The New Student's Reference Work/Mazeppa, Ivan Stefanovich

Mazeppa (mȧ-zep′ȧ), Ivan Stefanovich, hetman or chief of the Cossacks, was born in 1664 of a poor but noble family of Podolia, Poland. He became a page at the court of John Casimir, king of Poland. A jealous nobleman had him stripped naked and bound on his own horse, lying on his back and with his head to its tail, and let the animal loose, leaving Mazeppa to his fate. The horse carried him, senseless from exhaustion, to its native wilds of the Ukraine, according to the usual story. A more likely account is that his horse carried him through woods and thickets and brought him back, torn and bleeding, to his own home. Mazeppa now joined the Cossacks, became secretary to their hetman, Samoilovich, and in 1687 was chosen his successor. He won the confidence of Peter the Great, who loaded him with honors and made him prince of the Ukraine. But when Russia interfered with the freedom of the Cossacks (q. v.), Mazeppa determined to free them from the rule of the czar, and to this end conspired with Charles XII of Sweden. Peter discovered the treason, but long refused to believe it. Mazeppa’s hopes perished in the disastrous battle of Pultowa in 1709, and with Charles he fled to Bender, the Russian fortress in Bessarabia, where he died the same year. His story is the subject of a famous poem by Byron and of two paintings by Vernet.