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Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks (wikipedia.org)
185 points by slater 3 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 85 comments

When I was ~14 yo, my father used to get his friends over most nights.

They were usually 1 or 2, and they would stay for dinner.

One of those nights my younger brother brought some sort of survey from school, regarding the family and related assorted questions.

I think it's important to note that every night my father and his friends would down a couple bottles of cheap wine.

So, my father got to the task of filling the survey, with the assistance of his friends.

Eventually he got to a question where he had to fill his current occupation.

¡Malviviente!* yelled my father, and he and friends burst out in drunken laughter.

He filled the question with such answer.

He - and my mother - were promptly summoned by the school to explain that answer. Rest assured my mom was not pleased at all.

* This word can be roughly translated to thug, but taken literally can mean "One that does not live well".

Related, but less interesting: When my wife gets annoyed filling out forms for places that don't need to know her occupation (doctor, pharmacy, etc.), she puts down "art thief." Nobody's said boo to her yet about it.

I like to use funny job titles similar to the ones the Onion coins in their American Voices: https://www.theonion.com/texas-congressman-suggests-altering...

Why doesn't she write "yes"?

Wait for INTERPOL to show up at your door any time now :P

I use "monarch".

I always write "comedian"... (And I bet that made you laugh, which is proof)

If you want to be a comedian you need to stop explaining your jokes. Good ones don't need explaining.

Tax evader

I wonder if the equivalent in english could be something like "Ne'er-do-well" [0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ne%27er-do-well

AskHistorians seems to believe pretty strongly that this letter never happened, which may be obvious to people familiar with the story, but I'm hearing it for the first time in the context of this HN post. :)

A good thread on the history of, uh, stern Russian responses to threats:


Hmm, I'm not terribly convinced by those comments that the letter never happened. The justification that it's "not historical" comes from someone saying it wasn't mentioned in a summary of Ottoman-Cossack diplomatic relations, but there were many letters between the two sides during that time. It simply wasn't mentioned in the summary, not explicitly mentioned as fake. Absence of evidence and all that. Furthermore, there's not a huge gap between the time of the incident in 1676 and the earliest version of the letter we've found so far, in the early 1800s. 100-some years sounds like a lot of time, but things happened slower back then; it took 11 years just to paint the painting.

Finally, even if this particular letter is "not historical", we do have other, substantiated letters from the Zaporozhians to the Ottomans with various insults, and the painting was created with the help of historians, so the painting is fairly accurate even if the exact letter may have been a slight exaggeration of other contemporary letters.

It doesn't seem like there's major doubt that the Cossacks sent a rude retort to a surrender demand, but rather that these responses have become folkloric and are embellished over the generations to the point where there's little truth left in the actual words.

>It doesn't seem like there's major doubt that the Cossacks sent a rude retort to a surrender demand

There's no doubt that they did that. We have multiple documented responses, some of which are quite witty I'll add. (If you remove the old-fashioned tone of voice from the translations and speak them as someone would today, even the drier ones can be fairly amusing.)

There are also embellished or fabricated responses even in modern times.

The question is - which of those is this letter? I don't think we can rule out any possibility based on the information we have available. We simply have a gap of a hundred-odd years in which we can find no surviving written evidence that people talked about it. I don't think that's evidence enough that it didn't exist.

The issue here might be the fact that the Wikipedia article is about the painting, but includes a purported text of ‘the letter’ - presumably of the letter in the painting - but there’s no citation given for where that particular text is sourced or it’s translation.

No, that's not the issue here. There are various texts for the letter going back to the 1800s. The issue is that there is no record of the letter between 1676 and the 1800s, causing some Redditors to believe it was a fabrication of that time.

I mean, it's the issue I was bringing up with my comment, since the Wikipedia text of the letter seemed implausible, apparently for good reason. :)

Ah, my bad, I misinterpreted your comment.

> If you remove the old-fashioned tone of voice from the translations and speak them as someone would today

I think that's almost wholly because of the the "thou", which was added to distinguish from the polite plural "you", but maybe it shouldn't have been. I doubt anyone would have mistaken "fuck your mother" for the polite plural.

Does the exact content really matter that much though? There was a letter, it was rude, they had a lot of fun writing it…

For historians it matter, which is why the discussion is on AskHistorians.

I'm not terribly convinced by those comments that the letter never happened.

Agreed. There's a lot of unwarranted skepticism by both real, and wannabe history experts these days. Even events from last century that were heavily documented in books and scholarly texts are sometimes called fake by people on the internet because there isn't a web link to the material.

It makes me sad when I see the library throwing out reference books, knowing that most of that information will be gone forever, and the people who know its contents will never be believed.

Note that the people in r/AskHistorians are actual historians, or people knowledgeable enough of the subject to source their claims.

It's Reddit. There is no way to gauge user competencies and most of them suffer from acute Dunning–Kruger effect. I wouldn't trust anything read there as more than mere theories. It can be convenient to find serious resources (books, papers) but most of the content is garbage.

It is AskHistorians, a very strongly moderated sub-reddit where comments get deleted if they can't show valid sources. The discussion is much higher level than here on HN.


Edit: misread context- kneejerk Ukrainian > Russian correction. Although I’d still want it clear that this is Ukrainian history more than Russian.

I don't think that's "X history more than Y history" a correct way to argue about history :-)

It's definitely a fair to name that Ukrainian history from your perspective. It's a also fair to name that Russian history.

A lot of people could argue that is specifically Cossack history, because Cossacks could be viewed as separate ethnicity with their own history.

Somebody will say that's Russian word is correct, because "Russian" is umbrella term for both velikorossy (Great Russians) and malorossy (Ukrainians) :-)

But it's definitely fair from modern Russian perspective and from modern Ukrainian perspective to claim this history as their own.

At that point in time Russian-Ukrainian history was tight knit. It is after Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth influence of Western Ukraine did what I assume your understanding of the difference between Russia-Ukraine's history start.

Referring to Zaporozhian Cossacks as Russian is quite a stretch, and sure to upset Ukrainians. Cossacks generally are a part of Russian-Ukrainian history, but this group has typically been considered Ukrainian, based on their geography and ultimate integration into Ukraine.

In truth, the Zaporozhian Cossacks were their own people, to classify them as strictly Russian or Ukrainian somewhat erases their culture and history.

But I didn't say that Zaporozhians are distinctly Russian either, just that at that point in time the divide between Ukraine and Russia was a lot less clear. People who drive a hard line about differences of these people, especially in those times, are usually politically and/or ideologically motivated and have barely any knowledge of the historical context.

You're absolutely correct that the Zaporozhians were somewhat of their own people, much like the Don and other groups of Cossacks - which can be seen in them uprising against the Polish-Lithuanian rulers and the Czar respectively and trying to form their own states. I wouldn't go so for as to say that they aren't part of Russian-Ukrainian history either, just that claiming for them to be the same as modern Ukrainians or modern Russians makes as much sense as modern Greeks claiming to be direct descendants of Alexander the Great.

> claiming for them to be the same as modern Ukrainians or modern Russians makes as much sense as modern Greeks claiming to be direct descendants of Alexander the Great.

don't say this to either of the macedonias :)

Looks like we have perfect nicknames for commenting under this post.

So how about 'le mot de cambronne' or the reply from the battle of the bulge? ("nuts")




If you can read Russian, I suggest looking in the excellent Russian Wikipedia article about the document: https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Письмо_запорожцев_турецкому_су...

TL;DR the letter most likely is an 18th century Russian translation/modification of a typical 17th century Polish anti-Turkish pamphlet which was taken as genuine by 19th century Ukrainian nationalists.

They don't claim an insulting letter never happened, just that the quoted text is not authentic.

It's on display in Helsinki at the moment. Highly recommend checking the exhibition out if you happen to be in town: https://ateneum.fi/en/exhibitions/repin/

I personally liked the portrait of the last tsar the most: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nicolas_II_of_Russia...

It got me thinking that things could have turned out very different for Russia had his personality been different.

The portrait can conveniently serve as that of George V, if the uniform is replaced.

I would have said he looks like a sadder version of Christian IX: https://www.alamy.com/christian-ix-of-denmark-1818-1906-imag...

Well, cousins ‘Nicky and Georgie’ looked more than a wee bit similar: https://i.pinimg.com/736x/f6/b1/0d/f6b10de7c150d733980a57c87...

As a Ukrainian, one of my favorite paintings :). I like to look at it before writing up any kind of letter of resignation.

Fun fact: the Russian language Wikipedia article has a bit more detail about the creation of this painting. Repin used his colleagues as models and the one who the Cossack with the bald pate is based on had to be tricked into modeling since he was self conscious about his hair.

Very fun to read how the assumption to aristocratic power in 19th century comes from ancient kingdoms, celestial objects and religious figures.

- ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Egypt;

- brother of the sun and moon;

- son of Muhammad; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; grandson and viceroy of God, trustee chosen by God Himself;

Here's another one from Suleiman the Magnificent's letter to Francis I of France who was then in conflict with Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and asking for Suleiman's help:

  I who am the Sultan of Sultans, the sovereign of sovereigns, the dispenser of crowns to the monarchs on the face of the earth, the shadow of the God on Earth, the Sultan and sovereign lord of the Mediterranean Sea and of the Black Sea, of Rumelia and of Anatolia, of Karamania, of the land of Romans, of Dhulkadria, of Diyarbakir, of Kurdistan, of Azerbaijan, of Persia, of Damascus, of Aleppo, of Cairo, of Mecca, of Medina, of Jerusalem, of all Arabia, of Yemen and of many other lands which my noble fore-fathers and my glorious ancestors (may God light up their tombs!) conquered by the force of their arms and which my August Majesty has made subject to my flamboyant sword and my victorious blade, I, Sultan Suleiman Khan, son of Sultan Selim Khan, son of Sultan Bayezid Khan...

You should see Charles V's official list of titles.

`Charles, by the grace of God, Emperor of the Romans, forever August, King of Germany, King of Italy, King of all Spains, of Castile, Aragon, León, of Hungary, of Dalmatia, of Croatia, Navarra, Grenada, Toledo, Valencia, Galicia, Majorca, Sevilla, Cordova, Murcia, Jaén, Algarves, Algeciras, Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, King of Two Sicilies, of Sardinia, Corsica, King of Jerusalem, King of the Indies, of the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Brabant, Lorraine, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Limburg, Luxembourg, Gelderland, Neopatria, Württemberg, Landgrave of Alsace, Prince of Swabia, Asturia and Catalonia, Count of Flanders, Habsburg, Tyrol, Gorizia, Barcelona, Artois, Burgundy Palatine, Hainaut, Holland, Seeland, Ferrette, Kyburg, Namur, Roussillon, Cerdagne, Drenthe, Zutphen, Margrave of the Holy Roman Empire, Burgau, Oristano and Gociano, Lord of Frisia, the Wendish March, Pordenone, Biscay, Molin, Salins, Tripoli and Mechelen.`

It sounds like a skilled programmer's CV

I who am the rockstar programmer of rockstars, the hacker of hackers, the dispenser of fixes to the bugs on the face of the Github, the sovereign lord of Realm of Npm, and Kingdom of Rust...

The demolisher of bugs, killer of memory leaks, the vice regent of UI design, the maker of apps

The interest in classical antiquity was not just a European phenomenon. And the Ottomans were very well positioned to lay claim to that past, controlling the right land and also running a multi-ethnic empire in the "Achaemenid, Hellenistic, Roman" tradition.

Time has tended to overlook the Ottoman Empire. The few times I've mentioned it, people often haven't heard much about it. And are very surprised to learn that it was a party in WW1 .. after existing for 600 years ... after they'd tossed out the Mongols that invaded Europe in the 1200s.

Out of the fire, into the frying pan.

Note that the letter is probably not authentic, and does not reflect how an actual Sultan would describe himself.

17th century, but let's not quibble.

Interesting history, but I prefer the laconic reply: "If."


With the ironic epilogue that Philip proceeded to kick their asses:


And a followup about the evidence (contra Wikipedia): https://twitter.com/garglfluz/status/1350835754335924225?s=2...

“Having come, take them.”

“Sounds good”.

I wonder if this is the same as modern Greek, where "if" can also mean "when". I.e. "When I invade, I will turn you out". "If".

A more literal translation would be "upon", which can have both meanings. "Upon arrival" can both mean "if he comes" or "when he comes".

Looks like the original said "ἂν ἐμβάλω εἰς τὴν Λακωνικήν, ἀναστάτους ὑμᾶς ποιήσω", which is the word for "if", but I don't know if the meaning of "when" was there in ancient Greek too.

Repin, Surikov and other painters of end of XIX century drew many paintings with such historic plots, and we had them as illustrations in the History of Russia schoolbook. Only when I came to the Russian Museum (paintings gallery), did I realize these were celebrated masterpieces, not just drawings for the book.

Surikov drew in his Petersburg (IIRC) apartment and stood close to the paintings, hence they're packed with characters. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasily_Surikov

In Polish language slang, 'kozak' (Polish spelling of cossack) got cemented as a word for someone brave and fearless.

Basically, someone writing that kind of letter :) or someone Chuck Norris-like.

Lol. FYI it’s the same in any slavic/Balkan language.

Not in Czech or Slovak.

[edit] Ok, apparently it used to be so, at least in Czech, but I had to look it up in a dictionary. Not present-day use.

Of course you did.

All of these languages were very similar to each other more than 100 years ago but were actively forced to diverge for political reasons during the turbulent 20th century.




Of course outliers like Romanian/Greek/Turkish/Albanian/Hungarian are different by construction. But even they shared extensive vocabulary with the rest due to the free flow of (rich) people between the countries.

The forced divergence for political reasons might be true for the Balkan languages, but not for the Central European ones. The only artificial force in Czech has been the attempt to get rid of the German influence, and judging by the huge similarities in morphology of Czech to German, it wasn’t very successful.

Also proud and a braggart. In some contexts it has a slightly negative meaning, such as someone who takes unnecessary risks just to make an impression. Playing chicken etc.

The model for the son was the author Garshin, whom are pin also painted an amazing portrait of: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437442

(If you’re interested in Garshin, I collected his translated works for Standard Ebooks: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/vsevolod-garshin/short-fic...)

I agree. Absolutely haunting.

One of my favorite paintings! The canvas seems alive, I feel like I'm there just looking at it.

It's been here once before:


Interesting tidbit, this painting was one of the required pieces of Soviet school in late USSR, I think in grade 4 or 5 in the Russian language curriculum. We were assigned this painting - and a few others over the school year - as a topic of essay, where you had to describe what was depicted and its meaning to you and your country. The minimal accepted size of essay was 3 pages, I believe.

I remember doing a very careful study of all the fine details on the jackets and various arms that cossacks had in the painting reproduction that I happened to have in some nicer book, the schoolbook picture was too tiny to really appreciate.

Another Ilya Repin picture that was assigned as that kind of essay target was Barge Haulers on the Volga (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barge_Haulers_on_the_Volga)

In the Good Soldier Sveijk, Hasek recounts (via a character) that famous, if apocryphal tale of the French commander Pierre Cambronne, who when asked to surrender, supposedly said "Merde! The guard dies, but does not yield!".

I think Victor Hugo made this up, but it's still a good story.

This is my favorite painting of all time and a print is in my study to remind me how not to respond to unreasonable deadlines imposed by management.

to visualize the characters - depiction of the Zaporozhian Cossacks from not that bad a movie "With Fire and Sword" about the rebellion https://youtu.be/4j4AYK8KGKU?t=7

One past thread:

Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19946989 - May 2019 (13 comments)

Can we get Dan Carlin to narrate this one?

"...SEE what you have to understannnnnnd...about the Zaporozian Cossackssss...is that EVEN THOUGH the Ottoman Sultan was the ruler of the largestempireintheworld, with the largestarmyintheworld...who had so many times before crushed all...that stood in its way...the Zaporozian Cossackssss...were a people of their own time...were a proud people with their own martial traditionssssss..."

With time I cringe a bit when he takes this voice, still love his work.

I call it his "Context Voice". Drives me up the wall because it slows down the story momentum he builds so well, but yeah, love his work.

For some reason I read "Zoroastrian cossacks"... And did not even question it until much later.

For a better understanding of Zaporozian Cossacks I recommend Taras Bulba from Gogol.


i’d only advice to go for the 1st edition - the second was "modifed" to fit the tsarist narratives (e.g. "russia" was added everywhere, which was obviously absent originally)

Great pic, didn't know its origin. I know it from being on the cover of one of the games in the Cossacks game series.

Those are some great insults.

Böhmermann would then repeat this 340 years later.

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