Interpretations of Tyutchev’s ‘Cicero’

I’ve been meaning to post about this fabulous Russian poem, “Cicero” by Fyodor Tyutchev, for some time now, but I kept forgetting. I discovered it in a book about Alexander Kolchak that I’m reading right now.

Anyway, here is the poem. The translation is not mine – it’s from here (I modified the line spacing and corrected a spelling error).

The Roman orator spoke out
‘midst civil war and strife:
"Too long I slumbered, and Rome’s night
Has overtaken me upon my journey!"
True! But in parting with Rome’s glory
From the Capitoline heights
You watched in all its grandeur
The setting of her bloody sun! . . .

Blessed are they who sojourned here
In this world’s fateful hours-
For they were summoned by the angels
As guests to a great feast;
They witnessed spectacles majestic,
Were brought into the inner circle,
And, while there, drank immortal life
From heav’n’s own chalice!

I’ve been trying to understand this poem for about a week now. I think I understand the first part – it’s a historical allusion to the civil war and what happened to Cicero (as a former history major, I’d hate to cite Wikipedia, but I will for now since I’m not a classical history specialist and I’m too lazy and tired to find a better source!).

It’s the second part I’m not so sure of. I think Tyutchev is alluding to the idea that people who live during times of great strife – and who are drawn into such events – will be remembered (hence the line about “immortal life”*). But I am not sure if this is right or not. I feel like I don’t know enough about either Roman history or Tyutchev himself to have a valid interpretation.

What do you think? Any Russian literature experts out there want to help out?

And for reference, here’s the original Russian:

Оратор римский говорил
Средь бурь гражданских и тревоги:
"Я поздно встал – и на дороге
Настигнут ночью Рима был!"
Так! но, прощаясь с римской славой,
С капитолийской высоты
Во всем величье видел ты
Закат звезды ее кровавой!..

Счастлив, кто посетил сей мир
В его минуты роковые!
Его призвали всеблагие
Как собеседника на пир.
Он их высоких зрелищ зритель,
Ни в их совет допущен был –
И заживо, как небожитель
Из чаши их бессмертье пил!

*I would argue that бессмертье is better translated as “immortality”, but I’m not going to quibble with the translation, as it is overall quite accurate.


One thought on “Interpretations of Tyutchev’s ‘Cicero’

  1. I think your interpretation is right. But I am not a specialist in history or literature. It just makes sense: in times of strife one can witness or even influence events with great historical significance and become immortalized like the legendary heroes/villains of the past.


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