Hetman of Ukraine Ivan Mazepa is a figure from three centuries ago who still lives today – and lives in two dimensions of reality.
The first is the dimension of historicity. Mazepa was a man of a specific epoch, and in this epoch he was an actor of the first rank. At a time of upheaval in Ukraine, its brief independence, and its division between the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Tsardom of Muscovy, Mazepa was a starring figure on both the domestic and the international stage. The part he played aimed at a Ukrainian state unified from both parts of the partitioned land. In this he seemingly lost. Such was the view for three hundred years. But today his legacy appears revived and his historical role in need of reassessment, one that may well redefine the winners and the losers in the grand geopolitical game of Mazepa's time.
The metamorphosis of Mazepa from a historical personage into a legend began in his own lifetime. His Polish contemporary Jan Pasek first publicized the myth of Mazepa's adulterous love affair which led to punishment by being strapped naked to a horse and released into the wild, to reach, half dead, the land of Ukrainian Cossacks and ultimately become their leader – their hetman. This story, next publicized by Voltaire, spread throughout Europe, and in the Romantic age found expression in literature, art, and music. Through the filter of artistry, Mazepa became an archetype whose meaning varied intriguingly from one poetic imagination to another. This myth of young Mazepa has its antipode in the tale of his last years. Here is a passion of old age for youth, and one forbidden by religious sanction. This love is intertwined with politics, yearning for freedom and independence, perhaps betrayal of friendship and state treason. The ambiguities again allow for multiple interpretations that were explored by yet another host of artists. Their multiplicity, in genres and quantities, has been sufficient to ensure Mazepa life as real in its legendary dimension as in the realm of history.
Further documents relating to Ukrainian history include three land-donation charters signed by Hetman Ivan Mazepa in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. View the:
1685 October 8 charter granting monopoly privileges on the sale of liquor and tobacco in the village of Svitylʹne
The cultural manifestations of European interest in Hetman Mazepa — as illustrated in cases 2 and 3 — represent works of high culture, serious art, classical music. These are the genres of epic poetry, verse drama, opera, symphonic poems, the paintings of the professional artist's atelier. The centers of this cultural outpouring were the traditional ones in France, Italy, Germany.
Very quickly, however, there developed a parallel artistic world of Mazeppa, one that aimed at the broad masses, popularity, accessibility. It, too, found its reflection in all genres: music, literature, the stage, and visual arts. And it spread beyond the traditional art capitals of Europe across the seas to the continents of North America and Africa.
Analogous to opera, equestrian plays, with music, already had a long history of popularity. In 1831 the famous circus of Franconi presented such a spectacle, entitled Mazeppa, ou le cheval tartare (which some sources, in fact treat as an opera), in Paris. This was clearly a popular response to Byron's poetry and the paintings of the French Romantics of the 1820s. The fad for mass equestrian Mazeppa plays is further witnessed by the productions of works by White, Payne and Milner. A unique aspect of this craze was the assumption of the role of Mazepa by women, starting with the most famous proponent of the role, Adah Isaacs Menken. In this guise, Mazeppa became a favorite in the American Wild West—as can be glimpsed in the classic films High Noon or Heller in Pink Tights.
Rhythmic piano gallopes or "Mazeppa Waltzes" a la Balfe, popular Currier and Ives prints, the twentieth-century medium of cinema—all helped to popularize the Mazepa theme ever further. Poetry, of a more democratic cast than Lord Byron's, attracted such writers as the common man's German, Bertolt Brecht, the melancholy Rainer Maria Rilke, and the adventuresome South African, Roy Campbell. In new guises, through new media, and in a newly global spread, Mazepa lives on.
The irony of fate is such, that while Hetman Ivan Mazepa became the best known Ukrainian worldwide, both as a figure of history and myth, in his own homeland of Ukraine for decades he fell into oblivion. If known at all, it was largely as others would have Ukrainians see him. There was little of a native, national image cultivated of him in the cultural arena.
It was not always so. During his hetmancy, from 1687 to 1708, Mazepa was not only a positive, but even a cult figure. In painting, engraving, poetry, drama, all types of dedicatory enterprises — he was compared to heroes of classical antiquity or the Kyivan princes of medieval times. The Swedish alliance and the defeat at Poltava changed all that. Under the Tsar's instructions the Hetman was anathematized by the Russian Church and fell under total opprobrium. His supporters became political exiles and advocates of Ukraine's rights abroad, gaining such sympathizers as Voltaire. Those who remained at home had to adhere to the refashioned image of Mazepa prepared in St. Petersburg.
With the revival of historical consciousness and the emergence of a native high culture in the nineteenth century, Mazepa began to reenter the repertoire of prominent figures in Ukraine. Still, the traditional Russian view dominated, while even writers and artists who were more nationally driven followed the populist trend, which often depicted Mazepa as an exploiting aristocrat and sympathized with his Ukrainian opponents from the lower strata of the military and society.
Still, some of the major figures of the Ukrainian cultural revival devoted attention to Hetman Mazepa. Shevchenko, Sokalskyi, Malaniuk ... Here, too, the obstacles were formidable, such as imperial Russian censorship. The division of Ukraine between Russia and Austria — or later the USSR and Poland— did not allow easy transmission of cultural products from one empire to another. It is only since independence in 1991 that Ukrainians have gained the possibility to learn the heritage of Mazepa, historical and cultural, native and foreign, and to begin to fashion their own image of one of their country's most famous sons.