept by salty tears?" And he supplied the following note, "Maecenas was a Roman nobleman..., but consult about Maedicis..." Wfe cannot tell if Derzhavin could ever leam about that mysterious personage, Maedicis.

The name of a historic personality, if invoked in a poetic work, may be compared to a stroke of brush on a canvas; it is an inset convoluted to a proper noun, a verbal symbol.

This personality should, epitomize either positive or negative qualities, and embody a definite facet of material being (power, creativism, love, hate, heroism, egotism, vanity). Fame or notoriety is a token of symbolism. Yet even symbolism does not save some of the big names from ultimate oblivion. Such was the lot of Yakov Dolgorukov, one of the associates of Peter I. But the image of this Petrine statesman excited the poetic fancy of Lomonosov and Pushkin.

Prince Yakov Dolgorukov (1639-1720) came of the old dynasty of noblemen; he was a well-educated man with a good command of Latin. In 1682, as the elite army corps (streltsi) mutinied against the government, Dolgorukov openly sided with the young czarevich Peter who conferred on him a high rank at the court, that of stolnik (second toboyar's only). The ruling czarevna Sophia (who was Peter's sister), fearful of Dolgorukov's influence on the czarevich, sent the prince away to France at the head of a Russian embassy which, however, returned empty-handed. Back in Moscow, Prince Dolgorukov was one of the first to pledge allegiance to Peter at the height of his tug of war with czarevna Sophia in 1689;

Dolgorukov rushed to the St. Trinity and Sergius Lavra (Monastery) northeast of Moscow where the young czar and his followers were

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staying at the time. With the overthrow of czarevna Sophia, Prince Dolgorukov was appointed chief justice of the Moscow prikaz, (office). In 1695 and 1696 the prince accompanied Peter in his Azov Sea campaigns. Departing for alien parts in 1691, Peter I entrusted him with the guarding of Russia's southern frontier; besides, he had to keep an eye on Small Russia (Ukraine).

Right at the outset of the long Russo-Swedish war, in 1700, Prince Dolgorukov was taken prisoner and spent more than ten years in captivity where he made a thorough acquaintance with the Swedish mode of life and body politic. One day he managed to escape with a group of fellow prisoners. Back in St. Petersburg, Dolgorukov lent an active hand in implementing the Petrine reforms. His knowledge gained during captivity proved of much use for instituting a new system of government administration, the collegia (forerunners of government ministries). In 1717 the monarch assigned the prince to preside at the Revision Collegium, a body that was in charge of the state treasury He showed himself as a strict and integral comptroller of the assets and liabilities, in keeping with the rule he had formulated while debating a case at the Senate: "Truth is the czar's best servant. If you serve, you cannot burr; and if you burr, you cannot serve." So, the prince was dead set against devious ways and wheeling-dealing.

Once things came to an open clash right in the Senate that was to consider a Petrine ukase. Prince Dolgorukov, violently opposed to that bill, tore it up then and there. This incident, though at a much later date, inspired the poet Pyotr Vyazemsky to indite the humorous verses "Don't Be Free With Your Hands" (1823):

Our people can well remember

As in the Senate, to scare the foe's bands,

The noble Dolgorukov lost his temper,

And quite was free he with his hands.

On other occasions, too, the prince did not hesitate to prove his mettle as a straightforward and decent man. He became a legend, a synonym of civic courage for the Russians of the eighteenth century. Said the historian Nikolai Karamzin, "The Dolgorukovs had the heart to talk turkey to Peter."

Alexander Pushkin also recalled Prince Dolgorukov in his poetic epistle to Nikolai Mordvinov (1826), an eminent statesman and admiral distinguished for his honesty and civic virtues; the poet called him "a new Dolgoruky".

Symbolization of a historic personality usually has legend as a source. Legend-its origins and encrustations of time on it-is a subject in its own right. But since legend has a stable semiotic (sign-related) structure, we might assume it to be essentially true, regardless of all the versions and discrepancies; because legend is based on real happenings and real persons. So far we cannot explain otherwise the high trust put in it as a wellspring of historical wisdom. The Greek painter Apelles (latter half of the fourth century B.C.) is an eloquent case in point. Different generations of Russian men of letters well knew his legend: Antioch Kantemir, Mikhail Lomonosov, Alexander Sumarokov, Ippolit Bogdanovich (18th cent.); Gavrila Derzhavin, Nikolai Karamzin, Ivan Dmitriev (late 18th and early 19th century); Vassily Pushkin, Alexander Pushkin, Pyotr Vyazemsky, Nikolai Shcherbina (19th century); and last, poets of the 20th century (Boris Pasternak, Yevgeny Rein). Although none of the Apelles works have come down to us, our poets, today and in the past, would admire his

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art as the acme of perfection. Thus, speaking of one Russian artist who captured his fancy, Pyotr Vyazemsky described him as a "Northern Apelles", an epithet of highest praise.

Now, legend has it that Apelles, on finishing his work, would always display it outdoors and, hiding close by, hearken to what onlookers had to say. Once a shoemaker turned up amongst the crowd to pass judgement. What happened next is related by Pushkin in his short poem (parable) "A Cobbler" (1829):

A cobbler once at picture gazing

An error indicated in the shoes;

The artist made it right, his brush in hand by taking.

With arms akimbo did the cobbler muse:

"Perchance, I guess, askew the visage is a little...

And this here bosom isn 't it too nude?..

But then Apelles cut him short, embittered:

"My friend, judge not above the boot!"

Recall the pithy Latin dictum: SUTOR NE SUPRA GREPIDAM /JUDICET/ - "Cobbler not above the boot", i.e. he should not judge higher than that...

Famous for his subtle art of portraiture, Apelles ventured into higher spheres too. The painting of Aphrodite {"Aphrodite Anadyomene") that depicted the goddess of love and beauty rising from the foam was considered his best masterpiece. None of the classical artists could ever rival Apelles in the technique, passion and grace of the brush.

Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist and writer, says Apelles "was wont, no matter how busy, not to miss a day excercising in his art and drawing at least one line; this was the reason for a proverb." The proverb is still alive in the winged dictum NULLA DIES SINE LINEA ("not a day without a line"; "not a day without a stroke"). Here we might as well recall the name of Yuri Olesha's book NOT A DAY WITHOUT A LINE (first published in 1961).

In sociocultural communication, symbol names come up as a natural phenomenon. Valery Bryussov, one of the "silver age" of Russian poetry in the early twentieth century, took a rather paradoxical view of that: "Herostratus, he had to bum the Artemis temple in Ephesus,//And set the ideal of the vainglorious lot-aye, for ages.//So Judas, he had to commit Jesus Christ to the cross://And the traitor's image came complete forever" (1915).

The urge to have a reference point for one's own-and other people's-deeds or misdeeds-is part and parcel of the human makeup. But why, then, have Aristogiton and Harmodius (ancient Greece), Marcus Junius Brutus (one of those who assassinated Julius Caesar), and Karl Sand who stabbed the German playwright and reactionary Augustus Kozebu in 1819- why have they become symbols of tyrant killers? This is still a big question mark, especially if we know the underlying causes.

...Two young Athenians and bosom friends, Aristogiton and Harmodius, came out against the tyrants Hippias and Hipparchus not so much for democracy's sake but rather in defense of their mutual passion. And yet they have reaped fame as freedom martyrs and tyrant killers for aeons. By the way, Hippias and Hipparchus did a lot of good as archons for Athens; yet their obnoxious ways and habits eclipsed their merits- so much so that their rule came to be connoted with the death of the two young men only As Thucydides, the Athenian historian, tells us, Hipparchus, notorious for his luscivity, took a fancy to Harmodius, who was "in the bloom of youthful beauty". Aristogiton, in love with Harmodius,

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got wind of that and made up his mind to kill Hipparchus and, for just cause, put an end to tyranny in Athens as well. Many friends of the two young men joined in the conspiracy. Concealing their daggers under myrtle leaves, Aristogiton and Harmodius stabbed Hipparchus during a festive procession. Harmodius was hacked to pieces by the bodyguards then and there; and Aristogiton was seized, tortured and executed. The other plotters were tracked down and jailed...

In Russian literature their names were first mentioned in the "Ode of Callistratus" (1803) by Ivan Born, a poet connected with the Russian classic Alexander Radishchev Decades later Alexei Tolstoy recalled the two heroes in his satirical verses ("Heavy Is the Hand of Alcides", 1869). In his poem ("Greek maiden true! Weep not-he died a heroe's death. ...",1821) Pushkin compared an unknown hero, who fell in battle for the freedom and independence of Greece then enslaved by the Turks, to Aristogiton, but made no mention of Harmodius. Three generations later, Harmodius found more favor with Valery Bryussov Of all the poets we have cited Pushkin alone has hallowed Aristogiton's image with a symbolic aura.

The Russia of the 18th and early 19th century plunged into mastering the heritage of Western and world culture. One sequel to that craze was the abundance of symbol names in Russian poetry-in Pushkin's works for one. In a way, Pushkin closed the epoch of the Russian Enlightenment. Then followed a drastic decline of interest in the classical and West European culture. The succeeding generations of Russian poets were guided by their personal likes or dislikes in the choice of symbol names. Such poets as Mikhail Lermontov, Fyodor Tyutchev, Afanasiy Fet and Alexander Blok would make do with few, if any, symbol names; but Nikolai Nekrasov, Apollon Maikov, Lev Mey and Alexei Tolstoy used a good many. Among the Soviet poets, Sergei Yesenin would rather avoid such names, in contrast to his contemporary Vladimir Mayakovsky. Not that Mayakovsky had a classical education and Yesenin did not. A good knowledge of history and love of it is not the main thing for the presence of cultural conceits (concetti) in poetry. It depends: one poet, to utter his thoughts and feelings, will search his mind and soul, while another one will turn to the historical memory of humankind and to cultural symbolism. Fancy symbol names appealed to Vyacheslav Ivanov, Valery Bryussov, Osip Mandelstam and losif Brodsky. But other "silver age" poets of the early twentieth century-like Igor Severyanin, Vladislav Khodasevich and others-remained cool. This is not to mean that cultural phenomena were alien to their poetry. What matters is the role of human culture for poetic idiom and self-expression. Thus symbolist poets (excluding Alexander Blok) revered emblems of the historical-cultural tradition which they tried to rethink according to their transcendental philosophy

As Valery Bryussov confided, "the images, rhythms and words carry revelations of centuries"; poets are not only creators, they are "the custodians of mystery" as well. Yes, bygone centuries speak to us by the words of their poets, and uncover their mysteries; yes, poets shape ideals. The symbol names haunting their writings bear witness to something else, too: that poets are the high priests of Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory; and so they are the keepers of our historical memory


Опубликовано на Порталусе 09 ноября 2022 года

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