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  Philologica 5 (1998)  


(from a Commentary to “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai”)


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From the early 19th century to the present time, the only name designating the inhabitants of the Daghestan town of Kizlar (Kizliar) and its surroundings has been kizliartsy. Nevertheless, the editors of the Supplement to the Dictionary of A. S. Pushkin (Moscow 1982), followed by the compilers of the dictionary, Rare Words in the Works of Nineteenth-Century Writers (Moscow 1997), mistakenly maintain that the word kizliartsy had a synonym which was used in Pushkin’s poem, The Fountain of Bakhchisarai: Davno kizliarami nemymi // V puchinu voln opushchena (= A long time ago she was drowned in the deep by the dumb kizlars).

Although the first of these two lines is found in Pushkin’s manuscript fair copies of the poem, it was dropped from the definitive text. Moreover, the initial wording of another line reads: Pod strazheiu Kizliara xladnoi (= In the cold custody of the Kizlar). The word kizliar was removed from the latter extract by the author himself, whereas its absence from the former lines is due to the advice of Dmitrij Dashkov who had served in the Russian Consulate in Constantinople. He read Pushkin’s new poem in manuscript form and shared his impressions with Ivan Dmitriev in a letter of 4 Jan. 1824: “Zarema perishes at the hands of the dumb kizlars — whereas in Turkish kizlar simply means girls. The word Kızlar-Ağası which possibly misled Pushkin designates the overseer of the harem girls”.

The history of the word kizliar in Pushkin’s Crimean poem was, to a large extent, reconstructed by G. O. Vinokur, but the question of the origin and the source of this word has never been posed. Pushkin seems to have borrowed it from a Moldavian song which he came to know during his Chişinău (Kishinev) exile. The text of this song was published in 1848 by Vasile Alecsandri: Dar eu, frate, mult mă tem // De cîzlariul din harem (= And, brother, I am very much afraid // Of the kızlar from the harem). The editor supplied the rare word with the following definition: “evnuc, păsitor de harem” (=“eunuch, the custodian of the harem”). As far as we know, other Moldavian and Romanian nineteenth-century sources do not contain the word cîzlar/chizlar.


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