March 01, 2012

A Woman's Honor (or, When Pigs Fly)

A Woman's Honor (or, When Pigs Fly)

One summer night in 1764, in a remote village in Oryol province, a company of noblemen convened on a country estate. The pleasant evening was suddenly interrupted by a quarrel between two guests, cousins Danila and Vasily Psishchev. Vasily, who started the quarrel, did not limit himself to words but tried to provoke a fight. Danila, however, did not respond. Vasily then rushed outside, grabbed a stray pig that happened to be running in the yard, and threw it at Danila’s wife, Ulyana, who was sitting at a window inside the house.

The pig hit the woman hard, but the affront to her honor was the greater damage. At least, that’s how she felt, and so she filed a complaint at the local court. The ensuing investigation lasted almost 30 years, well beyond the deaths of both the victim and the offender. Only in 1792 would the plaintiff’s heiress drop all charges and have the case finally closed, thus leaving the offense unpunished and the insult unavenged.

Historians have argued that honor underlay the moral systems of European communities at this time, determining social interactions. Honor gave an individual his or her reputation and sense of public esteem. And damage to honor, or dishonor, was often compared to death.

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