A Hero of Our Time Notes


1. Rus’: A term referring to an ancient people and their land, which are latterly represented by the Belarusian, Ukrainian, and Russian peoples and their territories.


1 dukhan: An inn in the Caucasus.

2 verst: An obsolete Russian measurement equal to about 3,500 feet.

3 troika: A carriage drawn by three horses harnessed side by side.

4 saklyas: Caucasian mountain huts.

5 Lermontov uses the word burka here, a felt cloak worn in the Caucasus.

6 bouza: A kind of fermented alcohol made from millet.

7 peaceable prince: The term for a local chieftain who took no sides in the war between the Caucasian tribes and the Russians.

8 peaceable prince: A tribal leader who cooperated with Russian forces in the Caucasus.

9 kunak: This means true friend, blood brother.

10 aul: A Caucasian village.

11 balalaika: A Russian stringed instrument with a triangular body and long neck.

12 dzhigits: Caucasian horsemen known for equestrian feats and trick-riding.

13 galloon: Braid or lace made of metal, typically used in military uniform.

14 chamois: A goatlike animal native to the Caucasus mountains.

15 abreks: A kind of freedom-fighter in the Caucasus. This word is also used to describe bandits and outcasts.

16 beshmet: A kind of quilted coat.

17 “Yakshi tkhe, chek yakshi!”: This means “A good horse, very good!”

18 gyaurs: Non-Muslims. The word is a Turkic version of the Persian word for infidel.

19 Karagyoz: A Turkic name, which literally means “black eyes,” but also refers to a Turkish shadow puppet, popular for many centuries in countries near Turkey.

20 Yok: This means “no” or “not.” It is said to be Tatar.

21 gurda: An expensive weapon made of high-quality steel.

22 Padishah: This was a title for the Sultan of Turkey.

23 There is a footnote here in Lermontov’s original: Я прошу прощения у читателей в том, что переложил в стихи песню Казбича, переданную мне, разумеется, прозой; но привычка—вторая натура. (Прим. Лермонтова.)

24 yashmak: A type of Turkish veil worn by women.

25 Urus—yaman, yaman!: This means “The Russian is bad, bad!”

26 peri: A term of endearment referring to fairylike creatures who are fallen angels.

27 muzhik: A male Russian peasant.

28 Russ: An older word meaning “Russian man.”

29 dear little: this refers to provincial Russian cities and has a slightly pejorative tone (hence the italics, which were in Lermontov’s original).

30 Krestovaya: This is a mountain, the name of which translates as “Mountain of the Cross.”

31 Nightingale-Robber: A figure from Russian folklore who wrought havoc and was able to render people immobile by whistling.

32 lezginka: A folk dance of the Lezgin people.

33 sazhen: An obsolete Russian measurement equal to seven feet.

34 thermalam: Fabric used for lining, usually linen or cotton.


1 dolman: A Hungarian jacket.

2 Balzac’s thirty-year-old coquette: This refers to Honoré de Balzac’s novel La Femme de Trente Ans (1834).



1. Rousseau’s confessions: This refers to Les Confessions by Rousseau.


1 izba: A traditional Russian log house.

2 fatera: This word means quarters.

3 slobodka: A settlement exempted from normal State obligations.

4 On that day the dumb shall cry out: A reference to the Bible, Isaiah 35:5-6: “Then shall the lame man leap as an hart and the tongue of the dumb sing.”

5 uryadnik: A Cossack NCO, a noncommissioned officer.

6 rusalka: A water nymph, frequently demonic, who lives underwater, often at the bottom of rivers.

7 La Jeune-France: A group of young French writers of the 1830s who are known to have exaggerated the theories of Romanticism. They looked up to Victor Hugo.

8 Mignon: A character in Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre.


1 The opening line of a short poem by Alexander Pushkin titled “The Cloud” (1835).

2 whist: A trick-taking card game played by four players. It was popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

3 fichu: A triangular scarf worn around the neck.

4 à la moujik: This means “in the peasant style.”

5 “Mon cher, je haïs les hommes pour ne pas mépriser, car autrement la vie serait une farce trop dégoutante”: “My dear friend, I hate men in order not to despise them, otherwise life would be a most repulsive farce.” (French)

6 “Mon cher, je méprise les femmes pour ne pas les aimer, car autrement la vie serait un mélodrame trop ridicule”: “My dear friend, I despise women in order not to love them, otherwise life would be a most ridiculous melodrama.” (French)

7 cherkeska: A Circassian tunic, worn over the beshmet.

8 Beshtau, Zmeinoi, Zheleznaya, and Lisaya: The translation, from Turkish and Russian, of these names: Five-mountains, The Snake, The Iron One, The Bare One.

9 “Mon dieu, un Circassien!”: “My God, a Circassian!” (French)

10 “Ne craignez rien, madame—je ne suis pas plus dangereux que votre cavalier.”: “Fear not, madam—I am no more dangerous than your cavalier.” (French)

11 Nogay wagon: The Nogays are an East Caucasian people.

12 C’est impayable!: “That’s priceless!” (French)

13 This is a reference to Pyotr Pavlovich Kaverin, a friend of Pushkin’s who served in the same regiment as Lermontov, and who is mentioned in the first chapter of Eugene Onegin.

14 Library for Reading: A journal of the 1830s and 1840s (Biblioteka dlya Chteniya), which published memoirs and foreign novels, among other things.

15 souls: Serfs in Russia were counted as “souls.”

16 From act 3, scene 3 of Woe from Wit by Aleksandr Griboedov. It is slightly misquoted by Lermontov here.

17 The cold observations . . . : A fragment from Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin.

18 vampire: The vampire referred to here is the hero of a story by John Polidori called “The Vampyre,” about a young man who negotiates society by wreaking havoc on the virtuous and encouraging the sinister.

19 son coeur et sa fortune: His heart and his fortune. (French)

20 arkhaluk: A Caucasian coat.

21 “É finita la commedia!”: “The comedy is finished!” (Italian)


1 stanitsa: A large Cossack village.

2 Boston: A card game.

3 faro: A card game that was popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, involving an entire pack of playing cards and any number of players.

4 stuss: A variant of the card game faro.

5 chikhir: A young red wine from the Caucasus.

6 uryadnik: This is a Cossack NCO, a noncommissioned officer.