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  Philologica 1 (1994)  


(Comments on an Academic Commentary. 1—2)


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The publication of Batiushkov’s Collected Works is not an ordinary event. The first such collection was edited in 1885—87 by Leonid Majkov, with the assistance of Saitov, to celebrate the poet’s centenary. The second, and the last, apparently intended to mark his bicentenary, was published slightly late, in 1989, by Koshelev and Zorin. Both collections include Batiushkov’s letters. The familiar letter of the “Golden Age” was of a literary nature, and Batiushkov himself granted it the rank of an artistic work: “it is my authentic genre”.

There is a particular feature which Batiushkov’s letters share with his other works: a predilection for quotation. Reference to “the word of others”, as a “cultural word”, became an indispensable part of Batiushkovian discourse. In order to understand it we should know what and why he quotes.

The foundation for an academic commentary on Batiushkov’s epistolary heritage was laid by Majkov. The amount of observations and discoveries he and Saitov made should be regarded with high respect. However, in their comments occasional mistakes are found, as well as numerous lacunae. The aim of this article is to find out how much has been added to the commentatorial apparatus, with the passing of a hundred years. Most attention is payed here to the work which today crowns the academic tradition (Zorin’s comments in the second volume of the 1989 edition).

1. Batiushkov and Roman literature. For Batiushkov and his contemporaries, Roman literature was Horace and other Augustans; the only older poet he mentions is Catullus. Although there are no direct quotations from Catullus in Batiushkov’s letters, Zorin discovered two such passages. The first of them is actually Ovid. Trist. 1. 1. 3 (a fact known to all other commentators). Another is vos ego..., which Zorin interprets this as a cut and transposed ...ego vos..., hinting at Catullus’ Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo (I’ll bugger you and stuff you), and which, in fact, is quos ego... (You whom I...) — an exemplar and far more innocent aposiopesis from Virgil’s Aeneid 1. 135.

The earliest quotation from Horace in Latin (overlooked by the commentators) is found in Batiushkov’s letter to Gnedich on 6 Sept. 1809 (Ars Poet. 143). With regard to his later letters, five direct quotations from Horace and two translated have already been identified. Zorin correctly copied out all the already existing references but two: having confused l, 1 and I, he misinterpreted Majkov’s “l<iber>” as “I”, and “11” “the 2nd”. Batiushkov’s Russian prosaic paraphrase of Hor. Carm. 3. 3. 1,7—8, ignored by Majkov, was arbitrarily commented on by Zorin. The commentator’s notes on Horace’s works are misleading: thus, he calls the famous epode Beatus ille “the 2nd epistle”, and so on. The article suggests interpretations for four other references to Horace in Batiushkov.

Apart from Virgil’s Aen. 1. 135 Batiushkov quoted Aen. 5. 344 and 2. 274 (both noticed by Majkov). The difficult locus is the mention of “Virgil’s dulcis patria” — a simplified rendition of Ecl. 1. 3. However, Zorin suggested Ovid. Epist. ex P. 1. 3. 33; to support his misinterpretation, he mistranslated the latin phrase. When commenting on the poet’s harsh remark about Voejkov’s translated “measureless hexameters” (the latter’s versions of the Aeneid 1 and extracts from the Georgics), Zorin insists that Batiushkov hints at Voejkov’s original epistle to Uvarov (unknown to Batiushkov).

The only quotation from Tibullus in Latin (1. 3. 89—90) was marked in Majkov’s notes. The well known fragment in a letter to Zhukovskij (26 July 1810) refers to Tib. 1. 6. 26 and not 1. 6. 51—53 as Majkov thought. Other Tibullan allusions of Batiushkov have not been commented on; the article suggests interpretations for these references.

2. Batiushkov and Italian literature. Batiushkov’s passion for Italy began with his interest in Torquato Tasso. Later he extended his interests to the whole of Italian Renaissance literature, in which he found “genuinely classical beauties, well-tried by the centuries”. References to Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata, which Batiushkov intended to translate, permeate his correspondence. Majkov noted two quotations from Gerusalemme (one in Italian, another in Russian) and overlooked two other quotations (in Italian). The discovery of Batiushkov’s letter to Dashkov (1817?) added two more quotations from the poem; however, neither Koshelev (1985) nor Zorin (1989) could identify them.

The opening fragment of a letter to Gnedich (July 1817), which includes self-explanations on the subject of the elegy The Dying Tasso and references to Dante, Petrarch and Monti is a challenge to the commentator. The article discusses this passage, correcting the commentators’ mistakes and filling the lacunae.

In a letter to Gnedich (27 Nov. —5 Dec. 1811) we find a quotation of lines 152—153 from the satire to Galasso Ariosto composed by his famous brother Lodovico Ariosto, to whose poetry Tasso’s was about to lose its place in Batiushkov’s preferences. This satire is II in the ordering of the manuscript, whereas in the ordering of the editio princeps it is III. The comments (originating in Majkov’s) make a reference to the “Satire III”; in Semenko’s (1977) comments on Batiushkov’s prose works this same satire is called “Satire II”. Koshelev followed Semenko when commenting on the prose (1989, vol. I); Zorin followed Majkov when commenting on the correspondence (1989, vol. II). Thus, one and the same text of Ariosto is described, in the same edition, as two different texts. There are two Italian quotations from Orlando furioso in the correspondence, both being identified by Majkov. The article discusses the problematic editorial history of the letters containing these quotations.

The “Italian” sections in the commentary on the “most Italian” of Russian poets are the most incomplete. Having misinterpreted or disregarded references to Italian classics, the commentator could not, of course, recognize and explain “minor texts” involved, such as an aria from an opera of Paisiello or Italian epistolary formulae.

This article is continued in the next issue of “Philologica”


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