Viacheslav Ivanov's contemporaries called him “Viacheslav the Magnificent, ” borrowing a Renaissance-era epithet to denote the unlikely Renaissance man in their midst. Born in Moscow of humble stock, Ivanov cultivated an erudite and cosmopolitan intellectual persona, enrolling at the University of Berlin to study ancient history with Theodor Mommsen and Otto Hirschfeld. He immersed himself in German culture, writing poems both in Russian and in German and planning a work that has been called “a Russian Faust.” In 1891 he moved to Paris and in 1892 undertook a fateful trip to Italy. Although he was well prepared for what he would find in Italy, he felt trepidation at having his bookish passion take on concrete form. In 1895, in Florence, he met Lidia Zinovyeva, with whom he fell in love. Divorce from his first wife and marriage to Lidia inspired (or compelled) Ivanov to forsake his academic studies for the bohemian life of a poet and thinker. From 1896 to 1902 he and Lidia wandered throughout Europe, staying variously in Italy, France, England, Greece, and Palestine. In 1902-5 they settled near Geneva, where he completed a series of lectures on the Dionysian mystery religion, the tragedy Tantal (in stylized trimeters), and his first book of lyric poetry, Kormchie zvezdy. In 1905 the Ivanovs moved to Petersburg, preceded by his growing literary reputation. Their turret-like apartment hosted a leading salon for the artistic elite, and Ivanov's reputation was cemented by the poetry collections Prozrachnost' (1904) and Eros (1907) and the book of essays Po zvezdam (1909).
After Lidia's sudden death in 1907, Ivanov entered upon an extended bereavement, reflected in the voluminous and intricate poetry of Cor ardens (1911), and he began traveling again to Italy. It was in Rome in 1910 that he realized that his late wife was, so to speak, reincarnated in her daughter from her first marriage, Vera. In 1912, shortly after she gave birth to a son, Ivanov