Hryhorii Skovoroda, a Symbol of Ukrainian Philosophy

Hi there! I’m Dasha and I come from Ukraine. Ukraine is a motherland to many talented people. There are outstanding Ukrainians who have achieved success and are appreciated in the whole world. The phrase “the world tried to catch me but failed” which has become popular worldwide, belongs to a Ukrainian philosopher and poet Hryhorii Skovoroda. Today I’d like to share some interesting facts about this outstanding Ukrainian who is considered to be one of the most important figures in Ukrainian culture and is often referred to as the “Ukrainian Socrates.”

The Ukrainian philosopher Hryhorii Skovoroda (1722-1794) was a brilliant thinker of the 18th century, democratic educator, and poet. During his lifetime, Skovoroda was called “Ukrainian Socrates”, “Horace”, “Aesop”, and “Warsava” that is “son of peace”. He takes a special place in Ukrainian literature. The life of Ukrainian society at that time had a great influence on the formation of Hryhorii’s talent and point of view. It made him an uncompromising fighter against social injustice. When there was a great oppression of Ukrainians from tsarizm, he stood up for the rights of ordinary people. Throughout Ukrainian history, many artists and their families have been subject to violence and oppression from authorities due to their struggle for rights, freedom, and truth. Despite these challenges, they have always fought courageously until the end. Hryhorii Skovoroda is a perfect example of this bravery and resilience. His profound works and lasting influence continue to inspire and impress people today, including myself.

The whole creative  work of this outstanding Ukrainian is full of philosophical thoughts about the unity of nature and man, about human life and happiness. Skovoroda was a deeply religious man who believed in the power of knowledge and self-improvement. He wrote extensively on topics such as ethics, morality, and the nature of the universe. His philosophy was heavily influenced by the ideas of the ancient Greek philosophers, as well as the teachings of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Hryhorii Skovoroda was born in the village of Chernukha in the Poltava region of Ukraine, which was then part of the Russian Empire, in a wealthy Cossack family. His parents gave him a good education. At the age of 14, Skovoroda entered the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, where he studied philosophy, theology, and music. He was an excellent student and quickly gained a reputation as one of the brightest minds at the academy. He possessed a fluent knowledge of foreign languages: Latin, Jewish, Greek, Polish, German, Italian and French. After completing his studies, Skovoroda began teaching philosophy and mathematics at the academy. However, he was not content with the academic life and soon left to pursue his own studies and writings.

Here are some interesting facts about Hryhorii Skovoroda:

  • He was known as the “philosopher of the Ukrainian people” for his deep insights into the nature of the universe, human existence, and spirituality.
  • In general Hryhorii wrote 17 philosophical works, 7 translations. Even though Skovoroda’s works were not published during his lifetime because of Russian censorship, they still managed to reach a wider audience through various forms of rewriting.
  • Skovoroda’s teachings were heavily influenced by the ancient Greek philosophers, particularly the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras.
  • Skovoroda was also deeply influenced by the teachings of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and his philosophy reflects a synthesis of Christian and classical thought.
  • Skovoroda believed in the power of self-improvement and saw the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom as a lifelong journey.
  • He slept no more than 4 hours. But anyway, he was said to be a cheerful, active person.
  • Skovoroda’s unorthodox lifestyle and eccentric behavior earned him a reputation as a wandering sage, and he was often seen playing music on his hurdy-gurdy and reciting poetry on the streets. Despite his humble lifestyle, Skovoroda was highly respected by his students and peers.
  • Skovoroda was he never married and lived a simple, austere life.
  • Skovoroda was also a talented musician and composer, and he composed several pieces for the harpsichord and other instruments, although many of his works have been lost over time. He was described as a proficient player on the flute, bandura and kobza.
  • What is interesting and mystical about the poet is prediction of his death. Hryhorii felt the approach of his death: he dug a grave, washed himself, put on clean clothes, lay on a bench and died. Now, you can see a stone with a phrase: “The world tried to catch me but failed” on his grave in Kharkiv region.
  • Hryhorii Skovoroda is considered one of Ukraine’s greatest cultural figures, with streets and institutions named after him in many Ukrainian cities.
  • On December 2nd, 2022, on the 300th anniversary of Skovoroda’s birth, a monument to him was installed in Washington D.C. near the Ukraine House. It was created in 1992 by American sculptor Mark Rhodes who was inspired by Skovoroda’s ideas.
  • His ideas and teachings continue to inspire generations of scholars and artists in Ukraine and beyond.
  • Today, Skovoroda remains a symbol of Ukrainian philosophy. He tried to find the answers to timeless questions such as “What is happiness? How can it be found?” Through his works, Skovoroda explored the essence of humanity and existence, referring to the Bible and Christian tradition. According to his philosophy, the spirit, thought, and heart of an individual are the most essential aspects of human existence, and a society based on morality, creativity, and compassion is the foundation of an ideal society.

Here are some notable quotations from Hryhorii Skovoroda:

  • Everything will be difficult, if there’s no dream.
  • Give thanks to God, who made necessary things simple, and complicated things unnecessary.
  • Love arises from love; when I want to be loved, I am the first to love.
  • Of all the losses, the loss of time is the heaviest.
  • Water cannot exist without fish, just as air without birds, just as time without people.
  • Your feet can’t help but lose their way, when your heart has lost it.
  • Can a person, who is blind at home, see clearly at the marketplace?
  • Wisdom was not created from books, but books were created from wisdom.
  • The mind that is not occupied by the thought of God is a mind that is not in its natural state.
  • Knowledge is like a sea without a shore; the more we know, the more we realize how little we know.
  • True happiness is not found in wealth, power, or fame, but in living a virtuous life and being content with what we have.
  • The greatest achievement of a philosopher is not in the knowledge that he acquires, but in the wisdom that he imparts.
  • The purpose of human life is to seek the truth and to live in accordance with it.
  • The key to wisdom is to realize that we know nothing, and to be open to new ideas and experiences.
  • Life is a journey, and the destination is not as important as the path that we take to get there.
  • The pursuit of knowledge is a never-ending journey, and the more we learn, the more we realize how much we still have to learn.
  • True freedom is not the absence of constraints, but the ability to choose how we respond to the challenges that life presents to us.
  • The purpose of music is not to entertain, but to uplift the soul and inspire us to greater heights of spiritual and emotional awareness.