In This Review

Terror and Greatness: Ivan and Peter as Russian Myths
Terror and Greatness: Ivan and Peter as Russian Myths
By Kevin M. F. Platt
Cornell University Press, 2011, 330 pp

All countries spin their national myths around heroes. Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great, however, echo in Russian society less as heroes than as avatars, reflecting the outer limits of Russia’s traumas. Platt treats the way Russian historians, writers, and artists since the early nineteenth century have tried to come to terms with the legacy of these overpowering figures -- sometimes merging Peter’s “greatness” and Ivan’s “terror” into a single, reinforcing unity and sometimes treating those qualities as polar opposites. Their struggle, as Platt traces it -- from Nikolai Karamzin’s seminal early-nineteenth-century history of Russia, through Ilya Repin’s portrait of a horror-stricken Ivan holding the son he just murdered, to Stalin’s remaking of the two tsars into founders of Russian great power, to the use of Peter’s image to sell chocolates, cigarettes, and vodka in the 1990s -- reflects the ambivalent, at times tortured, standing Ivan and Peter have in the country’s collective identity.