Gannibal: The Moor of Petersburg by Hugh Barnes - review by Donald Rayfield

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.

Pushkin began to tell the story of his great-grandfather in his novel Peter the Great’s Negro. But he left the novel unfinished, as he often abandoned a work once its themes began to foreshadow too closely his own life. On many important points Pushkin’s tale is fictional, intentionally or, when

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