Ancient Greek Vase Painting (c. 400 BCE)
With all the snipping and sniping and, not to mention, outright flouncing going on at Open Salon lately, I think it worth a reminder that we are a literary community, after all, and the Art of the Feud among such as us has a long and noble tradition.
Aristophanes, Euripides (with Aeschylus thrown in)The girls today in society go for classical poetry
So to win their hearts one must quote with ease
Aeschylus and Euripides -- Cole Porter Kiss MeKate
When it comes to literary feuds, we have a ways to go before we come close to the grand vitriol of fifth century BCE Greece. Aristophanes wrote not one, but three plays mercilessly skewering Euripides for everything from his personal hygiene and his alleged impotence to his "monotonous metre" and straying from Homeric norms. The divide between them was deep indeed, from the esthetic to the political.
In The Thesmophoriazusae (purportedly the subject of the vase painting above) he has Euripides running around scared witless to avoid the wrath of the women of Athens who are up in arms over his continual depiction of them as demented, depraved and outright murderous (as in his Medea -- see promised nude shot below). This is a substantive point of debate even today: was Euripides a proto-feminist or a misogynist?
Aristophanes clearly thought of himself in the former camp -- his Lysistrata (where the Athenian women famously withhold sex for the cause of peace) had been produced earlier.
And the feud did not cease with the death of Euripides. The very next year saw Aristophanes' The Frogs (the admirable Gilbert Murray translation linked here has a wealth of background) in which Euripides is in Hades and doomed to stay there because he is a worse poet than Aeschylus , whose poetry is also savaged but who is revived and brought back to Athens by Dionysus.
While Aristophanes is generally thought to be a writer of raunchy lightweight plays, he is a deeply humanistic, pacific playwright. True, he sees peace and freedom primarily in terms of food, wine and sex -- but then Sex, Drugs and Rock-and-Roll is a pretty good key to freedom still.
And his raunch is pretty raunchy.
A character says to Euripides: "When you are staging Satyrs, call me; I will do my best to help you from behind, if I can get my tool up."
And what might be one of the most famous of all stage directions (second only to Shakespeare's "Exit, pursued by bear" in The Winter's Tale) is the following from The Birds:PITHETAERUS in terror
Apollo the Deliverer! what an enormous beak!He defecates. In the confusion both the jay and the crow fly away.
The Russian Guard: Primus, Secundus, Tertius.
Fast forward some twentyfive hundred years to the steppes of Russia in mid-nineteenth century and you come across this troika of titans of world literature. Russia was a seething cauldron politically -- much of the politics seems incomprehensible at this far remove but Tom Stoppard's magisterial, magical The Coast of Utopia magnificently captures the gestalt of those days.
All three of these greats belonged to the landed gentry (though of different ranks, which rankled Dostoyevsky some) in still feudal Russia. All three were activist pro-abolitionist (serfdom was finally abolished in 1861) reformers. But they had their differences.
Turgenev was probably the most "Western-minded" of the lot, looking at German, French and English models to liberate Russia from its shackles. Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky were more Slavophilic by comparison, looking inwards toward the same end. Turgenev was pretty much an unbeliever, Dostoyevsky deeply Russian Orthodox, Tolstoy a universal soul who was excommunicated after starting his own religion.
And they were not shy about making their differences known.
Tolstoy on Turgenev: "He's wiggling his democratic haunches."
Dostoyevsky on Tolstoy: "He's an historian, not a novelist." He was expressing his opinion that while he was trying to depict the chaos of the present, Tolstoy's were "pious efforts to enshrine for posterity the beauty of the vanishing life of the gentry." So wary were these two of each other, they chose never to personally meet each other in their lifetimes. Tolstoy wept at Dostoyevky's death, then excoriated his writings in a review.
Turgenev gleefully circulated a scurrilous poem about Dostoyevsky fainting at a Royal Ball, so ill at ease was he in these surroundings. Dostoyevsky responded in kind in The Devils (also called The Possessed) by parodying a hardly-disguised Turgenev in the character of Karmazinov, the elderly,effete, effeminate novelist trying to curry favor with the young radicals.
All this feuding reached its apex in 1861when Tolstoy actually challenged Turgenev to a duel. The encounter was to take place in the woods of Bogoslovo, which is translated as "Word of God"(!).The ostensible reason was that Tolstoy had disputed Turgenev's methods of educating his (natural) daughter. Mercifully, the duel did not take place. The protagonists did not speak to each other for the next seventeen years. From his deathbed, Turgenev wrote to Tolstoy, begging him to "please get back to literature" and quit fooling around with his religious mumbo jumbo.
Now these were great feuds on great issues. Modern day literary feuds pale in comparison. And our squabbles on Open Salon.....Pfffft.
Medea by Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix
(by courtesy of Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille and The Yorck Project)
 Tolstoy by Henri Troyat; Translated by Nancy Amphoux. Doubleday, 1967 Re-issued by Grove Press, 2001
 Dostoyevsky : The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849 by Joseph Frank Published by Princeton University Press, 1979The links are to the electronic Googlebooks versions.