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Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 4.djvu/239

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INTRODUCTION TO MAZEPPA.

Mazeppa, a legend of the Russian Ukraine, or frontier region, is based on the passage in Voltaire's Charles XII. prefixed as the "Advertisement" to the poem. Voltaire seems to have known very little about the man or his history, and Byron, though he draws largely on his imagination, was content to take his substratum of fact from Voltaire. The "true story of Mazeppa" is worth re-telling for its own sake, and lends a fresh interest and vitality to the legend. Ivan Stepánovitch Mazeppa (or Mazepa), born about the year 1645, was of Cossack origin, but appears to have belonged, by descent or creation, to the lesser nobility of the semi- Polish Volhynia. He began life (1660) as a page of honour in the Court of King John Casimir V. of Poland, where he studied Latin, and acquired the tongue and pen of eloquent statesmanship. Banished from the court on account of a quarrel, he withdrew to his mother's estate in Volhynia, and there, to beguile the time, made love to the wife of neighbouring magnate, the pane or Lord Falbowski. The intrigue was discovered, and to avenge his wrongs the outraged husband caused Mazeppa to be stripped to the skin, and bound to his own steed. The horse, lashed into maddness, and terror-stricken by the discharge of a pistol, started off at a gallop, and rushing "thorough bush, thorough briar," carried his torn and bleeding rider into the courtyard of his own mansion!

With regard to the sequel or issue of this episode, history is silent, but when the curtain rises again (A.D. 1674) Mazeppa is discovered in the character of writer-general or foreign secretary to Peter Doroshénko, hetman or president of the Western Ukraine, on the hither side of the Dniéper. From the service of Doroshénko, who came to an untimely end, he passed by a series of accidents into the employ of his rival, Samoǐlovitch, hetman of the Eastern Ukraine, and, as his secretary or envoy, continued to attract the notice