Russian Cleopatrimony: Pushkin's «Egyptian Nights» in the Silver Age

Lada Panova*


     The cultural myth of Cleopatra was central to the aesthetic sensibility of the Russian Silver Age. Few attempts, however, have been made to unfold the intricate workings of the image of Cleopatra as a fatal lover—an image that proved extremely influential among Silver Age writers and was di­rectly inspired by Alexander Pushkin’s series of prose and verse fragments devoted to the Egyptian queen. Because Cleopatra-like heroines some­times appear under different names and in different costumes, a rigorous framework for identifying and contrasting these images is in order. This essay outlines the structure, genealogy, and time frame of such a project.

     At stake here are not only the many refractions of “the Russian Cleo­patra” in literature, “life-creation” projects, the visual and the performing arts, but the surprising way in which Cleopatra’s emblematic status in Russian modernism illuminates the role of Romanticism at the turn of the century.[1] Because it emerged at the crossroads of two inter-dependent Ro­mantic cults—the cultural myth of the Egyptian Queen as a femme fatale and Pushkin’s personal myth as genius—the image of Cleopatra acquired a double halo strongly associated with Romanticism. 

     “Cleopatrimony” evolving from Pushkin’s legacy can also be viewed as bridging the gap between Russia and the West. Cleopatra first appeared as a literary character in the West, dating as far back as classical Roman literature. Pushkin’s function was to borrow these Western literary ver­sions of the Egyptian queen and adapt them according to the Russian Ro­mantic fashion. In so doing, Pushkin displayed the Russian soul’s putative “universal responsiveness” (vsemirnaia otzyvchivost´). From this perspec­tive, he presented an attractive model for those Russian Modernists who tackled similar challenges: appropriating Western culture while giving their own interpretation to classical images and motifs.


1. Silver Age Obsession with Pushkin’s Cleopatra as a Cultural Phenomenon

     Pushkin’s domination over the Silver Age Cleopatra topos is a puzzle. How could his drafts, which deal only with a single small episode of Cleopatran legends (not, it must be stressed, her biography), have completely over­shadowed the fuller versions in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Théophile Gautier‘s “One Night of Cleopatra” (“Une nuit de Cléopâtre”), which tells the same anecdote as Pushkin in his “Egyptian Nights,” “Cleo­patra” and some other fragments but in a new Egyptian setting, and Ber­nard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra?[2] These works offered colorful and multifaceted portraits of the last Egyptian queen, while Pushkin, as Anna Akhmatova points out, “noticed and remembered a single feature.”[3]

     This feature—Cleopatra’s night of love at the price of her partner’s death—was purely apocryphal, as many Silver Age writers were surely aware. The historical Cleopatra (69–30 BCE), Macedonian by descent and Greek by culture, was a strong-willed and quick-witted queen, who dreamed of a great world empire and came close to achieving it. Only two of her lovers are known for certain, Caesar and Mark Antony, though nu­merous others were ascribed to her by unscrupulous propaganda from Rome after Octavian declared war against Egypt. Octavian’s mythmaking turned Cleopatra into a drunken oriental and a harlot. Many Romans be­lieved that this New Isis would prevail and that Antony would start up a new wave of world conquest and rule in co-partnership from Alexandria. However, Octavian’s navy defeated Mark Antony at Actium on 2 Septem­ber 31 BCE, and on 10 August 30 BCE, just after Octavian’s troops en­tered Alexandria, Cleopatra committed suicide, a few days after Mark Antony. According to the most popular version of Cleopatra’s death, she was bitten by a snake.[4]

     Horace, in his position as Octavian’s court poet, was the first to exploit this propaganda. His famous ode I, 37 (“Nunc est bibendum”) commemo­rated Octavian’s victory over Cleopatra and showed her by turns as a madwoman, a fugitive, and a stoic who courageously accepts death:

ausa et iacentem visere regiam
vultu sereno, fortis et asperas
              tractare serpentes, ut atrum
                            corpore combiberet venenum,
deliberata morte ferocior:
saeves Liburnis scilicet invidens
              privata deduci superbo
                            non humilis mulier triumpho.

Daring to gaze with face serene upon her ruined palace, / and brave enough to take deadly serpents / in her hand, and let her body / drink their black poison, / fiercer she was in the death she chose, as though / she did not wish to cease to be a queen, taken to Rome / on the galleys of savage Liburnians / to be a humble woman in a proud triumph.[5]

     Much later Aurelius Victor, a fourth-century historian, enhanced the Au­gustan myth of Cleopatra. He presented her as an Oriental harlot who finds pleasure in selling her body not to “kings” but to everyman, for the highest possible price: “Haec tantae libidinis fuit, ut saepe prostiterit: tantae pulchritudinis ut multi noctem illius morte emirent”[6] [She was so lustful that she often offered herself as a prostitute, and so beautiful that many bought one of her nights with death.]

     It is a well-known fact that Pushkin relied on the late Roman version of the Cleopatra myth. His story Egyptian Nights (Egipetskie nochi, pub­lished 1837) cites Aurelius Victor’s ancient anecdote about Cleopatra as a fatal lover, and his 1828 poem “Cleopatra”(“Kleopatra,” published in 1837 as part of Egyptian Nights) developed it into a scene of Cleopatra’s feast. Aurelius Victor’s anecdote also features in “We Spent the Evening at the Dacha…” (“My provodili vecher na dache…,” fragments published in 1855, 1857), and there is an ambiguous mention of the historical Cleopatra in “Caesar was Traveling…” (“Tsesar´ puteshestvoval…,” also known as “Povest´ iz Rimskoi zhizni,” published 1855). Last, a modern Cleopatra makes an appearance in the unfinished “The Guests Gathered at the Dacha…” (“Gosti s´ezzhalis´ na dachu”; fragments published in 1839, 1857, 1882, 1884). Although Pushkin’s Cleopatra inherited Roman propa­ganda, she was never presented as a foe of Rome, but as a typical Roman­tic heroine, who in search of extreme pleasures transcends the existing rules and conventions.

     The reason Pushkin’s Cleopatra—and not the actual historical fig­ure—exercised such a powerful hold on the imagination of Silver Age au­thors is in a sense predictable: Pushkin’s version appealed to the decadent sensibility of the epoch with its deep affinity for Romanticism. It was also used as an emblem of the sexual liberation of women, on the one hand, and of sadomasochistic love, on the other. Last but not least, it offered an ideal plot for the Silver Age’s “hysterical” discourse. According to Igor´ Smirnov’s “psychohistorical” analysis, male Symbolist authors (as well as female ones) experienced a number of hysterical symptoms, which in (post-)Freudian theories are typical for women.[7] One of them, frenzy, was manifested in the Cleopatra topos in the combination of Eros and Than­atos. To provoke a strong emotional response, Love-Death plots relied on “hysterical” rhetoric and flashy theatricality. The Symbolists’ substitution of relationships stylized à la Cleopatra for real ones may also be seen as a symptom of the “psychotype” in question. In love affairs of the “life-as-art” (zhiznetvorchestvo) variety that center on the Cleopatra topos, real women were venerated by male authors as Cleopatras as a way of finding refuge from reality. The hysteria psychotrope also problematized the body and gender, as Pushkin’s myth and its progeny resulted in reallocating traditional male and female roles. Cleopatra, who offers her partners sex in exchange for the right to decide their destiny, took on the “male” charac­teristics of a “leader” and “sadist.” Accordingly, her partners played the role of the traditionally masochistic, victimized female. On the other hand, the sex act itself underscored Cleopatra’s femininity, as she slavishly ful­filled her partners’ wishes. As a result, Cleopatra ends up being seen as androgynous, thus representing, in the eyes of the Symbolists, the fullness of being. The third and last hysterical symptom relevant for the Symbolist Cleopatra topos consisted of prostration before the Other, namely Push­kin, so that Symbolist authors could gain control over his object. Thus they usurp the patrimony of thepowerful “father figure”—namely Cleopatra—as their coveted prize.

     Another reason Pushkin’s drafts proved so popular was that, unfin­ished and open-ended as they were, they provided a number of opportu­nities that finished and polished texts could not: the opportunity to guess at possible endings, to complete the drafts in co-authorship with Pushkin, or to rewrite Pushkin’s stories in a new way. Taking into account Push­kin’s cult as a genius and “our everything,”[8] such treatment of his heritage meant either imitation or rivalry.

     The Romantic image of Cleopatra within the model of imitating or sur­passing Pushkin as a genius (also from the Romantic paradigm), may mean, as Irina Paperno points out, the return of the Silver Age to the Rus­sian Golden Age in search of its personality.[9] On the other hand, this case witnesses against the Silver Age personality, because instead of putting the Cleopatra image into a new conceptual frame, writers from Aleksandr Emel´ianov-Kokhanskii to Akhmatova, mainly Decadents and Symbolists, limited themselves to variations on Cleopatra as a femme fatale.

     Still, there were Modernist writers who refused to follow Pushkin in the conventional way. The most well-known is Mikhail Kuzmin, whowas determined not to imitate his Decadent/Symbolist counterparts slavishly and thus imposed for himself a sort of taboo on their use of the topos. A striking example here is his celebrated cycle Alexandrian Songs (Aleksan­driiskie pesni, published 1906–08), which he wrote simultaneously with his opera Cleopatra (unfinished), based on the eponymous novel by Henry Rider Haggard (published 1889). Although Kuzmin borrowed some scenes from Haggard’s Cleopatra for his cycle along with others from Pushkin’s Cleopatra fragments, he pointedly avoided direct references to Alexan­dria’s most popular denizen.[10] In other words, the Silver Age managed to keep a balance between Romantic and non-Romantic tendencies, Western and Russian traditions, life embellished by art and life portrayed as it is.


2. Pushkin’s Cleopatra Tradition: A Cluster Approach

     Pushkin’s pervasive influence on Russian literature as a whole and in the Modernist epoch in particular has drawn considerable attention in recent decades.[11] Pushkin’s unfinished Cleopatra fragments were first placed in­to the perspective of the Silver Age by Leslie O’Bell. In her monograph on Pushkin’s Egyptian Nights cycleshe included a dozen Silver Age re­sponses to Pushkin’s Cleopatra.[12] Later, Irina Paperno and Olga Matich discovered Pushkinian models in life-as-art projects of the Silver Age.[13] Most recently Elena Abramovskikh has compiled six Russian attempts to complete Pushkin’s Cleopatra fragments and analyzed them within the framework of reader-response theory.[14] What I am going to suggest is a theoretical basis for identifying Pushkin’s Cleopatran progeny, which will aid in compiling a more complete body of relevant evidence.[15]

     As an examination of how a single set of works by Pushkin established a long and successful literary tradition, this paper belongs to a special branch of Pushkin studies inaugurated by Iurii Chumakov[16] and conti­nued by Alexander Ospovat and Roman Timenchik,[17] Alexander Zholkovsky,[18] Beatrice Van Sambeek-Weideli,[19] Michael Wachtel,[20] and Elena Abramovskikh.[21] Their works proceed from the kinship between Pushkin’s works and his followers’ which always include obvious references to the original, such as structural characteristics and lexical quotations. In the case of Cleopatra, Pushkin’s followers often reproduce both his image of Cleopatra and specific patterns of verse and rhyme. Among the most fre­quent lexical borrowings are the title Egyptian Nights and two key expres­sions: “ruinous passions” (gubitel´nye strasti) and “to draw lots” (tianut´ zhrebii). However, it is reasonable to assume that, while some of Pushkin’s followers openly resorted to his wording or signature images, others may have disguised his influence.

     Alexander Zholkovsky’s study of Pushkin’s poem “I Loved You…” and its poetic progeny introduced the notion of a cluster method, which in the case of “I Loved You…”

consists of all the major features of the original [being] tested con­tinuously against the corpus of the supposed progeny and is rede­fined by it in a feedback cycle. This means that we are looking for poems that treat similar themes and/or are in the same meter and/or have similar rhyme schemes and/or use similar patterns or vocabulary. In themselves, such groups of features are mutually independent: love triangles can very well be treated in meters other than iambic pentameter, and the same goes for the rest of the co-occurrences.[22]

     Following this approach, one of the most conspicuous elements of what can be called “the Cleopatra cluster” is a Romantic plot in which an ex­tremely beautiful woman, not necessarily called Cleopatra, a demi-goddess who is a queen, an aristocrat or a prostitute/courtesan, challenges men by selling her love at the price of their death (literal or metaphorical) or other kinds of misfortune. This plot derives from Pushkin’s concept of Cleopat­ra’s bargain, which, in its turn, goes back to Aurelius Victor’s anecdote about Cleopatra cited above.

     In the three versions of Pushkin’s poem “Cleopatra” (written in the genre of historical elegy or love ballad) the Egyptian queen is shown pre­siding over a banquet and then falling into ennui and challenging her guests to purchase a night of her love at the price of their lives:

«Кто к торгу страстному приступит?
Свою любовь я продаю;
Скажите: кто меж вами купит
Ценою жизни ночь мою?»[23]

“Who will step up and bargain for passion? / I sell my love; / Say, who among you will buy/ A night of mine at the cost of his life?”[24]

     Three admirers, a soldier, a pleasure-seeker sage, and an anonymous youth, accept her terms, and their lots are drawn from an urn:

Благословенные жрецами,
Теперь из урны роковой
Пред неподвижными гостями
Выходят жребии чредой:
И первый – Флавий, воин смелый
В дружинах римских поседелей <…>
За ним Критон, младой мудрец <…>
Любезный сердцу и очам,
Как вешний цвет едва развитый,
Последний имени векам
Не передал. <…>
И с умилением на нем
Царица взор остановила.

Blessed by the priests, / From the fatal urn / Before the motionless guests / Now fall the lots one by one. / The first—Flavius, the bold warrior, / Grown grey in the Roman legions /<…>/ After him Crito, the young sage /<…> / Fair to heart and eye, / Like a spring flower barely opened,/ The last did not leave / His name to the ages <> / And with softened feeling/ The queen rested her gaze upon him.

The poem ends with a scene of the queen’s couch ready for sexual pleasures. 

     The same anecdote plays an essential role in the prose part of the society tale “Egyptian Nights.” The historical Cleopatra is mentioned in the draft “Caesar was Traveling,” but the context is unclear. Finally, a beautiful aristocratic lady, a modern incarnation of Cleopatra or, as Push­kin puts it in Eugene Onegin, a “Cleopatra of the Neva” (Kleopatra Nevy), led by passions and the desire to stir the mummy-like high society of St. Petersburg, gives birth to a new story, which is set in modern times. “We Spent the Evening at the Dacha” includes both Aurelius Victor’s anecdote, a St. Petersburg poet’s rewriting of it into a poem and a pair of lovers who are going to enact it there and then. The Cleopatra-like heroine also ap­pears in “The Guests Gathered at the Dacha.”[25]

     Russian literature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries proved receptive both to Pushkin’s ancient Cleopatras, in poetry and prose, and his modern ones, which portrayed a Cleopatra-like modern her­oine in a fantastic light.[26] The first modernist writer to follow this script was Aleksandr Emel´ianov-Kokhanskii. He became famous for dedicating his collection of verse Exposed Nerves (Obnazhennye nervy, 1895) “to my­self and Queen Cleopatra.” His short story “Cleopatra (A Psychological Es­say)” (“Kleopatra: Psikhologicheskii etiud”) provides the decadent image of a Petersburg prince infatuated with an imaginary Cleopatra. At an exhibi­tion the prince falls in love with a Cleopatra portrait which shows her reclining in an erotic pose. After buying this picture he decides to try to meet the model, but it turns out that she was a young actress who had died several days earlier. The prince visits her house and kisses her on her dead lips. The same night her ghost enters his house, engages with him in a passionate night of love and stabs both him and the Cleopatra portrait with a dagger.[27]

     Since Pushkin’s plot is a rather simple one, some Silver Age authors elaborated on it by drawing on the European tradition. For example, Briu­sov, in his poem “Antony” (“Antonii,” 1905), embedded Shakespeare’s ver­sion of the Battle of Actium into Pushkin’s story of lust and violence.Upon seeing that Cleopatra had made off for Egypt, sailing through the battle lines, Antony gave up the fight and sailed after her, thus losing the battle. Antony (who is reminiscent of the soldier from Pushkin’s “Cleopatra”) loves the Egyptian queen so passionately that he willingly sacrifices to her both his life and his political career. Briusov resorts not only to Pushkin’s concept of Cleopatra as femme fatale but also to his wording. For example, he includes Pushkin’s expression “to draw lots”:

   <…> Когда вершились судьбы мира
Среди вселенных боем струй, –
Венец и пурпур триумвира
Ты променял на поцелуй.

   Когда одна черта делила
В веках величье и позор, –
Ты повернул свое кормило,
Чтоб раз взглянуть в желанный взор. <…>

   О, дай мне жребий тот же вынуть,
И в час, когда не кончен бой,
Как беглецу, корабль свой кинуть
Вслед за египетской кормой![28]

When the fates of the world were being decided in the midst of cosmic streams of battle, you traded the crown and the purple [clothes] of a triumvir for a kiss. // When [just] one line separated [your] greatness and infamy for posterity, you turned your helm to take one last look at the beloved eyes. // Oh, let me draw the same lot, and in the hour when the battle is not yet over, / like a fugitive, fling my ship / after the Egyptian stern!

     Pushkin’s Cleopatra plot sometimes took a rather unexpected turn. Although Pushkin did not actually specify the location or dress it in au­thentic Egyptian colors (unlike Théophile Gautier in his short story “One Night of Cleopatra,” published 1838), his “Cleopatra” and Egyptian Nights were to be strongly associated with Egypt as early as the middle of the nineteenth century. As a result, many Russian writers who developed Egyptian themes included a Cleopatra-type heroine. Perhaps the best ex­ample is Aleksandr Kuprin’s short story “Sulamith”(“Sulamif´,” 1907), in which King Solomon’s wife, queen Astis, a descendant of Egyptian phar­aohs, looks like a thirty-year-old Cleopatra, still beautiful, attractive, and lustful. Her numerous lovers so passionately seek her attention that they are ready to commit any crime:

Queen Astis was reclining within a little, secret chamber. <…> [O]ne could see the pure lines and elevations of her graceful body, which, despite the queen’s age of thirty, still had lost none of its lightness, beauty and freshness. <…> Ever since Solomon had cooled toward Queen Astis, tired of her unbridled sensuality, she, with all the ardor of southern love-passion, <…> has given herself up to those secret orgies of perverted lust that constituted the highest cult of the castrates’ service of Isis. She always showed herself surrounded by priests-castrates <…>. [T]hey adored her even more that Isis, and, loving her, hated her as an inexhaustible <…> fountain-head of delectable and cruel sufferings. <…> They who had but once experienced her ferocious, sanguinary caresses could nevermore forget her, and became her lifelong, pitiful, spurned slaves. Ready, for a renewed possession of her, to commit every sin, to endure every degradation and crime, they came to re­semble those unfortunates who, having once tasted the bitter drink of the poppy from the Land of Ophir, <…> will nevermore draw away from it <…> until exhaustion and madness cut short their life.[29]

     The queen Astis character is set against the background of wild sex and castrating religious rites, which Kuprin arbitrarily ascribes to Egypt. Con­sciously or subconsciously, he thus pays tribute to Pushkin’s heroine and to the decadent sensibility of the epoch.

     Another aspect of Pushkin’s Egyptian Nights is the Romantic motif of the poet’s creativity. Focusing on two poets, a well-to-do St. Petersburg aristocrat and a poor Italian improviser who wastes his unique talent for money, Pushkin intended to include in Egyptian Nights two poetic improv­isations performed by the Italian but, as his manuscript demonstrates, he never did. The theme of the first improvisation is that a poet himself chooses the subject of his poetry, the theme of the second is Aurelius Vic­tor’s anecdote about Cleopatra and her lovers. Pushkin’s publishers since 1837 filled the second lacuna with the 1828 version of “Cleopatra.” As a result, Silver Age readers knew Egyptian Nights with just that one im­provisation, whereas modern readers know a fully-reconstructed Egyptian Nights with both poems included.[30] Nonetheless, Silver Age poets begin­ning with Briusov combined both of Pushkin’s elements and developed a new plot, with a modern poet meeting Cleopatra or vice versa.

     This trend was started by Briusov’s 1899 sonnet “Cleopatra.” It im­plies the idea of interdependence between Cleopatra (who is the narrator) and a modern poet.[31] To enter eternity Cleopatra needs to be immortalized in a poem, while a poet for the same reason needs to describe an immortal figure, such as Cleopatra:

   Я – Клеопатра, я была царица,
В Египте правила восьмнадцать лет. <…>

   Я смерть нашла, как буйная блудница...
Но над тобой я властвую, поэт! <…>

   Вновь, как царей, я предаю томленью
Тебя, прельщенного неверной тенью,
Я снова женщина – в мечтах твоих.

   Бессмертен ты искусства дивной властью,
А я бессмертна прелестью и страстью:
Вся жизнь моя – в веках звенящий стих.[32]

I am Cleopatra, I was queen, / I ruled Egypt for eighteen years.… // I found death as a wild harlot… / But I hold sway over you, poet! … // Once again, I make you languish, like those  kings, / seduced by [my] unfaithful shadow, / I am again a woman—in your dreams. // You are immortal thanks to the magic power of [your] art / while I am immortal thanks to my charm and passion: / my entire life is a verse ringing across centuries.

Briusov’s Cleopatra shares with Pushkin’s archetype a number of fea­tures. Embodying in her Egyptian past as a whore (in Briusov’s version “bludnitsa,” in Pushkin’s “naemnitsa”), she still keeps her seductiveness and sexuality and because of them easily talks the poet into writing about her. As the author of “Cleopatra,” Briusov gets many advantages from this fictitious conversation. On the pragmatic level he preprograms his son­net’s perception, claiming that being inspired by the legendary Cleopatra and having transformed her “charm and passions” into this very poem, he has created a masterpiece.

     Alexander Blok followed Briusov’s example in his 1907 poem “Cleo­patra,” though he finds a subtler way to place Cleopatra together with a modern poet. She is a waxwork figureportrayed on her death couch after having beenbitten by a snake, while he is in a state of intoxication. In the St. Petersburg panopticon, or wax museum, they have an imaginary con­versation. Both characters bifurcate into ancient and modern identities. Cleopatra in modern times is equal to a prostitute who displays her body for sale, while the poet in ancient times was incarnated as an Egyptian slave:

   <…> Тебя рассматривает каждый,
Но, если б гроб твой не был пуст,
Я услыхал бы не однажды
Надменный вздох истлевших уст:

   «Кадите мне. Цветы рассыпьте.
Я в незапамятных веках
Была царицею в Египте.
Теперь – я воск. Я тлен. Я прах». –

   «Царица! Я пленен тобою!
Я был в Египте лишь рабом,
А ныне суждено судьбою
Мне быть поэтом и царем!» <…>[33]

Let everyone examine you, / But, had your coffin not been empty, / More than once I would have heard / A proud sigh leave your rotting lips: / “Burn incense over me. And scatter flowers. / In ages long-forgotten / I was the queen in Egypt. / Now I am wax. I’m rot. I’m dust.” – / “O, Queen! I am your prisoner! / In Egypt I was but a slave, / Now fate’s bestowed on me / The lot of poet and king!”[34]

Proceeding from two of Pushkin’s Romantic notions, of Cleopatra as a harlot and the poet’s imagination as the only way to transcend the present and gain access into the mysterious past, Blok superimposes one upon the other. Thanks to Cleopatra the modern poet recognizes his past incarna­tions and can revitalize Cleopatra in his poem.

     The Cleopatra cluster extends beyond mere plots and includes some formal patterns, such as the combination of prose and verse,[35] the genre of a love ballad,[36] a special verse and rhyme scheme,[37] narrative open-endedness[38] and the genre of the society tale.[39]

     Variations on Pushkin’s Cleopatras are usually equipped with epi­graphs and quotes from Pushkin as well as references to his episodes. Using these two devices Akhmatova in her cryptographic and autobio­graphical “Cleopatra” (1940) purposefully closes the Silver Age Cleopatra tradition with Pushkin.

Александрийские чертоги
Покрыла сладостная тень.

   <…> Грохочут победные трубы
Под римским орлом, и вечерняя стелется мгла.

   <…> О, как мало осталось
Ей дела на свете – еще с мужиком пошутить
И черную змейку, как будто прощальную жалость,
На смуглую грудь равнодушной рукой положить.[40]

Epigraph: Alexandria’s palaces/ Were [palace has been—L.P.] covered with sweet shade. Pushkin

<…> / Victorious trumpets blare/ Under the Roman eagle, and the mist of evening drifts. /<…>/Oh, how little remains/ For her to do on earth—joke a little with this boy/ [with the man /a clown. – L.P.]/ And, as if in a valedictory gesture of compassion,/ Place the black viper on her dusky breast with an indifferent hand.[41]

Although Pushkin’s two lines—an introduction to a love scene that was never written—have nothing to do with the suicide of Cleopatra described in Akhmatova’s poem, they suggest the image of the heroine as a beautiful object of men’s desire and cast erotic light on the scene of Cleopatra’s jok­ing with a man / clown (muzhik). In this poem Akhmatova also modifies Pushkin’s Alexandrian twilight, “sweet shade”(sladostnaia ten'),anem­blem of a night of love, into “evening dusk” (vecherniaia mgla), which symbolizes the imminent end of both Cleopatra and her beloved city. The intertextual layer from Pushkin interacts with other “building blocks” bor­rowed from Shakespeare and Horace to constitute the poem’s plot, and together they help distract the reader’s attention from the encrypted refer­ences to Akhmatova’s tragic life.[42]

     To sum up, the following eight elements occur in various “clusters” in literary expressions of the Silver Age Cleopatra Myth:

1) A plot depicting a beautiful woman who challenges or stimu­lates men by selling her love at the price of their death or mis­fortune, set in antiquity or modern times;

2) A plot involving Cleopatra of antiquity, a (modern) poet, and their meeting;

3) The genre of the love-ballad (in iambic tetrameter with an AbAb rhyme scheme);

4) The genre of the society tale;

5) Open-endedness or poetics of a fragment;

6) Combination of prose and poetry;

7) Scenes derived from Pushkin;

8) The citation of Pushkin’s Cleopatra drafts.

Based on this list, I have collected a dozen cases of Pushkin’s Cleopatra’s progeny in nineteenth-century literature and some forty in Silver Age cul­ture (not to mention a great number of critical responses to Pushkin), which both document the topos and attest to its being governed by Push­kin’s Romantic poetics.


3. Modes of Adopting Pushkin’s Cleopatra in the Silver Age

     The tradition of imitating Pushkin’s Cleopatra fragments began right af­ter his death in 1837. Subsequent to the publication of Pushkin’s drafts, nineteenth-century Russian literature continued the gallery of Cleopatra-type heroines with Mikhail Lermontov’s “Tamara” (1841), Ivan Aksakov’s “Mary of Egypt” (“Mariia Egipetskaia,” 1845), the character of Irina Pav­lovna in Ivan Turgenev’s novel Smoke (Dym, 1862–67), Nastas´ia Filip­povna in Fedor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (Idiot, 1868) and Nefora in Nikolai Leskov’s “The Mountain” (“Gora,” 1887–88).[43] In contrast to nineteenth-century Russian literature, which simply used Pushkin’s Cleopatra char­acter under different names and in different settings (and sometimes tried to offer critical responses to the character), the Silver Age passion for Pushkin led to new modes of its artistic treatment. It was not only recast and interpreted, but also completed, explained from a “scholarly” point of view, acted out in love affairs, and visualized on canvas and stage.

     Here I will limit myself to discussing four modes only: writers doub­ling as Pushkin scholars, co-authorship with Pushkin, Cleopatra-style af­fairs in life and literature, and the visualization of Pushkin’s Cleopatra in the fine and performing arts. As far as critical responses to Pushkin’s Cleopatra are concerned, they were so many in the Silver Age, that this would require a separate study.

3.1. Writers as Pushkinists

     One reason Pushkin’s Cleopatra drafts were so popular in the Silver Age was that they had not been subjected to serious study. Until the 1920s there was no fixed opinion about the fragments and no established way of publishing them. Poets were among the first to interpret them and sug­gest how they be presented. Uncoordinated editorial practices in the publi­cation of Cleopatra fragments had the paradoxical advantage of spawning provocatively diverse creative interpretations. This came to a stop with the imposition of the Soviet editorial canon, which artificially and dogmat­ically put the disparate fragments together with the sole purpose of mak­ing Pushkin readable.

     In contrast to Dostoevsky, who gave the most influential re-interpreta­tion of Pushkin’s Cleopatra—as a debauched spider-woman, devouring men after mating and, thus, as a symbol of the decadent imagination[44]—Briusov, Vladislav Khodasevich, and Akhmatova, who doubled as Push­kinists, claimed that their aim was to decipher Pushkin’s drafts and to understand his sensibility. Thus, in his essay “Egyptian Nights” (“Egipet­skie nochi”) Briusov focused on Pushkin’s view of antiquity. It appeared in 1910 within the most influential edition of Pushkin, the Complete Works in Six Volumes, in Semyon Vengerov’s  prestigious series “Biblioteka velikikh pisatelei” (“Library of Great Writers,” 1906–11).[45] Akhmatova made her contribution in the late 1950s, in an unfinished work, offering her insights into who is who in “Egyptian Nights,” what Pushkin’s state of mind was at the time of writing, and the question of the cryptography or secret writing (tainopis´) he may have used.[46] In contrast, Modest Gofman, a professional Pushkinist, discussed Egyptian Nights in 1935 in light of its prototypes and artistic effects.[47]

     These Silver Age authors doubling as Pushkinists often focused on the issue of the incompleteness of “Egyptian Nights.” With their strong belief that Pushkin’s writing, whether completed or not, could be only perfect, some of them insisted that Pushkin’s Cleopatra fragments expressed all that he intended. For example, Akhmatova, in her late summing up all of the previous attempts to prove the Cleopatra fragments’ completeness, sarcastically asked her readers what else they would expect from a Cleopatra plot—a sex scene, perhaps!? Such a view of Pushkin’s inviolate wholeness, had it prevailed in the Silver Age, would probably have dis­couraged literary competition with the great precursor. Fortunately, the overall cultural climate was favorable for experimentation, and as a result variations on Pushkin’s Cleopatra became a must in many literary and artistic circles.


3.2. Co-authoring Pushkin

     The tradition of rewriting Pushkin’s unfinished works dates back to the nineteenth century, but in the case of Cleopatra drafts it was launched by Briusov. There is no doubt that this leader of the Symbolist movement, completing Pushkin’s Cleopatra in 1914–16, tried to surpass Pushkin or, at least, to equal him.

     Briusov incorporated Pushkin’s “Cleopatra” in his longer poem Egyp­tian Nights (Egipetskie nochi) and then presented all three of Cleopatra’s nights, with the soldier, the pleasure-seeker, and the unknown youth. Sur­prisingly, Briusov ended Pushkin’s story with the final scene of Gautier’s “One Night of Cleopatra.” After the night of love with the youth Cleopatra feels pity for him and for a couple of minutes considers whether to save him or not. But then she makes up her mind, gives him a goblet with poi­soned wine, and leaves the bedroom to meet Mark Antony, who has just arrived from a campaign. The grafting of Gautier onto Pushkin may have been influenced by the ballet Egyptian Nights by Anton Arenskii (music) and Mikhail Fokin (choreography), which was based on Gautier’s “One Night of Cleopatra.”[48]

     After Briusov’s Egyptian Nights was published, Russian writers, scholars and critics unanimously accused him of sacrilege and bad taste. Modest Gofman was completely dissatisfied with Briusov’s sequel, be­cause, as he put it, it is immensely difficult to fill Pushkin’s shoes.[49] None­theless, Gofman also could not resist the temptation of completing Push­kin’s text, this time in prose.

     Gofman added two new chapters to the existing three. In the fourth chapter he used Pushkin’s motifs and vocabulary from “The Guests Gath­ered at the Dacha” and “We Spent the Evening at the Dacha.” The fifth chapter in turn imitated Pushkin’s style and offered a new ending. On the morning after the night of love Vol´skaia, in the role of the Cleopatra of the Neva, gives Charskii a goblet with what he believes to be poison, but what is in fact sleeping potion. However, when Charskii recovers from his deep sleep, he fulfills the love contract. The last scene shows him pointing a pistol at his temple.[50]

     A third attempt to complete Pushkin’s work, much more innovative and creative, belongs to Sigizmund Krzhizhanovskii. His comedy That ThirdOne (Tot tretii, 1937)[51] managed to remain independent by keeping the Pushkinian prototypes, especially “Cleopatra” and “Caesar was Trav­eling,” at arm’s length.

     That Third One relates the adventures of the third lover of Cleopatra, an unknown poet. After his unconsummated night of love with Cleopatra, he escapes execution but has to wander in distant lands. To capture him, first Antony, as Cleopatra’s lover and father of her son, and then Octavian organize a secret purge, as the third of Cleopatra’s lovers becomes in­volved both with her reign and then with Rome’s conquest of Egypt. Finally, after being caught and delivered to Octavian, who has defeated Cleopatra, “The Third” is sentenced to lose not his life, but his name. This unexpected turn, which reflects Krzhizhanovskii’s persistent wordplay, gives Pushkin’s plot a novel resolution.

     The comedy's metatextual layer is also connected to “Egyptian Nights.” In fact, Krzhizhanovskii plays wittily with Pushkin’s poetic lines and images, presenting them in a humorous and ironic manner, thus sub­verting his predecessor’s Romanticism and high stylistic figures as well as Modernist clichés. For example, he modifies Pushkin’s “tretii”(the third), which is a numerical designation of the unknown youth, into the contemp­tuous “tot tretii”(that third one). Krzhizhanovskii also follows the design of Egyptian Nights by interspersing dramatic action with the recitation of poems composed by the protagonist. On the other hand, his story of a Roman poetaster meeting a lustful but unattractive Cleopatra (both shown in a comic light) may have been aimed at subverting Briusov’s plot, where the seductive Egyptian Queen and a talented modern poet are pre­sented as tragic figures.[52]


3.3. Cleopatra Style Affairs in Life and Literature

     Pushkin’s Cleopatra fragments in the genre of society tale also suggested to the Russian symbolists ways of making art out of their lives by relying on classical plots. In artistic circles of the Silver Age there were at least three couples that self-consciously enacted Cleopatra-style extramarital romances, following Pushkin and Emel´ianov-Kokhanskii, as well as Shakespeare.

     Briusov and Nina Petrovskaia’s romance was interpreted via the Cleo­patra myth in several of Briusov’s works and in Petrovskaia’s memoirs. In his novel The Fiery Angel (Ognennyi angel, 1907–08) Briusov reflectedhis and Petrovskaia’s story not only in the relationship of the main protag­onists, Ruprekht and Renata, but also in the stories of Cleopatra and Antony. The same biographical motifs structure his poem “Cleopatra”(1905), which disguises his and Petrovskaia’s dreams of double suicide as an invented story of Cleopatra and her lover’s deaths on the couch of love from snake bites:

   Нет, как раб не буду распят.
Иль как пленный враг казнен!
Клеопатра! – Верный аспид
Нам обоим принесен. <…>

   Не любовь, но смерть нам свяжет
Узы тягостные рук,
И, скрутясь, меж нами ляжет
Наш последний тайный друг. <…>[53]

No, I will not be crucified like a slave / or executed like a captured foe! / Cleopatra! A reliable viper / has been brought for both of us. ... // Not love but death will tie / the burdensome bonds of our hands, / And our last secret friend, coiling, / will lie between us.

     Perhaps the most significant projection of a biographical love affair onto a work of art was by Blok, who reflected his infatuation with Natal´ia Volokhova in several love poems from 1906–07 with hidden Cleopatra imagery. Volokhova, a beautiful St. Petersburg actress, was rather indif­ferent to Blok’s courtship, and their affair was limited to long nocturnal walks after her theatrical performances. Blok introduced Volokhova to his Petersburg, taking her to the places connected with his play The Stranger (Neznakomka, 1907). In at least two poems Blok interpreted their love story through the Cleopatra prism. As Avril Pyman has remarked con­cerning the “The Snow Maiden”(“Snezhnaia Deva,” 1907),

Blok loved to play with the idea that <…> Volokhova is the rein­carnation of Cleopatra <…> and this is why, in the poem, she meets the exiled sphinx with “a little cry” of recognition.[54]

The second poem, “She left. But the hyacinths kept waiting” (“Ushla. No giatsinty zhdali…,” 1907) is an example of how Pushkin’s Cleopatra motifs were disguised in the poet’s masochistic self-presentations. The lyrical hero imagines his beloved crawling into his house like a snake and seduc­ing him with the aroma of Nile lilies (the snake is a part of the most popular version of Cleopatra’s death, and the Nile lily is another link to Egypt). He even begs her for a night of passion in exchange for his life and imagines a sweet death from her torturing kisses and strangling black braid:

   Я знаю, ты придешь опять
Благоуханьем нильских лилий
Меня пленять и опьянять. <…>

   И рыжий сумрак глаз твоих
Таит змеиную неверность
И ночь преданий грозовых. <…>

   Вползи ко мне змеей ползучей,
В глухую полночь оглуши,
Устами томными замучай,
Косою черной задуши.[55]

I know, you will come again / to captivate and intoxicate me / with fragrance of Nile lilies. / And the ginger dusk of your eyes / har­bors snaky unfaithfulness / and a night of the stormy legends. / Crawl to me like a creeping snake, / Stun me in the dead of night. / Torture me with your languid lips / Strangle me with your black braid.

In her own memoirs written much later, Volokhova reinterpreted their re­lations in a more down-to-earth way: “Reality was so intermingled with the imagination, with the dreams of the poet, that, unwittingly, I lost the boundaries of the real world.”[56] She even wrote that she had vainly tried to dissociate herself from Blok’s demonization of her.

     1906–07 were the years of Blok’s friendship with Georgii Chulkov. Blok dedicated his cycle Free Thoughts (Vol´nye mysli, 1907) to Chulkov, who in turn dedicated his short story à clef“Paradise” (“Paradiz,” 1909) to Blok.[57] According to Alexander Zholkovsky, Blok was also the prototype of the main hero, the poet and womanizer Aleksandr Gert.[58] Chulkov, who himself had had a love-affair with Blok’s wife Liubov´, may have observed Blok’s relations with Volokhova unsympathetically. That is why “Para­dise” accuses Gert of creating a new, artificial, reality, luring women into it but declining any responsibility. The main heroine, Natasha, a beautiful prostitute from the “Paradise” brothel, imagines herself to be a Cleopatra and expects her prince, Mark Antony, to appear in her life. For a while she associates him with Gert, whom she meets at a restaurant in the setting of Blok’s famous poem “The Stranger”(“Neznakomka,” 1906). During their brief romance Gert encourages Natasha to behave like Cleopatra. As a re­sult, the poor girl goes mad and starts treating her clientele with disdain, as Cleopatra did her slaves. When she offends a company of rich men, they turn her over to the police. “Paradise” thus follows Pushkin’s plot but with a twist. Instead of Cleopatra as a prostitute on the couch of love, it pre­sents a prostitute enacting the role of Cleopatra and exchanging her nights for her clients’ humiliation.[59] At the same time, subverting the roles preprogrammed by Pushkin, i.e., Cleopatra’s domination over her partner, Chulkov shifts the responsibility onto Blok (in the guise of Alek­sandr Gert).

     The third pair of lovers, whose romance enriched the Silver Age Cleo­patra topos, were Sergei Rafalovich and Salomeia Andronikova. After they broke up Rafalovich wrote the tragedy in verse Mark Antony (Mark Antonii, 1919).[60] It opens with a poetic dedication to Salomeia that offers clues about whom the characters represent. Cleopatra stands for Androni­kova, always surrounded with passionate lovers and admirers. Her excep­tional beauty and lust first destroy her love for Antony (the obvious alias of Rafalovich), then lead to their double suicide and finally put an end to Egypt’s independence.

     While the intertextual core of Rafalovich’s Mark Antony is Shake­speare’s “Antony and Cleopatra,” the classic prototype undergoes several changes that reflect not only Rafavolich and Andronikova’s love affair but also the influence of Pushkin. For example, it features three types of ad­mirers of Cleopatra: warriors (Antony, Octavian), a sage (Theofrastos), and young men (Serapeon, Tsarevich).  Rafalovich also relies on Pushkin’s wording, e.g., “to draw lots.”


3.4. Visualizing Pushkin

PR11 01 05 Panova a     Although Silver Age literature was the birthplace of Cleopatromania as well as Pushkinomania, there were also several attempts to transpose Pushkin’s love ballad “Cleopatra” into non-literary media. The most popu­lar tableau derived from the poem was Mikhail Vrubel’s “Cleopatra on the Couch” (1890), in watercolors, for the 1899 edition of Pushkin’s Collected Works (see figure 1). It shows the Egyptian queen on the couch of love in the sphinx pose, erotic and enigmatic at the same time.

     In early Soviet times Pushkin’s Cleopatra was staged at least two times. In 1926 Reingold Glier (music) and N. A. Mill´ (choreography) cre­ated an eponymous ballet-pantomime for the Music School of the Moscow Art Theatre. As such, it followed Arenskii’s “Egyptian Nights,” which bor­rowed from Pushkin only its title. The most interesting stage experiment with the theme of Cleopatra was undertaken in 1934 by Aleksandr Tairov (Kamernyi teatr, Moscow). It was comprised of several scenes from Ber­nard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, Pushkin’s love ballad, and scenes from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, all under Pushkin’s title Egyptian Nights; in addition, Sergei Prokofiev composed music for it.[61] Although Alisa Koonen was reputedly brilliant in the part of Cleopatra (see figure 2) and Tairov’s performance was well attended, Soviet critics made a blister­ing attack on it, and eventually it was banned.[62]

     All these visual experiments with Cleopatra enhanced literature, prompting new ways of treating Pushkin’s legacy. For example, Vrubel’s tableau may have inspired Kuprin’s portrait of Queen Astis discussed above, while Tairov’s performance led to Krzhizhanovskii’s That Third One, which also combined Pushkin with Shakespeare and Shaw.


4. The Time Frame of the Silver Age Cleopatra Fashion

PR11 01 05 Panova b     The set of Silver Age replicas of Pushkin’s Cleopatra presented in this paper allows the following time frame for the evolution of Cleopatra fash­ion: it was launched in the middle of the 1890s by the decadent graphoma­niac Emel´ianov-Kokhanskii, who in the scenes of Cleopatra and her lover’s death was looking solely for shocking effects. Briusov, first also a decadent and then the leader of symbolists, canonized it together with its sadomasochistic overtones. The Silver Age Cleopatra rage reached its peak in the 1910s, primarily in the Symbolist milieu. In the 1930s it was ridiculed in Mikhail Zoshchenko’s The Sky Blue Book (Golubaia kniga, 1934–35) and Krzhizhanovskii’s That Third One. However, in 1940 Akh­matova attempted a sudden melodramatic return to the Cleopatra myth of the 1900–10s. Her compression of Pushkin and the Silver Age in the “Cle­opatra” poem was so masterful that Boris Eikhenbaum declared her “the last classic writer.”[63] Krzhizhanovskii’s comedy and Akhmatova’s tragic poem were both meant to be a finale of Russian “Cleopatrimony.” They achieved this status, each in its own way.

     Interestingly, Krzhizhanovskii’s and Akhmatova’s writing on Cleo­patra also belonged to high Stalinism, as they convey a strong anti-Soviet message. Krzhizhanovskii’s play That Third One encodes the origins of the KGB in the scene where Antony establishes a secret police in order to arrest Cleopatra’s third lover. He also mimics new Soviet language in the play, while Akhmatova in “Cleopatra” hides her self-portrait as a crypto-dissident who refuses to submit to the ruthless power of Stalin—the Soviet Caesar.[64] This use of Pushkin’s imagery and wording means that in Stalinist culture they functioned also as Aesopian language.

     By the 1940s Soviet ideology forced the Cleopatra type out of Russian literature. However, Russian writers in exile occasionally returned to it. For instance, Gaito Gazdanov’s short story “The Scar” (“Shram,” 1942, published 1949) offered a new version of Cleopatra, under the name of Natasha, who plays deadly games with her lovers.[65]

     Unlike Russian literary Cleopatra fashion, which came to an end in the 1950s, the tradition of visualizing Pushkin’s Cleopatra in the perform­ing arts still persists. Mikhail Shveitser included a set of Pushkin’s Cleo­patra fragments in his miniseries Little Tragedies (Malen´kie tragedii, 1979),[66] and in 2002 Moscow theatre director Petr Fomenko staged Push­kin’s Egyptian Nights together with its sequel by Briusov.[67]

     To sum up, the Silver Age developed its own reading of Pushkin’s Cleopatra fragments which gave a second, fuller life to what were, after all, mere drafts. Its Cleopatra fashion is far from being a simple case of Cleopatromania. For one thing, it cannot be meaningfully compared to its European Modernist counterpart; indeed, it is incompatible with it. While European authors in search of their Cleopatras turned to various sources of inspiration, Russians were fixated on the patrimony of one author. Pushkin, the main sculptor of their Russian Cleopatra myth, became a sort of arbiter elegantiarum in all matters Cleopatra. As a result, the Sil­ver Age, while in many ways open to Western influence, here preferred to rely on a narrow and homogeneous set of Russian models rather than the numerous and diverse Western ones. Because these models derived from Romantic sources, the cult of Cleopatra during the Silver Age had a pecu­liarly archaic tinge.


University of California, Los Angeles
Institute of Russian Language, Russian Academy of Sciences


Download: Panova, Lada. “Russian Cleopatrimony: Pushkin’s Egyptian Nights in the Silver Age.” Pushkin Review 11 (2008): 103-27.

[*] I would like to thank Caryl Emerson, John E. Malmstad, and Alexander Zhol­kovsky for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article; I would also like to thank Marcus Levitt, Sarah Pratt, and Boris Wolfson for their editorial suggestions.

[1] In an essay from 1916–22, Viktor Zhirmunsky argued for the dependence of Rus­sian Symbolism on Russian Romanticism (“Valerii Briusov i nasledie Pushkina,” in V. M. Zhirmunskii, Teoriia literatury. Poetika. Stilistika [Leningrad: Nauka, 1977], 142–204). While Zhirmunsky excluded Pushkin from the Romantic canon, subsequent criticism has considered Egyptian Nights and “Cleopatra” among Pushkin’s most Romantic texts.

[2] Not to mention the Cleopatra portrayed by such popular authors as Georg Ebers, a professional Egyptologist and writer, or Henry Rider Haggard.

[3] Anna Akhmatova, Sobranie sochinenii v vos´mi tomakh (Moscow: Ellis Lak, 2002), 6: 201.

[4] See Michael Grant, Cleopatra (New Jersey: Castle Books, 2004).

[5] Horace, Odes I, trans. and ed. David West (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 182–83.

[6] De Viris Illustribus urbis Romae, LXXXVI, 2.

[7] See Igor´ Smirnov, Psikhodiakhronologika: Psikhoistoriia russkoi literatury ot romantizma do nashikh dnei (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 1994), 131–78.

[8] Apollon Grigor´ev, “Vzgliad na russkuiu literaturu so smerti Pushkina” (1859), in Russkaia kritika epokhi Chernyshevskogo i Dobroliubova (Moscow: Detskaia litera­tura, 1989), 129.

[9] See Irina Paperno, “Pushkin v zhizni cheloveka Serebrianogo veka,” in Cultural Mythologies of Russian Modernism: From the Golden Age to the Silver Age, ed. Boris Gasparov, Robert P. Hughes, and Irina Paperno(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 36–38.

[10] See L. G. Panova, Russkii Egipet: Aleksandriiskaia poetika Mikhaila Kuzmina, 2 vols.(Moscow: Vodolei Publishers and Progress-Pleiada, 2006),1: 337.

[11] Witness a 1987 conference at University of California at Berkeley on the occa­sion of the 150th anniversary of Pushkin’s cult, and the subsequent 1992 volume Cultural Mythologies of Russian Modernism (see n. 10, above).

[12] See Leslie O’Bell, Pushkin’s Egyptian Nights (Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis, 1984), 125–30.

[13] See Paperno, “Pushkin v zhizni cheloveka Serebrianogo veka,” inGasparov et al., eds., Cultural Mythologies, 19–51; and Matich, “Dialectics of Cultural Return: Zinaida Gippius’ Personal Myth,” in Cultural Mythologies, 52–72.

[14] For the texts themselves, see E. Abramovskikh, ed., Pushkin plius: Nezakon­chennye proizvedeniia A. S. Pushkina v prodolzheniiakh tvorcheskikh chitatelei XIX–XX vv. (Moscow: RGGU, 2008), 223–329, 382–402. For her analysis, see E. V. Abramovskikh, Fenomen kreativnoi retseptsii nezakonchennogo teksta (Chelia­binsk: Biblioteka A. Millera, 2006).

[15] See also my other works on this subject: Panova, Russkii Egipet,1: 227–37; Lada Panova, “Vtoraia zhizn´ ‘Egipetskikh nochei’ A. S. Pushkina: K 170-letiiu publikatsii,” Lingvistika i poetika v nachale tret´ego tysiacheletiia (Moscow: Insti­tut russkogo iazyka im. V. V. VinogradovaRAN, 2007), 132–43; idem, “Final, kotorogo ne bylo: Modernistskie razviazki k ‘Egipetskim nocham’ A. S. Pushkina,” Poetika finala: Formy i funktsii finala v khudozhestvennom tekste (Novosibirsk: NGPU, 2009), 68–94; idem, “Anna Akhmatova’s ‘Cleopatra’: A Study in Self-Por­traiture,” Russian Literature 65: 4 (2009): 507–38.

[16] See his analysis of Eugene Onegin and its offspring in the genre of a novel in verse in Iu. N. Chumakov, “Evgenii Onegin” i russkii stikhotvornyi roman (Novosi­birsk: NGPI, 1983).

[17] See their investigation of The Bronze Horseman (Mednyi vsadnik) and its nu­merous Silver Age replicas in A. L. Ospovat and R. D. Timenchik, “Pechal´nu povest´ sokhranit´…” (Moscow: Kniga, 1987).

[18] See his investigation of the poetic progeny of Pushkin’s poem “I Loved You”(Ia vas liubil…) in Alexander Zholkovsky, Text Counter Text (Stanford, CA: Stan­ford University Press, 1994), 117–28, and in the essay “Intertekstual´noe potomst­vo ‘Ia Vas liubil…’ Pushkina,” in A. K. Zholkovskii, Izbrannye stat´i o russkoi poezii (Moscow: RGGU, 2005), 390–431.

[19] See her investigation of Eugene Onegin’sreceptionin Russian literature and criticism in B. Van Sambeek-Weideli,Wege eines Meisterwerks: Die Russische Rezeption von Puškins “Evgenij Onegin”(Bern: Peter Lang, 1990); followed by Kirill Postoutenko, Oneginskii tekst v russkoi literature (Pisa: ECIG, 1998).

[20] See his investigation of the metrical legacy of “Again I visited…” (“Vnov´ ia posetil…”) in Michael Wachtel, The Development of Russian Verse: Meter and Its Meanings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 59–118.

[21] See Abramovskikh, Fenomen kreativnoi retseptsii.

[22] Zholkovsky, Text Counter Text, 123.

[23] 1828 version, from A. S. Pushkin, Sochineniia, ed. P. O. Morozov, 7 vols. (St. Petersburg, 1887), 4: 395–96.

[24] All translations of Egipetskie nochi are from O’Bell, Pushkin’s Egyptian Nights, 24–26.

[25] For the publication history of Pushkin’s cycle, see Panova, “Final, kotorogo ne bylo,” 68–75.

[26] See Panova, “Vtoraia zhizn´ ‘Egipetskikh nochei’ A. S. Pushkina.”

[27] See A. N. Emel´ianov-Kokhanskii, Vskrytie (Moscow, 1898).

[28] Valerii Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii, 7 vols. (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1975), 1: 392–93. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are my own.

[29] From Alexander Kuprin, Sulamith, trans. B. Guilbert Guerney (New York: Nicholas L. Brown, 1923), 124–28.

[30] See Panova, Russkii Egipet, 1: 228–32.

[31] See Paperno, “Pushkin v zhizni cheloveka Serebrianogo veka,” in Cultural Mythologies, 36–38.

[32] Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii, 1: 153.

[33] Aleksandr Blok, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem v dvadtsati tomakh, 20 vols. (Moscow: Nauka, 1999), 2: 139.

[34] Trans. A. Wachtel, I. Kutik and M. Denner, see


[35] As in Pushkin’s “Egyptian Nights.”

[36] Developed into an erotic ballad by Briusov and his disciple, Nikolai Gumilev.

[37] That is, iambic tetrameter with AbAb rhymes, as in Blok’s “Cleopatra.”

[38] As in Emel´ianov-Kokhanskii’s poem “Cleopatra” (1895), opened with a dotted line.

[39] This is more relevant for the nineteenth century, but also appears in the twentieth, as in Gaito Gazdanov’s “Scar.”

[40] First version, from Anna Akhmatova, Iz shesti knig (Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel´, 1940), 40–41.

[41] Translated by Judith Hemschemeyer, in Anna Akhmatova, TheComplete Poems, 2 vols. (Somerville, MA: Zephyr, 1990), 2: 110.

[42] See my analysis of this encryption in Panova, “Anna Akhmatova’s ‘Cleopatra.’”

[43] See Panova, “Vtoraia zhizn´ ‘Egipetskikh nochei.’”

[44] In “Otvet ‘Russkomu vestniku,’” see F. M. Dostoevskii, Polnoe sobranie sochi­nenii, 30 vols.(Leningrad: Nauka, 1974), 11: 197.

[45] Aleksandr Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, ed. S. Vengerov, 6 vols. (St. Petersburg: Brokgauz-Efron, 1910), 3: 444–49.

[46] Akhmatova, Sobranie sochinenii, 6: 196–201.

[47] Modest Gofman, Egipetskie nochi. S polnym tekstom improvizatsii Ital´iantsa, s novoi, chetvertoi glavoi – Pushkina i s Prilozheniem (zakliuchitel´naia piataia glava) (Paris: Serzh Lifar´, 1935), 7–25.

[48] According to Zhirmunsky, it was this ballet that inspired Briusov’s ending. See V. M. Zhirmunskii, Teoriia literatury, 178.

[49] Gofman, Egipetskie nochi, 9.

[50] Ibid., 47–63.

[51] To be published in 2009. I am grateful to Vadim Perel´muter for acquainting me with the preprint version.

[52] For more detail on That Third One, see Panova, “Final, kotorogo ne bylo,” in Poetika finala,80–84.

[53] Briusov, Sobranie sochinenii, 1: 391–92.

[54] Alexander Blok, Selected Poems, trans. Avril Pyman (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1972), 230.

[55] Blok, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem, 2: 177.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Georgii Chulkov, Gody stranstvii (Moscow: Ellis Lak, 1999), 430–47.

[58] Aleksandr Zholkovskii, “Piat´ intertekstual´nykh etiudov (s memuarnym predi­sloviem),” Russian Literature 54: 1–3 (2003): 437–39.

[59] There is another example of Cleopatromania in Silver Age life-as-art programs. According to Olga Matich, Zinaida Gippius created her self-image as a “phallic” and “androgynous” Cleopatra by parading her “male-looking” and at the same time “snake-looking” body, in particular while receiving her guests reclining on the couch as Cleopatra. See Matich, Erotic Utopia (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), 178.

[60] See T. L. Nikol´skaia, R. D. Timenchik, and A. G. Mets, Kofeinia razbitykh serdets (Stanford, CA:Stanford University Press, 1997), 27.

[61] For music, see the newly released CD of Serge Prokofiev, Ägyptische nächte, Frechen Saksamaa, Delta Music, 2004.

[62] See A. Ia. Tairov, Zapiski rezhissera, stat´i, besedy, rechi, pis´ma (Мoscow: VTO, 1970), 361–75.

[63] See Lidiia Chukovskaia, Zapiski ob Anne Akhmatovoi (Moscow: Soglasie, 1997), 1: 82.

[64] So far “Cleopatra” has received a rather uniform set of scholarly interpretations, as a narration of the epilogue to Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra that alludes to Stalin’s persecution of Akhmatova, the arrests and exile of her son, Lev Gumi­lev, and husband, Nikolai Punin, and her petitioning of high-ranked officials. See Susan Amert, In a Shattered Mirror (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), 10–11; Roberta Reeder, Anna Akhmatova.Poet and Prophet (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994), 239; David Wells, Akhmatova and Pushkin: The Pushkin Context of Akhmatova’s Poetry (Birmingham: Birmingham Slavonic Monographs 25, 1994), 73–78; L. G. Kikhnei, Poeziia Anny Akhmatovoi. Tainy remesla (Mos­cow: Dialog MGU, 1997), 89–91. In my article “Anna Akhmatova’s ‘Cleopatra,’” I try to demonstrate that this poem is much more complicated and hides Akh­matova’s self-portrait as Cleopatra.

[65] See V. A. Boiarskii, “Motiv zhenskoi vlasti i motiv maski v rasskaze Gaito Gaz­danova ‘Shram,’” Issledovano v Rossii (http: // /articles /2001 /007.pdf).

[66] See Stephanie Sandler, Commemorating Pushkin:Russia’s Myth of a National Poet (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004), 168–71.

[67]Egyptian Nights, at the Masterskaia Petra Fomenko (Moscow).