Yesterday we left off with a quote from Russian Antiquities specialist Alexei Lebedev, concerning the fate of the priceless relics of the city of Palmyra, obviously put at great risk when the city fell to the ISIS barbarians. But Lebedev goes on to offer a ray of hope. Maybe the destruction was not as great as we fear, he opines: “Everything that we have heard, is from the mouths of the destroyers themselves.” The hope is that maybe, like any good Bond villain, they were exaggerating their own evil deeds. Also, there is evidence that several of the most valuable movable pieces were stolen and moved, rather than outright destroyed. In which case, there is perhaps a chance of retrieving these looted treasures, eventually. [yalensis: Unless they end up in private collections.]
We’ve Looked At Loot From Both Sides Now
General Director of the Russian State Hermitage Museum, Mikhail Piotrovsky, also offered some practical-minded hope: “Now that Palmyra has been liberated, the city must obviously be restored. But this must be done properly. The damage, obviously, is huge. But the possibility of restoration exists.”
Russia as a nation is no stranger to the ravages of looting barbarians, and therefore has valuable experience to offer in the business of restoration.
And yes, before the Russia-haters dive in with their predictable, “Russians Loot Too!” — I have to cut them off by conceding, that, yes, there have been times in the past when Russians behaved like barbarians. In fact, one need go no further than Russia’s national poem The Tale of Igor’s Regiment – Slovo o pluku Igoreve – penned by an anonymous bard in the 12th century. The bard bewails Russia’s defeat at the hands of the barbarian Cuman horde – aka “Polovtsy”, named after the Slavic word for “straw”, “polovo”, supposedly because these particular Cumans had straw-blonde hair. In the poem, as in Borodin’s marvelous opera based on this poem, the Polovtsy, albeit rampaging barbarians, sometimes come off looking better than the Russians. I remember the very first time I read this poem, back in Russian Literature class, I was struck by the passage, in which the bard casually seems to endorse the looting committed by the “Christian” Russian forces. This is at the beginning of the campaign, when the Russians were winning and riding high; later the tide was to turn, as the Polovtsy Khans kicked their asses all the way back to Putivl:
Съ заранія въ пяткъ потопташа поганыя плъкы половецкыя,
и рассушясь стрѣлами по полю, помчаша красныя дѣвкы половецкыя,
а съ ними злато, и паволокы, и драгыя оксамиты.
Орьтъмами, и япончицами, и кожухы начашя мосты мостити по болотомъ и грязивымъ мѣстомъ, и всякыми узорочьи половѣцкыми.
Чрьленъ стягъ, бѣла хорюговь, чрьлена чолка, сребрено стружіе – храброму Святьславличу!
Using Nabokov’s translation:
Early on Friday they trampled the pagan Kuman troops
and fanned out like arrows over the field.
They bore off fair Kuman maidens
and, with them, gold, and brocades, and precious samites.
By means of caparisons, and mantlets, and furred cloaks of leather they started making plankings
to plank marshes and miry spots
with all kinds of Kuman weaves.
A vermilion standard,
a white gonfalon,
a vermilion penant of [dyed] horsehair
and a silver hilt
[went] to [Igor] son of Svyatoslav.
Okay, so some of the looting was practical – to make pontoons and stuff. But not all of it was necessary. Prince Igor didn’t really need that silver hilt. Prince Igor wanted that silver hilt. And not even to mention the “fair Kuman maidens” who were borne off. For what? Do I really have to spell this out? To be sex slaves, obviously.
But those were different times, different morays.
Let’s delve into the more recent past and take a look at what the Nazis did when those modern barbarians — ironically spawned from the same race which produced Ludwig van Beethoven — occupied the Russian town of “Tsarskoe Selo” and other historic places on the outskirts of Leningrad.
[to be continued]