Kantemir Antiokh Dmitrievich (1708-1744)
Prince, a Russian poet-enlightener, translator, diplomat, well-known Russian satirist and founder of modern belles-lettres.
He was born on September 10 (21) in the family of the scientist and person of encyclopaedic knowledge Moldavian prince D.Kantemir, one of brother-in-arms of Peter I. He received good home education.
Kantemir's love for science had utilitarian character, as Peter I did: he valued both science, and his literary activity only so much as they might advance Russia to well-being, and Russian people to happiness. This, mainly, defines importance of Kantemir as a public figure and a writer.
Asking himself a question, even in early youth, of means of distribution in Russia of suitable for life knowledge and about eradication of ignorance and superstitions, he recognized as the most important means the founding of schools and thought that the government was responsible for it. Captivated by Peter's mighty activity, Kantemir pinned all hopes on monarchical power and counted very little on independent initiative of clergy and nobility, in whose mood he saw obvious dislike or even hatred for education.
In his strongest satirical works he assails "ill-natured noblemen" and ignorant representatives of church. When, after accession to the throne of empress Anna Ioannovna, there were propositions on granting political rights to nobility (Polish gentry) Kantemir point-blank supported preservation of the political system established by Peter the Great.
On January 1, 1732 Kantemir went abroad as Russian ambassador to London. He did not take part in internal political life of Russia any more, representing Russia at first (up to 1738) in London, and then in Paris.
Kantemir started to write very early. In 1726 he wrote 'Psalter Symphony", which was the imitation of work by Ilyinsky 'The 4thGospel'. In the same year Kantemir translates from French "Some Italian letter containing funny and critical description of Paris and the French" - a book in which the French customs, which were being taken up in Russia, were derided.
In 1729 Kantemir translates philosophical conversation: "Table of Kevik-philosopher" in which the views on life quite complying with ethical views of Kantemir himself were expressed. In the same year there also appears his first satire, which was very enthusiastically received by Feofan Prokopovich. It at once made them very close friends. All subsequent satires (9 in all) are only more detailed development of the ideas stated in the first satire.
The first place in his satires occupy people with their superstitions, ignorance and drunkenness as the main reason of all happening disasters. Do ruling classes give a good example to people? The clergy is a little different from simple people. The merchants think only of deceiving people. The nobility is completely incapable of practical business and not less than simple people is inclined to gluttony and drunkenness, at the same time thinking themselves to be better than other classes and is surprised, that authority and influence is hardly given them. Administration is generally corrupted.
Kantemir castigates not only representatives of the lowest administration. The satirist addresses the words of bitter truth also to state authorities. He, with great courage and extraordinary for his time expressiveness of verse, proclaims, that "pure should be those, who there, not turning pale, ascend, where all people look at them". He thinks that he himself and others may freely proclaim such ideas being "citizens" (he was the first to introduce this great word into our literature) and deeply understands a "civic' duty. Kantemir should be recognized as the ancestor of Russian accusatory literature.
1729 and 1730 were the years of the greatest bloom of talent and literary activity of Kantemir. He had not only written the most brilliants satires (the first 3 ones) during this period, but also had translated a book by Fontenel "Conversations on multitude of worlds" supplying it with detailed comments. Translation of this book was a real literary sensation because its conclusions absolutely contradicted superstitious cosmography of Russian society. Under Elisabeth Petrovna the book was prohibited as "contrary to belief and morals". Besides Kantemir made a literary exposition of psalms, began to write fables.
He was the first to resort to "Aesopian language" speaking about himself in epigram "On Aesop". After moving abroad Kantemir, except for the first three years, continued to enrich the Russian literature with his own and translated works.
He wrote lyrical songs in which he gave expression to his religious feeling or praised science, acquainted Russian readers with classical works of antiquity (works by Anakreon, K.Nepot, Horatio, Epiktet and others), continued to write satires in which he showed the ideal of happy person or specified sensible pedagogical methods (satires, VIII), predetermining, to certain extent, the task subsequently accomplished by Betsky; showed the ideal of a good manager anxious to be just, to make "the truth blossom for the benefit of people" and that "passions don't swing the balance' of justice, 'tears of poor people do not drop on the ground" and seeing "his own benefit in the benefit of people" (in the letter to prince N.Y. Trubetskoy). He translated modern writers (for example "Persian letters" by Montesque), made an algebra manual and discourse on prosody. Unfortunately, many of these works had not been preserved.
In the letter about 'composing of Russian verses' he speaks against dominating Polish syllabic verse and makes an attempt to replace it with the tonic one, which is more natural for Russian. At last, he writes also a religious-philosophical discourse under the title: 'Letters on nature and person' which is filled with deep religious feeling of the person standing at height of erudition.
The painful death very early interrupted this tireless activity. Kantemir died on March 31, 1744, in Paris, and was buried at Moscow Nikolsky Greek monastery.