1. Never talk with Strangers (continued)

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In Ancient Egypt, the god Osiris was the protector of the dead, brother and husband of Isis, and father of the falcon-headed god Horus


Tammoz is a Syro-Phoenician demi-god, his Greek equivalent Adonis is probably known better .


Marduk is a Babylonian sun-god, the leader of a revolt against the old deities and institutor of a new order.


, in other literary works also named Huitzilopochtli, is the Aztec god of war, to whom human sacrifices were offered.

A black knob shaped like a poodle's head

In Goethe's Faust, Mephistopheles first gets to Faust by taking the form of a black poodle.

A foreigner

Foreigners aroused both curiosity and suspicion in Soviet Russia, representing both the glamour of «abroad» and the possibility of espionage. Talking to strangers could get one into trouble with the secret police. Few foreigners visited the Soviet Union, and those who did were required to register with the authorities and to stay in special hotels, and they were observed very closely.

In Russian language a foreigner is indicated by the word иностранец [inostranyets], but in times past the word немец [nemets] was also used. This word had a double meaning, however. It stood, besides for foreigner, also for German. So when Ivan, in the first chapter of The Master and Margarita asks Woland «Вы немец?» [Vy nemets?], it can mean «are you German?» as well as «are you a foreigner?». Немец [nemets] would come from the verb неметь [nemet], which means to become dumb. A nemets is then a dumb, in the sense of someone who doesn't speak Russian.

Click here to read more about Russians and foreigners

The Phoenician Adonis

With the Phoenician Adonis Berlioz refers to the Syro-Phoenician equivalent of the Greek god Adonis: the demi-god Tammoz

The Phrygian Atris

The name Atris is probably a typing error in the English translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, since Bulgakov was writing about фригийский Аттис [Frigiyskiy Attis] or Phrygian Attis. Attis is a Phrygian god, companion to Cybele. He was castrated and bled to death

The Persian Mithras

Mithras is the Greek name for the Persian Mithra, a god who is truth-speaking, with a thousand ears, with ten thousand eyes, high, with full knowledge, strong, sleepless, and ever awake. Mithra is also protector and keeper of all aspects of interpersonal relationships, such as friendship and love, and closely associated with the goddess Aredvi Sura Anahita, the hypostasis of knowledge.

The coming of the Magi

In the original Russian text is written приход волхвов [prikhod volkhvov]. It means the coming of the magicians. In Russian, the term священные волхвы [svyachennije volkhvy] or holy magicians is used to describe the Three Wise Men, the Three Kings, or the Kings from the east who visited the newborn Jesus according to Matthew 2:1-12 - «After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him'.»

The Magi were members of the Persian priestly caste. In other bible translations the terms diviners or astrologers are also used.

If, not being your acquaintance, I allow myself...

The foreigner's introduction inspired Mick Jagger from the British band The Rolling Stones to write the song Sympaty For The Devil, one year after the novel was published for the first time. At that time, the British singer Marianne Faithfull was Jagger's girlfriend. In an interview with Sylvie Simmons from the magazine Mojo in 2005, she said: «I got Mick to read The Master And Margarita and out of that, after discussing it at length with me, he wrote that song».

The song starts with the words: «Please, allow me to introduce myself...»

Click here to watch a video of the making of this song

Restless old Immanuel

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), was a German idealist philosopher. In his Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1781) he wrote that, though we can not prove it, we can, by the pure reason - which is the ability to transcend the sensory reality and thus no longer depend on it - conclude that, among others, freedom, immorality and God exist.

The five proofs that Kant "roundly demolished" according to Woland, and to which he added "a sixth of his own", are the so called Quinquae viae, which are five proofs of the existence of God, formulated by the catholic philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) in his Summa Theologiae (1265-1274).

Click here to read more about these proofs.


Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) was a German poet and playwright and a liberal idealist. At the beginning Schiller was a revolutionary in his work. Which, in those days, meant that he was striving for freedom and equality, and rejected arbitrariness and injustice. Later he became more moderate. Schiller is, among others, known for his poem An die Freude (1785) which was partly used by his contemporary Ludwig von Beethoven (1770-1827) in the final part of the Ninth Symphony. A well-known statement of Schiller concerned the work of Immanuel Kant related to freedom: "you can because you have to".

Schiller struck a productive, if complicated, friendship with already famous and influential Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1842), with whom he discussed much on issues concerning aesthetics, encouraging Goethe to finish works he left merely as sketches; this thereby gave way to a period now referred to as Weimar Classicism. They also worked together on Die Xenien (The Xenies), a collection of short but harshly satiric poems in which both Schiller and Goethe verbally attacked those persons they perceived to be enemies of their aesthetic agenda.


The Strauss mentioned here is David Strauss (1808-1874), a German theologian, author of Das Leben Jesu, kritisch bearbeitet or The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. He didn't care of the reality of the Jesus character, but he gave a mythical interpretation of the New Testament in the context of the poetical consciousness of the Jewish and the early christian communities. To him, the person Jesus was a fiction resulting from cultural and literary expectations.

Click here to read Das Leben Jesu, kritisch bearbeitet in English


Solovki is a casual name for the Solovetski Islands in the White Sea. On the territory of a former convent was situated the Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp, one of the earliest and most notorious concentration camps. The last prisoners were loaded on a barge and drowned in the White Sea in 1959.

The three years in Solovki could refer to an incident that occurred in 1926, two years before Bulgakov began to write The Master and Margarita. At that time, a number of Freemasons were arrested in Leningrad by the secret police OGPU, the forerunner of the NKVD. One of those arrested was the lawyer Boris Viktorovich Kirichenko (1883-1941?), who was known under the pseudonym Boris Viktorovich Astromov

Astromov said that he was already 2000 years old and that he was a follower of Kant. He was convicted because he had helped to organise an «international bourgeois conspiracy against the Soviet Union». He got sentenced to five years in a concentration camp, later replaced by a period of three years. In December 1926, he was pardoned and he was exiled to Siberia. In 1940, he was again arrested by the NKVD. After that, no one ever heard about him anymore.

The interest of Bulgakov for Freemasonry can be explained by the fact that, in 1903, Afanasy Ivanovich Bulgakov (1859-1907), theologian and church historian, and the father of Mikhail Afanasievich, had written an article about Modern Freemasonry in its Relationship with the Church and the State, which was published in the Acts of the Theological Academy of Kiev. Bulgakov refers more than once to Freemasonry in the novel.

Click here to read more on Freemasonry in The Master and Margarita

Man governs it himself

Bezdomny quotes a verse from the poem Наше воскресенье [Nashe voskresenye] or Our resurrection, written by Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) in 1923: «нам не бог начертал бег […] миром правит сам человек» or «no god determines our flight [...] the world is governed by man himself ».

Motionless in a wooden box

The story which Woland describes so colourfully here, alleges Господин из Сан-Франциско [Gospodin iz San Frantsisko] or The Gentleman from San Francisco, a story from 1915 by Nobel Prize winner Ivan Bunin (1870-1953). Bunin himself said he got the idea of writing this story after having seen the cover of the novella Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (1875-1955) in a Moscow bookstore.

Bulgakov must have loved this story, since he also referred to it in his novel The White Guard, where «a cold cup of tea and The Gentleman from San Francisco lay on the table in front of Elena Turbin».

Our Brand

In the Russian text Ivan says that he smokes Наша Марка (Nasha Marka), or Our Brand. Nasha Marka, produced originally by V.I. Asmolov & Co in Rostov on Don, is a Russian brand of cigarettes. It still exists and is very popular - it celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2003. In 1920, the company was nationalized and the name changed to the Don State Tabacco Factory (DSTF). Production promptly decreased by 60 % compared to 1916. But the NEP gave a new impulse and in 1926 the production was four times the 1922 results. After the Soviet era, in 1992, the DSTF was reorganised and the name changed into JSC Donskoy Tabak. At the centenary celebration of Nasha Marka in 2003, a new industrial complex was built with a production capacity of 60 billion cigarettes per year. JSC Donskoy Tabak is now part of the agroholding AGROCOM.

The way Woland offers a cigarette to Ivan reminds of a scene from Goethe's Faust. The devil Mephistopheles asks some tipplers in the Auerbachs Keller in Leipzig: «Nun sagt, was wünschet ihr zu schmecken?» or «Tell me, what do you wish to taste?», which is followed by the counter-question: «Wie meint Ihr das? Habt Ihr so mancherlei?» or «How do you mean? Have you got so much choice then?». Just like Ivan replied: «What, have you got several?» when Woland asks him which kind of cigarettes he prefers.

A cigarette case

The cigarette case of the stranger contains precisely Our Brand cigarettes - it is not so strange: the devil is traditionally gifted with the power to make any desired object appear. But Berlioz and Ivan are also astonished by the triangle which adorns the case. It is one of the emblems of the devil. It is often found in esotericism (jewish mystic, mystic of numbers, freemasonry). It is the reversible face par excellence, often linked to its reversed picture, as in the Seal of Solomon and the Star of David (David was the father of Solomon). This seal is formed by two twined triangles: the one - going up - representing the negative force or the devil, the other one - going down - representing the positive force or God. The equilibrium of both triangles is the key of Wisdom.

On the lid of the cigarette case «a diamond triangle flashed white and blue fire». Blue is the highest colour of Freemasonry. It symbolizes perfection, truth and immortality. A triangle with the so-called Eye of Providence is present in all temples of Masonic Lodges on the wall opposite to the entrance, symbolizing the East.

The interest of Bulgakov for Freemasonry can be explained by the fact that, in 1903, Afanasy Ivanovich Bulgakov (1859-1907), theologian and church historian, and the father of Mikhail Afanasievich, had written an article about Modern Freemasonry in its Relationship with the Church and the State, which was published in the Acts of the Theological Academy of Kiev. Bulgakov refers more than once to Freemasonry in the novel.

Click here to read more on Freemasonry in The Master and Margarita

Enemies? Interventionists?

There was constant talk in the early Soviet period of enemies of the revolution and foreign interventionists seeking to subvert the new workers' state.


Komsomol is the contraction of Коммунистический союз молодёжи (Kommunistichesky Soyuz Molodyozhy) or the Union of Communist Youth, which all "good Soviet" young people were expected to join.

Komsomol had little direct influence on the Communist Party but played an important role as a mechanism for teaching the values of the communist party to the young, and as an organ for introducing the young to the political arena. The driver woman of the tram that wll decapitate Berlioz, is a member of Komsomol. We know that because she has got a «crimson armband». Well... in Chapter 3, we will see that it should have been a «scarlet scarf» or a «necktie».

The growing up Soviet citizen had to follow a complete ideological itinerary, starting with the Всесоюзная пионерская организация [Vsesoyuznaya pionyerskaya organizatsya] or Pioneers. At the age of 14, the youngster moved to the Komsomol, where he or she stayed until the age of 28. After that, the talented members could join the Communist Party, which was a condition for having access to more important functions. The Komsomol served as a repository for young potentials and a steppingstone for any career. Being thrown out of the youth movement, for instance because of misbehaviour at school, or because of politically incorrect ideas, was considered as one of the major punishments and after that, further career opportunities within the Soviet Union were reduced to zero.


Annushka is of the few characters to keep her actual name in The Master and Margarita. Tatiana Lappa (1892-1982), Bulgakov's first wife remembered Annushka Goryacheva, who lived across the corridor in apartment number 48. The apartment was a sort of working-class dormitory with 7 rooms off a central corridor. Annushka Goryacheva had a son and beat him often. They used to buy home-brew vodka, get drunk, fight, and make noise.

In an earlier version of the novel, her name was Pelageyushka, in another one she was called Annushka Basina. She also played a role in No. 13 - The House of the Elpit Workers' Commune, a short story from 1922, and in Theatrical novel, also known as Black Snow, a novel from 1937.

Boulgakov could get terribely annoyed by the real Annouchka, as we can conclude from the fact that he wrote in his diary on October 29, 1923: «The first day of heating was marked by the fact that the famous Annushka left the window of the big kitchen opened during all night. I resolutely do not know what to do with the scoundrel who lives in this flat».

A Russian emigre

Many Russians who were opposed to the revolution emigrated abroad, forming important "colonies" in various capitals like Berlin, Paris, Prague, Harbin or Shanghai - where they remained potential spies and interventionists.

Gerbert of Aurillac

Gerbert of Aurillac (958-1005) was a theologian and mathematician, popularly taken to be a magician and alchemist. He became pope in 999 under the name of Sylvester II.


Nisan is, according to the civil calendar, the seventh month of the Jewish lunar calendar. Originally, according to the ecclesiastical calendar, it was the first month. The fifteenth day of Nisan (beginning at sundown on the fourteenth) is the start of the feast of Pesach or Passover, (Hebrew: פסח - coming from passing over or Pasach). It's the day of the full moon, because the jewish months start on the day following the new lunar crescent. Passover is also known as Pesach, the spring feast, or freedom feast, commemorating the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.

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