Grigorii Savvich Skovoroda

Skovoroda, Grigorii Savvich


Born Nov. 22 (Dec. 3), 1722, in the village of Chernukhi, Poltava Province; died Oct. 29 (Nov. 9), 1794, in the village of Ivanovka (now Skovoro-dinovka, Kharkov Oblast). Ukrainian philosopher, poet, and pedagogue.

Skovoroda studied at the Kiev Mogila Academy. He spent the period from 1750 to 1753 (according to other sources, from 1747 to 1750) outside of Russia—in, for example, Tokaj, Budapest, and Bratislava. After returning from abroad, he taught poetics at the Pereiaslav Seminary and then worked as a private tutor in a household in the village of Kavrai. Beginning in 1759 and continuing for about ten years, with interruptions, he taught various subjects in the humanities at the Kharkov Academy. From the 1770’s Skovoroda led the life of a poor wandering philosopher. During his lifetime his works circulated in manuscript form.

Skovoroda was closely associated with the traditions of democratic Ukrainian culture, from which he drew the models for his popular anticlerical satire. In his role as a teacher of the peasants he held a critical attitude not only toward feudal ideology but also toward early bourgeois ideology with its cult of material satisfaction and success.

Skovoroda’s philosophical teachings as set forth in his dialogues and treatises are based on the idea of three worlds: the macrocosm, or universe; the microcosm, or man; and a symbolic reality. The symbolic world links together the macrocosm and the microcosm, which are ideally reflected in it. The most perfect example of this third world, according to Skovoroda, is the Bible. Each of the three worlds consists of two “natures” (natury): the visible nature—creation (tvar), or the created world—and the invisible nature—god.

In Skovoroda’s view, the basic problem of human existence consists in discovering the invisible nature through the visible. This problem is resolved by the achievement of self-knowledge, that is, by the discovery of the inner, or true, man—the “man of the heart” (serdechnyi chelovek). God is understood not only as a personality with an interest in man but also as the unconditional condition for reality—that is, as an impersonal and abstract “form” that organizes matter in an orderly way. For this reason, it is possible to say that Skovoroda had a tendency to pantheism.

Along with his constant interest in biblical problems, Skovoroda paid close attention to the philosophical heritage of antiquity, especially the tradition of Platonism. The ethical passion he acquired from the Old and New Testaments was combined with advocacy of the principles of Stoic morality. This duality in his sympathies is reflected in the style of his philosophical works, which are characterized by a curious mixture of prophetic intonations and the devices of the Socratic dialogue. In his interpretation of the Bible, Skovoroda adhered to the symbolic method of the Alexandrian school (seeORIGEN and CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA). Origen was apparently his source for the ancient idea that the created world is without beginning or end.

Skovoroda’s social and pedagogical views are based on the doctrine of a man’s nature (srodnost’) and natural occupation. Self-knowledge reveals the specific kind of activity, whether physical or spiritual, that is in each person’s nature. To be truly happy, a man must come to know his nature. According to Skovoroda, the ideal of a perfect human society can be achieved only through the spiritual preparation of the individual. Since not everyone is capable of the creative effort of self-knowledge, the problem of social pedagogy arises. Skovoroda’s ideal pedagogue is reminiscent of Socrates’ image of the midwife. The task of the teacher does not consist in instilling something in the student or in intellectual dictation but rather in calmly and tactfully helping him to discover his true vocation—the vocation to which his nature disposes him.

Skovoroda composed a collection of prose fables and a collection of poems called The Garden of Divine Songs, in which the traditions of old Ukrainian lyric songs predominate. His literary manner is characterized by expressive imagery, by striking transitions from the passionate to the humorous or the grotesque, and by an abundance of metaphors, antitheses, recurring images, and symbols. The democratic spirit of his style and the polyphonic dialogue form he used to express his ideas contributed to the wide popularity of the works and personality of the wandering philosopher during his lifetime. The critical themes and unique stylistic characteristics of Skovoroda’s poetry and fables were used and developed in later Ukrainian literature.


Soch. Kharkov, 1894.
Povne zibrannia tvoriv, vols. 1-2. Kiev, 1973.
Soch., vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1973.


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IU. M. LOSHCHITS [23–1529–]