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Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov (28 February [O.S. 16 February] 1866 – 16 July 1949) was a Russian poet and playwright associated with the Russian Symbolist movement. He was also a philosopher, translator, and literary critic.
Born in Moscow, Ivanov graduated from the First Moscow Gymnasium with a gold medal and entered the Moscow University where he studied history and philosophy under Sir Paul Vinogradoff. In 1886, he moved to the Berlin University to study Roman law and economics under Theodor Mommsen. During his stay in Germany, he absorbed the thoughts of Friedrich Nietzsche and German Romantics, notably Novalis and Friedrich Hölderlin.
From 1892, Ivanov studied archaeology in Rome, completing his doctoral dissertation there. In Rome, he met Lydia Zinovieva-Annibal, a poet and translator. Having both received an Orthodox ecclesiastical divorce, they married in 1899, first settling in Athens, then moving to Geneva, and making pilgrimages to Egypt and Palestine. During that period, Ivanov frequently visited Italy, where he studied the Renaissance art. The rugged nature of Lombardy and the Alps became the subject of his first sonnets, which were heavily influenced by the medieval poetry of Catholic mystics.
His wife's death in 1907 was a great blow to Ivanov. Thereafter the dazzling Byzantine texture of his poetry wore thin, as he insensibly slipped into theosophy and mysticism. The poet even claimed to have had a vision of his late wife ordering him to marry Vera Shvarsalon, her daughter by her first marriage. Indeed, he married 23-year-old Vera in the summer of 1913; their son Dmitry had been born in 1912. Vera's death in 1920, at the age of 30, broke his heart.
According to an autobiographical sketch written by Anna Akhmatova, Ivanov first met her in 1910. At the time, Akhmatova was still married to Nikolai Gumilev, who first brought her to the turreted house. There, Akhmatova read some of her verse aloud to Ivanov, who ironically quipped, "What truly heavy romanticism." A short time later, Gumilev left his wife for a big game hunting holiday in Ethiopia. In the aftermath, Ivanov tried very hard to persuade Akhmatova to leave her immature husband, saying, "You'll make him a man if you do." Moreover, Akhmatova indignantly recalled that Ivanov would often weep as she recited her verse at the turreted house, but would later, "vehemently criticize," the same poems at literary salons. Akhmatova would never forgive him for this. Her ultimate evaluation of her former patron was as follows, "Vyacheslav was neither grand nor magnificent (he thought this up himself) but a 'catcher of men.'"
Upon their return from an Italian voyage (1912–13), Ivanov made the acquaintances of art critic Mikhail Gershenzon, philosopher Sergei Bulgakov, and composer Alexander Scriabin. He elaborated many of his Symbolist theories in a series of articles, which were finally revised and reissued as Simbolismo in 1936. At that time, he relinquished poetry in favour of translating the works of Sappho, Alcaeus, Aeschylus, and Petrarch into the Russian language.
In 1920, Ivanov moved to Baku, where he held the University Chair of Classical Philology. He concentrated on his scholarly work and completed a treatise Dionysus and Early Dionysianism (published 1923), which earned him a Ph.D. degree in philology. The new communist government didn't allow him to travel outside the Soviet Union until 1924.
From Azerbaijan he proceeded to Italy, where he settled in Rome. In Rome, Ivanov found employment as professor of Old Church Slavonic at the Russicum. Ivanov was received into the Russian Catholic Church in 1926. In an interview for the Russicum's newspaper, Ivanov argued that, prior to their Great Schism, Latin and Byzantine Christianity were "two principles that mutually complement each other." "The Church must permeate all branches of life: social issues, art, culture, and just everything," he argued, and the "Roman Church corresponds to such criteria and by joining this Church I become truly Orthodox." His last collections of verse were the Roman Sonnets (1924) and the Roman Diary (1944). Many other poems appeared posthumously.
Ivanov died in Rome in 1949 and was interred at the Cimitero Acattolico, not far from the graves of Karl Briullov and Alexander Ivanov.
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