PUSHKIN, NABOKOV, AFGHANISTAN.

Anatoly Vorobey discusses the idea that the first lines of Evgenii Onegin should be interpreted according to a theory that uvazhat’ sebya zastavil is an early-nineteenth-century Russian equivalent of “kicked the bucket.” This seems implausible to me, but I don’t want to emulate Edmund Wilson and argue about the fine points of Russian usage with native Russian speakers; fortunately, Anatoly is also dubious, and like him I will wait for any evidence of such usage that may be forthcoming. In the meantime, I will rely on Nabokov, who knew Pushkin inside and out and translated the passage thus:
My uncle has most honest principles:
when taken ill in earnest,
he has made one respect him
and nothing better could invent.
As usual, one is taken aback by the determinedly rebarbative nature of the English phrasing (this from Nabokov!), but it is clear that he took uvazhat’ sebya zastavil in its obvious sense (“made one respect him”).
Not that Nabokov is infallible. In the same spirit in which he gleefully exhibits Pushkin’s “schoolboy howler” la greve d’Athenes for Byron’s “the Athenian’s grave” (commentary on Onegin One:XXXVIII.9, p. 162), I hereby place before the world his own ludicrous blunder at the end of his commentary on Two:XVI (p. 255), where he identifies Ratmir, one of the characters in Ruslan and Lyudmila, as “a young Hazaran Persian-speaking Mongol from Afghanistan”! Ratmir is a khazarskiy khan, a khan of the Khazars, the Caspian state that was a neighbor and rival to Kievan Rus in the days of which Pushkin is writing; what Nabokov thought a peasant from the mountain fastnesses of central Afghanistan might be doing at Vladimir’s court I can’t imagine. (The Hazara, incidentally, are not Mongols, though they have traditionally described themselves that way and have faces and cultural elements reminiscent of Central Asia; their actual ethnogenesis is lost in the mists of time, but they speak a dialect of Dari, the Afghan variant of Persian. Lest anyone take too seriously the matter of self-identification, let me point out that many Pushtuns believe they are descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel.)

Comments

  1. The Hazara are Mongols in origin, at least in their sires. Not that that means that they have a whole lot to do with modern Mongolia, inner or outer in their mores and attitudes, any more than the Moguls in the subcontinent had.

  2. A decade later, a comment at last!

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