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The Apotheosis of the Reign of Catherine II
          Catherine the Great, the Empress and Autocrat of all the Russias, born Sophie Augusta Frederika of Anhalt-Zerbst, was a German princess who captured the Russian nation with her strength of character, beauty and charisma. “A devotee of the Enlightenment” (Lehr, 263), Catherine put great emphasis on education, political stability and further continued Peter the Great’s idea of the westernization of the whole Empire. During her reign Catherine was able to advance the Empire through the foundation of the first Russian school for girls, the establishment of the imperial collection of the artistic masterpieces, presently known as the Hermitage Collection, as well as through the creation of the first Russian dictionary and the foundation of the Russia’s Medical College. She, indeed, was a symbol of the Russian spirit while having not even a drop of Russian blood. But despite Catherine’s success in the Empire as a whole,  she was unable to realize herself as a wife and a mother. Numerous writers, poets and artists, mesmerized by Catherine’s historical achievements and personal life, praise Catherine in their masterpieces.  Writers such as Helene Lehr and Franz Kratter devoted their literary compositions Star of the North and The Maid of Marienburg to the life of Catherine II, and the artist Gregorio Guglielmi portrayed Catherine as the goddess Minerva in his masterpiece The Apotheosis of the Reign of Catherine II,   which served as a sketch for the ceiling of the Great Hall of the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo. 
          A remarkable work, The Apotheosis of the Reign of Catherine II (www.hermitagemuseum.org), by Gregorio Guglielmi, who was not very well known at that time in Russia, portrays Catherine as Minerva, the Goddess of Wisdom, Strategy and Craftsmanship. Minerva is the Roman version of the Greek goddess Athena, who is usually portrayed as powerful, triumphant and benevolent. In various myths and legends, the goddess is depicted as a skillful mediator and planner, and a great warrior (www.goddessgift.com). Minerva is also viewed as a supporter of heroic men, protectress of civilized life, noble reasoning and all rational knowledge. She is said to have masculine understanding and was the symbol of the Empire. The depiction of Catherine as Minerva is particularly appropriate, because Catherine was one of the most aggressive strategists and diplomats of that time. She also promoted progressive education and, like Minerva, Catherine was very rational in her decision-making and administration. Similar to Athena, who was the spiritual ruler and patron of the ancient city of Athens, Catherine ultimately became the head of state and was recognized as a symbol of the whole Empire.  The masterpiece portrays Catherine wearing Athena’s golden helmet and holding a spear which demonstrates Catherine’s intent to take command over the army and the nation. When she overthrew her husband, Catherine took control of Russia’s most influential regiments; she took charge of the fleet, the army and the forts, which had previously been abandoned and disordered. She also expanded Russia's territories to the Black Sea and into the central Europe. In addition, in Greek mythology, Athena is identified with masculinity and patriarchal principles, and she completely rejects the idea of marriage. Like Athena, Catherine, who married Peter III in 1745 at the age of fifteen, rejected any idea of remarrying after that miserable union. Even though this marriage was the way to get to the throne, Catherine still chose to remain independent after acceding the power. Moreover, Catherine, so motherly and caring to her nation, suffered from a lack of maternal tenderness towards her own children. 
          Helene Lehr, the author of the novel Star of the North, based on the life of Catherine II, depicts Catherine as a young but very astute and determined woman, whose marriage to Peter III was supposedly no more than a breeding scheme to produce an heir for the Russian Empire. This type of a union, driven by the desire for a male heir, was customary for most royal marriages, and the arrangement is described very accurately in the novel. Empress Elizabeth, the aunt of Peter III, who arranged the marriage, was fearful of  the twelve-year-old Tsar Ivan locked in Schlüsselburg Prison who was the rightful occupant of the throne, but imprisoned with his parents after the Revolution in December 1741 when Elizabeth came to the throne. Unmarried and childless herself, Elizabeth was anxious to secure her succession as soon as possible.
          Lehr’s representation of Catherine reflects reality very closely; she is courageous, intelligent, frank and obedient, the virtues that were instilled in Catherine from early days. History shows that Catherine was a highly motivated and ambitious person, and Lehr portrays her in the same manner in her novel. Lehr’s Catherine manages to remain strong and zealous, despite the misery that her husband put her through and the Empress’s fury with her for not providing the Empire with a successor for such a long time. Instead, Catherine tries to focus her attention on the prospects ahead of her. She wants to rule and feels that she has all the necessary attributes to govern beneficially. Moreover, since Peter is not interested in anything but maneuvering his little battalion of Holstein soldiers, Catherine, an excellent diplomat by nature, takes advantage of her husband’s indifference, taking control of Holstein politics and administration. And that is the first step in showing the people what she is capable of.
          At the age of twenty-five, Catherine gives birth to the crown prince, Paul Petrovich: “There was, she knew very well, the distinct possibility that the child was not a Romanov at all. And if that was the case, the illustrious dynasty was now at an end” (Lehr, 124). Catherine is commanded by Empress Elizabeth to produce an heir by any means possible, even if it takes another man to father the baby. Again, Lehr develops her novel very closely to the historical background of Catherine’s maternity; however, in reality, both Peter and Catherine knew that the Grand Duke was not the father of the child his wife had produced. The author uses factual details to describe Peter’s reaction to the birth of Tsarevich Paul; Peter could protest, but only by revealing his impotence, so he chose to accept the situation and allow everybody to believe that the child was his. This way he would get greater rewards in terms of freedom and respect from the Empress. But, in spite of the questionable birth, Catherine understands that it is her “son who would be the crown prince and, ultimately, emperor. And it was [her] love and guidance that [would] shape his life” (Lehr, 124). Catherine never gets a chance to be a mentor and an affectionate mother to Tsarevich Paul. Her child was removed from her care and destined to live with Empress Elizabeth. Here, Lehr follows the actual series of events but makes it clear in her version that Catherine is not happy with the decision, even though it was very common for aristocratic children to have wet nurses, and later tutors, to whom they were more emotionally attached than their parents. A couple of months later, Catherine is allowed to see her son for the first time “but the two-month-old child in the cradle was a stranger to her. She didn’t feel the slightest urge to pick him up or touch him” (Lehr, 131). She realizes that the child does not belong to her, but rather to the Empress, and she can do nothing about it. The author’s depiction of Catherine’s maternal experience is filtered through modern views of motherhood; she tries to attribute Catherine’s lack of maternal instincts to being forced into being a mother, as well as, her separation from the child at birth. Yet Catherine knows that “wherever the [child] is lodged…there can be none who can deny that it is [she] who is the mother of the crown prince” (Lehr, 132), and she never lets anybody forget. According to a law of Peter the Great, the ruler alone could choose his successor, who need not necessarily be the nearest family member.  Since Elizabeth declared Peter an heir to the throne almost fifteen years ago and had done nothing to confirm the original declaration, Catherine knew she had to be strong and act intelligently since her own husband would want to get rid of her as soon as Empress Elizabeth was dead so he could become the next Emperor. But “on more than one occasion in Russian history the crown has not gone to the chosen successor.” (Lehr, 194) 
          Catherine had two more children shortly after the birth of Tsarevich Paul. Her daughter Ann, who died as an infant, was removed from her care as well; however, Catherine sent her third child, Alexei Grigorevich Bobrinsky, away because he was a bastard, but acknowledged him shortly after she came to the throne. Her relationship with Alexei, however, was better than with Paul, but feeling guilty for the unfulfilled relationship with her eldest son and for abandoning Alexei in the first place, Catherine is then soft on him and spoils him by allowing him  to gamble and regularly exceed  his allowance. 
          The Russian intellectuals, the army and the general population all supported Catherine. Peter’s succession to the throne was feared as it might lead to bloodshed since Peter wanted to introduce the death penalty. He was also talking of war with Denmark, a country that for a long time had been an ally of Russia. Moreover, he was anxious to end the war with Prussia and return all the lands that King Frederick lost because Peter, in fact, considered himself Prussian and very much wanted Frederick’s alliance. But despite Russian nobility’s intention “to saddle her with regency [Catherine] wasn’t about to place that crown on anyone else’s head but her own” (Lehr, 204). And Catherine knows that “she was taking the crown not only from the head of her husband but from her son, as well” (Lehr, 238). Yet, Catherine undertakes the mission. With the help of her lover, Gregory Orlov, Catherine wins the allegiance of Russia’s two most influential regiments which helps her to overthrow her husband and proclaim herself the Empress of all the Russias: “She felt the love of the people embrace her like the passionate arms of an ardent lover and gave herself up entirely to the feeling it generated within her” (Lehr, 238). Catherine’s road to the throne is not effortless but she knows that her abilities will benefit the whole Empire, even at the expense of her own son’s succession.
         The Maid of Marienburg, a drama in five acts by Franz Kratter, reflects the image of Catherine the Great in its main character, Chatinka. However, unlike Catherine II, Chatinka is a daughter of a pastor who “possess’d but little, but [whose] satisfaction in that little turned all [he] had into abundance” (Kratter, 13). When her native town, Marienburg, is conquered, Chatinka is captured by one of the soldiers. Afterward, German general Bauer takes Chatinka under his protection, and Field Marshall Meznikof requests that Chatinka be appointed to the service of his wife, Princess Natalia. Chatinka is represented as an extremely affectionate, generous, intelligent and most beautiful young woman: “Heaven gave to Catherine the charms of a fine person, wit and vivacity, a feeling heart and masculine understanding” (Kratter, 8) and “wherever she comes, all attention is turned towards her; every eye is so absorbed in the contemplation of her charms, that they forget there is any other face barely supportable near her” (Kratter, 25). While Catherine the Great was charming and charismatic, she was not heavenly beautiful. Kratter exaggerates Chatinka’s beauty and magnetism to emphasize her grace, nobility and gentleness. 
          Likewise, Peter Alexiewitz, the character resembling Emperor Peter III, is described as having “greatness, and heroism through every particle of his existence: noble, candid, manly sense, united with majestic seriousness” (Kratter, 146). The relationship between Peter Alexiewitz and Chatinka appears to be very congenial and loving.  He falls in love with Chatinka despite her low social status; he is able to recognize her “serene modesty”  and see beyond her rank and birth. This narrative seems parallel to Boccaccio’s story of Patient Griselda in which Gualtieri, a rich man of noble birth, takes a poor young girl as his wife and later realizes that nobility cannot be inherited through one’s rank but rather obtained through the righteousness and integrity of one’s character. Thus, Peter, seeing her noble, guileless and candid heart, is attracted to Chatinka and marries her without regard for her social status.   Peter “readily lends his ear to [Chatinka’s] petitions. And [her] intercession has frequently appeased the Emperor’s anger; dried up many tears; prevented great miseries; assisted to promote many deserving men; and extended happiness and well being over many distressed families” (Kratter, 139). Chatinka’s power, unlike Catherine’s, is represented through her subjection to her husband; she may not be able to give commands herself but by knowing how to maneuver her husband’s decisions she is able to accomplish her goals anyway. 
          In an unrealistic portrayal, the perfection of Chatinka puts her on a pedestal above any human and represents how victorious and blinding her power and charisma really are.  Kratter also accentuates Chatinka’s unbendable strength of character, diplomatic capabilities and the ability to accomplish her aspirations, which were also aspects of Catherine the Great’s personality. Catherine and Chatinka, both trained in the principles of strictest virtue, were always concerned about their people’s welfare and detested injustice. Both strangers in the foreign land, they realized themselves as individuals by always believing that it was better to act than to remain idle and “wait for the fate to play the final card” (Lehr, 236). 
          Catherine’s depiction in a variety of artistic works and literary compositions helps us to see the person behind the Empress, bold, intelligent and radiant. Her successful reign has always excited numerous poets, writers, and artists. The reflection of her individual achievements and innovations is still seen in Russia’s everyday life. Gregorio Guglielmi portrays her as a goddess above any mortal human and Franz Kratter, likewise, depicts Catherine as a heavenly creature in his play The Maid of Marienburg. However, the person who so fruitfully mothered the Russian nation had her own shortfalls as well; Catherine was never able to succeed as a mother or as a wife. Helene Lehr looks at her story from a very modern point of view in her novel Star of the North and attributes her failures to the absence of an opportunity to serve as a guide and a mother for her children. 
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