The Corner

Ossetian Allusions

The Ossetes don’t figure much in literature or history. The only reference known to me is the one in the Stalin Epigram, in which the poet Osip Mandelstam referred to Stalin as “the broad-chested Ossete.”

The joke here, I have read somewhere, is that Stalin was a Georgian, not an Ossete; and the Georgians looked down on the Ossetes as painted savages. (The Russians regard Georgians as rough mountain-men full of wily cunning; but hey, everybody has to look down on somebody.)

Stalin either didn’t take offense, or husbanded his anger. Mandelstam got a light sentence for the poem when it appeared, but it was part of the evidence that led him to the labor camps and death five years later.

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