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  Philologica 8 (2003/2005)  


(“A retired corsair, Morali”)




In “Onegin’s Journey” we find a rather mysterious description of one of Pushkin’s Odessa friends: <...> And the son of Egyptian soil, // The retired corsair, Morali. The factual information on this picturesque individual is rather contradictory. So, it is still unclear who the poet’s “inseparable companion” was: a Morisco, a black African, an Egyptian Arab or a Greek? His name provides the solution to this riddle.

The memoirists, I. P. Liprandi and M. D. Buturlin, called the “retired corsair” mavr Ali (‘a Moor by the name of Ali’) and thought Morali was a composite — a combination of the French ethnonym Maure (More) ‘Moor’ with the common Arabic name Ali (‛Alī y). It is more likely, however, that ̀orali is nothing other than an alternate pronunciation of ̀oralı, the Turkish term for the inhabitants of Morea (an alternate toponym for Peloponnesus; in Turkish, Mora). The ly > li shift probably came from the French or Italian pronunciation. The Moreote roots of the “corsair” gave rise to rumours of his Greek origins (rumours which were recorded by the memoirist, M. F. De-Ribas).

Our “Egyptian’s” taste for Turkish dress, which eye-witnesses corroborate, along with the Turkish name ̀oralı make it seem likely that this “retired corsair” was in fact an Egyptian Turk, whose name was subjected to a “folk-etymologization”. In this respect, a parallel might be drawn with a proper name that figures in Pushkin’s story Kirdzhali (1828): “Kirdzhali was a Bulgar by birth. In Turkish, Kirdzhali means knight, dare-devil”. This is a word which exists in nearly all the Balkan languages, and the traditional (false) etymology points to the name of the Turkish military leader Kırca Alî. Thus, the second halves of the names Morali and Kirdzhali were easily recast: speakers/listeners picked out the Arabic name Ali, which immediately led to misconceptions.



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