The Spirit of the Cossacks

“Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks” by Ilya Repin. The canvas is 6’8” x 11’9”, was started in 1880 and finished in 1891. It depicts the Cossacks in revelry writing a reply to Mehmed IV, trying to come up with better and better insults. Wikipedia: “Alexander III bought the painting for 35,000 rubles, at the time the greatest sum ever paid for a Russian painting. Since then, the canvas has been exhibited in the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg.”

With many groups beginning to stand up to authority around the world, I thought it worth mentioning the story of the Cossacks, a group that lived around what is now Ukraine and who are said to have written a reply to a letter from the leader of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed IV in 1676. In the letter they told Mehmed to get bent, though in much more flowery language. Maybe those standing up to power today will take heart from the example of the Cossacks, maybe even sending the same letter to their current leaders.

From Wikipedia (bold mine): “In the 19th century, the historical Zaporozhian Cossacks were sometimes the subject of picturesque tales demonstrating admiration of their primitive vitality and contemptuous disregard for authority.”

“According to the story, the Cossacks, inhabiting the lands around the lower Dnieper River in Ukraine, had defeated Ottoman Empire forces in battle. However, Mehmed demanded that the Cossacks submit to Ottoman rule. The Cossacks, led by Ivan Sirko, replied in a characteristic manner; they wrote a letter, replete with insults and profanities. The painting exhibits the Cossacks’ pleasure at striving to come up with ever more base vulgarities.”

Letter to the Cossacks:


Sultan Mehmed IV to the Zaporozhian Cossacks:
As the Sultan; son of Muhammad; brother of the sun and moon; grandson and viceroy of God; ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Egypt; emperor of emperors; sovereign of sovereigns; extraordinary knight, never defeated; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; trustee chosen by God Himself; the hope and comfort of Muslims; confounder and great defender of Christians – I command you, the Zaporogian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks.
— Turkish Sultan Mehmed IV

Reply from the Cossacks (Excerpts):
Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Turkish Sultan!

O sultan, what…kind of knight are thou, that canst not slay a hedgehog with your naked arse?…Thou shalt not, thou son of a whore, make subjects of Christian sons. We have no fear of your army; by land and by sea we will battle with thee. F*** thy mother.

Thou Babylonian scullion, Macedonian wheelwright, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-f***er of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, pig of Armenia, Podolian thief, catamite of Tartary, hangman of Kamyanets, and fool of all the world…an idiot before God…and the crick in our d***. Pig’s snout, mare’s arse, slaughterhouse cur, unchristened brow. Screw thine own mother!

So the Zaporozhians declare, you lowlife. You won’t even be herding pigs for the Christians. Now we’ll conclude, for we don’t know the date and don’t own a calendar; the moon’s in the sky, the year with the Lord. The day’s the same over here as it is over there; for this kiss our arse!
— Koshovyi otaman Ivan Sirko, with the whole Zaporozhian Host

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