Dialogue on the Threshold

Диалог на пороге

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Homo illiberalis (1)

The very manner in which one walks along the street reveals whether one is civilised or not: two civilised men, on approaching each other along a narrow section of the pavement, will each turn their facing shoulder back in mutual respect, allowing each other to pass; the uncivilised boor, oblivious or contemptuous of other pedestrians, will give no ground and aggressively bump into the other, should the latter fail to move sufficiently out of his way, and at whom he will then unleash a torrent of foul language.

For ancient Greek playwright Alexis Comicus (fr. 265), walking along the street in a disjointed, graceless way is the very definition of the "aneleutheros", or "homo illiberalis", in other words, it is behaviour unworthy of a free citizen:

(Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae, I, p. 21, C; August Meineke, Poetarum Comicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, Paris, 1855, p. 576)

Closer to our own times, Daniil Kharms was horrified by the ill-bred rustic boorishness that invaded Petersburg, or rather Leningrad, after the levelling revolutionary triumph of the proletariat over formerly civilised manners:

Дом на углу Невского красится в отвратительную желтую краску. Приходится свернуть на дорогу. Меня толкают встречные люди. Они все недавно приехали из деревень и не умеют еще ходить по улицам. Очень трудно отличить их грязные костюмы и лица. Они топчатся во все стороны, рычат и толкаются. Толкнув нечайно друг друга, они не говорят "простите", а кричат друг другу бранные слова.

"Утро" (25 октября 1931 года, воскресение)

A house on the corner of Nevsky is being painted in a revolting yellow colour. You have to go around it by walking in the road. The people coming the other way bump into me. They have all recently arrived from the country and they do not yet know how to walk along a street. It is very hard to tell their filthy suits and faces apart. They trample each other on every side, they growl and they bump into each other. When they unwittingly bump into each other, they do not say "excuse me", but yell abusive words at each other.

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