en  :  book13 Russians in egypt

Chapter II. Doubts                                                                                



Egypt used to attract Russian people. The one who visited it first was probably Father Superior Daniel who made a pilgrimage to Palestine in 1106-1108.

"Хождение Трифона Коробейникова", изданное в XVI веке, было настолько популярным в России, что министерство народного образования хотело даже In summer 1582 “ The Sovereign, tsar and grand duke Ioann Vasylyevich All-Russia autocrat sent his charity of allowance from Moscow to Istanbul, to Anteocheya, Alexandria and also to the sacred city of Jerusalem, to the mount of Sinai and to Egypt to the patriarchs and bishops, to archimandrites and Superior Fathers in mourning for his son Ioann Ioannovich with a Moscow merchant Triphon Korobeynikov by name and also with Iyeremey Zamok and among them there was a Moscow inhabitant, a skilled craftsman of cross making whose name was Fyodor...”
“ Walking of Triphon Korobeynikov” published in 16 century was so popular in Russia that the Ministry of National Education wanted to include it into the secondary school syllabus.(P. Perminov .”Sphinx’s Smile”)
The historical analysis of “ Walking…” showed that the author of it was a Moscow merchant Vasily Pozdnyakov . And Korobeynicov himself , also the member of the pilgrimage, but a later one, was more likely an illiterate scrivener , who borrowed Pozdnyakov’s notes.
It seems that Pozdnyakov was a man with the bright, figurative thinking, taking a keen interest in everything what he met on his way. He made a detailed description of Egyptian nature and customs.
Probably the first Russian pilgrim in the sacred places of Sinai was an archimandrite Grefeny of Smolensk ,who made his journey in 1400.
In the middle of 16th century Arseny Sukhanov the chief of the Moscow Printing Yard visited Cairo and left the notes known as “Proskinitary by Arseny Sukhanov” as the cultural heritage.
In 18th century the monk of Antiochia Grygorovich – Barsky, “the walker” , had been traveling over the East and the countries of the Mediterranean sea. Knowing many languages , Grygorovich-Barsky as nobody else from the pilgrims, understood the culture and the customs of the countries he had visited. His notes are “ various and entertaining “, as N.G. Chernyshevsky admitted.
The pilgrims were attracted by the sacred places of Palestine, Jerusalem, and Sinai. They took particular interest in the monastery of St.Helen, which had been erected in the times of Yustinian I (VI century A.D.). The history of Russian pilgrimage was described briefly and in an exiting way by Peter Perminov in the book “ Sphinx’s Smile”.
There were many keen and sincere believers among the travelers, but unfortunately only few scientists. The few exceptions were a doctor A. Umanets and an academician A.S. Norov.
Umanets was sent to Egypt in 1842 with a purpose “ to make an experiment of cleaning the plagued things by means of the intensified heat”, but in his spare time he traveled in Egypt and left exact and interesting descriptions of everything seen by him.
Avraam Sergeyevich Norov , a poet and a writer , a brave soldier, he even climbed up the top of the Great pyramid what is not easy to do to the healthy person. Norov had lost his leg in the Battle of Borodino at the age of 17. It is most likely that nobody from his compatriots who had ever visited Egypt could penetrate so deeply into the history of the outstanding Nile civilization. Norov was a highly educated person and in particular he knew Shampolyon’s works.
“ One can’t stand admiring continually the deep thoughtfulness of this wonderful nation which managed to turn temples, tsars’ halls and other public buildings into the books for learning them the whole life and the granite sheets of which after surviving thousands of years can be read by the future generations…” Norov writes.
He illustrated his dairies with talented drawings. Especially he was amazed with Thebes: ” All the statues in Rome, Athens, of Sicilian people and even Balbac and Palmira are nothing against Thebes.”
The Hermitage owes the appearing of priceless statue of Mut-Sokhmet( xv century A.D.), found in Karnak among the ruins of a small temple to Norov. Mut-Sokhmet is a lion-headed goddess , the daughter of Ra, a deity of war. It was considered to be a protector of Ra and Osiris and also the patroness of medicine and doctors.
The purple statue lay half covered with sand and Norov bought it from the local authorities to take it to ” the dear North, not going to make Isida and Osiris angry but out of sympathy to the precious remains of the greatest Thebes”. And here are the words of A.O. Rosset about the statue, dispatched to Russia by Norov: “His (Norov’s) Isida *[Rosset took Mut-Sokhmet for Isida’s statue] was found in the sand , he thought it was wonderful and immediately bought it from the local inhabitants. When he needed to place it, the young women came up in crowds to say good-bye to Isida, they sang around her and an old man made a speech. On coming to St.Petersburg ,Norov told about it to Pushkin . The latter was much impressed by it and said:” A nice poem could be created from this episode…” He went to have a look at Isida, which at that moment was kept under the ladder at the Academy”.
After 15 year staying at the Academy ,Mut-Sokhmet was moved to the Hermitage where she found her second life among the works of art of the distant pharaohs’ country which were very close to her.
In the same year of 1834, when Norov had his journey in Egypt, two messengers of Ancient Egypt – sphinxes of Amenkhotep III lay down on the granite pedestals at the Neva embankment.
“ Although these two colossal figures have no refined forms, which were a prerogative of the Ancient Greek Art, they are made of the firmest granite…and both have much more sazhens in their length and almost the same number of sazhens in their height, they are covered with interesting hieroglyphs, expressing ,no doubts, the name and the title of that famous pharaoh…in commemoration of whom the figures were made .
And by now these stone children of Egypt have been looking into each other’s eyes for more than a century and a half, recollecting, longing and hoping…At these moments the lives of two absolutely far in time and in space countries of Egypt and Russia entwine...
I would like to trace out the lives of people and things, to understand their meaning and their far unknown aim.
The city on the Neva keeps quite a lot of Egyptian rarities and the ancient symbols of the country of pyramids can be unexpectedly seen in different places. I have always been amazed with the fact that the entrance gates to Tsarskoye Selo from the side of St. Petersburg were the Egyptian gates. Made in the form of pylons they reproduce the entrance to the ancient Egyptian temple. It sounds strange but one can step into the city of muses , into Mecca of Russian literature and history through the Egyptian gates...
I have been here for more than once; right beside the pylons decorated with the pictures of Osiris and his subjects and understood that nothing in this life is fortuitous. The gates were built by the architect Menelas , the authors of the pictures on the walls were the artist Dodonov and the sculptor Demut-Malinovsky who had made copies from the samples of the ancient Egyptian art reproduced in one of the multivolume Parisian editions of the beginning of the 19 century. The war has not passed by this little piece of Egypt , a part of cast-iron plates with relieves with which the walls of pylons had been faced ,was smashed to smithereens. They had to be cast anew. Under the quiet whisper of the rain in Tsarskoye Selo the Egyptians on the relieves of the gates are engaged in making their usual business –they plant , reap and warship their mysterious and wise gods.
Much time has been spent by me walking around the city and everywhere I met the traces of Egypt. St.Petersburg has many faces as well as the sky above it.
There is an Egyptian bridge over the river Fontanka which is not far from Lermontovsky prospect. The bored cast-iron sphinxes look at the passers-by. But almost nobody watches them. Everyone is hurrying its own way. But this assumed indifference means that the consciousness of peterburgers is absolutely inseparable with the plastic arts and the architecture of the city. People walk this way as the inhabitants move in their flats among the well-known and dear things.
Even very young peterburgers are interested in Egypt. In the reported propositions of the pupils in1993 I found a brief note by Alexey Vlasov who was an 8th former at that time :” House number 23 on Zakharyevskaya Street is the brightest, but practically unknown example of the Russian modern architecture. Three oriels are decorated with the relieves of Isida Nephtida. The columns are crowned with capitals having images of far ancestors’ heads from the country Cush –“ Pathetic without water”. There are statues of pharaohs with the symbols of imperial authority in the entrances. There are massive doors made of oak. There are arches with beautiful cast-iron gates. But there is something unreal in it . The five-storey house reminds me a toy, a fake one, giving itself out with its rough details , not typical for the natural Egyptian art. One can see the hieroglyphs with the names of the deceased pharaohs under the bas-relieves. It’s so strange to read their names here in Petersburg…This house is like a lost precious stone on the sea-bottom , seen by nobody, by everybody forgotten. Even the specialized literature on architectural history of modern style said no word about it. Just recently I have learnt that the house was created by the architect Songaylo in 1911. Actually Egyptian motives turned out to be eternal and even at the end of the 19-20th century, the epoch marked with the crisis in arts they continued to exist.”
The house on Zakharyevskaya street does make a strange impression-the Egyptian motives on the walls look as queer as Russian nesting dolls could look at the pyramids of Maya .Nowadays it is difficult to state whose imagination bore this eclectic building.
It was absolutely obvious that simultaneous appearing of a number of practically the same Egyptian types of buildings was caused by Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt, the result of interest.
It is curious that Egypt as the symbol of diligence occurred to the people simply writing and studying Petersburg. For example N.A.Antsifirov-a scientist and a regional specialist wrote: ”Fogs and swamps from which the city appeared testify about that Egyptian work, that had to be done for the creation of this “Paradise” here on unsteady grounds, made practically out of fogs .
There is a painted Egyptian study in Kunstkamera. The owner of which is Irina Vladimirovna Bogoslavskaya a member of stuff of scientific body of the Institute of Ethnography and Antropology named after Peter the Great . She owns extensive information about Egypt. She is an author of the unique book” Clothing of the Ancient Egypt”, the edition of which was sold all over immediately among the specialists in modeling and history and had no chance to be bought in the book-shop. Bogoslovskaya’s attitude towards Pharaoh’s Cylinders is very cautious but as she said: “ You have found something curious, no doubts!”
Conversations with historians, Egyptologists, physicists, doctors, psychics…Institutes, museums, faculties… Nobody from those whom I addressed to was indifferent or said that was very busy to see me.