Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire, 1891
This painting, which Repin began in 1880 and did not complete until 1891, is also known as Cossacks of Saporog Are Drafting a Manifesto. The painting, which now hangs in the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg, measures almost seven feet by twelve feet (which is part of the reason it took so long for Ilya Repin to complete it).
Even without knowing the context, it’s a great painting. However, the story associated with the scene on display is perhaps even better.
Are you, dear reader, perhaps curious to know what the Cossacks find so amusing? Would it amuse you to know that they are trying to write the dirtiest piece of diplomatic correspondence in history?
In 1676, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed IV, sent a letter to the Cossacks of the Zaporozhian Host who lived in the lands around the lower Dnieper River in Ukraine. His army had failed to defeat them on the battlefield, but, regardless of this important detail, he fired off a missive demanding they submit to his rule anyway.
Below is the letter from the Sultan to the Cossacks:
Sultan Mehmed IV to the Zaporozhian Cossacks
As the Sultan; son of Muhammad; brother of the sun and moon; grandson and viceroy of God; ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Egypt; emperor of emperors; sovereign of sovereigns; extraordinary knight, never defeated; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; trustee chosen by God Himself; the hope and comfort of Muslims; confounder and great defender of Christians — I command you, the Zaporogian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks.
–Turkish Sultan Mehmed IV
Repin’s painting captures the Cossacks’ brainstorming session, as each tries to come up with a wittier and more insulting vulgarity to include in their response to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Below is the reply the Cossacks eventually came up with:
Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Turkish Sultan
O sultan, Turkish devil and damned devil’s kith and kin, secretary to Lucifer himself, Greetings! What the devil kind of knight are you, that can’t slay a hedgehog with your naked arse? The devil excretes, and your army eats. You will not, you son of a bitch, make subjects of Christian sons; we’ve no fear of your army, by land and by sea we will battle with thee, fuck your mother.
You Babylonian scullion, Macedonian wheelwright, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-fucker of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, pig of Armenia, Podolian thief, catamite of Tartary, hangman of Kamyanets, and fool of all the world and underworld, an idiot before God, grandson of the Serpent, and the crick in our dick. Pig’s snout, mare’s arse, slaughterhouse cur, unchristened brow, screw your own mother!
So the Zaporozhians declare, you lowlife. You won’t even be herding pigs for the Christians. Now we’ll conclude, for we don’t know the date and don’t own a calendar; the moon’s in the sky, the year with the Lord, the day’s the same over here as it is over there; for this kiss our arse!
Koshovyi Otaman Ivan Sirko, with the whole Zaporozhian Host.
Now, in their native language, the insults all rhyme (which must have taken quite a while to compose). So, I’m sure the original is even better, but I’m afraid I don’t speak the language.