Essai sur les origines russesby Georges Vernadsky

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  • Essai sur les origines russes by Georges VernadskyReview by: D. M. LangThe Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 38, No. 91 (Jun., 1960), pp. 564-567Published by: the Modern Humanities Research Association and University College London, School ofSlavonic and East European StudiesStable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 10:31

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  • 564 THE SLAVONIC REVIEW indicted for seeking to live beyond his artistic means, under three heads: his 'ambition' to infuse some of his works with social content, his 'ambition' to write novels, and his 'ambition' to create tragedy. One is tempted to retort with three questions: Do not Zapiski okhotnika, for all their social content, comprise some of the gems of Turgenev's creation? In writing off the novels why does Professor Pacini feel free-or obliged- to omit all reference to the first two? Is will really the essential condition of drama (then, what of Chekhov's plays?), and, even if it were, can Professor Pacini really consider Liza or Marianna-or, indeed, Lavretsky -as creatures without a will? And when he goes on to complain that Turgenev wrote too well, comparing his language to the waters of moun- tain streams-clear and cool but too often savourless, a poor slaker of thirst-one itches to recall that Hippocrene flowed neither with mead nor with nectar . .. nor even with Lachryma Christi!

    But it is one thing to immolate Turgenev the novelist to Turgenev the short story writer (after all, however we may value Dvoryanskoye gnezdo, and perhaps Rudin or Ottsy i deti, we might all agree that Turgenev would still be Turgenev without them), and quite another to immolate the girl Tat'yana to Tat'yana the woman, setting the heel of a 'figura di splen- dente, adamantina idealit'a' of the final canto on the neck of a 'bamboletta insulsa e diafana' of earlier days. One may accept or dispute the first formula; to the second, it seems to me, one can only reply with Musset's reproof to Dante: 'Non, par ce pur flambeau dont la splendeur m'eclaire/ Ce blaspheme vante ne vient pas de ton coeur.'

    But such are the hazards of explorers. There is no difficulty, or merit, in marching along a highway or trotting over beaten tracks; all honour to those who prefer untrodden paths-where even the most sure-footed must stumble occasionally....


    Essai sur les origines russes. By Georges Vernadsky. ('L'Orient Ancien et Haut Moyen Age Illustres', nos. 1-2.) Librairie A. Maisonneuve, Paris, I959. 2 vols. 552 pages. 32 plates. 7 maps.

    THIS work is a translation of Professor Vernadsky's book, The Origins of Russia, published earlier in I959 at the Clarendon Press, Oxford. Much of the scholarly apparatus has been omitted, as has the preface containing the acknowledgments; some maps and illustrations have been added. Apart from the note: 'Traduit de l'anglais par Albert Colnat', the pro- spective purchaser is given no hint that this is anything but a new, original work written especially for the series planned by this well-known Paris publishing house. In these circumstances, remarks which have been made elsewhere about the original English edition (see Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, XXII, pt. 2, I959, P. 37I) apply equally to the present French version. In view of the size and scope of the work, however, a few more observations may be in order.

    A curious feature of both editions is the obvious resemblance which

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  • REVIEWS 565 their titles bear to that of Professor Henryk Paszkiewicz's massive book, The Origin of Russia, published in London in I954. In this work, which covers most of the ground and tackles many of the problems with which Professor Vernadsky is now concerned, the latter's name is cited a score of times and some of his theories analysed. Much of the source material collected and utilised by Professor Paszkiewicz is now laid under contribu- tion by Professor Vernadsky. No doubt Professor Vernadsky would not feel able to subscribe to all the views advanced by the Polish scholar. But when the bibliographies of both the English and French editions of Professor Vernadsky's work are swelled by a list of Oriental dictionaries and some rather strange articles in obscure periodicals, it is odd to find no mention of a work bearing so conspicuously on the author's central theme.

    Professor Vernadsky once belonged to a school of historians known as the revrazitsy, who laid stress on the role of the peoples of Central Asia and the Eurasian steppe in the formation of Russia's national culture. These early convictions were reinforced by Professor Vernadsky's associa- tion with the late Dzambulat Dzanty, an emigre scion of the Ossetes, a people of Iranian stock; descended from the Alans, well-known from Byzantine sources, the Ossetes are domiciled now in the central Caucasus. The late Mr Dzanty was doubtless an estimable person. But he was not a trained scholar, and his patriotic zeal outran prudence, probability and common sense. He taught that an Alano-Tokharian cultural and linguistic sphere stretched at some unspecified epoch from the Bay of Biscay as far as Indonesia. He founded at Clamart, Seine, what he styled the 'Institut d'Ossetologie' and brought out a journal in which grandiose claims were made for the 'empire des Oss-Alanes' and its role in world history.

    One of Mr Dzanty's contributions to Russian history was to record and then to publish in collaboration with Professor Vernadsky what purported to be an ancient Ossetic heroic lay, telling of the combat of Mstislav, prince of Tmutarakan', against the Kasogi or Circassians in I022. This lay was recited to him in I910 by a venerable Ossete named Khulych. But as readers of this journal are of course aware (Slavonic and East European Review, XXXVII, 1959, no. 89, p. 504), the aged Khulych was 'more learned than he let on', and had obligingly concocted his antique saga from printed sources available to readers in Russian public libraries. The amiable fraud perpetrated by this Ossetic Ossian was revealed some little time ago by Professor W. B. Henning ('A Spurious Folktale', in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, XXI, pt. 2, 1958, pp. 315-18). No hint of this appears in Professor Vernadsky's book, where the Lay of Iry Dada is cited several times (e.g. pp. 45, 70-I, 253) as a piece of authentic folk tradition.

    Professor Vernadsky is one of those who believe that the original Russians formed part of a tribal confederation known to classical geo- graphers as the Roxolani. For this tribal name he gives (pp. 6I, i, I-I I) two alternative explanations: 'Rukhs-Alans', incorporating the Alanic word rukhs 'radiant light'; or 'Rus'-Alans', that is, Alans associated with Russians. One misses the obvious parallel with the Cat-Alans of Spain, originally, no doubt, Alans associated with cats.

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  • 566 THE SLAVONIC REVIEW These Ossete-Alans were a pervasive and far-travelled tribe. At one

    point (pp. 90-2) we find them in the British Isles, in the form of a con- tingent of demobilised Roman legionaries who are supposed to have settled down among the Celts; their descendants are the Alans, Allens, even the Fitzalans of today. Their eastern branch, according to Professor Vernadsky (pp. 64-5), were the gakas of Kapilavastu in India, among whom was born Gautama Buddha. The Ossete-Alans invented the tamgha or tribal emblem and brand-mark as employed by the Mongols, Uighurs and Eastern Turks; the original Ossetic term for this, we learn (p. 27), signifies 'thy sperm'. Among other quaint Ossete-Alanic etymologies is that provided for Zizais, prince of the Acaragantes, conquered by the Romans in A.D. 355 (according to the English edition, in A.D. 358); this name Professor Vernadsky regards as a nickname taken from Ossetic dzidzi 'a nipple', unaware that dzidzi is simply Georgian dzudzu, a word of which the Alans would not have known until finally settled much later on in their present Caucasian habitat.

    It would be a mistake, perhaps, to linger over other fanciful derivations, such as that propounded on page 23 for the Thraco-Phrygian god Sabazios (Sabadios), whose name is supposed to come from Slavonic svoboda 'liberty'; Sabazios seems to have been a god of orgies, more renowned for licence than for liberty, as anyone will find who consults the lengthy article in Pauly-Wissowa. We are not unduly impressed by the attempt on pages 2I8-I9 to explain the familiar names Vladimir and Yaromir as 'Mithra the Sovereign' and 'Radiant Mithra' respectively. Nor would it be charitable to analyse in detail the conjectural account furnished on pages 20-I of the foundation of T'bilisi (Tiflis), capital of Georgia, about 800 B.C. by a cohort of Slavs from Teplice in Czechoslovakia, who gave to their Georgian settlement a name which reminded them of home; suffice it to say that the benighted Georgians, less well-informed than the Professor, unite in assigning the foundation of their metropolis to a date some I,250 years later, and in deriving its name from Georgian t'bili 'hot', from the thermal springs for which the city is renowned.

    From the viewpoint of Russian history, perhaps the most remarkable discovery recorded in this book is that of an ancient parchment scroll, written in Old Slavonic in what purport to be ancient Albanian characters, and containing an apocryphal life of the prince of Kiev Vladimir I- 'Vladimir the Ardent Sun'. This vita is said to have been composed and cherished by a fraternity called the Hidden Concord of the Rotu, a sect of 'illusionistes, guerisseurs, musiciens et forgerons, qui s'est conservee dans les Balkans jusqu'a nos jours' (p. 224). These heretics apparently fostered a myth similar to that which was told about Tsar Alexander I some eight hundred years later, namely that Vladimir did not really die at Berestovo near Kiev in A.D. 10I5, but departed into the unknown to lead a life of ascetic piety.

    The scroll in question is supposed to have been discovered some twenty years or more ago by Mr Yury Arbatsky in the archives of this Rotu fraternity. A 'chemical and general analysis' of the parchment was under- taken in Prague during the nazi occupation, and is said (p. 514) to have

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  • REVIEWS 567

    shown that the parchment and the writing thereon dated from the gth century at the latest. In the English edition, page 322, one was told that this analysis showed that 'the parchment (and the writing on it) must be referred, approximately, to the seventh century A.D., in any case not later than the ninth century'. Reflecting that the text could not well antedate the supposed death of Vladimir in A.D. I015, Professor Vernadsky pru- dently added: 'However, on the basis of the contents of the Life, the manuscript may be referred to the eleventh century.' What matters a discrepancy of four centuries, more or less?

    The reviewer makes no claim to knowledge of Old Albanian palaeo- graphy, and is therefore unable to offer a judgment on the scroll's authenticity. The initial portion, tastefully adorned by a bunch of lupins or ferns, is illustrated on plate 32. The text, we are told, though discovered so long ago, remains unpublished; nor is the parchment's present location disclosed. Mr Arbatsky and the Professor have evidently not decided whether the scroll with its mysterious message is to be read vertically or from side to side; in the English edition the extracts are shown horizontally, whereas in the French, they are illustrated running up and down. Mr G. Reavey has kindly provided a suitably cryptic rendering of the incipit of the text, as transliterated by Mr Arbatsky; we await with impatience a further thrilling instalment.

    No index is provided. The illustrations, chosen by Mr P. Lozinski, have to be seen to be believed.

    This is certainly one of the most remarkable works on Russian history it has been our privilege to read. It will remain one of the major curiosities of Russian historiography and a monument to the gullibility of publishers and their learned advisers. It is not a book to be recommended to a serious scholar interested in the origins of Russia.

    London D. M. LANG

    Ocherki po istorii russkoy tserkvi. By A. V. Kartashev. Volume I. YMCA- Press, Paris, 1959. 686 pages. Bibliography.

    A. V. KARTASHEV, who is now professor at the Russian theological academy in Paris, has just completed a two-volume history of the Russian orthodox church, the first volume of which is under review. Professor Kartashev was formerly minister for cults in the Russian provisional government of 19I7, and took an active part in the meetings of the religious-philosophical society at the beginning of the century. He is also the author of many valuable works on'the Russian church. He defines the aim of this new book as to bring the history of the Russian orthodox church up to date. (In the first chapter, he provides a most useful sum- mary of the historiography.) Although much has been published in the last fifty years, particularly in the form of specialised monographs, no major work has appeared during this period with the exception of Golubinsky's unfinished 'History of the Russian Church'.

    Kartashev's first volume is an exceptionally well-written book not only