I’ve barely started reading Entertaining Tsarist Russia: Tales, Songs, Plays, Movies, Jokes, Ads, and Images from Russian Urban Life 1779-1917 (see the end of this post, and here‘s the webpage for the book, with a link to supplementary materials) and I’ve already hit on a gem, “Guak, or Unbounded Devotion: A Knightly Tale.” This is one of those tales of chivalry that trickled into Russia from the West; its Russian version originated in the eighteenth century but wasn’t published until the nineteenth. It begins: “Prince Zilagon, ruler of the Princedom of Florida, was a great and glorious man who who greatly expanded his territory and struck fear into the hearts of neighboring peoples.” The Princedom of Florida? Zilagon travels through “Greece, Persia, India, China, Japan, and Greater Bukharia,” impressing everyone with his knightly and heroic feats, but when he returns home he discovers his father has died and “Florida, left without a ruler, had fallen to the enemy.” He raises an army, expels the enemy, and becomes ruler. “Canada was the first to feel the weight of his sword and surrendered to his mighty power; thereafter, twelve more realms surrendered to the unconquerable and awe-inspiring Zilagon, and after extending the borders of his domain, he married the daughter of the king of Mexico.” He leaves his realm to his son Gualikh, who “established peace and in his land, and determined to decorate his capital with a magnificent monument. He ordered that a massive amphitheater be built from white and green marble… This amphitheater was built directly across from the royal palace; inside it was so large that it could hold 50,000 spectators. Under an enormous canopy in the amphitheater were twelve places for visiting magnates.”
Gualikh goes on to marry an African princess named Refuda and have a son named Guak, who needless to say becomes a hero in his own right and has many adventures, including winning the heart of an Amazonian princess named Veleuma, but I’m not going to tell you about all that. Instead I’m going to mention the cognitive dissonance induced by seeing exotic names like Zilagon, Gualikh, and Guak associated with the homely (to me) place name Florida (and if anyone has any suggestion about where those names might have come from, by all means share it), and point out that the whole thing is manifestly a prediction of the victory of the Tampa Bay Rays in the playoffs. Of course, it would have been clearer if rather than Canada the Princedom of Florida had conquered the Duchy of Massachusetts (home of the Red Sox), but I submit that the 50,000-seat amphitheater with its “places for visiting magnates” is obviously Tropicana Field with its luxury suites.
Incidentally, the Guak story seems to have been utterly forgotten; in English Google finds only the book I’m quoting from, and in Russian, aside from references to the title, it seems to exist online only in a comedy “Говорят, будет воля!” [‘They say there will be freedom!’] by some guy named “N. Zinoviev” in an 1864 issue of the literary-political journal Sovremennik. A bunch of yokels think a book contains the freedom they’ve been promised, and they insist a literate deacon read it to them; on page 57 he starts reading it to them, and it turns out to be this very story: “Зилагон, владетельный князь американской Флориды, был тот великий и славный муж…” Unfortunately, he doesn’t get very far into it before the yokels grow impatient with the lack of freedom and move on to another plot element.