Donald Rayfield

Peter’s Polymath

Gannibal: The Moor of Petersburg


Profile Books 281pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

A very Russian contradiction, which Hugh Barnes has noted in one of his newspaper reports, is that the Moscow skinheads who enthusiastically beat to death any lone black man they might see on their patch will profess to revere the national poet Aleksandr Pushkin and take pride in the fact that one of his great-grandfathers was the African slave boy Gannibal. The real role of Gannibal in eighteenth-century military science and in Russian politics is extraordinary enough; yet more important are his genes in the make-up of his great-grandson, although one might argue it is not so much who Gannibal really was, but who Pushkin imagined him to be, that determined the African influence on Pushkin’s poetry.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,
    • 'We read from left to right and from start to finish. Or do we?' Stuart Hannabus considers the merits of reading i… ,