Ivan Krylov

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Portrait of Ivan Krylov by Karl Briullov

Ivan Andreyevich Krylov (Russian: Ива́н Андре́евич Крыло́в) (February 13, 1769 – November 21, 1844) is Russia's best known fabulist and probably the most epigrammatic of all Russian authors.[1] While many of his earlier fables were loosely based on Aesop's and La Fontaine's, later fables were original work, often with a satirical bent.


Ivan Krylov was born in Moscow, but spent his early years in Orenburg and Tver. His father, a distinguished military officer, died in 1779, leaving the family destitute. A few years later Krylov and his mother moved to St.Petersburg in the hope of securing a government pension. There, Krylov obtained a position in the civil service, but gave it up after his mother's death in 1788. His literary career began in 1783, when he sold a comedy he had written to a publisher. He used the proceeds to obtain the works of Molière, Racine, and Boileau. It was probably under the influence of these writers that he produced Philomela, which gave him access to the dramatic circle of Knyazhnin.

Krylov made several attempts to start a literary magazine. All met with little success, but, together with his plays, these magazine upstarts helped Krylov make a name for himself and gain recognition in literary circles. For about four years (1797-1801) Krylov lived at the country estate of Prince Sergey Galitzine, and when the prince was appointed military governor of Livonia, he accompanied him as a secretary. Little is known of the years immediately after Krylov resigned from this position, other than the commonly accepted myth that he wandered from town to town in pursuit of card games. His first collection of fables, 23 in number, appeared in 1809 with such success that thereafter he abandoned drama for fable-writing. By the end of his career he had completed over 200, constantly revising them with each new edition. From 1812 to 1841 he was employed by the Imperial Public Library, first as an assistant, and then as head of the Russian Books Department, a not very demanding position that left him plenty of time to write.

Honors were showered on Krylov even during his lifetime: the Russian Academy of Sciences admitted him as a member in 1811, and bestowed on him its gold medal in 1823; in 1838 a great festival was held under imperial sanction to celebrate the jubilee of his first publication, and the Tsar granted him a generous pension. By the time he died in 1844, 77,000 copies of his fables had been sold in Russia, and his unique brand of wisdom and humor gained popularity. His fables were often rooted in historic events, and are easily recognizable by their style of language and engaging story. Though he began as a translator and imitator of existing fables, Krylov soon showed himself an imaginative, prolific writer, who found abundant original material in his native land. In Russia his language is considered of high quality: his words and phrases are direct, simple and idiomatic, with color and cadence varying with the theme; many of them became actual idioms. His animal fables blend naturalistic characterization of the animal with an allegorical portrayal of basic human types; they span individual foibles as well as difficult interpersonal relations.

Krylov's statue in the Summer Garden (1854–55) is one of the most notable monuments in St.Petersburg. Sculpted by Peter Clodt, it has reliefs designed by Alexander Agin on all four sides of the pedestal representing scenes from the fables.[2] A much later monument was installed in the Patriarch's Ponds district of Moscow in 1976. This was the work of Andrei Drevin, Daniel Mitlyansky, and the architect A. Chaltykyan. The seated statue of the fabulist is surrounded by twelve metal relief sculptures of the fables in adjoining avenues.[3]

Krylov shares yet another monument with the poet Alexander Pushkin in the city of Pushkino's Soviet Square.[4] The two were friends and Pushkin modified Krylov's description of 'an ass of most honest principles' (The Ass and the Peasant) to provide the opening of his romantic novel in verse, Evgenii Onegin. So well known were Krylov's fables that readers were immediately alerted by its first line, 'My uncle, of most honest principles'.[5]

Other commemorations of the fabulist include the two stamps issued on the centenary of his death[6] and the stamp issued on the 200th centenary of his birth.[7] The 150th anniversary of his death was marked by the striking of a two ruble silver coin.[8] Numerous streets have also been named after him including in St Petersburg, Tver, Novosibirsk and other cities, as well as in formerly Soviet territories: Belarus, Ukraine, Crimea, Georgia and Kazakhstan.

La Fontaine[edit]

Krylov is sometimes referred to as 'the Russian La Fontaine' because, though he was not the first of the Russian fabulists, he became the foremost and is the one whose reputation has lasted. His first three fables, published in a Russian magazine in 1806, were imitations of La Fontaine; the majority of those in his 1809 collection were likewise adaptations of La Fontaine. Thereafter he was occasionally indebted to La Fontaine for themes, although his treatment of the story was independent. One might cite Krylov's pithy "Man and his shadow" with the more lengthy "The man who ran after fortune and the man who waited for her in his bed" of La Fontaine (VII.12), or the satiric "The Peasant and the Snake" with The Countryman and the Snake (VI.13).

It has been observed that in general Krylov tends to add more detail in contrast with La Fontaine's leaner versions, and that where La Fontaine is an urbane moralist Krylov is satiric.[9] The following are the fables that are based, with more or less fidelity, on those of La Fontaine:

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Krilof and his Fables, a memoir and prose translations by W.R.S.Ralston, originally published London 1869; 4th augmented edition 1883[10]
  • Kriloff's Fables, translated into the original metres by C.Fillingham Coxwell, London 1920[11]
  • The frogs who begged for a tsar and 61 other Russian fables, a verse translation by Lydia Rasran Stone, Monpelier VT 2010[12]


  1. ^ Janko Lavrin. Gogol. Haskell House Publishers, 1973. Page 6.
  2. ^ "Online details of the monument". Backtoclassics.com. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  3. ^ "Walks in Moscow: Presnya | One Life Log". Onelifelog.wordpress.com. 2011-01-29. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  4. ^ "File:Pushkin-Krylov.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia". En.wikipedia.org. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  5. ^ Levitt, Marcus (2006). "3". The Cambridge Companion to Pushkin (PDF). p. 42. 
  6. ^ http://www.stamprussia.com/944b.jpg
  7. ^ http://www.stamprussia.com/3726b.jpg
  8. ^ "Coin: 2 Roubles (225 years I.A. Krylov) (Russia) (1992~Today - Numismatic Product: Famous People) WCC:y343". Colnect.com. 2013-04-08. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  9. ^ Bougeault, Alfred (1852). Kryloff, ou Le La Fontaine russe: sa vie et ses fables. Paris. pp. 30–35. 
  10. ^ "Archived online". Archive.org. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  11. ^ "Archived online". Archive.org. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  12. ^ A limited preview with the introduction and four fables; two more fables are available here [1]