7 Interesting Facts about Hryhoriy Skovoroda, Ukrainian Philosopher


Fact 1 – Hryhoriy Skovoroda: the name and habits of the Ukrainian philosopher

Portrait of Ukrainian philosopher Hryhorii Skovoroda
Hryhoriy Skovoroda, Ukrainian philosopher (1722–1794)

The persona and teachings of Hryhoriy Skovoroda (1722–1794) continue to fascinate us centuries after the Ukrainian philosopher’s death. Here are some interesting facts about him that perhaps are little-known to English-speaking readers.

The philosopher’s first name, Hryhoriy, is sometimes spelt as Hryhorii or Gregory. His surname, Skovoroda, means “frying pan” in Ukrainian. Hryhoriy Skovoroda often used his patronymic “Savych”, which means “Son of Sava”.

Thanks to Mykhailo Kovalynskyi, the philosopher’s friend and pupil, we know of some of the philosopher’s habits:

He dressed decently but simply; his food consisted of herbs, fruits and dairy products, which he consumed for supper after sunset; he consumed neither meat nor fish, not because of some persuasion, but because of his inner disposition. For sleep, he allowed himself no more than four hours a day…

“The Life of Hryhoriy Skovoroda” by Mykhailo Kovalynskyi

Fact 2 – Skovoroda, his nationality and his native language

Front book cover of Aphorisms by Skovoroda is black with yellow ornament featuring heart with a fountain inside it
Book cover of “Aphorisms by Skovoroda Ukrainian Explorations of Love and Life”.

Surfing the net, you might come across search results claiming Skovoroda to be a Russian philosopher. Indeed, the Russian “national” philosophy appropriated many of his teachings. However, to call Hryhoriy Skovoroda a Russian philosopher would be the same as calling Sigmund Freud a Russian psychoanalyst because Russian psychiatrists use his methods. Hryhoriy Skovoroda was Ukrainian. He was born in Ukraine to Ukrainian parents. For most of his life, he lived in his home country, and he died there. He visited Russia only twice. He wrote chiefly in Ukrainian, Latin and Church Slavonic.

Mykhailo Kovalynskyi, the philosopher’s friend and pupil, wrote:

“When Skovoroda wrote for his country, he sometimes employed the Ukrainian language and orthography used in Ukrainian vernacular. He always loved his native language and rarely forced himself to speak in a foreign language and preferred Hellenic to all the other foreign languages.” 

“The Life of Hryhoriy Skovoroda” by Mykhailo Kovalynskyi

Fact 3 – The Ukrainian Philosopher’s Works

Although the fame of Skovoroda’s works was widespread, and his poems, tracts, and fables were disseminated in rewritten form, none of his works was published during his lifetime.

Skovoroda’s first published work was Narcissus, 1798. Unfortunately, the publisher M. Antonovskyi omitted the author’s name from the publication.

Some 63 years passed between the first and second editions of Skovoroda’s works. The second edition included Skovoroda’s selected works. It was published in 1861 by I. Lysenkov.

Two quotes of Hryhorii Skovoroda: A heart does not love unless it perceives beauty. You rightly call thoughts seeds. Seeds are the beginning of fruits.

Fact 4 – The Philosopher and his Poetry

Skovoroda was one of the first poets to introduce single rhymes (the stress is on the final syllable of the word) and then some types of general rhymes into old Ukrainian. And, since he also occasionally wrote in Russian, he introduced these into the Russian language as well. Prior to that, it was customary to use a double rhyme (stress on the penultimate syllable.

Fact 5 – Hryhoriy Skovoroda in Literature

Some authors wrote fictional works featuring Skovoroda. These include the poem The Philosopher of Ukraine by H. Ewach, Excerpts from notes on the elder, Hryhoriy Skovoroda and Major, Major! by Izmail Sreznevsky.

The following great minds were influenced by Skovoroda: Ivan Кotliarevskyi, Hryhorіy Кvitka–Osnovyanenko, Taras Shevchenko, and Panteleimon Кulish.

Fact 6 – Hryhoriy Skovoroda as “The Wandering Philosopher”

During the last thirty years of his life, Skovoroda was dedicated to travelling and ascetic renunciation of all temptations of life in society. “The world tried to ensnare me but failed” is the epigraph on Hryhoriy Skovoroda’s grave, which was inscribed there according to the philosopher’s wishes. These words sum up the philosopher’s life journey perfectly. Skovoroda did not yield to the temptations of this world. He resolutely preserved his true self, his essence, his beliefs and his humanism. 

Fact 7 – Frankness in Everything

Hryhoriy Skovoroda was frank when expressing his opinion and feelings about his friends or acquaintances. He once called a man he considered to be a flatterer “a woman’s secretary”. By the same token, his letters to his friends are imbued with love, warmth, and devotion.

To learn more about Hryhoriy Skovoroda, see New Release – “Aphorisms By Skovoroda”