[PW] Request help with Russian passage in ABC book by Leo Tolstoy

dillonbook at aol.com dillonbook at aol.com
Sun Jul 22 20:06:01 PDT 2018


Old orthography, as printed, with line-breaks: 

Два человѣка на улицѣ нашли вмѣ- 
стѣ книгу и стали о ней спорить. Тре- 
тій спросилъ: „Кто изъ васъ грамот- 
ный?“ Они сказали: „Никто, оба не- 
грамотные.“ Два плѣшивыхъ за гре- 
бень дерутся. 

Ditto, without line-breaks: 

Два человѣка на улицѣ нашли вмѣстѣ книгу и стали о ней спорить. Третій спросилъ: „Кто изъ васъ грамотный?“ Они сказали: „Никто, оба неграмотные.“ Два плѣшивыхъ за гребень дерутся. 

Modern orthography: 

Два человека на улице нашли вместе книгу и стали о ней спорить. Третий спросил: „Кто из вас грамотный?“ Они сказали: „Никто, оба неграмотные.“ Два плешивых за гребень дерутся. 

(You can ignore the superscript letters, which have only to do with anomalous or unexpected pronunciations. This is, after all, an alphabet book or elementary reader.) 

I’m no expert but my translation was 

    Two men on the street found a book together and started 
    arguing over it. A third asked, “Which one of you can read?” 
    They said, “Neither, we’re both illiterate.” 
    Two bald men fighting over a comb. 

. . . which I wrote before I saw your 1899 translation. 


Jay Dillon  Rare Books + Manuscripts 
45 Ocean Avenue 3C 
Monmouth Beach, New Jersey  07750-1302 
+732 728 1115 
+908 675 7018 mobile 

-----Original Message-----
From: ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com>
To: list <list at project-wombat.org>
Sent: Sun, Jul 22, 2018 7:50 pm
Subject: [PW] Request help with Russian passage in ABC book by Leo Tolstoy

Perhaps a list member can provide a translation for a short passage
that appears in a Russian school book titled Azbuka. I'd also like to
obtain an accurate version of the Cyrillic text (the OCR text is poor
quality). The passage mentions bald men fighting over a comb. It
occurs on page 48 of an ABC book created by Leo Tolstoy and published
in 1874. Here is a link:


Here is some background: I've been asked to trace the figurative
language employed by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. Here is a
citation for his remark:

[ref] 1983 February 9, The Miami News, Quote unquote (filler item),
Quote Page 1, Column 1, Miami, Florida. (Newspapers_com)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, 83, on the Falklands War: "The
Falklands thing was a fight between two bald men over a comb."
[End excerpt]

The ABC book was revised and republished as Novaya Azbuka. Here is a
citation and excerpt for an English rendition of the pertinent story
published in 1899:

[ref] 1899 Copyright, The Complete Works of Lyof N. Tolstoi: The Long
Exile, Master and Man, The Kreutzer Sonata, Dramas, Section: From The
New Speller (Novaya Azbuka), Story 12: The Book, Start Page 159, Quote
Page 159 and 160, The Kelmscott Society Publishers, New York. (Google
Books Full View) link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]

Two men together found a book in the street, and began to dispute as
to the ownership of it.
A third happened along and asked:--
"Which of you can read?"
"Neither of us."
"Then why do you want the book? Your quarrel reminds me of two bald
men who fought for possession of a comb, when neither had any hair on
his head."
[End excerpt]

H. L Mencken referred to the tale in his massive 1942 compendium:

[ref] 1942, A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles
from Ancient and Modern Sources, Selected and Edited by H. L. Mencken
(Henry Louis Mencken), Topic: Futility, Quote Page 441, Alfred A.
Knopf. New York. (Verified on with hardcopy)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Two baldhead men are fighting over a comb.
[End excerpt]

Here is a link to another Russian version of the tale(scroll down):

Garson O'Toole
Project Wombat - Project-wombat
list at project-wombat.org

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