The image of the "Terrible Tsar" struck the imagination of his contemporaries with such force that it continued to tower in Russian consciousness until quite recent times. In chronicles and tales, folk songs and stories, and in historiography from Karamzin on, Ivan IV remained alive, more vivid even than Peter the Great. And the impact was not restricted to Russians; beginning with the Dutch, English, Italians, Danes, and Germans—adventurers, diplomats, merchants, prisoners, mercenaries—who visited the Russia of Ivan IV, the Tsar left an impression in West European minds such that today men who know nothing about Russia or its history will know the name of Ivan the Terrible.
The essence of the image seems to be conveyed by the epithet earned by Ivan. Certainly in modern Western Europe der Schreckliche, "the Terrible," "the Dread," le Terrible, or il Terribile evokes endless executions, tortures, arbitrary and overwhelming terror, a historical landscape bathed in blood and ruled by a monstrous tyrant. And, in the final analysis, for Russian historians, too, Groznyi meant the same things. Debate and discussion about the significance and direction of Ivan's policies, and of his reign in general, are still going on, more vigorously than ever before, but from Karamzin in 1818 to Veselovskii and Zimin today the historians have tended to stumble over this epithet and then hold on to it; whatever one fails to explain about Ivan or any of his actions, there is always that personal epithet to fall back on, the epithet which symbolizes sadism, or pathological fear, or sheer madness—but in any event, the irrational, beyond or outside cultural or social patterns.
It would be foolish to argue that the personality of Ivan IV is irrelevant for an understanding of his reign—that is, his actions and policies. Recently, in fact, we have come into possession of very concrete evidence which may explain the monstrous aspects of Ivan's personality; the results of the study of Ivan's skeleton, removed from the tomb in the Arkhangel'skii Cathedral some three years ago, show that he must have suffered horribly for many years from osteophytes, which virtually fused his spine. But the personality of Ivan does not explain sufficiently the image of the "Terrible Tsar," for at least two reasons. First, the epithet Groznyi, the Terrible, did not have the meaning which is assigned to it now. And, second, Ivan the Terrible seems to have lived in an age of "terrible" rulers—Richard III and Henry VIII in England, Louis XI in France, Philip II in Spain, Sigismondo Malatesta in Rimini, Cesare Borgia and his father Pope Alexander VI, Christian II of Denmark; all of them were monstrous and terribile, and all of them, virtually at the same time, seem too much of a coincidence.
The philological problem is simple. While groznyi, grozno, groza were used to indicate "horror," the chief meaning of groznyi, particularly in the context of rulership, was "awful," that is, awe-inspiring. To rule one's principality with "awe," grozno, meant to-inspire awe, and to implant fear in malefactors, as early as the fourteenth century. In other words, groznyi originally had the same meaning as did "awful," in fact, terribile, the epithet of Pope Julius II, il Papa Terribile—not the bad pope, but the awe-inspiring one. Certainly this is the meaning of groznyi when it was occasionally applied to Ivan III, the grandfather of Ivan IV. To go further back, groznyi might be applied to the great images of Christ in Majesty, Christ Pantocrator, stern and even angry, awe-inspiring so as to force the onlooker down to his knees; for example, the fourteenth century icon of Spas Iaroe Oko, the Saviour of the Angry Eye, now in the Tret'iakov Gallery in Moscow. Hence our focus can shift from the particular personality of Ivan IV to the image of the "terrible tsar" as ruler, from an interpretation of the epithet as a personal one of Ivan IV to a brief description of a society in which groznyi meant a certain style or function of rulership rather than merely a pejorative.
It would not be difficult to list all the aspects in which sixteenth-century Russia differed from both northern and southern Europe. The similarities, however, have been largely overlooked, and, for our purposes at least, they are more interesting. Let us start with a catalogue of superficial impressions. In the eyes of European travelers Moscow was a great city, much larger than London, though built of wood and paved with logs. The Kremlin—its walls, its great cathedrals, the imperial palace— was mostly built by Italian architects at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century. Italian artists and interpreters and German craftsmen and doctors lived in the Moscow of Ivan IV in considerable numbers without attracting much attention; certainly there is no evidence of the kind of violent reaction that the presence of foreigner evoked in the time of Peter the Great, a century and a half later. The testimony of Western travelers concerning Russian clothes, customs, and manners reveals surprisingly little awareness of any great differences from those of the West. Of course, the Russians were called barbarians and characterized as a nation of alcoholics, but we should remember that this was the great age of national name-calling in which "drunkard" was a mild epithet. Some of the Westerners described Russian men's clothes (referring to those of the nobility only, of course) as Oriental —Turkish—in style. Others, correctly, identified them as Hungarian or Polish. The clothes worn by women in Russia were so much like Western dress as to evoke no comment. The court of the Tsar impressed the visitors with its enormous luxury and display, and none of them found Ivan IV himself or his court in any way exotic or strange. They felt honored to be allowed to kiss his hand, and the only criticism made by a number of observers is that Ivan had truly terrible table manners.
All this amounts to at least a probability that the Moscow of Ivan the Terrible had many similarities with Western cities; in architecture, style of dress, and court etiquette it presented aspects which were familiar to the numerous travelers from the north of Europe. These features are rather superficial, of course; let us look a little deeper. Daniil, Metropolitan of All Russia, wrote many sermons during the 1520s and 1530s castigating Russian aristocratic mores. From these sermons it is possible to put together a summary portrait of a Muscovite dandy. Formerly he shaved his head, but now he wore his hair long, had it curled, and sometimes went so far as to wear a wig. Grand Prince Vasilii III, father of Ivan the Terrible, had shaved his beard, but the true dandy plucked out each hair so that his face would be really smooth—then he could apply the pomades, the powders, the eye shadow, and the lipstick which so outraged the Metropolitan. The dandy kept his body supple by endless grooming, perfumes, oils, and massages. His collar was so high and stiff with precious stones that he could hardly turn his head. He wore so many rings that his fingers would not bend. His boots were so light and high that he had to practice walking in them, and on them he wore a king's ransom in jewels. Worst of all, all this finery and beauty were designed to seduce not so much women as other men; time and again Daniil thundered against the homosexuality of the young and old members of the Russian aristocracy. Instead of the "traditional" Russian boyar, hairy and heavy, crude and stiff, we see a mignon of Henri III at the height of the French Renaissance.
This too, "the dandy," is comparatively superficial. But it does suggest a mood, which we may call the "Russian Renaissance," and which does not seem too dissimilar to that of the Renaissance in northern Europe. And the list of comparisons can be extended much further—witchcraft, alchemy, astrology, heresies, exotic Oriental medicine, all appeared in Moscow as they had appeared, somewhat earlier, in England, France, the Low Countries, and Germany. The mood that these aspects of the northern Renaissance at least—reveal is one of insecurity, of a breakdown of old forms and relations and a search for new values in an unstable and apocalyptic world fu;l of mysterious forces and dangers; and we may posit such a mood in the Russia of Ivan the Terrible as well. The reasons for this mood in late fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Russia are, fortunately, far beyond our concern. But, now, focusing on the image of Ivan the Terrible, we should keep in mind a certain Renaissance flavor of the society which, in effect, created and fed this image.
To start, let us compare it with another figure of rulership, that of the traditional medieval Russian prince. The Life of Grand Prince Dmitrii Donskoi, victor over the Tatars in the great battle on the Don in 1380, may serve as our model. Written in the early fifteenth century, it provides a succinct definition of the Christian ruler: as ruler, Dmitrii was an emperor, a tsar, ever victorious, just, and all-powerful; as man, he lived like a monk, ever praying, ever conscious of his human insignificance. The prince is pictured within the framework of Christian political theory, best known to the Russians in the formulations of the Byzantine writer Agapetos—"In his power, the ruler is like God . . . as man, he is but dust." All that Grand Prince Dmitrii tried to do, according to the Life, was to live up to this Christian principle expressed in the dichotomy tsar-monk; as ruler he was godlike, and as a man he was the humblest of the humble, a monk, so humble, in fact, as to be angelic and to be sanctified for his pains.
The image of the medieval ruler was a consequence of his functions, and these, ideally, were quite simple—to render justice and defend the faith. His justice depended upon his closeness to God, and his defense of the faith upon his piety. Hence the formal epithets: crowned by God, beloved of God, chosen by God, most pious, most orthodox, God-loving grand prince, and so on. And these formal epithets still attached to Ivan the Terrible, reminding us that he remained a Christian ruler, just as the Renaissance princes of Europe were Christian rulers. Yet the image of the Terrible Tsar resembles little the image of the saintly Christian prince.
What were some of its components? Again starting with the superficial, we find general agreement of Russians and foreigners alike on Ivan's extraordinary erudition and intelligence—so much so that most historians take it for granted that Tsar Ivan was the best educated Russian of his day. The point is—whether Ivan was truly erudite or not—that learning, education, and wisdom were new virtues for the Russian ruler. Wisdom was an old virtue, but in the sense of spirituality, rather than of intelligence and knowledge. And if the Kievan or Muscovite grand princes were well educated, we learn nothing about it from the zhitiia and the chronicles. These virtues of education and wisdom which we associate with the Renaissance were expressed, for Petrarch, Poggio, or Pico della Mirandola, by rhetoric--a conscious style in speech or writing which revealed a man's style of thought and his control of meaningful erudition. Hence it is interesting that Tsar Ivan was the first Russian ruler who tried to be a writer. The main monument to his rhetorical skill is his correspondence, particularly his first epistle to Prince Andrei Kurbskii, formerly Ivan's trusted general and councilor who betrayed the Tsar and fled to take service with Ivan's great enemy, the king of Poland and Lithuania. From his refuge Kurbskii wrote to Ivan, and the Tsar answered him, pouring out a flood of invective, of rhetorical devices, of historical disquisitions, of, virtually all literary forms except poetry. The quality of Ivan's rhetoric is not at issue here; suffice it to say that the Tsar was consciously trying to be rhetorical and literary in style, though rather defensive about it: "You will say that no matter how much I turn it about and around, I am saying the same thing over again." And Kurbskii, although upholding the old order and the idea of the pious and Christlike ruler, knew how to hurt Ivan most; he was most sarcastic and most effective when denigrating Ivan's skill as a writer, accusing him of writing chaotically, mixing metaphors, being verbose and repetitive, giving irrelevant examples—lacking control, in other words, over both the form and the substance of his intellectual expression.
The rhetoric, nevertheless, was only a means, no matter how important,. to convey ideas. For our immediate problem, the meaning of the "terrible tsar," let us start with the most obvious source, Tsar Ivan himself. For Ivan himself characterized the "terrible" ruler. The general mood is somewhat defensive; Ivan was answering Kurbskii's accusations against his reign of terror and trying to justify his position.
In the body of his argument, by endless repetition, Ivan made three main points. First, the necessity and legitimacy of autocracy. The Russian tsar was samoderzhets, autocrat, and this was the proper and natural form of rulership for the whole universe, and particularly for Russia, which had always been ruled by autocrats—Ivan's ancestors. Kurbskii blasphemed when he argued in effect that slaves should rule their masters, and Ivan would be betraying his sacred trust if he were to accept Kurbskii's advice and obey his councilors—act like a slave instead of a tsar. By betraying his natural sovereign Kurbskii had lost his immortal soul, and Ivan would endanger his own soul if he did not carry out his divine function. But not only was autocracy legitimate and sanctified; it was absolutely necessary. The absence of an autocrat meant the weakness of the state, of Russia, or Rome, or Constantinople, and this in turn meant its devastation by enemies and its ultimate ruin. Only under an autocrat could the state prosper, and Ivan measured prosperity by military power, used defensively, to guard Russia, or offensively, to conquer Kazan, Astrakhan, or the old Russian lands under Polish Lithuanian sway.
Autocracy was necessary for the defense and aggrandizement of the realm (and these purposes are traditional enough in medieval thought), but it also had an internal function, that of rendering justice. And while this, too, was the traditional medieval duty of the ruler, Ivan's conception of justice (his second point) was significantly different, in emphasis if not principle. "See you, even the apostle orders [us] to save through fear. Even under the most pious tsars one can find many cases of the most severe and cruel punishment. Do you really think, in your madness, that the tsar must always act in the same manner, irrespective of the times and the circumstances?... Then all the realms will fall apart because of disorder and internal strife.... Remember the greatest of tsars, Constantine, how he, for the sake of the empire, killed his own son! And Prince Fedor Rostislavich, your own ancestor, how much blood he shed in Smolensk, during Easter time [at that]l And yet they have been canonized. And what about David, the elect of God? When he was re fused entrance to Jerusalem, he ordered the slaying of the inhabitants, of the halt and the blind." Over and over again Ivan hammered at this aspect of the autocrat. "At all times tsars must be cautious and reasonable: sometimes gentle and sometimes cruel, merciful to the good and cruel toward the evil ones. And if this is not the case, then he [the tsar] is not tsar." The tsar ruled through terror reasonably, that is, deliberately, and through terror saved men, both their souls and their bodies. He had to do so even if he was averse to acting in this way. Sometimes, Ivan asserted, he did not wish to punish, but had to carry on with his duties for other wise the state would fall and ruin overtake Russia. To repeat, the principle of strict and even severe justice, expressed in medieval political theory by the doctrine of the two swords, one - spiritual, the other secular, was nothing new. What was new was the emphasis- on the power of fear, the conscious and deliberate use of terror as an instrument of policy and of justice itself. One could argue that even this conception derived from the medieval tradition, for God and even Christ should appear terrible to the wrongdoer. - Hence, the third point that Tsar Ivan made appears the more curious: the autocratic tsar, ruling with godlike terror, underpinned this terror with a frail and purely human nature. Ivan started out in a perfectly canonical way: "If I did commit some small sin in spiritual and ecclesiastical matters, it was because of your treason; besides, even I am a man, and there is no man who is without sin, only God is sinless." Time and again he pointed out that he was human, only a man; but then he went on to accuse Kurbskii of demanding from the Tsar, "who is a man, more than human nature permits." Finally, Ivan even accused Kurbskii of heresy: "I do not consider myself immortal . . . Even though I wear the crown, I know that, by nature, I am as frail as all men. And that you in your rationalizations wish that I be above the laws of nature— this is heresy."
Ivan's answers were ambiguous. He did things which he did not wish to do but which he could not help doing, both out of his imperial duty and the demands of his human nature. The causes were contradictory: to be cruel as tsar was to be good, to rule well; to be cruel as man was to be sinful, though naturally so. But both imperial duty and human nature contributed, together, to good rule by punishing the subjects, who were also sinful. The Agapetan dichotomy of the ruler as god and man was reinterpreted by Ivan into a dramatic tension in which the worst in the man contributed to the best in rulership. Ivan felt this drama personally and most sharply, but it is reflected, in subdued form, by his contemporaries. Jacob von Ulfeld, the Danish envoy to Ivan. in 1575 wrote about the unjust rumors concerning the Tsar that he was so strict and cruel to his subjects and had enslaved them so much that they obeyed; the rumors were unjust, however, in that they implied the wrong motives for Ivan's cruelty. He was cruel be-, cause "otherwise they [his subjects] are obstinate, disobedient and lean to all vices." Jacob Reitenfels described Ivan as a tyrant and a monster of cruelty, but one who read the petitions of his subjects, heard out the complaints of people of the lowest class in person, persecuted corrupt officials, and was a patron to foreigners, carriers of civilization. Daniel Printz wrote that, even as a youth, Ivan had planned great deeds, wishing to conquer the whole of the East and then to turn and conquer the North and the West. He admitted that Ivan was a tyrant, but this was because of the Tsar's "passion for ruling." His cruelty was a personal trait, caused by his nature and by the malitia, the badness, of his subjects.
The English visitors were even more enthusiastic about the Terrible Tsar. Jenkinson wrote that "this Emperor useth great familiaritie, as wel unto all his nobles and subjects, as also unto strangers which serve him. .. And by this meanes he is not onely beloved of his nobles and commons, but also had in great dread and feare through all his dominions, so that i thinke no prince in Christendome is more feared of his owne then he is, nor yet better beloved.... Hee delighteth not greatly in hawking, hunting, or any other pastime . . . but . . . in two things: First, to serve God. . . and the second, howe to subdue and conquere his enemies." A similar image of Ivan as the great and ambitious conqueror was drawn by Sir James Horsey, though Horsey wrote his memoirs after the death of Ivan, so that he could end with the thought that "unrestrained ambition and human wisdom are, apparently, madness before the allmighty power and will of the AllMighty." The portrait of the Terrible Tsar drawn by these Western accounts had some very pronounced features— he is terrible, cruel, and stern, because of his nature, his overweening ambition, and the wickedness, the malitia, of his subjects. But, monster and tyrant that he is, he is both feared and greatly loved because he renders justice to all, inspires awe in all, and guards and increases his state.
Because these accounts are Western (or, more precisely, Northwestern) European, one might argue, of course, that they are irrelevant to the problem of the "Russian Renaissance." Though they reveal the picture of a sixteenth-century Renaissance ruler, the portrait is a Western one. So much the more striking, then, is the fact that when we compare these western observations with Russian portrayals of the Terrible Tsar (particularly in the histories written during the Time of Troubles), we find so little difference. The Russians are not as articulate, and the terror is closer to home for them, but their acceptance of the just tyrant was the same as Horsey's or Reitenfels'.
Both the Russian and the foreign accounts, however, were descriptions of Ivan IV: that is, they were, in a sense, rationalizations after the fact, attempts to explain something that was actual or had actually taken place, and they were depictions of a particular individual, Tsar Ivan Vasil'evich. This does not make them less revealing, for what matters is how they saw any particular individual and what values they applied in judging Tsar Ivan. But was the "terrible tsar" only Ivan IV, or was this the accepted image of the ruler at the time?
One answer to this question is provided by two sources: one, the essays of Ivan Peresvetov, a member of the service-gentry class, which he presented to Ivan in 1549, when the Tsar was nineteen years old; the other, the so-called Valaamskaia Beseda (Valaam Discussion), written in 1551, during the meetings of the Stoglav Church Council, when Ivan was twenty-one years old. In other words, both of these works were programmatic, describing not what the very young Tsar Ivan was doing, but what he should do in order to be a true and great tsar (and, of course, please the writers).
Peresvetov represented that service gentry which was a correlate of the new centralized monarchy, and the fulcrum of his political theory was his anti-aristocratism; the aristocracy—autonomous, unruly, corrupt, and selfish—was responsible for the decline and ruin of great states; hence, the great monarch was one who abolished all aristocratic privileges and pretensions. In Peresvetov's thought there is a certain historicistic fundamentalism similar to Ivan's: the framework is Christian but historical. Hence the primacy of the Bible, of Christian history (with the obvious emphasis on the Old Testament), and the lack of any references to theological authority.
The chief function of the ruler was pravda, justice, according to Peresvetov. Justice, however, meant more than judging quickly, impartially, and sternly all those who come to seek it. It was not just legal but also social; it meant protecting the poor against the rich and powerful, it meant the extermination of corruption, it meant rewarding the worthy, those who served the state well. And Peresvetov placed it completely outside the traditional medieval Christian context: His example was the Islamic sultan, Mohammed the Conqueror in the "Tale of Mohammed," who was made to say, "God loves justice above all things"; Peresvetov went even further when he made a Christian prince, Peter of Wallachia, exclaim, "God does not love the faith [of the prince] —[He] loves justice."
Justice, then, was no longer necessarily a function of piety or Orthodoxy or even Christianity. Indeed, its worst enemy was krotost', mildness, kindness. Kindness was what led to the ruin of the state, for it meant that the guilty were not punished, the powerful were not restrained, the corrupt were forgiven. Over and over again Peresvetov associated pravda with groza, that is, justice with terror, or awe. He flattered the young tsar: "Men wrote of you . . . you are a wise and terrible sovereign," and "Doctors and philosophers write of the pious great Russian Tsar and Grand Prince Ivan Vasil'evich, that there is such great wisdom and justice and terror for the unjust . . . in his tsardom." The Sultan, Mohammed, after exalting justice as most beloved of God, was made to continue: "It is not possible for a tsar to rule his realm without terror thus Tsar Constantine [Emperor Constantine XI, last emperor of Constantinople] gave free reign to his grandees and rejoiced their hearts . . . while the whole land and the realm wept and bathed in misfortunes. And for this the Lord God grew angry against Tsar Constantine . . . with His sacred and holy anger."
It is apparent that Peresvetov, in writing about the poor and abused people, was not thinking of the masses of poor peasants or townspeople. The oppressed, for him, were identical with the worthy ones; they were the soldiers, the warriors, whose numbers and skill measured the strength of the whole state. Peresvetov was obsessed both with what he called military science and with the morale of the warriors. The main accusation against the aristocracy was that, through license and evil flattery of the ruler, it tamed, made gentle, the army. "And how shall an earthly tsar manage without the army? The tsar is great an(l glorious through his warriors.... The tsar's munificence toward his soldiers is the measure of his wisdom." The function of the army was ~o protect the state both externally and internally, for "when the land is enslaved, in that land all evils are done, murder and robbery and injury." But the army did not play only a defensive role. In the Life of Dmitrii Donskoi, as a great general he was compared with Joshua or King David. Peresvetov suggested to Tsar Ivan a different ideal: the glory of living up to the image of Augustus and Alexander the Great, men whose "fame is immortal" (slava veliia voveki).
This whole complex of ideas is enormously suggestive, but, for the moment, let us deal with one aspect of them. It would be unfair to describe Peresvetov as an advocate of modern imperialism. But his ideas did reflect what we may call the imperial conception, the idea of glory through conquests, so widely spread in Renaissance Western Europe and expressed in Western account of Ivan. In Russia itself Peresvetov was not the only one to hint at it. The traditional slogan of the Muscovite grand princes in their foreign policy was the "gathering of the Russian lands," their reconquest from the Lithuanians, the Poles, the Livonian knights. Ivan's conquests of great Tatar territories in the east required a different justification; and, in the History of Kazan, celebrating the young tsar's conquest of that khanate, one finds the new, imperial conception of conquest as a fulfillment of glory and power, owed to the Russian tsar against a traditional enemy, just as for Shakespeare, Henry V's conquest of France was the legitimate fruit of English imperial prowess and glory.
How was the ruler, the tsar, to build up and maintain his army, how was he to attain all this glory, and how was he to render terrible justice? For Peresvetov the answer was clear—through wisdom. The nineteen year-old Ivan's wisdom was certified by "Greek philosophers and Latin doctors." And Peresvetov-revealed the nature of this kind of wisdom by offering to the pious and Orthodox Russian tsar the ideal image of the ruler—Sultan Mohammed, an infidel. In other words, wisdom was purely secular, autonomous of faith and piety, so that Greeks, untrustworthy in Russian eyes, and Latins, schismatic in Russian eyes, could certify it because they were scholars, and an Islamic infidel ruler could exemplify it. Wisdom was an inborn quality, but it could be increased: "The Turkish tsar, Mohammed Sultan, was himself a wise philosopher because of his Turkish books, but then he read the Greek books [of the philosophers], translating them into Turkish word for word, and thus Tsar Mohammed's great wisdom was increased twofold." Wisdom was the ability of the ruler to understand the true nature and needs of his realm. Thus Mohammed was able to reject bad advice, while Constantine XI, who died on the walls of Constantinople, read the books written by his perfidious grandees and hence, ruling without terror and neglecting the army, ruined the state. The path to wisdom was philosophy, learning, even for the Christian Emperor Constantine. For Peresvetov, then, the confrontation was not between the Christian saintly ruler and the infidel philosopher-sultan, but between a good philosopher and a bad one on the throne. The truly wise ruler was successful in his chief task, the preservation and prosperity of his realm; the unwise ruler was defeated. Hence the novel nature of Peresvetov's explanation for the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire in May 1453, when Constantinople was taken by the Turks. In the fifteenth century, Russian reaction to this cataclysmic event was extraordinarily subdued precisely because the reasons were so very clear: according to the chronicles, the Greeks had betrayed the Orthodox faith by the Church Union of Florence when they accepted Latin heresies, and some years later came the divine punishment for their sins. For Peresvetov, Constantinople fell not because of sin but because of bad policy—disorganization of the state, dissatisfaction and poverty in the army. If sin this was, it was against the realm, not against God, and Peresvetov pleaded with Ivan not to commit this new and dreadful sin.
Peresvetov's ideas were so novel and vivid that they can compete with the passionate rhetoric of Tsar Ivan himself. Possibly Peresvetov picked up many of them during his lengthy travels in Eastern Europe, though what matters to us is that they were heard, understood, and shared by others in Russia
The Valaamskaia Beseda is far more modest. First, its main purpose was to attack the principle of ecclesiastical property. This purpose in itself belongs to the complex of Renaissance-Reformation ideas, but it also determined the emphasis on state-church relations rather than on the nature of rulership. And second, written by clerics, it is more traditional in its conceptions. Thus, though the tsar must be just, his justice must be tempered with mercy: "A merciful man is the tsar, showing mercy to the world, in this way being like the merciful God." The mercy of God was not the only quality of divine justice, of course, and the Russian tsar was given his autocratic power, for which he was answerable, by the "just and terrible heavenly tsar, Christ our God," but this kind of terribilita is the traditional medieval one of Christ Pantocrator. In the Valaamskaia Beseda the merciful tsar turned terrible in another context. As for Peresvetov the tsar had to be terrible in order to give justice— restrain the nobles, drive out corruption—so for the Varlaamskaia Beseda, too, the tsar must be terrible—to subdue the Church, drive monks out of the government, rescue the population from the power and corruption that property gave to the Church. "And if, in this temporal world, there will not be on watch the everlasting imperial terror, then... men will not repent and will obey priests." This terror was to serve many purposes: "The tsar. . . should decree, by his imperial and humble terror, in monasteries and elsewhere, that [men] should not shave their beards and moustaches, should not pluck them, should not betray their calling . . . and so forth.' Renaissance fashion of fashion of shaving and plucking found its way even into Russian monasteries. More important is the "humble terror," which appears to be a conscious attempt to combine the old and the new, to synthesize the terrible tsar and the pious and Orthodox tsar.
But the synthesis did not work very well; the balance between humility and terror was not maintained, because, for the author of the Beseda, the greatest threat to the well-being of Russian society was the tsar's prostata--which meant "trusting others," being "kind and simple toward people." This was the quality that brought ruin and destruction: 'And for such monkish sins and for the tsar's trustfulness does God release his righteous wrath even against the just, in order to save some and to punish others for having lost their souls."
We can now start to pull some of the strands of Russian Renaissance thought together. Why should the tsar's trustfulness and kindness be so dangerous Why did he have to rule through fear, with terror? For Peresvetov it was because the aristocracy was evil, and so it was also for Tsar Ivan; for the Valaam author it was because clerics were evil. The common denominator emerges if we recall the words of von Ulfeld, for example: the Tsar was cruel because his subjects were "obstinate, disobedient and lean to all vices." And this, indeed, sounds familiar, for he have all read that "it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger, and covetous of gain.... And the prince who has relied solely on their words, without making other preparations, is ruined; for the friendship which is gained by purchase and not through grandeur and nobility of spirit is bought but not secured. Men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared; for love is held by a chain of obligation which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which.. never fails." This could be a summation of Russian political thought; it is from Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter 17, Of Cruelty and Clemency..." The prince must be terrible because Renaissance thought was premised on the idea that men were selfish, cowardly, and evil: the medieval solution of divine grace in the world above was not relevant to the politics of the world below. For Machiavelli this premise was so major and so obvious that he did not bother to discuss it. Yet, given this premise, a question remains: Why would the ruler wish to be terrible if it meant that he had to perform acts which were evil and would endanger his own salvation if he was a Christian? And, after all, Ivan of Russia, the Italian despots, West European kings, and Machiavelli himself were Christians. Again Machiavelli can be used to summarize the thought of Ivan the Terrible, Peresvetov, and the Valaamskaia Beseda:
I know that everyone will admit that it would be highly praiseworthy in a prince to possess all the . . . qualities that are reputed good, but as they cannot all be possessed or observed, human conditions not permitting of it, it is necessary that he should be prudent enough to avoid the scandal of those vices which would lose him the state.... And yet he must not mind incurring the scandal of those vices without which it would be difficult to save the state, for if one considers well, it will be found that some things which seem virtues would, if followed, lead to one's ruin, and some others which appear vices result in one's greater security and well-being.These conclusions are central in Machiavelli's work, and they, in turn, can be summarized without adducing the numerous instances available in the writings of the Florentine statesman: If kindness, a Christian virtue, leads to the ruin of the state and the prince, and if cruelty, a vice, leads to unity, strength, and prosperity, the prince must choose to be cruel.
This does not mean that Renaissance thought was immoral or anti-Christian. It does mean that Renaissance political thought was autonomous. Machiavelli was not concerned with attacking Christian virtues; his purpose was the preservation and prosperity of the state, and this purpose was an end in itself, autonomous of God and individual salvation. Hence, it possessed a morality of its own, based on the achievement of the supreme purpose, and also autonomous. It appeared to contradict and undermine traditional Christian morality only because it used the same terms as traditional morality did. For Machiavelli, however, it had nothing to do with Christian individual morality. Policy was autonomous; this meant that policy and God were of different worlds, totally separate, and it was meaningless to measure either one by the standards of the other. Both kindness and cruelty could be a virtue or a vice, and ruin would ensue if they were to be confused with their Christian parallels:
Cesare Borgia was considered cruel, but his cruelty had brought order to the Romagna, united it, and reduced it to peace and fealty. If this is considered well, it will be seen that he was really much more merciful than the Florentine people, who, to avoid the name of cruelq, allowed Pistoia to be destroyed. A prince, there fore, must not mind incurring the charge of cruelty for the purpose of keeping his subjects united and faithful; for, with a very few examples, he will be more merciful than those who, from excess of tenderness, allow disorders to arise, from whence spring bloodshed and rapine.
The ruler must not confuse the two kinds of moralities, which were quite independent of each other. His duty was to concentrate on that which was primary in the autonomous world of policy and statecraft, Machiavelli insisted: "A prince should therefore have no other aim or thought, nor take up any other thing for his study, but war and its organization and discipline."
The ideas of Machiavelli, Peresvetov, and Tsar Ivan seem to coincide. It is most unlikely that Ivan, for instance, had even heard of the name of the Italian philosopher. Yet, in common with Machiavelli, the tsar and Peresvetov held a belief in the primacy of the army, of force, in the necessity of severe and even cruel administration and justice—in short, in the Renaissance conception of human nature and the Renaissance conviction of the autonomy of human activity such as politics.
Nevertheless, if the premises were held in common, there were differences in the way these premises were accepted and assessed. For Machiavelli, and for Italian Renaissance political thought, the autonomy of politics and the nature of men were matters of fact, evoking little tension or discomfort. Men were selfish and cowardly, and therefore they acted evilly—such was the reality of this world, and Machiavelli drew the proper consequences for politics from it. To a large degree this was the attitude of Peresvetov. For Tsar Ivan matters seemed to be more complicated. The tension he felt and expressed was because, for him, the cause of men's evil actions was human sinfulness, inevitable and tragic, rather than selfishness, human and natural.
That Tsar Ivan remained more traditionally theological and medieval
than Machiavelli is understandable. Medieval political theory continued
to exist in Russia through the sixteenth century and well into the seventeenth,
during which, in some ways, it reached its apogee with the Most Gentle
Tsar Aleksei. At the same time, this awareness of sinfulness and evil and
the resulting feeling of tension and drama existed in Ivan's contemporaries
such as Luther and Calvin. Hence it may be useful to distinguish between
the modes of thought of the northern Renaissance, ill preoccupied with
sin, and the southern, Italian, Renaissance. Whatever the nature of these
distinctions, however, one might say that our chief task is done--in having
suggested that the image of the terrible ruler was a renaissance one, exemplified
by Ivan the Terrible in Russia, by The Prince of Machiavelli in the land
of the Renaissance. The ideas of Machiavelli himself, of Peresvetov,
and of the Valaamskaia Beseda may be summed up thus: The duty
of the prince is to recognize the true nature of men and to use and control
human selfishness, weakness, and cowardice through terror for his own autonomous
political goals. Within this schema the prince cannot be quite like all
men. He can afford to be selfish, for his interests coincide with those
of his state, but he cannot be weak, cowardly, or stupidly kind, for then
he will fall, and the state with him. Above all else, he must be rationally
terrible—"prudent" is the word used by both Machiavelli and Tsar Ivan—
controlling himself and his subjects.
But this does leave one final problem, that the image of the terrible tsar included not only rational political terror but also the irrational, the personal, humanly monstrous aspects of Tsar Ivan's nature—the savagery, the incredible, blasphemous cruelty, the vengefulness. Machiavelli provides no answer to this. Yet if Tsar Ivan was mad, he was not alone in his madness, for close to him in time, if not in space, were, to repeat, Richard III, Louis XI, Philip Li, and—perhaps the prototype of them all—the late fifteenth-century ruler of Wallachia, Tsepesh, called Dracula, the Dragon. Before he became the vampire of B~ Stoker's nineteenth century novel, Tsepesh was the dragonlike ruler, surviving in the legends of Southeastern Europe for centuries as a "monster of cruelty and justice." This figure occurs time and again both in the oral and the written traditions, and always in a specific sense: the cruelty of Dracula was inhuman, obscene, but it was through his unspeakable cruelty that he established the reign of total justice over his principality. Hence the image of Dracula lived on, strong in its ambiguity for, though the cruelty was monstrous, it also resulted in monstrous, that is, exaggeratedly great, justice. And the legend of Dracula was put into literary form, simultaneously and independently at the end of the fifteenth century, by the Russian ambassador to King Matthew Corvinus of Hungary, Fedor Kuritsyn, by the Italian humanist at the court of the king, Bonfino, and by the German poet Michael Beheim (it also got into the writings of Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini). One can argue (as the Soviet medievalist Lur'e does in his brilliant study on Dracula) that the ambivalent image of cruelty and justice was in response to men's hopes that in an age of many small feudal dragons, one great dragon would provide justice and peace. Yet the question remains, why a Dragon, a monster, a Tsepesh, or an Ivan?
The conception of the northern Renaissance would allow us to construct a sort of explanation. In a world which was evil, where all men were sinful, any human action, precisely because it was human, could only result in evil; this is the tragic dilemma of Hamlet, and it is hinted at by Tsar Ivan when he pleaded his frail humanity, subject to the "laws of nature," to Prince Kurbskii. If human acts were evil, then, tragically, the acts of an autocrat were likely to be monstrous, though, and because, human. Yet the ruler must act and, hence, do evil. But to push Tsar Ivan the Terrible and Hamlet together may be really going a little too far.
Still, monstrous rulers were not restricted to the north and the east
of Europe. Italy had its full share of rulers who were terrible, but who
overstepped Machiavelli's standard of rationality: Cesare Borgia and his
father Pope Alexander VI, whose poisonings and other crimes shook
even Renaissance Italy; Sigismondo Malatesta, called the Monster, desperately trying to think up new blasphemies to perform in the lovely church built for him by Alberti; or, somewhat earlier, as Burckhardt tells us, Gabrino Fondolo, tyrant of Cremona, unable to forgive himself for having passed up the chance of his life—to kill the Emperor Sigismund and the antipope John XXIII. By the time he realized that he could push both emperor and pope off his castle tower and gain immortal fame for an absolutely unique crime, the moment had passed and his forelock was out of reach.
The motives of these princes were different, at least on the conscious
level, as they were also different from those of Ivan the Terrible. Yet
one may suggest a common denominator. It is provided by the notion of terribilita
as it appeared, for example, in Petrarch, associated with his idea of the
hero. The hero was awe-inspiring, terribile, because he had both the need
and the right to live and act beyond the boundaries of human laws and rules.
Petrarch picked up the antique conception of the hero as one who by his
own deeds overcomes his human limitations and state and is deified, and
applied it to his own times. In the Christian Renaissance, however, deification
was not possible or meaningful; its equivalent, for the hero, was immortality
through everlasting fame. For Petrarch, of course, "heroship" could be
achieved in all realms of human activity, but our concern is with the implications
of his thought for political activity, for rulership; namely, that the
terrible ruler is not only terrible in his function, as for Machiavelli,
but in his . person as well, for he has broken through human limitation
and cannot be judged by human standards.
Petrarch was manifesting, then, in yet another way, the problem of human autonomy which was a mark of the Renaissance mode of thought. And, for the Renaissance political man, for the ruler, Petrarch suggested a new goal—immortality through fame—which provided yet another moral structure, as different and as independent of the traditional Christian structure as that resulting from political autonomy. Everlasting fame, no matter how attained, was, after all, what Malatesta and Fondolo sought. But this also was what Peresvetov suggested to Ivan of Russia when he evoked the immortal fame of Augustus and Alexander the Great. And, according to Daniel Prints, Ivan felt this appeal, for he was tyrannical out of his "passion for ruling."
Few Renaissance thinkers liked or approved of tyranny, of course, and
Petrarch, himself crowned with the wreath of laurel, saw the poet as the
epitome of deification. But the poet, deified through his genius, raised
the moral or emotional conflicts, and his gift did not evoke the fascination
that power did and does. The problem with the political man, the ruler,
was that he often strove, and had to strive, for the ideal of terribilita,
by terrible means. On the one hand, one could, and did, condemn the crimes
of a prince; on the other hand, by being terribile he escaped the framework
of human morality and achieved a human ideal which had to be admired.
Hence the monstrous ruler evoked a curiously ambivalent reaction among
the intellectuals of his time, and this is significant for the atmosphere
within which such rulers lived. Dracula is not condemned out of hand but
is seen as a monster of cruelty and justice. The first to deal with this
theme, Alberto Mussato, in his "Eccerinis" in the fourteenth century presented
Ezzelino de Romano as a genius of evil, conscious of what he did but, above
all, a genius, of nonhuman, colossal stature. And, closer to home, the
scholar Giles Fletcher, Protestant and English, whose work "Of the Russe
Commonwealth" is considered the best account of late sixteenth-century
Russia, condemned Russian habits, barbarism, religion, and form of government.
The tyranny of Ivan the Terrible had been such that Fletcher, in 1588,
predicted the civil war which came about fifteen years later. The introduction
to his work, addressed to Queen Elizabeth, praised her reign of justice,
as contrasted to the horrors of tyranny. But the same Fletcher wrote a
poem "The Rising to the Crowne of Richard the Third, Written by himselfe,"
in which Richard tells his own history, his successes, crimes, and defeats,
and ends with these verses:
Blood and revenge did hammer in my head, Unquiet thoughts did gallop in my braine: I had no rest till all my friends were dead, Whose helpe I usde the kingdome to obtaine, My dearest friend, I thought not safe to trust, Nor skarse myselfe, but that perforce I must.Fletcher certainly did not like tyrants, because they transgressed human (and divine) laws. But was not this very transgression the mark of the awe-inspiring hero? Fletcher's Richard, tyrant and usurper, displayed all the traits: the human madness of paranoia, the contempt for men, the obsession with glory, the arrogance of standing alone—immortality within reach—beyond pity and beyond judgment. He flung this challenge to the world at large and to poets (who only wore garlands) in particular.
Nor speake I now, as if I did repent, Unlesse for this a crowne I bought so cheap. For meaner things men wittes and lives have spent, Which blood have sowne, and crowns could never reap. Live Richard long, the honour of thy name, And scorne all such, as doe thy fortune blame.
Thus have I told, how I a crowne did win, Which now torments me, that I cannot sleep Where I doe end, my sorrow did beigin, Because I got which long I could not keep. My verse is harsh, yet (reader) doe not frowne, I wore no garland, but a golden Crowne.
What I am suggesting, then, is that Ivan the Terrible as Renaissance
prince reflected a Renaissance fusion of two strands of thought and feeling:
the idea of the ruler, terrible in his function as ruler, guaranteeing
through cruel terror justice and order in a world of weak and evil men
and of evolving strong centralized monarchies; and the ideal of the awe-inspiring
free personality, autonomous of old standards, above human law, and independent
of divine law in a world where any means to gain immortality could be considered
and utilized. But the fusion was explosive, for it combined political autonomy
with an autonomous ego. It legitimatized in one person absolute political
power with no limitations except his own interests, and the untrammeled
human personality fulfilling itself by exceeding all human limitations.
The result frequently was awe-inspiring and monstrous.