Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Eunich and the Golden Cockerel

When I was a kid, I really enjoyed reading Pushkin's "Tale of the Golden Cockerel".  It's a great story, but it was not until last week that I read some very interesting, puzzling facts about it.

The story line is about an old king who is attacked on all sides by his neighbors.  A wizard astrologer gives him a Golden Cockerel who crows before an enemy attack, turning in the direction of trouble.  All is well again, until one day the cockerel crows - an army headed by one of the king's sons is dispatched, but never heard from.  The cockerel crows a second time, another son is dispatched with a second army, and also disappears.  Finally at the third crowing, the king himself goes to investigate.  He finds a mysterious tent with a beautiful maiden in it, the Princess of Shemakha.  Both sons are lying dead inside the tent, which itself is surrounded by the corpses of the two armies.  The king falls for the princess and after an extended feast takes her back home.  As his chariot enters the gates of his city, the old wizard approaches and asks for a reward - the maiden.  The king offers him riches and land instead, but the old mage stubbornly asks for the girl.  Finally, the enraged king strikes him dead with his scepter, at which point the cockerel flies down and pecks the king on the forehead, killing him instantly.

What I never realized is that the old wizard is described as a skopetz, a member of the odd Russian castrating sect, and Shemakha was a town in what is now Azerbaijan, where skoptzy were exiled by the czarist government.  Which brings up the truly puzzling question - what would a castrated Christian sectarian want with a beautiful maiden?

Another odd bit of information - apparently the plot of this story comes from a story in Washington Irving's "Tales of the Alhambra".  I never knew this, but Irving spent quite a bit of time in Spain, writing a biography of Christopher Columbus.  Furthermore, the origins of the story seem to go back to the ancient Copts, translated into french by Pierre Vattier.


Blogger The back of the hill said...

Quote: "enjoyed substantial growth before fading into obscurity "


And odd.

January 09, 2014 2:27 PM  
Anonymous Nechama said...

So a form of plagiarism in a Russian classic...shocking....not really.

January 13, 2014 5:34 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home