IGOR AND AVVAKUM IN GROSSMAN.

I’m nearing the end of Life and Fate (see here and here), and I wanted to share a couple of references to older literature that were not obvious to me and therefore might be of use to someone else trying to read it in Russian. In Part III, chapter 23, Lyudmila says in irritation to her sister, “Нечего двойственность разводить и растекаться киселем”: “There’s no need to be duplicitous and spread kissel.” Spread kissel? Made no sense to me, so I asked Sashura, and he explained with his usual thoroughness that it’s an idiom meaning “not being able to think or talk straight, not being able to make up one’s mind. And it also evokes the beautiful, yet mysterious metaphor from The Tale of Igor’s Campaign“: “Боянъ бо вѣщии, аще кому хотяше пѣснь творити, то растѣкашется мыслию по древу, сѣрымь вълкомь по земли, шизымъ орьломъ подъ облакы”: “For Boyan the wizard, if he wished to make a song for someone, would fly in thought through the tree, like a grey wolf over the earth, like a blue-grey eagle beneath the clouds.” (Stender-Petersen’s original text, Obolensky’s translation.) Sashura adds that “растекаться киселем” and “растекаться мыслью по древу” are used interchangeably. If other Russian-speakers have more to say about this, I’m all ears.
And not long after, in III.26, Shtrum says to Lyudmila (his wife), “Да, Людочка, ‘инда еще побредем'”: “Yes, Lyudochka, ‘we’ll wander some more.'” (My Eksmo edition has the typo ивда for инда.) This is a touching allusion to an anecdote in the wonderful autobiography of the Protopope Avvakum, which he fortunately had time to write before being burned at the stake in 1682:

В ыную пору, бредучи, повалилась, а иной томной же человек на нее набрел, тут же и повалился; оба кричат, а встать не могут. Мужик кричит: „матушка-государыня, прости!“ А протопопица кричит: „что ты, батько, меня задавил?“ Я пришел, — на меня, бедная, пеняет, говоря: „долго ли муки сея, протопоп, будет?“ И я говорю: „Марковна, до самыя смерти!“ Она же, вздохня, отвещала: „добро, Петровичь, ино еще побредем“.
Once, wandering, she collapsed, and another fellow, just as tired, bumped into her, and he collapsed too; they both cry out and can’t get up. The peasant shouts, “Little mother, my lady, forgive me!” And my wife shouts, “Why’d you trample me, father?” I came up, and the poor woman complains to me, saying, “Will these torments go on long, protopope?” And I say, “Markovna, until death itself!” She sighs and answers, “All right, Petrovich, so we’ll wander some more.”

(The dialectal forms инда and ино are equivalent, meaning “так что” = ‘so that.’)

Comments

  1. The one-syllable English word “pope” for both the Russian поп and the Catholic CRO is unhappily ambiguous. German fell into a distinction: Pope is the Russian priest, pronounced with two syllables Po-pe, whereas the Catholic Primus is the Pabst.
    Duden surmises that Pope derives from the ahd. pfaffo (itself from the Greek “papas”). Pfaffe is today a disparaging term for priest, in the spirit of “dog-collar wearer”.

  2. I am convinced by arguments that the L in мыслью is an unusual or accidental epenthetic, and that the sense intended is “мысью”, “as a squirrel”. See the section “Интересные Факты” in the Russian Wikipedia article, and footnote 13.

  3. I am not convinced in the slightest, and in fact put that in the same bin as the “Война и міръ” nonsense, which for a while was also presented in the Wikipedia article as fact. There’s a reason philology insists on the lectio difficilior; rewriting manuscripts so they “make more sense” is a prime cause of corruption. I don’t know of a single scholarly edition of the Tale that prints мысью.

  4. Dunno about difficilior potior – that’s news to me, so I’ll have to think about it. One of Schleiermacher’s* capital maxims is: if there is no difficulty about the reading, don’t go looking for one.
    This bans flights of exegetical fancy, but selbstverständlich not speculative ones. 😉
    * Hermeneutik und Kritik [aus dem Nachlaß], 1977 stw edition

  5. You would never *print* мысью– there was only ever one manuscript (from Мусын-Пушкин), and thus only a single variant of the text, and that had an L in it.
    The point is that when you translate it, there’s a case to be made that he wouldn’t растекаться “in thought”– but “as a squirrel”, and that squirrel can have an L in it that one wouldn’t expect in modern orthography, but whose appearance is consistent with known processes.

  6. D.C. Lau commented awhile back that while textual analysis has plenty of rules, you can never be quite sure which rule to use at any given time. For example, scribal errors (slips of the pen) usually produce nonsense, but every once in awhile they produce an interpretable lectio difficilior.

  7. The point is that when you translate it, there’s a case to be made that he wouldn’t растекаться “in thought”– but “as a squirrel”
    I understand the argument, but it’s completely fabricated out of whole cloth; it’s one of those “wouldn’t it be cool if…” things that are fun to think about but can’t be taken seriously in the boring scholarly way. As Schleiermacher once said, if there is no difficulty about the reading, don’t go looking for one, and there is no difficulty about the MS reading.

  8. (I read that Schleiermacher quote somewhere.)

  9. Is that Ruth Schleiermacher, the East-German speed skater? Apparently she’s trying to reconcile the criticisms of the Enlightenment with traditional Protestant orthodoxy. I wish her the best of luck, especially indoors!

  10. Rodger C says:

    The reading “squirrel” does make for better parallelism. Nabokov plumps for “thought” but then inserts a nightingale to strengthen the parallelism. I’m not for an instant suggesting that Nabokov’s translation practice is an argument in favor of anything.

  11. The reading “squirrel” does make for better parallelism.
    Sure, but so what? There’s no a priori reason there need to be three animal parallels instead of two. In fact, to me, it reads better the way it is: he flies/hastens in thought, like a wolf or an eagle. But again, so what? What reads better to me isn’t an argument any more than what reads better to you; the only thing that matters is what seemed better to the author of the Tale, and the only evidence we have for that is the MS. This is not like finding a nonrhyming word at the end of a line in a poem with a strict rhyme scheme; in that case, there’s a problem that has to be fixed. In this case, there is no problem except that some people think it would read better with a squirrel. That’s not a problem to be fixed.

  12. Mind you, I’m not saying it’s stupid and wrong and should never be brought up in public; it’s a fun thing to think about. But I get very grumpy when I see people inserting it into Wikipedia as though it were fact; before I got to it, Wikipedia said “The misreading is of мысію (akin to мышь ‘mouse’) from ‘run like a squirrel/mouse on a tree’, taken to be мыслію, ‘as a thought, thought-like’. It is present in both the manuscript copy of 1790 and the first edition of 1800…” That’s just straight-up bullshit, and I left a stern note in the Talk page about it.

  13. All right. I’ve dug a little, and my favorite counterargument is that other people in the text do things мыслию that they’re more likely to do in thought than as a squirrel. Всеволод, for example, might мыслию […] прелетѣти издалеча, отня злата стола поблюсти. And Игорь himself мыслию поля мѣритъ отъ великаго Дону до малаго Донца.
    Evidently, people did these sorts of thing мыслью all the time back then, so there’s no reason Баян would have to channel squirrel energy at the same time.

  14. Well said, and I thank you for the (squirrel-like) digging!

  15. my favorite counterargument is that other people in the text do things мыслию that they’re more likely to do in thought than as a squirrel.
    I can’t think of anything I’m likely to do as a squirrel. So anything I do in thought is something I’m more likely to do in thought than as a squirrel.
    That may be an argument for, or a counterargument against, something or other: but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what.
    Crown, did you know that Schleiermacher was an interior decorator before he got into theology and ice-skating ? According to this excerpt from the badly scanned “History of the descendants of Mathias Slaymaker who emigrated from Germany and settled in the eastern part of Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, about 1710”:

    Schleiermacher
    The name “Slaymaker” is the English translation for the name Schleiermächer, which originates from the province of Alsace which in later years became part of the empire of Germany. Early Christian art from 313 A.D. to the late 5th century was depicted on veils and draperies in blocky, frontal and unproportionate style. The Schleiermächer family has been an influential manufacturer in the fine art, veil, drapery, and canvas industry in one form or another since the 4th century. The name Schleiermächer’s direct translation means art veil, drapery and canvas maker for homes and not for ships at sea.

  16. “Растекаться киселем” can only evoke the Tale for someone who is more familiar with the Tale than with kissel. 🙂 “Растекаться киселем” is not “spread kissel”, it’s something like “flow apart like kissel”. Earlier in the text we read:

    При разговорах с Иконниковым он раздражался, бывал груб, насмешлив, обзывал его тюрей, размазней, киселем, шляпой.

    “Шляпа” is the odd one here, the rest (“тюря”, “(каша-)размазня”, “кисель”) are all names of dishes that are mushy.

    What the topic of mushy food and mice/squirrels does evoke is the old joke of biology students. “Подготовьте мышь к эксперименту. Получившуюся кашицу …”

  17. it ain’t matter if the author of Slovo meant a squirrel or a mouse or a thought (or if it was a fake altogether), because this passage (re)entered into Russian folk wisdom only through the grade school curriculum, where it sort of played a role of Beowulf. Poor kids were required to memorize the undecipherable passage; exasperated teachers would yell at the students that their wandering thoughts “are flowing about a tree”; and spoofs have become popular, as is the case with the Beowulf too. Grossman’s “thoughts flowing and spreading around like a slimy goo” is of the latter category of funny paraphrases. My fav example may be Kiskachi’s Ancient Blues, all built of allusions to classic verses. (A lower bit-rate audio version is available on the author’s site)
    As to Avvakum’s reference, that one must be totally literary in origin. The only way the word “Индо” survived in the folk usage must have been through “Индо взопрели озимые…”, a spoof folk wisdom from Ilf & Petrov’s immortal Ostap Bender series (e.g. here in Lurkmore)

  18. The Swiss Müesli derives from Mus meaning “mushy food”. Gemüse [vegetables] is something you make a mess of in order to eat it, such as pottage. I bet mice love Müesli, just as eagles like mice. Does that help ?

  19. I don’t think ‘duplicitous’ is the meaning here. I think a good translation would be “Stop wallowing around in dualities, acting/being like a piece of jello”. In the first part of this phrase, the informal and insulting “rasvodit'” is paired with high-minded, uncommon and formal “dualities” to emphasize her contempt. Second part means to act indecisively and in a spineless way like a cup of spilled Kissel would slowly spread on the floor.
    I vote for Squirrel! It’s not that it makes more sense, but that thought on a tree doesn’t make any sense to me at all. So on one hand you have thought on a tree, on the other hand you have a tree animal on a tree, a forest animal in the forest, a sky animal in the sky.

  20. thought on a tree doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

    I thought on a tree,
    then I thought on thee.
    Then I thought: “How twee !
    That’s not like me.”
    Anon.

  21. Hat, thanks again for mentioning my humble effort.
    There’s no a priori reason there need to be three animal parallels instead of two.
    I too suspect that the insistence on the ‘squirrel’ interpretation comes from the ‘trinity’ idea, i.e. that a sequence of images must come in a ‘holy’ number, 3, or seven, or twelve, or forty. If you take мысию/мыслью as ‘thought’ than there are only two – the wolf and the eagle. So commentators had to think of the squirrel interpretation. But no one seems to have noticed ‘the trinity principle’ preserved in that there is the tree, the earth and the sky, perfectly sensible – and very poetic – of the poor old Boyan.
    By the way, here is how Vasnetsov visualised Boyan in 1910. He is singing out the Tale and stressing – tree, earth and sky.
    I agree with Mockba, it’s the school teaching of Slovo that made this phrase and a few other so popular in the language. And ‘inda’ in Ilf&Petrov is surely an internationalist 1920s mockery of pan-slavist ideas and imagery of the late 19th-early 20th Centuries.
    Another observation on растекаться – spread out, goo down. To me, as an image it’s obviously a reference to pine sap, or perhaps birch tree juice (maple syrup anyone?) slowly trickling down the body of the tree. Again, makes perfect sense. And looks like kissel (the liquid variety, not the jelly-type thing).

  22. “ä” above in *Schleiermächer
    Swedes use ä too. Could it be merely a pronunciation mark in this case?

  23. No, never mind, I wrote that before I got to Slaymaker Fine Art. Lancaster is home of the Amish, as I’m sure you kno.

  24. Lancaster is home of the Amish, as I’m sure you kno.
    Kno I didn’t. They too believe that the hard way is the right way ! Hat, have you asked the Amish about мысью ?

  25. I think a good translation would be “Stop wallowing around in dualities, acting/being like a piece of jello”. In the first part of this phrase, the informal and insulting “rasvodit'” is paired with high-minded, uncommon and formal “dualities” to emphasize her contempt. Second part means to act indecisively and in a spineless way like a cup of spilled Kissel would slowly spread on the floor.
    An excellent exegesis; thanks!
    Hat, have you asked the Amish about мысью ?
    Not yet, but I will the next time I’m in Lancaster and see a bearded farmer with a copy of the Tale of Igor.

  26. The Amish have a presence here in Wobegon. They seem to buy farms that no one else can make a living on. They’re much friendlier than I would have thought and are even occasionally seen in taverns at lunch.

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