A fact that is probably not so well known outside of cultural and literary historians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Eastern Europe, is that the first major literary work published entirely in the modern Ukrainian language is a burlesque of Vergil’s Aeneid, the Енеїда (first published 1798) by Ivan Kotliarevskiy (Іван Котляревський), where Aeneas and his exiled Trojan heroes are portrayed as Zaporozhian Cossacks. When I first learned of this, I immediately had to try to track down a copy to read, because after all, there’s nothing quite like making fun of Vergil’s Homeric fan-fiction, and of course, it’s always fascinating to see various traditions in the reception of the Classics.
Fortunately for me, Western Canada has perhaps the largest Ukrainian diaspora community in the world, and in the heart of downtown Edmonton there is an old Українська Книгарня where one may find such things. Just what I was looking for, they happened to have some copies of a beautifully illustrated bilingual edition of the poem.
I know I lack much of the familiarity with 18th-19th century Ukraine and Russia to appreciate the poem in its own cultural context, but as a Classicist the burlesque stereotypes of the gods and heroes are all appreciable. For example, in the first few pages Venus finds Zeus as she comes to beseech him on Aeneas’ behalf:
Зевес тогді кружляв сивуху
І оселедцем заїдав
At that time, Zeus imbibed cup after cup
Of some cheap brew and ate a herring for a snack
If this isn’t the most awesome take on the Aeneid I’ve ever seen, I don’t know what is. The full text of the poem, for those who read Ukrainian or some other language close enough to it, can be found here. I’ll probably post more later on this, as I progress through the book.