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Xerxes in Mikhail Bulgakov’s Play Adam and Eve

Souren A. Takhtajan


In his Histories 8:118, Herodotus tells the dramatic story of Xerxes’ return to Asia from Greece by sea. The overcrowded ship was caught in a storm, and the captain advised the king to get rid of most of the passengers. Xerxes called on the Persians to prove their loyalty to the king, and they showed their obeisance by leaping into the sea. After his return, Xerxes awarded the captain of the ship with a golden crown for saving the king’s life—and cut off his head for causing the deaths of so many Persians. In the play Adam and Eve, Bulgakov depicts the outbreak of war between the Soviet Union and the Western world. Nearly everyone in Leningrad dies from a gas attack. But Efrosimov, a chemistry professor and a man of genius, has managed to save the lives of the other characters in the play, the Soviet fighter pilot Daragan included. Nevertheless, Daragan hates Efrosimov for his efforts to prevent the war and then to stop it. The fighter pilot imagines for the professor both an award for his merits and subsequent capital punishment for his alleged crime. In this article, I suggest that Bulgakov has borrowed the motif of award and execution from Herodotus.


Mikhail Bulgakov’s Adam and Eve; Herodotus on Xerxes’ return from Greece; Daragan; Efrosimov; saving of life; motif of award and execution


Bowie A. M., ed., Herodotus, Histories, Book VIII, Cambridge, 2007.

Erykalova I. E., Fantastika Bulgakova: Tvorcheskaia istoriia. Tekstologiia. Literaturnyi kontekst, St. Petersburg, 2007.

Flory S., The Archaic Smile of Herodotus, Detroit, 1987.

Gray V., “Short Stories in Herodotus' Histories,” in: E. J. Bakker, I. J. F. de Jong, H. van Wees, eds., Brill’s Companion to Herodotus, Leiden, 2002, 291–317.


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