Sunday, 18 November 2018

O, those Russians.......

The 'big fella' in his heyday'
Grigori Rasputin’s story and life are reminiscent of a mad man’s dream (my dreams?): torrid, lurid, with a few hot gypsy dancers thrown in as a side salad (hola!).  What is known historically about this man is remarkable enough, what has entered folklore is fantastic, surreal and almost certainly untrue.

Rasputin was born in Siberia, in 1869, to poor peasant stock. He married a local woman at 19 and about this time underwent a religious conversion of sorts. Although, never ordained he acquired the epithet of the ‘Mad Monk’ and remained illiterate to the end of his days. 
He apparently travelled widely including sojourns to Athens and Jerusalem. In 1904 he gravitated to the Russian capital of Petrograd (modern day St Petersburg) and within a few scant years managed to inveigle his way into the affections of the Tsar and Tsarina. The Tsar’s son, Alexei, suffered from haemophilia, a bleeding disorder which he had inherited from his mother. Due to his condition, the Tsarevich was often ill and on several occasions nearly expired due to prolonged bleeding episodes. Apparently, perhaps by the sheer weight of his charisma and personality, Rasputin was able to exert a positive effect on Alexei’s health. On a practical level, his curative powers may have been due to his insistence that all medicines prescribed by Alexei’s doctors be discontinued. As part of the medical regime, aspirin was a likely addition. Aspirin, although effective in certain instances, is known to thin the blood. Not the best medicine for someone with a bleeding disorder. Whatever the reason for Rasputin’s successful medical intervention, the upshot was that his ministrations endeared him to the Tsarina and Rasputin soon became a favourite in court where he exercised significant influence on domestic politics. To the Tsar and Tsarina, Rasputin remained a simple, devout holy man with unique spiritual powers. For all his assumed piety, Rasputin enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh and engaged in numerous affairs with women from all strata of society. His behaviour has become a byword for extravagant licentiousness and debauchery- he certainly seemed a wow at any party.

Regardless, of his standing with the Tsar and Tsarina, Rasputin did not endear himself to the ruling elite who viewed his ascendancy in court as baleful, especially as he seemed able to exercise real political power mediated through the autocratic Tsar.  If the life of this man seems remarkable enough, his death has become etched into ‘history’ as fantastic and scarcely credible.

The beginning and end of Rasputin are well founded. Tis the middle bits that lend to controversy and dispute. On the evening of 29th December 1916, Rasputin was invited to Prince Felix Yusupov’s palace in Petrograd on the pretext of a party. On entering the basement, Rasputin was given wine and fancy pasties laced with cyanide. It is said that the cyanide had little effect on the man and Felix (for it is no other) and his co-conspirators continued to feed Rasputin larger and larger amounts of the poison but to no avail. Prince Yusupov aghast at Rasputin’s rather robust constitution decided to shoot the ‘monk’ through the heart. Rasputin seemed mildly discombobulated at this turn of events and was moved to throttle the startled prince. The redoubtable Felix managed to break free and his colleague administered a few more bullets, one for good measure, entered Rasputin’s forehead. Assured of his destruction, the goodly prince and his cohorts placed Rasputin’s body in the nearby frigid river. The corpse was recovered from the river several days later. At autopsy, it was determined that water was present in Rasputin’s lungs indicating that he had drowned. What a death, what a man! But is any of this true?

The story, as related, was recounted in the good Prince’s memoirs written in 1927. The veracity of the account has been questioned as it seems too good to be true and panders to Rasputin’s reputation for stamina, vitality and extreme hardiness and has all the hallmarks of legend. Indeed, scientists have rallied around this account to proffer explanations for Rasputin’s apparent immunity to cyanide. Cyanide is a very potent poison as it interferes with cellular respiration. It has been stated that Rasputin may have suffered from a condition called achlorhydria, mayhap due to alcohol excess, which results in a lack of stomach acid. In this instance, the cyanide in the stomach would not produce the deadly hydro-cyanide gas.  I can’t say I’m overly impressed with this explanation. If prince Yusupov is to be believed, the amount of cyanide administered was prodigious; enough to kill a thousand turbulent priest with dyspepsia. Also, there was no evidence of poison in Rasputin’s system at autopsy. It is highly unlikely that a competent physician would miss the characteristic signs of cyanide poisoning, especially at the high doses administered.

It is likely that the prince embellished the story in his memoirs for his own aggrandisement. A man of such prodigious appetites and animal magnetism requires a heroic end, no doubt. How could it be that this ‘monster’ was laid low with just a single shot to the head? Surely, a commonplace and simple end to this indefatigable man requires nay demands, embellishment. A man who even to this day provokes the stuff of legends.   
Rasputin having a bad hair day

So, lets us not spoil a rollicking good story with unremarkable, prosaic truth. Arse……Take it away, Bony M


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