I’m making my way through Mikhail Shishkin’s Взятие Измаила [The taking of Izmail] (see this LH post on Shishkin) and trying to grasp all his far-flung references, but one has so far defeated me, and I’m hoping against hope that one of my variously learned readers can explain it. Here’s the passage, part of a long speech by a defense lawyer trying to convince a jury not to convict his client, a mother who killed her own child (the time, though unclear, is sometime between the legal reforms of the 1860s and the Revolution):

How can killing be avoided?! Just imagine for a moment that Cain did not kill Abel! And then it turns out that there was nothing: no Julius Caesar, no Napoleon, no Sistine Madonna, no Appassionata, no Shakespeare, or Goethe, or War and Peace, or Crime and Punishment! Nothing! And you keep repeating your “Thou shalt not kill”! Come to your senses, Hipponians!

Да как же не убивать?! Представьте себе только на минуту — Каин не убивал Авеля! И тогда получается, что ничего не было: ни Юлия Цезаря, ни Наполеона, ни Сикстинской мадонны, ни Аппассионаты, ни Шекспира, ни Гете, ни «Войны и мира», ни «Преступления и наказания»! Ничего! А вы талдычите свое: не убий! Иппонийцы, опомнитесь!

There were various towns called Hippo — Thucydides mentions one in Italy, Josephus one that helped massacre Jews, and of course there was Augustine’s — but I have no idea which one’s citizens might be brought into this context or why.

A couple of other interesting bits from the novel: at one point, a speaker says “если у бедя дазборг” [if the bed′ has a dazborg], and I was at a loss until I realized it stood for “если у меня насморк” [if I have a cold]; i.e., it’s the Russian equivalent of “if I hab a code.” In another legal speech, the orator says “Да вы сами посмотрите на галиэю” [But look at the galieya yourselves]; a little googling convinced me this was the Heliaea (Ἡλιαία, Doric Ἁλία), the supreme court of ancient Athens. And in yet another long speech, Guryev, a bitter young man recently released from the Gulag, says “Не в силе Бог, но в правде!” [God is not in strength, but in truth!] I immediately recognized this as a familiar quote, and a little googling told me that I knew it from The Brothers Karamazov: the “Mysterious Visitor” tells Zosima “Господь не в силе, а в правде” [God is not in strength but in truth]… but also from the movie Брат 2 (Brother 2), where Danila says to Mennis:

Вот скажи мне, американец, в чём сила! Разве в деньгах? Вот и брат говорит, что в деньгах. У тебя много денег, и чего? Я вот думаю, что сила в правде: у кого правда, тот и сильней!

Tell me, American, what is strength? Is it in money? My brother says it’s in money. You have a lot of money, and so what? I think strength is in truth: whoever has the truth is the strongest!

And I learned that it’s originally from the speech of Alexander Nevsky to the Novgorodians before leading them out to defeat a stronger Swedish army in 1240. I love the way a cultural nugget like that can make its way from the thirteenth century to the twenty-first, acquiring different connotations along the way. (Oddly, the Russian Wikipedia article only discusses Alexander Nevsky, ignoring all later uses.)


  1. Well, that was fast! A correspondent who preferred not to comment publicly writes:

    I don’t know if this is what is going on in your Shishkin quote, but St. Augustine opposed capital punishment apparently to an annoying degree. (A Hipponian might therefore be someone opposed to killing.)

    That’s got to be it (see this link for examples of his opposition).

  2. Or his just war theory.

  3. Augustine also talked a lot about coming to his senses.

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