Mazeppa-Maseppa: Migration of a Romantic motif
Mazeppa (1640–1710), The Ukrainian leader and folk-hero, has a controversial history, and a distinct presence in literature and the graphic arts. Byron’s poem (1819) of the legendary figure’s “wild ride” released a mythical energy which absorbed certain French poets and painters of the 19th century. While the Russian tradition, at least from Pushkin’s Poltava (1828), reworked the historical Ukrainian hetman from a Tsarist and nationalist perspective, the myth of the Western Romantic Mazeppa is best realised by Delacroix, perhaps in anticipation of the displacement of the horse by Faustian technology. Mazeppa becomes a Romantic Phaethon, shifted from the transcendent to the mundane, from a vertical to a horizontal trajectory. Early in the century Mazeppa had also become a figure and theme of popular spectacle and literature, incorporated by the common imagination into politics, journalism and folklore, coming to terms with a new Faustian context. A small group of poets of the 1920s and 1930s return in different Modernist ways to the theme. The coda of this selective survey is sounded in South Africa.
Keywords: Faust, Mazeppa, Modernism, Romanticism.