August 01, 1998

Who Shall Judge the Judges?

Who Shall Judge the Judges?

Well-educated Russians can’t help quoting literary classics once in a while to spruce up their speech. Foreigners who can follow suit will score points on the культурный index.

The list of such allusions is endless, so we will focus on the most famous and frequent ones. One such allusion is in the headline above: “А судьи кто?” This comes from Alexander Griboyedov’s famous play Горе от ума (Woe from Wit), whose hero, Alexander Chatsky, at odds with Moscow’s conservative beau-monde, utters these words, meaning “who are they, to judge me?!” Griboyedov’s play alone is a wealth of literary allusions – no other Russian literary work has given us so many tidbits, clichés and set-phrases. Regulars of this feature will remember his tobacco-related cliché, Но дым отечества нам сладок и приятен (see page 118).

Actually, the title of the comedy Woe from Wit has become a literary cliché as well – it refers to someone who is way too intelligent, a perfectionist too particular about details, who therefore suffers too much in life. Today it is also applicable in humorous terms to someone who worries too much, knows too much and therefore cannot be happy.

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