Avarice. The insatiable desire for wealth. That thing that tears family and friends apart. That moves the world in different directions. That creates in people the worst feelings and intentions. And a huge void that nothing can fill: “Poverty wants much; but avarice, everything”.
You can't have everything.
This short story, written by Pushkin in 1833, describes avarice with a brilliant writing and a witty plot. A little fella named Hermann enjoyed watching other people play cards. He never played because he was not in the position to sacrifice the necessary in the hope of winning the superfluous, even though he was a gamester at heart. One night, he listened to a story involving someone's grandma (a Countess who makes you laugh but you would want to disintegrate if you were working for her) who apparently enjoyed gambling when she was young. She lost a lot of money and turned to some Count to ask for help because her husband refused to pay that debt. The Count didn't lend her the money but taught her how to win it back.
So... what would you do in order to get that secret move that would let you win every game you play and, therefore, would make you instantly rich?
"...if the old Countess would but reveal her secret to me! if she would only tell me the names of the three winning cards. Why should I not try my fortune? I must get introduced to her and win her favour--become her lover... But all that will take time, and she is eighty-seven years old: she might be dead in a week, in a couple of days even!"
Too funny. I mean, his thoughts are quite sad because... Gah! Whatever. Yes, a myriad of moral dilemmas yada yada yada. It is still funny. There are several humorous and amusing passages I enjoyed reading.
I have never read Pushkin before. Dostoyevsky led me to him. One great writer leads you to another, you know how this is. And I was delightfully surprised: I wasn't expecting a writing style so full of wit, humor and irony (speaking about harsh comments, Gogol? Ringing any bells?).
Pushkin had a short yet intense life; he died at 37 while fighting a duel because some guy wanted to seduce his wife. Not a nice way to go. One can only imagine what other great stories he could have written, unfortunately, he didn't have the opportunity. Nevertheless, he left us many gifts to enjoy. Poems, plays, novels, short stories, you name it. There are also a couple of unfinished works created by his enchanting pen.
After reading this book–a couple of days later, actually–I found some fictional story about the last words of Alexander the Great (I assume it's fiction, since according to historians he was too sick to even speak, although others say he replied “to the strongest” when asked to whom he was leaving the kingdom; either way, he didn't tell the "three wishes" story) on the Internet. I don't know who wrote it but it suits Pushkin's story perfectly. Here it is:
"Alexander the Great, as a military commander, was undefeated and the most successful throughout history. On his way home from conquering many countries, he came down with an illness. At that moment, his captured territories, powerful army, sharp swords, and wealth all had no meaning to him. He realized that death would soon arrive and he would be unable to return to his homeland. He told his officers: 'I will soon leave this world. I have three final wishes. You need to carry out what I tell you.' His generals, in tears, agreed.'My first wish is to have my physician bring my coffin home alone. After a gasping for air, Alexander continued: 'My second wish is scatter the gold, silver, and gems from my treasure-house along the path to the tomb when you ship my coffin to the grave.' After wrapping in a woolen blanket and resting for a while, he said: 'My final wish it to put my hands outside the coffin.' People surrounding him all were very curious, but no one dare to ask the reason. Alexander's most favored general kissed his hand and asked: 'My Majesty, We will follow your instruction. But can you tell us why you want us to do it this way?' After taking a deep breath, Alexander said: 'I want everyone to understand the three lessons I have learned. To let my physician carry my coffin alone is to let people realize that a physician cannot really cure people's illness. Especially when they face death, the physicians are powerless. I hope people will learn to treasure their lives. My second wish is to tell people not to be like me in pursuing wealth. I spent my whole life pursuing wealth, but I was wasting my time most of the time. My third wish to let people understand that I came to this world in empty hands and I will leave this world also in empty hands.' He closed his eyes after finished talking and stopped breathing."
In the long term, do we really possess anything?
Three, seven, ace!