Military Review

Decipher genius

95 celebrates the birth of the St. Petersburg historian, ethnographer and linguist Yuri Knorozov. In addition to narrow specialists, few people know him in Russia. However, he was a great scholar who was awarded the highest orders of foreign countries. In Guatemala, he was considered almost a god, he was the only Russian who was erected a monument in faraway Mexico City. But in the city where he worked, he does not even have a memorial plaque ...

Born Yuri Valentinovich in the family of Russian intellectuals, in the village near Kharkov in November 1922. In childhood, he played the violin superbly, wrote poems and showed great ability in drawing, depicted objects with photographic accuracy. He graduated from 7 classes of the railway school, and then the workers' school. According to the recollections of friends, in his youth, Knorozov received a strong blow to the head with a croquet ball. The result - a concussion, miraculously managed to preserve vision. As a joke, he later said that his linguistic abilities are the result of this trauma, and therefore the future interpreter of the ancient scripts should be “thumped on the head — it’s just the right method.”

Before the war, Knorozov completed two courses at the Faculty of History of Kharkov University. He spent almost the entire scholarship on books, and then all of them borrowed on food, feeding on bread and water. But then the war broke out. Knorozov was declared unmilitary due to health reasons and in September 1941, he was sent to the Chernihiv region for the construction of fortifications, he was in occupation. After the liberation of these territories, the Red Army was again declared unfit for military service due to the extreme degree of dystrophy. In the autumn of 1943, Knorozov designed a transfer to the history department of Moscow State University and continued his studies in the second year of this university, at the department of ethnography. At the University of Knorozov was able to realize his passion history Ancient East, ethnography and linguistics. In March, 1944 was still drafted into the army. He served in the school of junior automotive repair specialists. The victory was met by a telephone operator of the 158 artillery regiment of the Reserve of the Supreme Command. He was awarded the medal "For the victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941 – 1945."

In October 1945, Knorozov was demobilized and returned to the university in the department of ethnography. Working then in the Moscow branch of the Institute of Ethnography and Anthropology. N.N. Miklukho-Maklaya Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Knorozov spent several months in the Uzbek and Turkmen SSR.

At this time, he came across an article by the German researcher Paul Schellhas entitled “Deciphering Maya Letters - An Insoluble Problem”. “How is this an insoluble problem?” What is created by one human mind cannot but be unraveled by another, ”decided Knorozov and devoted his life to its solution.

The civilization of the Mayan people, who lived in what is now Mexico, is one of the most mysterious civilizations that existed on the planet. The high level of development of medicine, science, architecture is amazing. One and a half thousand years before Columbus discovered the American continent, the Mayans already used their hieroglyphic writing, invented the calendar system, first used the concept of zero in mathematics, and the counting system was much superior to that used by their contemporaries in ancient Rome and ancient Greece. The ancient Indians possessed amazing for that era information about the cosmos. Scientists still can not understand how the Mayan tribes received such accurate knowledge in astronomy long before the invention of the telescope. Artifacts discovered by scientists pose new questions, the answers to which have not yet been found. In the 10th century, this civilization began to fade and scientists are still arguing about the reasons for this. For a long time was a mystery and Maya. For her decision and took the Soviet scientist Yuri Knorozov.

It was not easy to do this. Knorozov was told that he could not qualify for graduate school in Moscow, since he and his relatives were in the occupied territory. Yuri Valentinovich moved to Leningrad and became an employee of the Museum of Ethnography of the Peoples of the USSR, where he was engaged, in his own words, “rough museum work without complaints”. At the same time, work was done to decipher the Maya writing. From 1953 until his death, he worked at the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography named after Peter the Great (Kunstkamera) of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Scientific sensation

Knoroz compiled a catalog of Mayan hieroglyphs and, after working hard, by the year 1952 was able to establish a phonetic reading of some of them. When he began to defend his thesis for the degree of candidate of historical sciences, his report lasted only three minutes, after which the 30-year-old candidate was unanimously awarded the degree of doctor of historical sciences. As they said, before the protection of Knoroz seriously feared arrest. Marx says that the ancient Maya "had no state", and the Russian scientist claimed the opposite. So it was quite possible to suspect him of a “revision of Marxism,” which at that time was a terrible crime. However, sedition either did not notice, or no one simply did not inform ...

The work of Knorozov became a scientific and cultural sensation in the Soviet Union. Very quickly they learned about deciphering abroad, having generated a storm of emotions from foreign specialists: delight mixed with envy. American science, which has delegated several hundred scientists to the Maya writing, was generally shocked. They did not understand how a person who had never personally seen the subject of his research could create such brilliant work.

A well-known American archaeologist Michael Ko, recognizing the defeat, said: "Knorozov turned out to be right, and now all of us who practice Maya are knorozovists." He sent a copy of his letter to his colleagues.

But in the times of the USSR, Knoroz was long considered “restricted to leave”. On the invitation, knowing that he would not be released anyway, he answered diplomatically: “I am a desk scientist. To work with texts, there is no need to climb the pyramids. " Nevertheless, for the full translation of the hieroglyphic manuscripts Maya Knorozov was awarded the USSR State Prize. And in South America, the scientist managed to visit only when the USSR began to collapse. In 1990, when Knorozov was already 68 years old, he was personally invited by the President of Guatemala and presented the Grand Gold Medal. In Mexico, he was awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle, which is awarded to foreigners for exceptional services to the state. Just before his death, Knoroz received an honorary award from the United States. Before traveling to Mexico, the scientist stated that he knows all the archaeological sites from publications. However, having reached the top of the pyramid, Knorozov stood alone for a long time and smoked one cigarette after another ... Since 1995, he has repeatedly been to Mexico, visited the most cherished places of Maya. By the end of his life, fate had given him the opportunity to live on the coast in a tropical jungle by the Caribbean Sea along with the Mayans and a stone’s throw away from the ancient pyramids.

Cat Asya - his coauthor

Since childhood, the genius scientist had a stubborn, unsociable character, they even wanted to exclude him from school for bad behavior. But he had a phenomenal memory and could quote entire pages from books. Knorozov lived right where he worked. In the Kunstkamera he was given a small room, which was filled with books. There was also a desk and a bed, tucked in with a simple soldier's blanket, and Mayan hieroglyphs hung on the walls. He had no family, and friends said that Knorozov drank a lot ... However, the scientist worked tirelessly and researched Mayan culture, compiled a dictionary, translated books to the last days of his life.

The range of scientific interests of Knorozov was wide - from deciphering the ancient systems of writing, linguistics and semiotics, to the settlement of America, archaeoastronomy, shamanism, brain evolution and the theory of the collective.

Decipher genius

According to the memory of his acquaintances, he seemed stern and sullen in appearance, but children and animals were always and everywhere drawn to him. And he especially loved cats, which he considered animals "sacred and inviolable." It is curious that when Knorozov was still only five years old, the first story he wrote was devoted to a domestic cat.

His most famous representative of this genus was his blue-eyed Siamese cat Asya (Asp), who had a kitten named Fat Kys. Asyu Knorozov quite “seriously” presented as a co-author of his theoretical article on the problem of the emergence of signaling and speech, and was indignant that the editor who prepared the article for publication removed the cat's name from the title. The portrait of Tolstoy Kys, who managed in his infancy to catch a pigeon at the window, always occupied the place of honor on his desk.

In the famous photograph, the scientist is depicted with her beloved Asya in her arms. Photo unusual. Animal lovers are well aware of the fact that over time, pets become similar to their owners, but here, as one of Knorozov’s biographers noted with surprise, “we see an incredible resemblance! It is as if a man with a cat in his arms is not looking at us, but a single, integral entity, part of which is embodied in man, and part in the cat. ” Asya was a co-author of Yuri Valentinovich not figuratively: watching the cat communicate with its kittens, he tested in practice his assumptions on the theory of signaling.

The friends of the scientist noticed that Yuri Valentinovich, sometimes without even giving himself the report, was starting to act feline. He avoided people who were unpleasant to him, he tried not to talk and not even look at them. And in conversations with friends, he could suddenly express his emotions through meows of different shades or, for example, the real cat's hiss. He believed that this makes it possible to express more expressively the attitude towards the interlocutor. People who are not familiar with a scientist sometimes confused this style of communication, but real friends were not surprised, understanding that sometimes geniuses are allowed to be something that is not suitable for mere mortals.

"It seems to have dissolved in the air ..."

A special attitude to cats was not the only oddity of genius. Yevgeny Vodolazkin, a well-known Petersburg scientist and writer, cites such episodes from his life in his book “The Kunstkamera in Persons”: “Routine things his presence turned into unforgettable events. So, at the end of one of the Moscow conferences, the Kunstkamera staff drove to the Leningradsky railway station. They decided to get in a taxi. Getting into the car, colleagues discovered the absence of Yuri Valentinovich. As he caught a taxi with the others, everyone jumped out of the car and rushed to look for him. The Mayan culture specialist, who had been standing by a taxi a minute ago, seemed to have disappeared into the air. After a thorough search, the inevitable decision was made to go to the station. At the station, Yuri Valentinovich got out of the car with everyone. This way he did in the trunk ... "

“Another story was related to Knorozov’s dislike for communication with journalists. It is worth noting that they wanted to interview the decryptor of mysterious letters all the time. Once the director of the Kunstkamera managed to persuade him to give an interview to one newspaper. To meet with journalist Yury Valentinovich, a solid room was provided - the office of the famous ethnographer Dmitry Alekseevich Olderogge. Entering the office first, Knorozov locked the door behind him. The journalist smiled perplexedly. Condescending to the costs of genius, the headmist knocked lightly on the door. Then stronger. Yury Valentinovich was asked to open the door and even scolded a little. They even asked for a response, but silence was their answer. When they brought the spare key and unlocked the door, it turned out that there was no one in the room. The sash of the open window, as the novelists of the past years would say, creaked hopelessly in the wind. Cabinet Olderogge was in the mezzanine, which, in fact, determined the course of thought of Yuri Valentinovich. Interestingly, along with the Directorate, the police entered the Olderogge office. Seeing a man jump out of the Kunstkamera window, one of the passers-by showed vigilance ... ”.

And therefore, probably, the attitude to the Knorozov from the direction of the authorities during his lifetime was always cool.

A great Russian scientist died, a gentleman of the Order of the Aztec Eagle of Mexico, the Big Gold Medal of the President of Guatemala, an honorary member of the Madrid Society for the Study of Maya, a member of the US National Geographic Society 31 in March 1999, alone on a bed, put up in a hospital corridor in one of the run-down Petersburg hospitals.

For a long time no one approached him, and he died as a result of a stroke and pulmonary edema. The Kunstkamera Hall, where he lived and worked, for parting, the management decided not to provide, but the close hospital morgue was crowded with those who came to say goodbye to the genius of science.

Knorozov was buried in a remote Kovalevsky cemetery, where he was erected a monument only in 2004. On it, he is depicted together with his beloved cat Asya on his hands, and next to him are the Maya hieroglyphs he has decoded for humanity. But at the house number XXUMX on Granitnaya Street on Malaya Okhta in Petersburg, where the great scientist lived in recent years, there is still no memorial plaque ...
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  1. Reptiloid
    Reptiloid 2 December 2017 06: 32 New
    Thank you very much for the article about a wonderful scientist.
    In 2012, a monument to Yuri Knorozov, sculptor Grigory Pototsky, was erected in Cancun (Mexico). In Kharkov --- there is a street.
  2. Same lech
    Same lech 2 December 2017 06: 36 New
    A wonderful article about a good person ... but I suppose someone will say again why it’s on VO ... the forum users know better what
    1. Reptiloid
      Reptiloid 2 December 2017 06: 53 New
      I hope this time there will not be such skepticism. A respected scientist throughout the world.
    2. To be or not to be
      To be or not to be 2 December 2017 11: 45 New
      Great scientist !!
      Russia has given many great sons !!
      December 2, 1897 was born Ivan Khristoforovich Baghramyan - an outstanding Soviet commander, twice Hero of the Soviet Union, holder of the seven orders of Lenin, Marshal of the Soviet Union,
  3. Settlement Oparyshev
    Settlement Oparyshev 2 December 2017 07: 28 New
    Judging by the title, he hoped that the scientist decrypted the German encryption and thereby earned gratitude. But deciphering the Mayan language is also good. And the fact that the scientist left a good memory behind him is wonderful.
    1. Monarchist
      Monarchist 2 December 2017 14: 32 New
      Operyshev, you took off the tongue when I read the headline to imagine what would happen about cryptographers.
      Thanks to the author for the story about the science fanatic. Such as Knorozov move science by leaps and bounds.
      Dear author, it would be great if the heading was closer to the text, well, let's say: "Unraveled the secret of May" or "he read the letters of May"
      1. d ^ Amir
        d ^ Amir 2 December 2017 15: 05 New
        what will be about cryptographers

        but on this subject there is complete silence .... a phrase in one of the articles slipped something in the spirit of "the plant was busy with an order for electric encryption machines for the fleet ...." and EVERYTHING !!!!! and hullwood shoots KINU !!!!! "The game of imitation" where the ingenious Cumberbatch plays such an absolutely ambiguous character as Turing ..... and there it is stated in plain text from one of the characters that the USSR was allowed to win by transmitting the data of the Enigma intercepts ... what would they do without us ..... and it’s said, “War is not just who will shoot someone. War is who changes his mind! ” B. Vasiliev (And the dawns here are quiet), and judging by the results, we changed our minds .... but we will never see a film on this topic ....
      2. Curious
        Curious 2 December 2017 15: 06 New
        "when I read the headline, imagine what would be about cryptographers."
        A photo titled why?
      3. Settlement Oparyshev
        Settlement Oparyshev 2 December 2017 15: 06 New
        Why didn’t Vatutin take the scientist to his place? The NKVD did not miss.
  4. Swetliy
    Swetliy 2 December 2017 07: 44 New
    Interesting person. Thank you for the article.
  5. parusnik
    parusnik 2 December 2017 07: 57 New
    He had no family, and friends said that Knorozov drank a lot
    ... But the philologist-Vietnamese scientist Ekaterina Knorozova, is not his daughter? .. Genius, a simple Russian genius who in a small room, made great discoveries ..
    1. thinker
      thinker 2 December 2017 09: 15 New
      Correctly noticed, daughter. By the will of fate, Ekaterina Knorozova lives in the Savichevs' former apartment. And even here, a memorial plaque appeared only in 2005.
  6. ver_
    ver_ 2 December 2017 08: 58 New
    Quote: pp to Oparyshev
    Judging by the title, he hoped that the scientist decrypted the German encryption and thereby earned gratitude. But deciphering the Mayan language is also good. And the fact that the scientist left a good memory behind him is wonderful. 1983, a young scientist-Grinevich deciphered the text of the Phaistos disc found in Crete and the Proto-Slavic letters about which are stubbornly hushed up by all ... - this is very not for the West ..
  7. Alexander Sosnitsky
    Alexander Sosnitsky 2 December 2017 10: 09 New
    The great community is rejected by the human community as a collection of mediocrity. Christ, for example, Knorozov, etc. Homo is not sapience. But American Hollywood is flourishing and its "flight to the moon" ...
    1. Settlement Oparyshev
      Settlement Oparyshev 2 December 2017 15: 08 New
      Who is Christ?
  8. sxfRipper
    sxfRipper 2 December 2017 11: 52 New
    I learned about Knorozov from the Children's Encyclopedia. Naturally - without details. Over the past 50 years nothing more has come across. Thanks to the author!
    1. Russian jacket
      Russian jacket 6 December 2017 11: 56 New
      There is such a book, "The Secret of the Mayan Priests," in which it is written quite interestingly about Knorozov.
  9. Reptiloid
    Reptiloid 2 December 2017 14: 18 New
    It is interesting that Knorozov, inspired by his successes with regard to Maya, began to decipher the writing of Ancient India of the HARAPPA era and the hieroglyphs from Easter Island from the KOHAU-RONGO-RONGO --- Rapanuyskaya tablets (Pavel Rubtsov continued this work already in the 1990s, in Russia). As I learned from ozon, and now the books of Yu.V. Knorozov are on sale about deciphering the listed texts. These are "Forgotten Writing Systems" "This is a reproduction of the 1982 original version. There is also" "Mayan Writing" "and" "Mayan Hieroglyphic Manuscripts." All 3 books --- reproduction of copyrighted versions. However, on the Web, all these books can be read for free and downloaded for free (which I wish everyone).
    Always, since childhood, he loved Mayan hieroglyphs! True, I saw them from other authors --- Alberto Rusa and Jose Arguelles. Because these people, the only one except the Hindus, thought of ZERO, and created the SIMPLE numbering system --- just 3 characters!
    And I fully share and support the attitude of Yu.V. Knorozov towards CATS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    1. Settlement Oparyshev
      Settlement Oparyshev 2 December 2017 15: 09 New
      for some reason, grandfathers adore cats, including me. Why?
  10. Monarchist
    Monarchist 2 December 2017 14: 43 New
    I’m interested, but the Kunstkamera’s leadership is not ashamed that they didn’t provide a hall for parting with their employee. This is somehow not ethical: a person has been working in this team for many years and has glorified it, but how he died and was immediately forgotten. When these leaders die, only their relatives will remember, and then not everyone will remember, but Knirozov will remember
  11. Glory1974
    Glory1974 2 December 2017 22: 49 New
    at the house number 10 on Granitnaya Street on Malaya Okhta in St. Petersburg, where the great scientist lived in recent years, there is still no memorial plaque.

    Instead of all mannerheim, it would be better for such people to put memorial plaques. This is the story!
    Thank you for the article, but I would like at least a few words about these "Mayan letters" themselves, which he deciphered, what is written on, etc.
  12. Bersaglieri
    Bersaglieri 8 December 2017 17: 52 New
    The great was a scientist and a man! Eternal Glory to him!
  13. crambol
    crambol 28 January 2018 17: 12 New
    For a long time no one approached him, and he died as a result of a stroke and pulmonary edema. The Kunstkamera Hall, where he lived and worked, for parting, the management decided not to provide, but the close hospital morgue was crowded with those who came to say goodbye to the genius of science.

    When Archimedes discovered his law, he ordered 30 bulls to be sacrificed to the gods. Since then, when the discovery is made, all cattle raise a roar.