Leskov’s Sealed Angel.

Having advanced to the year 1873, I’ve read Nikolai Leskov‘s famous novella Запечатленный ангел (The Sealed Angel), and I have a question and a complaint. The question is a simple one, addressed to my Russian-speaking readers: how do you pronounce the word запечатленный? I had always assumed it was запечатлённый [zapechat-LYON-ny], as in the Wiktionary entry, but when I looked at the Wikipedia articles I linked to the titles above, I saw that they claimed it was запеча́тленный [zape-CHAT-lenny], the Russian one explaining that it was from the verb запеча́тывать, which as far as I can see doesn’t work morphologically (“В названии повести обыгрывается многозначность слова «запечатленный», причем основное значение — производная от «запеча́тывать» — накладывать печать”). Huh, I thought. And then I found this audio version, where the reader says запечатле́нный [zapechat-LEN-ny]. So which is it?

The complaint has to do with the ending. (Warning: spoilers!) Up till then, the story is great: the narrator tells a group of travelers at an inn his tale of a group of Old Believer traveling workmen he belonged to. When their revered icon of an angel was confiscated by officials and sealed with wax while they were building a bridge (apparently in Kiev in the early 1850s), they hatched a plan to replace it with a copy. It’s a gripping account told in a wonderful skaz style, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But then at the end an apparent miracle causes the leader of the group, and then all the rest, to give up their heresy and join the established church. It’s exactly like all those unconvincing endings where criminals go straight or (to use a Soviet example) when former Mensheviks, SRs, or other heretics see the light and join the Bolsheviks. The English Wikipedia article says: “The story’s finale, where the Old Believers’ community all of a sudden return to Orthodoxy, was criticized as being unnatural. Ten years later Leskov conceded that, while the story itself was mostly based on real facts, the end of it was made up.” The problem isn’t in the conversion per se but in the fact that it was so obviously required by both official tsarist censorship and the sensibility of the reading public of the day, and thus wasn’t artistically motivated but tacked on dutifully. I highly recommend the story, with the caveat that the ending is a letdown.


  1. My intuition is with the audiobook reader — “запечатле́нный”. This makes it sound like a church-slavonicism, which is probably what it is.

  2. Exactly what I thought! OK, I’ll go with that unless anyone has a convincing counterargument. (And someone should do something about the Russian Wikipedia article — at least add a “Citation needed.”)

  3. Dmitry Pruss says

    I don’t have an answer but I know that you have to look in the specific Old Believer context. Sealing of their shrines was widespread and the wording must be found in dozens other sources, and the contemporary clergy must know the expected pronunciation.

  4. But the Old Believer pronunciation (assuming there is one) is not necessarily relevant. Leskov was not an Old Believer, and I’m interested in how he and the majority of his readers would have pronounced it. (Note that the word occurs in the story not in an Old Believer context but as the result of an Orthodox official pressing an official stamp on the icon.)

  5. Gogol and Dostoyevsky sure could have the bad guy get his due without it seeming contrived (as could most noir movies.) I’m sorry Leskov couldn’t, or didn’t try, to pull that off.

    The ending to The Twelve Chairs, which I reread recently, seems forced and lazy compared to the rest of the book.

  6. Well, part of the problem is that the Old Believers aren’t presented as bad guys; the story is told as one of heroic perseverance, overcoming all obstacles in their quest to restore their miraculous icon. (And in fact Leskov admired the Old Believers and their art.) Then at the end it’s suddenly “…and we all converted to the ruling church.”

  7. Dmitry Pruss says

    Old Believer pronunciation (assuming there is one) is not necessarily relevant
    I am not going to argue with you beyond this one message 🙂 My point is that the quandary of the Old Believers, deprived from their holy relics by the Russian monarchy, and unable to properly execute their rites, was universally known in Russia, and many people in the wider society commiserated with them. The other side of the story is that the Old Order largely wished for the destruction of the Monarchy because of it (and so Morozov’s money flowed to the Bolsheviks).

    Most people versed in history of Moscow know about the story of the Rogozhskoe Old Order Cemetery and its Покровский храм which was finally unsealed in 1905, when the freedom of worship was expanded to the Old Believers, and how the treasures of Russia’s past were at a risk of destruction by the elements while the holy places. The churches stayed sealed for half a century, after the 1856 Patriarchal demand. It was quite a societal scandal. The position of the official Orthodox stemmed from the fact that domestic Old Believers reorganized around Belaya Krinitsa (its spiritual center in the Austrian controlled territory) and so the mainstream Orthodoxy wanted to treat them as a foreign faith, a very scandalous development indeed.

    This informs my belief that the matter of sealing was known far beyond the Old Order itself in Leskov’s times. But I haven’t specifically researched it. And even if it was a wide-known issue, Leskov might have used a more dialectal / peasant wording for it, the way he liked.

  8. I am not going to argue with you beyond this one message

    In the first place, you’re not arguing, you’re providing additional (and very useful) information, and in the second place, I enjoy a good argument as long as it doesn’t get personal! I appreciate the history, but I still don’t see how Old Believer pronunciation, even if it existed for this word, is relevant. Leskov would not have expected his readers to know some special heretical pronunciation; if he wanted to indicate one, he could have done so with a stress mark (as was commonly done to cue the reader when necessary). I strongly suspect that F is right about the Church Slavonicism — the narrator uses a lot of those, so it would fit in.

    Leskov might have used a more dialectal / peasant wording for it, the way he liked.

    Wording, sure, but that doesn’t work for pronunciation (unless, as I say, you indicate it in print).

  9. The original reading cannot be [zapechat-LYON-ny] because the relevant letter was yat. Which is OK, it could have been a Slavonicism as remarked above and it is perfectly reasonable to Russify it in modern reading to YO. It doesn’t resolve the question of stress though.

  10. I’m not familiar with Leskov’s story, but the title is subtly ambiguous: запечатлённый is the past participle passive of запечатлеть (to impress or keep in one’s memory) according to Ozhegov’s dictionary. So, I presume, the angel isn’t just sealed but vividly remembered by the believers.

  11. By the way, there’s a reference to Аркефовы древеса in the story (“время осеннее, темное, мѣсто незнакомое, вокругъ однѣ сосны и ели могучія, какъ аркефовы древеса, а отрокъ просто помираетъ”) for which I can find no commentary; anybody know who or what Аркеф might be?

  12. According to Ushakov’s dictionary (1930s), the pronunciation запечатле́нный is obsolete: http://feb-web.ru/feb/ushakov/ush-abc/08/us1a0111.htm . It may have been the standard pronunciation in Leskov’s day. The 16-volume Academy dictionary also says that the meaning “to seal” for запечатлеть is obsolete; this may be the reason why some of your informants link the participle to запечатывать, which, as you say, is morphologically impossible.

    As for Аркефовы древеса: here is a definition from a specialized dictionary for the rare words in Leskov and a couple of other writers: http://enc.znanium.com/article/785410 .The definition is copied from Dyachenko’s dictionary of Church Slavonic; there the word is spelled slightly differently; it may be a loanword from Greek ἄρκευθος “juniper tree, cedar’ (or perhaps the adjective form ἀρκεύθινος; both words occur in the Septuagint (Hos 14.9, 1 Kgs6.31.33, 2Chr 2.7).

  13. Thanks very much — both paragraphs tell me exactly what I needed to know, and I’m bookmarking that Словарь редких слов!

  14. it may be a loanword from Greek ἄρκευθος “juniper tree, cedar’
    The Septuagint word is in itself a loan from Hebrew (arez “cedar”) and the Semitic (perhaps Aramaic erze???) root is sometimes listed as a source for Iranian and Turkic arča “tree juniper” (in Northern climes, any coniferous tree), which in turn yielded a separate Russian word арча (tree juniper, the one which is called a cedar in the Western US)

  15. David Marjanović says

    The Septuagint word is in itself a loan from Hebrew (arez “cedar”)

    …but they have nothing beyond ar_e_ in common?

  16. Dmitry Pruss says

    Maybe not. Vasmer links Russ. rakita (willow) and Latvian ẽrcis (juniper), and others add Czech rakos (reed), supposedly united by the meaning “used for weaving / basket-making”

    While Arabic is from the Aramaic ʾarzā, “cedar”, but wiktionary ultimately derives it from Sumerian eren?

    As to Turkic “archa”, Fedotov and Yegorov note Mongol ars / artsa, Nanay and Evenki arça.

  17. I just read Dostoevsky’s review of the Leskov story (which he praises highly), and he makes the point that any genuine believer should be shocked by the portrayal of the archbishop as allowing the bureaucrat to get away with defacing a holy icon; furthermore, why would the Old Believers convert en masse to a church which apparently has no power over sacrilegious officials? An interesting angle that had not occurred to me.

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