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the colours in your head


Freely lifted / mistranslated from my Russian homework:

[talking about Ivan the Terrible]

When prince Kurbskii ran from the Russian army in Poland, he wrote a letter to the tsar Ivan the Terrible. In the letter he wrote why to him had appeared the idea to exit the country for England. Kurbskii was a man from the upper class and his letter expressed the view of those among this class that supported his ideas. He didn't like how Ivan the Fourth ruled the country, an that he had absolute power in the state. Kurbskii wrote, that Terrible created new laws, which to him seemed illegal. ...

Now, I think the important part of this paragraph is not all the historical stuff that goes on, interesting though it is to me, but the fact that a former ruler is freely referred to as "Terrible". The man's nickname, a fairly ridiculous adjective to have just hanging out by itself in English, has become the sole appellation by which he can be called. Seems a bit overly-irreverent, in an odd way, no matter how evil this guy may have been, what with his son-killing and all (has anyone here seen Repin's painting Ivan the Terrible Killing his Son? It makes me tear up a bit to think about it. He killed his son accidentally. Admittedly, it was after they had a fight because Ivan IV had beaten his pregnant daughter-in-law and made her miscarry, but still, killing one of your children has got to twist you inside, just a little bit.) and yes, I am aware that the Russian term can also be translated as something like "awe-inspiring", with a more Old English bent to the meaning of terrible, but still, it's quite an appellation to be bandied about so casually in a pseudo-historical text in an intermediate Russian textbook. Makes me a little sad. He reportedly was all right as a youth, crowned at the age of 16 or 17, chose his bride from a local virgin competition, and went a little more mad after her death. Up to that time, he had actually been a quite good monarch, implementing reforms and doing like enlightened deeds, but after her alleged poisoning he went on a rampage, forming Russia's first secret police, a group of thuggish sectarians sworn to do his bidding at any cost, torturing people by the thousands, and holding constant orgies in the Kremlin. He married six more women, keeping them around for a short while before shunting them into prison or executing them for "exceeding whorishness" (new favourite phrase). He died playing chess. When his remains were exhumed, an inordinate amount of mercury was found in them, indicating that he might have been poisoned. Alternately, the mercury could have been part of a cure for syphillis, with which he was thought to be afflicted, like every good royal of the day.


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