Three Deaths (drama)

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Three Deaths
Author Apollon Maykov
Original titleТри смерти
Country Russian Empire
Language Russian
Subject Philosophy of death in the Ancient Rome
Genre lyrical drama
Publication date

Three Deaths (Russian : Три смерти, translit.  Tri smerti) is a lyric drama by Apollon Maykov. Its original version, called "The Choice of Death", finished in 1851, had problems with censorship and was first published, severely cut, under the title Three Deaths in 1857, in the October (No.10) issue of Biblioteka Dlya Chtenyia . The final version of it appeared in the Complete A.N. Maykov (1893). [1]

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although, nowadays, nearly three decades after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia, the rise of state-specific varieties of this language tends to be strongly denied in Russia, in line with the Russian World ideology.

Romanization of Russian Romanization of the Russian alphabet

Romanization of Russian is the process of transliterating the Russian language from the Cyrillic script into the Latin script.

Drama artwork intended for performance, formal type of literature

Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance: a play, opera, mime, ballet, etc, performed in a theatre, or on radio or television. Considered as a genre of poetry in general, the dramatic mode has been contrasted with the epic and the lyrical modes ever since Aristotle's Poetics —the earliest work of dramatic theory.



Three Deaths belongs to the series of Maykov's poems dealing with the history of early Christianity and its conflict with the ancient cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome. The idea, originated in the late 1830s, was first implemented in the 1841 poem "Olynthus and Esther", subtitled: "The Scenes of Rome of the 5th century AD". In the preface to Three Deaths Maykov explained that he wanted to "show the antagonism of the two ideas" that clashed in the late Roman Empire and "just couldn't co-exist peacefully... Sensuality and spirituality, the outer and the inner life emerged as enemies, in direct opposition to each other and were doomed to fight a deadly battle." [1] Vissarion Belinsky disliked the poem but suggested some constructive criticism. [2]

Christianity is a religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and savior of all people, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament. Depending on the specific denomination of Christianity, practices may include baptism, Eucharist [Holy Communion], prayer, confession, confirmation, burial rites, marriage rites and the religious education of children. Most denominations have ordained clergy and hold regular group worship services.

Ancient Greece Civilization belonging to an early period of Greek history

Ancient Greece was a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Roughly three centuries after the Late Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, Greek urban poleis began to form in the 8th century BC, ushering in the Archaic period and colonization of the Mediterranean Basin. This was followed by the period of Classical Greece, an era that began with the Greco-Persian Wars, lasting from the 5th to 4th centuries BC. Due to the conquests by Alexander the Great of Macedon, Hellenistic civilization flourished from Central Asia to the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. The Hellenistic period came to an end with the conquests and annexations of the eastern Mediterranean world by the Roman Republic, which established the Roman province of Macedonia in Roman Greece, and later the province of Achaea during the Roman Empire.

Ancient Rome History of Rome from the 8th-century BC to the 5th-century

In historiography, ancient Rome is Roman civilization from the founding of the city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, encompassing the Roman Kingdom, Roman Republic and Roman Empire until the fall of the western empire. The civilization began as an Italic settlement in the Italian peninsula, dating from the 8th century BC, that grew into the city of Rome and which subsequently gave its name to the empire over which it ruled and to the widespread civilisation the empire developed. The Roman empire expanded to become one of the largest empires in the ancient world, though still ruled from the city, with an estimated 50 to 90 million inhabitants and covering 5.0 million square kilometres at its height in AD 117.

Before setting out to work upon the poem, Maykov had done a lot of research. "It took a long time for me to write The Three Deaths, the play came out of studying the philosophical ideas [of the time]. In fact, I started upon it several times, trying to improve one character or the other, depending which school of thought I was under the influence of, the Epicureanism or the Stoicism," he wrote in his 1850 autobiographical notes. [3]

Epicureanism philosophical movement developed by Epicurus

Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, founded around 307 BC. Epicurus was an atomic materialist, following in the steps of Democritus. His materialism led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention. Following Aristippus—about whom very little is known—Epicurus believed that what he called "pleasure" (ἡδονή) was the greatest good, but that the way to attain such pleasure was to live modestly, to gain knowledge of the workings of the world, and to limit one's desires. This would lead one to attain a state of tranquility (ataraxia) and freedom from fear as well as an absence of bodily pain (aponia). The combination of these two states constitutes happiness in its highest form. Although Epicureanism is a form of hedonism insofar as it declares pleasure to be its sole intrinsic goal, the concept that the absence of pain and fear constitutes the greatest pleasure, and its advocacy of a simple life, make it very different from "hedonism" as colloquially understood.

Stoicism School of Hellenistic Greek philosophy

Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. While Stoic physics are largely drawn from the teachings of the philosopher Heraclitus, they are heavily influenced by certain teachings of Socrates. Stoicism is predominantly a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain, by using one's mind to understand the world and to do one's part in nature's plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.


In the preface for the original version Maykov wrote: "The play centers upon the three different views upon the meaning of life, belonging to the people of the [doomed] ancient world... My objective was to represent the general character of this particular epoch, and create human characters... I might have been negligent in terms of factual correctness, but those looking for strict history should apply for Tacitus, not my play, for the latter is but a poetic representation of the spirit of the epoch." [1]

Tacitus Roman senator and historian

PubliusCornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors. These two works span the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus, in 14 AD, to the years of the First Jewish–Roman War, in 70 AD. There are substantial lacunae in the surviving texts, including a gap in the Annals that is four books long.

The drama was finished in 1851. Its first version, titled "Choice of Death", was much more radical than the final one, which was published in 1893. At the time it could be neither published nor produced by the Imperial Theatres, and circulated in hand-written versions, praised by many as a strong artistic statement for individual freedoms in general and freedom of speech in particular. [1]

Imperial Theatres of Russian Empire was a theatrical organization financed by the Imperial exchequer and managed by a single directorate headed with a courtier director; was pertain to the Ministry of the Imperial Court from 1742.

In December 1854 an amateur production of the play was presented in the house of the architect A.Stackensheider, featuring Maykov as Seneca, Vladimir Benediktov as Lucan and the art teacher N.O. Osipov as Lucius. [4] The play, under the title Three Deaths, was first published in the October 1857 issue of Biblioteka Dlya Chtenya. [1]

Architect person trained to plan and design buildings, and oversee their construction

An architect is a person who plans, designs and reviews the construction of buildings. To practice architecture means to provide services in connection with the design of buildings and the space within the site surrounding the buildings that have human occupancy or use as their principal purpose. Etymologically, architect derives from the Latin architectus, which derives from the Greek, i.e., chief builder.

Seneca the Younger Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, and dramatist

Seneca the Younger(c. 4 BC – AD 65), fully Lucius Annaeus Seneca and also known simply as Seneca, was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and—in one work—satirist of the Silver Age of Latin literature.

Vladimir Benediktov Russian poet and translator

Vladimir Grigoryevich Benediktov (Russian: Влади́мир Григо́рьевич Бенеди́ктов, was a Russian romantic poet and translator, of Goethe, Schiller, Barbier, Gautier and Mickiewicz, among others.


"Maykov has written a superb poem called Choice of Death which is something unheard of in the modern history of our poetry," wrote Pyotr Pletnyov to Yakov Grot on September 29, 1851. In an October 31 letter he continued: "Maykov recited both of his new poems at my place, one being Choice of Death, another "Savonarola"... Alas, the publication of [the former] now is out of the question: our censorship behaves like a boa constrictor rushing instinctively to strangle all things still breathing." [5] "There is no hope of seeing the new Maykov's poems in print, even if there is nothing in them but the fine poetical truth," Pletnyov wrote to Mikhail Pogodin on November 19. "It is nice to think and hard to believe that our times can still produce such works as A Family Affair and Choice of Death", wrote Grigory Danilevsky to Pogodin on December 26, 1851. [6]

"With immense pleasure did I read... the greatest poetic work of our times, and I am now awaiting for the Complete Works of our not only the best, but the only 'objective' poet," wrote the publicist Pyotr Lavrov in the November 27, 1857, letter to Maykov after Three Deaths had finally appeared in the October 1857 issue of Biblioteka Dlya Chtenya. [7]

"In Three Deaths we see the peak of the whole Maykov's career," wrote in 1859 liberal critic Alexander Druzhinin. [8] Dmitry Pisarev called Three Deaths one of Maykov's best poems. [9] It was praised by Maxim Gorky who recommended it for the inclusion into the Anthology of the Russian Poetry published by the Grzhebin Publishing house. [1]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Three Deaths (Tri smerti)". Commentaries. Works of A.N.Maykov in 2 volumes. Prada Publishers. Moscow. 1984. Retrieved 2012-12-01.
  2. The Complete V.G.Belinsky in 13 volumes. Moscow, 1953-1959, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, vol. IV, p.223
  3. The Literary Yearly, 1975, p. 80
  4. E.A. Stackensneider. Diary and Notes. Moscow, Leningrad, 1934, p.44
  5. The correspondence between P.A. Pletnyov and Y.A. Grot. Vol. 3, 1896, p.559
  6. The Life and Works of M.P. Pogodin, book IX, saint Petersburg, 1897, p. 414
  7. The Literary Archive. Vol. 2, Moscow, Leningrad, 1840, p. 285
  8. The Works of A.V. Druzhinin in 8 volumes. Saint Petersburg, 1865-1867, Vol.VII, p.513.
  9. The Works of D.I.Pisarev in 4 volumes. Moscow, Leningrad, 1955-1956, vol. 1, p.196.