Alexander Griboyedov

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Alexander Gribojedow, Александр Грибоедов, Aleksandrs Gribojedovs, Александр Сергеевич Грибоедов, Alexander Sergejewitsch Gribojedow, Alexander Sergeyevich Griboyedov, Alexander Sergueevich Griboyedoff
Composer, Diplomat, Freemason, Nobleman, landlord, Pianist, Playwright, Poet
Mtatsminda Pantheon of Writers and Public Figures, Tbilisi

Alexander Sergeyevich Griboyedov (Russian: Александр Сергеевич Грибоедов, Aleksándr Sergeyevich Griboyedov or Sergéevich Griboédov; January 15, 1795 – February 11, 1829), formerly romanized as Alexander Sergueevich Griboyedoff, was a Russian diplomat, playwright, poet, and composer. He is recognized as homo unius libri, a writer of one book, whose fame rests on the verse comedy Woe from Wit or The Woes of Wit. He was Russia's ambassador to Qajar Persia, where he and all the embassy staff were massacred by an angry mob following the rampant anti-Russian sentiment that existed through the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813 and Treaty of Turkmenchay of 1828, and had forcefully ratified for Persia's ceding of its northern territories comprising Transcaucasia and parts of the North Caucasus.

Early life

Born in Moscow, Griboyedov studied at Moscow University from 1810 to 1812. He then obtained a commission in a hussar regiment, which he resigned in 1816. The next year, he entered the civil service. In 1818 he was appointed secretary of the Russian legation in Persia, and transferred to Georgia.

His verse comedy The Young Spouses (Молодые супруги, Molodye Suprugi), which he staged in St.Petersburg in 1816, was followed by other similar works. Neither these nor his essays and poetry would have been long remembered but for the success of his verse comedy Woe from Wit (Горе от ума, Gore ot Uma), a satire on Russian aristocratic society.

As a high official in the play puts it, this work is "a pasquinade on Moscow". The play depicts certain social and official stereotypes in the characters of Famusov, who hates reform; his secretary, Molchalin, who fawns over officials; and the aristocratic young liberal and Anglomaniac, Repetilov. By contrast the hero of the piece, Chatsky, an ironic satirist just returned from western Europe, exposes and ridicules the weaknesses of the rest. His words echo the outcry of the young generation in the lead-up to the armed insurrection of 1825.

In Russia for the summer of 1823, Griboyedov completed the play and took it to St. Petersburg. It was rejected by the censors. Many copies were made and privately circulated, but Griboyedov never saw it published. After his death manuscript was jointly owned by his wife Nina Alexandrovna Griboyedova and his sister Maria Sergeyevna Durnovo (Griboyedova). The first edition was printed in 1833, four years after his death.Only once did he see it on the stage, when it was performed by the officers of the garrison at Yerevan. Soured by disappointment, he returned to Georgia. He put his linguistic expertise at the service of general Ivan Paskevich, a relative, during the Russo-Persian War of 1826–1828, after which he was sent to St. Petersburg at the time of the Treaty of Turkmenchay. There, thinking to devote himself to literature, he started work on a romantic drama, A Georgian Night (Грузинская ночь, Gruzinskaya noch).


Several months after his wedding to Nino, the 16-year-old daughter of his friend Prince Chavchavadze, Griboyedov was suddenly sent to Persia as Minister Plenipotentiary. In the aftermath of the war and the humiliating Treaty of Turkmenchay, there was strong anti-Russian sentiment in Persia. Soon after Griboyedov's arrival in Tehran, a mob stormed the Russian embassy.

The incident began when an Armenian eunuch escaped from the harem of Persian shah, and two Georgian women escaped from that of his son-in-law. All three sought refuge at the Russian legation. As agreed in the Treaty of Turkmenchay, Georgians and Armenians living in Persia were permitted to return to Georgia and Eastern Armenia. However, the Shah demanded that Griboyedov return the three. Griboyedov refused. This caused an uproar throughout the city and several thousand Persians encircled the Russian compound demanding their release.

Griboyedov then decided to offer to return the escaped eunuch and Georgian women. But it was too late. Moments later, urged on by the mullahs, the mob stormed the building." A high ranking Muslim scholar with the title of Mojtahed, Mirza Masih Astarabadi known as Mirza Masih Mojtahed, issued a fatwa saying freeing Muslim women from the claws of unbelievers is allowed.

Griboyedov and other members of his mission had prepared for a siege and sealed all the windows and doors. Armed and in full uniform, they were resolved to defend to the last drop of blood. Although small in number, the Cossack detachment assigned to protect the legation held off the mob for over an hour until finally being driven back to Griboyedov's office. There, Griboyedov and the Cossacks resisted until the mob broke through the roof of the building, and then through the ceiling, to slaughter them. The escaped eunuch and Griboyedov, who fought with his sword, were among the first to be shot to death; the fate of the two Georgian women remains unknown. Second secretary of the mission Karl Adelung and, in particular, a young doctor whose name is not known, fought hard, but soon the scene was one of butchered, decapitated corpses.

Griboyedov's body, thrown from a window, was decapitated by a kebab vendor who displayed the head on his stall. The mob dragged the uniformed corpse through the city's streets and bazaars, to cries of celebration. It was eventually abandoned on a garbage heap after three days of ill-treatment by the mob, such that in the end it could be identified only by a duelling injury to a finger. The following June, Griboyedov's friend Alexander Pushkin, travelling through the southern Caucasus, encountered some men from Teheran leading an oxcart. The men told Pushkin they were conveying the ambassador's remains to Tiflis (now Tbilisi). Griboyedov was buried there, in the monastery of St David (Mtatsminda Pantheon).

Based on the Persian version of the incident, Griboyedov assigned a large number of spies and soldiers to search and find Armenian women who were living in Iran in order to send them back to Russia. The soldiers were breaking into people's house by force and beating people to get information about Armenian women. Any woman found (even if she was married and had children) were forcefully taken to Russian embassy and kept there for days. There have been reports of raping these women who were now Muslim and married to Iranian men. The Sheikh Masih Mujtahed send a few known people with letter to the Russian embassy to request them to stop taking women with them (which was considered kidnapping at the time), but the Russian officials mistreated the messengers and threaten them to death. Following Mujtahed fatwa to free the kidnapped women, people surrounded the embassy, and following shooting an Iranian 14 year old boy by the Russian soldiers, the angry crowd attacked the embassy and captured Griboyedov alive, and took him for a public execution on the spot for raping Georgian women who were freed.

When Nino, Griboyedov's widow, received news of his death she gave premature birth to a child who died a few hours later. Nino lived another thirty years, rejecting all suitors and winning universal admiration for her fidelity to her husband's memory.

In a move to compensate Russia for the attack and the death of its ambassador, the Shah sent his grandson Khosrow Mirza to St Petersburg to avoid another war with Tsar Nicholas I.


Author Angela Brintlinger has said that "not only did Griboyedov's contemporaries conceive of his life as the life of a literary hero—ultimately writing a number of narratives featuring him as an essential character—but indeed Griboedov saw himself as a hero and his life as a narrative. Although there is not a literary artifact to prove this, by examining Griboedov's letters and dispatches, one is able to build a historical narrative that fits the literary and behavioural paradigms of his time and that reads like a real adventure novel set in the wild, wild East."

One of the main settings for Mikhail Bulgakov's satirical novel The Master and Margarita is named after Griboyedov, as is the Griboyedov Canal in Central Saint Petersburg.

On April 17, 1944, Pravda ran a lengthy feature on the commemoration of Griboyedov's 150th birthday when high-ranking officials, military leaders, diplomats, writers, and artists had attended a celebration in the Bolshoi Theatre. Novelist and Stalin deputy Leonid Leonov eulogized Griboyedov, mentioning especially his love of his fatherland.

Griboedov's death is mentioned in the 2002 Russian film Russian Ark.


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        Relation nameRelation typeBirth DateDeath dateDescription
        1Nino ChavchavadzeNino ChavchavadzeWife04.11.181228.06.1857
        2Alexander PushkinAlexander PushkinFamiliar06.06.179910.02.1837
        3Mikhail Bestuzhev-RyuminMikhail Bestuzhev-RyuminFamiliar23.05.180125.07.1826
        4Sergei TrubetskoySergei TrubetskoyFamiliar09.09.179004.12.1860
        5Sergey Muravyov-ApostolSergey Muravyov-ApostolFamiliar09.10.179625.07.1826
        6Kondraty RyleyevKondraty RyleyevFamiliar18.09.179525.07.1826
        7Ainārs RitenbergsAinārs RitenbergsIdea mate13.12.194315.06.2007