SKOVORODA, GREGORY SAVVICH – The Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Verbete da “The Encyclopedia of Philosophy” – Paul Edward, Editor in Chief. vol VII. Collier Macmillan Publishers, London.

SKOVORODA, GREGORY SAVVICH (1722-1794), Ukrainian poet, fabulist, philosopher, and
religious thinker. Skovoroda was educated at the Kiev Theological Academy. As a young man he traveled in eastern and western Europe and paid brief visits io St.
Petersburg and Moscow, but eighteenth-century European culture left few traces
on his thought He taught, mainly literature, at Pereyaslavl
(Pereyaslav-Khmelnitski) about 1755 and at the Kharkov Collegium from about
1759 to 1765, but he fell out with his ecclesiastical superiors and was dismissed.
He spent his last thirty years as a mendicant scholar and "teacher of the

disciple, M. I. Kovalinski, has left an engag­ing account of Skovoroda’s manner
of life:

He dressed
decently but simply; … he did not eat meat or fish, not from superstitious
belief but because of his own inner constitution; . . . he allowed himself no
more than four [hours a day] for sleep; … he was always gay, good-natured,
easy-going, quick, re­strained, abstemious, and content with all things, be­nign,
humble before all men, willing to speak so long as he was not required to . . .
; he visited the sick, consoled the grieving, shared his last crust with the
needy, chose and loved his friends for the qualities of their hearts, was pious
without superstition, learned without ostentation, complaisant without flat­tery,
("The Life of Gregory Skovoroda," translated by G. L. Kline, in Russian
Vol. I. p. 20)

Skovoroda aspired to be a "Socrates in Russia" both as a
moralist, a gadfly provoking thoughtless and selfish men to scrutinize their
lives, and as an intellectual forerunner, clearing the path for the more
profound and systematic philosophizing of a future "Russian Plato."
In many ways be was not only the last, but also the first, of the meclievals in
Russia. His metaphysics and philosophical anthropology are explicitly
Christian and Neoplatonic, and his philo­sophical idiom is studded with Creek
and Church Slavonic terms and constructions. He knew both German and Latin (he
left over a hundred Latin letters and poems) and had someknowledge of Creek
and Hebrew, but he wrote all of his philosophical works in Russian. As it
happened, few of his own philosophic coinages were accepted by later Russian

All of Skovoroda’s philosophical and theological writings are in
dialogue form. They are Socratic in method and in theme, genuinely dramatic and
dialogic, written with wit, imagination, and moral intensity. They offer
an acute cri­tique of both oncological materialism and sense-datum empiricism,
and they outline a dualistic cosmology with a pantheistic (or
"panentheistic") and mystical coloring. One of Skovoroda’s favorite
metaphors for the relation of ap­pearance to reality is that of a tree’s many
passive, shifting shadows to the firm, single, living tree itself.

deliberate opposition to the Baconian summons to "know nature in order to
master it," Skovoroda urged individuals to "know themselves in order
to master them­selves" and to put aside desires for comfort, security,
fame, and knowledge. His position is thus Stoic as well as Socrat­ic. Seneca,
no less than Socrates, would have savored the epitaph which Skovoroda wrote for
himself: "The world set a trap for me, but it did not catch me.".

Works by Skovoroda

Skovoroda: Tvori v Dcolsh Tomakh
("Gregory Skoio-roda: Works in Two Volumes"), O. I. Biletski,
D. K. Ostryanin. and P. M. Popov, cds. Kiev, 1961. Text in Russian and Latin;
Introduction, commentary, notes, and translation of Latin text in Ukrainian.

"A Conversation Among Five Travellers Concerning Life’s True
Happiness" (abridged translation by George- L. Kline of "Razgovor
pyati putnikov o istinncm shehastii v zhizni," Tvori v Dvokh Tomakh, Vol.
I, pp. 207-247) in James M. Edie, James P. Scanlan, Mary-Barbara Zeldin, and
George L. Kline, eds., Russian Philoso­phy, 3 vols. Chicago, 1965. Vol.
1. pp. 26-57.

Works on Skovoroda

Chyzhevsky, D„ Filosofiya II. S. Skovorody ("The Philosophy
of G. S. Skovoroda",). Warsaw, 3934. in Ukrainian.

Em, V., Crigori Savvich Skovoroda: Zhizn i Vchcniyc. /"Gregory
Sawich Skovoroda: His Life and Teaching"). Moscow. 1912.

Zenkovsky, V. V Istoriya Busskoi Filiosofii, 2 vols. Paris, 194o’-19S0. Translated by George L. Kline as A History of Rus­sian Philosophy, 2
vols. London and New York, 1953. Pp. 53-69.

George L. Kline


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