Being immersed in classic Russian literature, thanks to Jim (see my Christmas post—and another box came today, with Batyushkov, Kuprin, Akhmatova, and lots and lots of Turgenev!), I’ve branched out from the books actually on hand and investigated other early poets, like Gnedich, author of the classic Russian translation of the Iliad. As soon as I read the opening few lines, I was hooked; it creates a poetic force worthy of the original while remaining admirably true to the meaning:

Гнев, богиня, воспой Ахиллеса, Пелеева сына,
Грозный, который ахеянам тысячи бедствий соделал:
Многие души могучие славных героев низринул
В мрачный Аид и самих распростер их в корысть плотоядным
Птицам окрестным и псам (совершалася Зевсова воля)…

(I note, incidentally, that the Грозный [grozny] that opens the second line translates the Greek οὐλομένην ‘destructive,’ which suggests that the often-repeated warnings that the same adjective in Иван Грозный [Ivan Grozny] ‘Ivan the Terrible’ really means ‘awe-inspiring’ or the like are overstated.)
The amazing thing about this translation, aside from the quality, is that Gnedich spent years composing an entirely different one, in alexandrines. In 1813, when Gnedich had already completed eleven books, Uvarov, an unpleasant reactionary but a sound classical scholar, convinced him that only hexameters (hardly used until then in Russian verse) could properly represent Homer. Gnedich destroyed everything he’d written over the previous six years and spent another decade and a half rewriting it; the whole translation finally came out in 1829. Now, that’s dedication to your art.

Incidentally, if you can stand having your salivary glands violently stimulated, check out what Jim’s been eating; he has the good fortune to share the table of the Clumsy Cook. We should all be so clumsy.


  1. I thought “Grozny” translates as “destroyed”…

  2. No, although the city of that name was pretty well destroyed during the Russo-Chechen fighting. I gather it’s pretty well restored now. (It was originally a fortress named Groznaya, with the feminine implicitly modifying the word for ‘fortress,’ but in 1870 it became a city and had a gender reassignment.)

  3. David Marjanović says

    really means ‘awe-inspiring’ or the like

    I’ve never come across that. I’ve been taught it means “threatening”. More Kill Bill than Django.

  4. Oleg Semenov says

    I’m a native speaker and I’ve never interpreted “грозный” as “destructive” or “terrible”. This word implies power and authority, possibly righteous belligerency, but not evil intent. You could often find this word in Soviet propaganda describing the Soviet Army. Also, the capital of Chechen Republic is called Grozny.
    The word’s root (“гроз”) means thunderstorm (гроза) and threat (угроза, грозить, угрожать). Even if you discard the first meaning, there are noticeable different shades here: “угрожать / угрожающий” means “to threaten / threatening”, “грозить / грозный” basically means the same, but the second option has much more “righteous” and much less “evil” feel to it. The first one is about someone placing a knife to your neck in a dark alley. The second one evokes Pushkin’s “Отсель грозить мы будем шведу”. It evokes the feelings of power and patriotism… Yay Russian doublethink.

  5. Any connection between that surname and the German “gnädig”?

  6. Oleg: Thanks, that’s an excellent explanation.
    Stephen: I think it’s from the adjective gnedoi ‘bay’ (describing the color of a horse), though the -ich ending is unusual.

  7. David Marjanović says

    So… intimidating? Imposing?
    Would you describe King Kong or Godzilla as грозные?

  8. Maxim Afanasiev says

    I would suggest “ominous”, “menacing” as the best translation of the modern usage of “грозный”; I can’t speak for the best translation of the word as used in the 16th century, as in Иван Грозный (Ivan the Terrible) — my suspicion (of the “I have heard it somewhere” quality 🙂 ) is that it had been more like “wrathful” back then.

Speak Your Mind