Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Hryhoriy Skovoroda

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Hryhoriy Skovoroda

Article excerpt

An Enlightenment philosopher of the Ukraine

IN an old district of Kiev, the Podol, a monumental statue looks out over Peter Mogila Academy Square. It depicts a gently smiling man who looks for all the world as if he has just stopped for a chat with the bystanders. He is wearing a simple Cossack's outfit, and slung over his shoulder is his faithful knapsack in which one can easily imagine a flute, a Hebrew Bible and a few manuscripts. The monument is a memorial to Hryhoriy Skovoroda, one of the Ukraine's most brilliant thinkers. Engraved on the pedestal beneath the statue is the epitaph he wrote for himself: "The world wanted to take me over, but it didn't succeed". The words sum up the beliefs, the destiny and the thought of a man who sacrificed a clerical and university career and abandoned the comforts of life as a court poet and musician, choosing instead to live in freedom as an itinerant philosopher.

Skovoroda was born in 1722 to a Cossack family. After studying the Bible and learning Latin and singing at the school in his native village, Chernuhy, at sixteen he entered the Peter Mogila Academy, the leading university in eastern Europe and the most prestigious Western-style establishment in the Ukraine at that time. While there he studied the works of great European thinkers such as Bacon, Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Spinoza and Bruno. In 1742 he went as a singer to the court of the Tsarina Elizabeth in Saint Petersburg, but he did not take to court life and returned to Kiev to continue his philosophical and theological studies. When the lime came for him to leave the Academy, it was suggested that he enter holy orders, but he decided instead to accept a diplomatic mission that would take him to many countries over the next four years. Back in the Ukraine, he taught poetry in a seminary at Pereiaslov, not far from Kiev, then at the high school in Harkiv. …

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