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Leyla Keough

Aleksandr Pushkin was of high birth: his father came from a long line of Russian aristocracy, and his mother was the granddaughter of Abram Hannibal, who proclaimed himself to be an African prince. Sold into slavery in the early eighteenth century, Hannibal became an engineer and major general in the Russian army and was a favorite of Tsar Peter I (Peter the Great).

Enchanted with his African ancestry, Pushkin often employed the subject in his poetry, to the point of exaggeration and obsession, according to his critics. In 1830Faddey Bulgarin berated Pushkin for bragging about a nobility stemming from a “Negro” who had been “acquired” by a skipper in exchange for a bottle of rum. Pushkin replied sharply to “Figliarin” (which translates roughly into “buffoon”) in a poem entitled “My Genealogy”:


Figliarin, snug at home, decided

That my black grandsire, Hannibal,

Was for a bottle ...