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  Philologica 8 (2003/2005)  
   
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N. V. PERCOV, I. A. PIL’SHCHIKOV

“AN IMMORTAL DEFAMATION”
(On One of Pushkin’s Last Burlesque Works)

 
 
 



 

Summary

Pushkin’s satirical ode On the Convalescence of Lucullus (1835) is examined here from various angles, with analyses of 1) the historical context and the story of the poem’s creation; 2) its genesis and autoreferential allusions; 3) language and style. This article has the aim of integrating materials for an academic commentary.

1. The ode is addressed to the wealthy nobleman, Count Dmitrij Nikolaevich Sheremetev, and the ode’s image of the “heir” who longs to see his ailing relative die as soon as possible depicts Sergej Semenovich Uvarov, the powerful high official, Minister of Education and President of the Academy of Sciences. In this article, the authors present crucial historical and biographical data, documenting a narrative of the ode’s creation. The publication of the poem stunned Pushkin’s contemporaries (all the known responses to the poem are collected in the article). Many of them, including some of Pushkin’s close friends, received the poem negatively; nonetheless, some of the poet’s associates and the foes of Uvarov commended this rash act, for which Pushkin was to pay dearly over the last year of his life, when he endured all manner of harassment and trouble with the censors.

2. Pushkin took Derzhavin as the starting point for an entire group of forms and motifs. He borrowed the stanzaic form from Derzhavin’s poem To a Second Neighbour (1791—1798), and he took the title from the ode On the Convalescence of Maecenas (1781). The satire also contains thematic and phraseological allusions to two more of Derzhavin’s famous odes: On the Death of Prince Meshcherskij (1779) and The Grandee (1794); Pushkin himself noted the connection of Lucullus to The Grandee. In the final version of the poem, Pushkin cut back on the Derzhavinian imagery found in the initial draft; it is telling, however, that this imagery was fully “restored” in Alphonse Jobard’s French translation of Lucullus.

In Lucullus, motifs from Derћavin are interwoven with motifs from Horace. The portrait of a greedy heir has parallels with analogical images in Horace’s odes and satires. The exultation on the occasion of Lucullus’ convalescence calls to mind the Romans’ applause for the convalescent Maecenas in two Horatian odes (Hor. Carm. 1.20, 2.17). This article also discusses less direct connections between Pushkin’s ode and other works of Horace, as well as the poems of Juvenal and Catullus.

The ode is shot through with autoreferential allusions that connect it to the earlier and later works of Pushkin. For example, the comparison of an heir to a greedy raven has analogues in the poem “The Raven Goes to See a Raven...” (1828), the story The Undertaker (1830), the novel The Captain’s Daughter (1836), and in the fragment “Alphonse is mounting his horse...” (1836). The motif of an heir’s greed, the mention of cellars packed with gold, and the significant use of the word zaimodavec ‘moneylender’ connects Lucullus to The Miserly Knight (1830): both smert’ ‘death’ in Lucullus and sovest’ ‘conscience’ in The Miserly Knight figure as a moneylender. This use of the word originated in Viazemskij’s Giddy-Up (published in 1828), with its zaimodavec-vremia ‘the moneylender time’. These are but a few of the instances of autoreferential intertextuality cited by the authors.

3. Lucullus is one of Pushkin’s last efforts in the burlesque style. It manifests a generic duality that is the result of an orientation toward two different traditions: the odic and the satirical. In this respect, too, Derzhavin was Pushkin’s forebearer, for it was Derzhavin who first crossed the panegyric ode with the satire in his Felica (1782).

Two stylistic “planes” contrast in Lucullus: the high and the low, the “Latin” and the “Russian”, the literary and the everyday; they mingle, bump up against one another and unexpectedly change places. The stylistic contrasts are revealed in the very first stanza: the high lexical register and the high realia of the first quatrain contrast with the low notions and expressions of the second quatrain. This kind of play with lexical registers and realia continues throughout: the entire text is built on this burlesque “conflagration of words from different styles” (B. V. Tomashevskij).

This article clarifies the meanings of a number of words and expressions which are used in the ode On the Convalescence of Lucullus, but which do not receive adequate treatment in Dictionary of Pushkin’s Language. The authors explicate the French substrate of the ode’s phraseology and demonstrate its connection to the Russian literary language of the eighteenth century. Besides style and poetic diction, the authors also focus on the “poetry of grammar” and provide a detailed analysis of the role of syntax and morphology in the poem’s architectonics.

 



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