What did you say?
Friedrich Engels

“The bourgeoisie have raised monuments to the classics. If they’d read them, they’d have burned them.”

- Friedrich Engels

220px-adrian_piotrovsky_sovetsky_ekran_1926_no16_20_aprilAdrian Piotrovsky (1898-1937) was the son of the highly esteemed Petrograd classical scholar F.F. Zelinsky. Born out of wedlock, he was raised by his mother’s aunt, Eugenia Piotrovsky and her husband, from whom he took his name.

He studied at the famous German gymnasium in Petrograd, known as the Petrischule — a bastion of classical education in Russia since 1709. In 1916 he entered Petrograd University, where he continued his study of the ancient Greeks and Romans. He graduated in 1923, by which time he was already a well known classicist, theatre-maker and translator.

Piotrovsky was a convinced communist. In 1920 he pointedly remarked that “The twenty-fifth of October [1917] has given the world back Aeschylus and the Renaissance. It has given birth to a generation with Aeschylus’ fiery soul.”[1]

Title page of Piotrovsky's CatullusFrom ancient Greek he translated the elegiac poems attributed to Theognis (1922), all of Aristophanes’ plays (1927 – 1934), all the tragedies of Aeschylus (compiled in 1937), Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex (1937), Menander’s Men at Arbitration (1937) and Euripides’ Hippolytus (1937). From Latin he translated Petronius’ Satyricon (1924), and Catullus’ Book of Lyrics (1929). Alongside this immense translation activity he also taught ancient theatre, directed numerous plays, and became increasingly involved in film-making.

In the preface to his version of Catullus, Piotrovsky shows a passionate determination for the book to avoid the Scylla of becoming nothing more than a ‘museum relic’ and the Charybdis of fate as an ephemeral modern fad. He wanted for his translation of Catullus “to enter into the everyday life of our young culture as a piece of modern poetry”.

By almost superhuman productivity Piotrovsky contributed to nearly all of the early Soviet classical translations, be that in the role of translator, or editor or introductory essayist. This tremendous scholarly activity, however, was cut brutally short, when in 1937 he was arrested on charges of espionage and sabotage, and in the same year shot by the NKVD.[2]

[1] Adr. Piotrovsky, “Teatr vsego naroda,” Zi no.456-7 (May 20-1, 1920) p1. Qtd in Clarke 1995. 137.

[2] The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs.

Leave a Reply