I’ve read the first two books of The Brothers Karamazov (there are twelve, plus an epilogue), and man, is it good! I remembered having been bowled over by it in college, but that was a long time ago; it’s only gotten better with more life experience (not to mention knowledge of Russian culture and literature) under my belt. The first thing I noticed this time around is how funny Dostoevsky can be; the narrator’s preface (“To the reader”) had me laughing already, and the book’s humor ranges from dry innuendo to slapstick (people literally slap each other). The second thing is the immediate impact of Fyodor Karamazov, the father of the family (you could hardly call him a patriarch); he’s one of the great villains of world literature, and his complexity is outlined in the first paragraph (of the novel proper):

Constance Garnett:
[Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov …] was a strange type, yet one pretty frequently to be met with, a type abject and vicious and at the same time senseless. But he was one of those senseless persons who are very well capable of looking after their worldly affairs, and, apparently, after nothing else. […] At the same time, he was all his life one of the most senseless, fantastical fellows in the whole district. I repeat, it was not stupidity—the majority of these fantastical fellows are shrewd and intelligent enough—but just senselessness, and a peculiar national form of it.

David Magarshack:
…he was a strange sort of individual, yet one that is met with pretty frequently, the sort of man who is not only worthless and depraved but muddleheaded as well—one of those muddleheaded people who still handle their own little business deals quite skillfully, if nothing else. […] And at the same time he continued all his life to be one of the most muddle-headed and preposterous fellows of our district, I repeat: it was not stupidity, for most of these preposterous fellows are rather clever and cunning, but sheer muddle-headedness, and of a special national kind at that.

…это был странный тип, довольно часто, однако, встречающийся, именно тип человека не только дрянного и развратного, но вместе с тем и бестолкового, — но из таких, однако, бестолковых, которые умеют отлично обделывать свои имущественные делишки, и только, кажется, одни эти. […] И в то же время он все-таки всю жизнь свою продолжал быть одним из бестолковейших сумасбродов по всему нашему уезду. Повторю еще: тут не глупость; большинство этих сумасбродов довольно умно и хитро, — а именно бестолковость, да еще какая-то особенная, национальная.

Fyodor Pavlovich is a buffoon (one of the chapters is titled Старый шут, ‘The Old Clown’), but lest we think him nothing but a provincial ignoramus, in an early conversation with his son Alexei (Alyosha), he quotes Voltaire (“Il faudrait les inventer”) and the Perrault brothers’ parody of the Aeneid (“J’ai vu l’ombre d’un cocher, qui avec l’ombre d’une brosse frottait l’ombre d’une carrosse” [I have seen the shade of a coachman who was brushing the shade of a carriage with the shade of a brush]), and he quotes them in French.

But the prompt for this post comes toward the end of the last chapter of Book Two. Fyodor Pavlovich is causing a scandal at the monastery, and when the Father Superior responds to his insults and slanders with a high-flown homily (in Garnett’s translation, “It is written again, ‘Bear circumspectly and gladly dishonor that cometh upon thee by no act of thine own, be not confounded and hate not him who hath dishonored thee’”) the sly buffoon says “Те-те-те, вознепщеваху! и прочая галиматья! Непщуйте, отцы, а я пойду” (Garnett: “Tut, tut, tut! Bethinking thyself and the rest of the rigmarole. Bethink yourselves, Fathers, I will go”). I at first assumed that вознепщеваху [voznepshchevakhu] and непщуйте [nepshchuite] were his own invention, a spur-of-the-moment parody of the Church Slavonic diction of the monks, but no, it turns out there’s an actual Old Church Slavic verb непщевати ‘suppose, imagine, think [ὑπολαμβάνω]’; here’s Vasmer’s entry:

непщева́ть, непщу́ю “предполагать, полагать”, др.-русск. непьщевати, непьщую “думать, полагать”, “не соблюдать”, пьщевати “думать, заботиться” (см. Срезн. II, 1781, 420), ст.-слав. непьштевати, непьштоуѭ ὑπολαμβάνω, aestimo; λέγω, dico (Зогр., Мар.), цслав. непьщь πρόφασις, др.-чеш. znepty “нечаянно, неожиданно” (*jьz-nе-ръtу), др.-польск. niереć “серьезность, опасность” (Брюкнер 361). Первонач. знач., представленным в ст.-слав. не-пьштевати, было, вероятно, “не ожидать, не быть уверенным”, праслав. *ръtj-, возм., родственно лат. putō, -ārе “считать, полагать”, тохар. А, put-k “судить, различать, разделять”; см. Розвадовский, RS 2, 100 и сл.; Вальде–Гофм. 2, 393 (без слав. слов).

As far as I can tell (I don’t know if there’s a searchable corpus of OCS texts), it’s most common in the 2/3 sg. aorist непщева, e.g. Phil. 2:6: не восхищеніемъ ​непщева​ ​быти​ равенъ богу (οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα Θεῷ, in the NEB translation ‘he did not think to snatch at equality with God’); the prefixed form вознепщева is a pretty frequent Church Slavonicism, as you’ll see if you put it into Google Books search (e.g., Игуменъ же Корнилій вознепщева о семъ, како объявися имя того старца Марка), but so far I’ve found the 3 pl. form вознепщеваху only in this passage and in what must be an allusion to it (which shows that even pre-Revolution Russians thought it sounded hilarious: in 1915 Pavel Florensky published an article titled “Не восхищеніемъ ​непщева​,” from that Philippians passage I just quoted, and an amused Vasily Rozanov wrote him “I read ‘voznepshchevakhu’ and had a long, loving laugh: ‘Pavel’s gone out of his mind with a title like that!'” — he must have gotten that form from Dostoevsky). Anyway, I couldn’t resist passing along that linguistic tidbit.


  1. For people not completely fluent in 19c. Rus.lit., Fyodor Pavlovich knows a good deal of French because he received a good home education probably from a French tutor, as was customary for the gentry of the time.

  2. Right, but his general demeanor and behavior are such that it’s easy to forget he was just as much a member of the gentry as, say, Tolstoy’s Levin.

  3. Related Russian words must be печься “to care deeply about smth.”, опека “state of being entrusted with care”? The latter is explained as a Polonism and ultimately a Slavic calque of Lat. procurate.

  4. No, those are from a root meaning ‘cook’; cf. Sanskrit paktis, Greek pepsis.

    a Slavic calque of Lat. procurate

    You mean Lat. procurator.

  5. PlasticPaddy says

    Clearly Pechorin’s name comes from the river. But it seems ironic that he cares deeply only about himself.

  6. Is it clear if the root meaning “cook” isn’t for a homonym печься meaning “bake”? I don’t see a clear path for the kitchen-word to be come a “care / security” word. There many more instances of the former usage, Russ. беспечный “careless”, Ukrainian беспека security, and, importantly, Polish niереć “danger” which you’ve just cited above in the Vasmer’s entry.

    If you “cook” explanation is straightforwardly true then all of these Slavic words would mean “uncooked / undercooked” 🙂

    UPDATED: but Wiktionary does have, counterintuitively, “Old East Slavic печаль (pečalĭ, “grief, censern, loathing”), from Proto-Slavic *pečalь, from *pekti (“to bake”) “… which seems to imply that Vasmer was wring about Polish niереć?

  7. The point is that niepieć can only come from a Proto-Slavic *pVt (root ending in /t/) while the root in опека ends in /k/. It’s possible that the derivatives of both roots (PSl. *pъt- and *pek-) became mixed up in the individual languages.

  8. It’s possible that the derivatives of both roots (PSl. *pъt- and *pek-) became mixed up in the individual languages.

    Yes, that seems distinctly possible.

  9. If I were named after a river instead of a tree I’d damned well care about it, at least if I lived near it.

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