Oriental Phantoms F. Dostoevsky's views on the East
"The great eagle of the Orient will revolt and the Western islanders will start weeping. It will sieze three kingdoms . . . and fty to the sovtTi in order to retrieve that which has been lost. And God will shower love and mercy on the Oriental eagle for its task is difficult. Its two wings will glitter over the heights of Christianity.'51
THIS quotation from Dostoevsky's Diary of a Writer is remarkable in more ways than one. In the first place it is an excellent example for research scholars on how not to quote ! Dostoevsky took this quotation from a sixteenth century book of Prognostics by Johannis Lichtenberger, a German. The Russian writer decided that the great eagle had to be from the Orient—so he decided, on his own, to incorporate the words ^of the Orient" in the first sentence. The other sentences were taken from different parts of the book and made to seem one coherent whole ! And not just that. In this long quotation (parts of which I have left out) Dostoevsky decided to correct Lichtenberger's prophesies.2
The other, far more important aspect of this quotation for us is in that it reveals Dostoevsky's religious and political views in the last decade of his life. Expressions like "love" and "mercy" stand alongside "sieze" and "revolt". He sees Russia's mission (for that is the great eagle of the Orient) in the name of Christianity, as a saviour and simultaneously a conquerer. The conquest that is being implied is that of Constantinopol at the time of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877.
But why does Dostoevsky make it a point to equate Russia with "the Orient" ? Only by clarifying this term in its historical context can we understand the writer's stand and the influences that moulded it.
The East-West division was brought about in the 5th century A.D. and pertained to the division of the church, the East being the Orthodox church and the West—the Catholic. By the 17th century this split had widened. The west was the Greco-Roman Christian world as opposed to the East which included countries from Turkey to China. (Today we are seeing
*Associate Professor at the Centre of Russian Studies Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.