Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Structure, Symbol and Style in Hryhorii Skovoroda's "Potop Zmin"

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Structure, Symbol and Style in Hryhorii Skovoroda's "Potop Zmin"

Article excerpt


The Ukrainian thinker, Hryhorii Skovoroda (1722-94), produced a substantial body of philosophical and literary work between the late '50s and the early '90s of the eighteenth century. While there is a large secondary literature devoted to the discussion of his thought, the individual works, and particularly the longer philosophical ones, have been ignored as suitable subjects for analysis.(1) This is not surprising given that scholars have been principally interested in either an overview of Skovoroda's philosophy or a more detailed look at one or another aspect of his thought. But neither of these approaches has made it possible to follow Skovoroda's thinking through a single work from beginning to end. More than this, the failure to analyze Skovoroda's individual works has contributed to the prevailing view that his thought, however enlightening or inspiring, was inconsistent, disorderly and lacking in logic.(2) In an effort to reverse this situation, the following essay will discuss "Dialog. Imia Emu--Potop Zmiin" (A Dialogue Named the Dragon's Flood) which was written in 1790-91.(3) This work, Skovoroda's last before his death in 1794, represented his effort to summarize nearly thirty-five years of creative activity. As such it is especially worthy of individual attention. The discussion will center on the structural, symbolic and stylistic elements which Skovoroda used and demonstrate how he employed them to communicate his principal theme, the achievement of total knowledge and ultimate happiness through a correct reading of the Bible.


"Potop Zmiin" consists of an introduction in the form of a letter and seven chapters. Skovoroda, however, grouped the eight parts logically into three larger sections: 1) the introduction and chapter one, which was a parable; 2) chapters two through five in which Skovoroda, using a dialogue between the Soul and the Immortal Spirit, elaborated on the questions raised in the introduction and chapter one, and; 3) chapters six and seven in which he culminated the whole discussion with his ecstatic ruminations about the fate of man.

The introduction, by equating the dragon's flood with the Bible, made it clear that the title of the piece referred to the image of the dragon in Revelations 12. But this formulation also suggested that the dragon's flood represented the actual words of the Bible i.e., the Bible's literal meaning. Skovoroda further argued that the literal meaning of the Bible was like the sphinx, "tormenting those who can not solve the riddle."(4) Therefore, he contended, however allusively, that the dragon's flood symbolized both a confused interpretation of the Bible based on a literal reading of Scripture and the unhappiness which resulted from such a reading. Skovoroda, however, concluded the introduction by asserting that this confusion and unhappiness could be overcome. He did this first by citing a verse from the book of Isaiah: "For the sun will not set on you, and the moon will not grow small. The Lord will be your light; and the days of your sorrow will end" (Isaiah 60:20).(5) To this verse Skovoroda added one of his own, in the same spirit, which read in part:

The entire flood will vanish then.

A rainbow sparkle without end.

You will suddenly dry your tears.

Forever calm your inner fears.(6)

While the introductory letter alluded to the potential for overcoming worldly tribulation, the first chapter, "The parable of the Blind Man and the Sighted One" suggested that this could only be done if one acquired a certain knowledge of the world. Skovoroda implied that such was the case when he related the tale of the two visitors, one blind, one sighted, who arrived at the temple of Solomon. The sighted or, symbolically speaking, enlightened visitor was filled with "insatiable joy" on seeing the wall paintings and the seven-candled lamp which illuminated them. …

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