golden calf

golden calf

golden calf, in the Bible, an idol erected by the Israelites on several occasions. Aaron made one while Moses was on Mt. Sinai. Jeroboam I made two, and Hosea denounced a calf in Samaria. A bull cult was widespread in Canaan at the time of the Israelite invasion.
calf, golden, erected by the Israelites on several occasions, as related in the Bible and the Qur'an. Aaron made one while Moses was on Mt. Sinai. Jeroboam placed one at Bethel and another at Dan. Hosea denounced one in Samaria. Archaeological evidence suggests that bull images functioned as representations of the gods or as bearers of them. Bull cults were widespread in Canaan at the time of the invasion of the Israelites.
The Golden Calf (Золотой телёнок, Zolotoy Telyinok, "The Golden Calf") (1931) is a famous satirical novel by Soviet authors Ilf and Petrov. Its main character, Ostap Bender, also appeared in a previous novel of the authors called The Twelve Chairs. The title alludes to the "Golden calf" of the Bible.

The novel was made into a 1968 black and white film the Golden Calf.

Plot summary

Ostap Bender is alive again, after somehow surviving the assassination in the previous book. This time he hears a story about an “underground millionaire”, Alexandr Koreiko. Koreiko has made millions, a truly enormous sum, by living on 46 rubles a month, through various illegal enterprises, taking full advantage of the widespread corruption in the New Economic Policy (NEP) period. Living in a city by the Black Sea, and working as an accountant for a government office in charge of economic management, Koreiko keeps his large stash of wrongly acquired money in a suitcase, waiting for the fall of the Soviet government, so that he can make use of it. Together with two associates, two petty criminals, and an extremely naive and innocent car driver, Bender finds out about him and starts to collect all the information he can get on Koreiko’s business activities. Koreiko tries to flee, but Bender eventually tracks him down in Turkestan (Uzbekistan), Central Asia. He then blackmails him into giving him a million rubles. By suddenly becoming rich, Bender faces the problem of how to spend his money in a country where there are no legal millionaires. Nothing of the life of the rich Bender dreamt of seems possible in the Soviet Union. Frustrated, Bender even decides to anonymously donate the money to Ministry of Finance, but changes his mind. He decides to buy a large quantity of jewels and gold, and tries to cross the Romanian border, only to be robbed by the Romanian border guards. The only thing he manages to keep after the customs inspection is a medal, the Order of the Golden Fleece (or Golden Calf). Koreiko finds another job as an accountant. He hides the rest of his cash, and continues to wait for the fall of the Soviets. “The Golden Calf“ was first published in 1931.

Two Endings

There are two variations of the ending of “The Golden Calf”. One was written at the time of delivering the novel to the magazine “Thirty days” to be printed. The other appeared later, probably under the influence of objections to the writers for poetizing their main character. According to the first, Ostap Bender, after reaching his “million”, familiarizes himself with the sorrow of a lonely man who has fulfilled his purpose, renounces the fortune, and maries his beloved, Zoya Sinicka. In the second, he is torn. At first, he returns his “million” to the Commissariat of Finance, but then changes his mind. Determined to travel to Rio de Janeiro, he was caught crossing the Romanian border and sent back home, after being deprived of his fortune by Romanian border guards.

“No ovations! I haven’t become Count Monte Christo . I’ll have to retrain for a caretaker”. (the 1932 English translation reads: "I shall have to qualify as a janitor")

And so, in the eternally living enthusiasm and returning to the old position of a stray and a seeker for a personal happiness and integrity, this individualist’s life passes by. A man who is defeated, but never surrenders. The hero’s name, “the great wheeler-dealer”, by far is a synonym of an eternal coping in life, at any cost.

Catch phrases and expressions from the book

  • Horns and Hoofs ("Рога и копыта"), an ironical placeholder name for a business engaged in shady or dubious activity. A company with this name was established by Bender to make things look official.
  • Sitz-Chairman (зиц-председатель, zits-predsedatel), a strawman chairman. The Horns and Hoofs was headed by Sitz-Chairman Funt. The title is a bilingual Russian-Yiddish pun. The Yiddish word "sitzen" means "to sit", which in Russian connotes "doing time". Also "Sitz" has legal meanings similar to the English "seat". The sole function of a Sitz-Chairman was to do prison time when (not "if"!) the time comes. One notable modern usage: "Зицпредседатель" is the Russian title for the film The Hudsucker Proxy.
  • Children of Lt. Schmidt (Дети лейтенанта Шмидта), a term for small-time con artists. In the book, it was found that there are thirty men and four women impersonating the offspring of Pyotr Schmidt, in order to get money from the government.
  • Beer is served only to members of the trade union ("Пиво отпускается только членам профсоюза"), an enduring parody of the Soviet system of privileges.
  • An automobile is not a luxury, but a means of transportation ("Автомобиль -- не роскошь, а средство передвижения"). The phrase, reminiscent of Soviet style propaganda, saw some usage within the Eastern Bloc. More recently (circa 1989), Mircea Dinescu opined, A wife is not a luxury, but a means of transportation (referring to people who took Western spouses in order to emigrate).
  • Keep on sawing, Shura, keep on sawing! ("Пилите, Шура, пилите!"). This ironic phrase refers to an enterprise which is about to fail, especially when continued effort only serves to postpone the inevitable moment of disaster and punishment - a situation known as "death march" in software development. In the novel, two hapless crooks stole kettlebells thinking they had gold cores. The original text in the book omits "Shura", but popular versions usually add the name as above, or alternatively: Keep on sawing, Shura, they are surely golden!
  • Now I will have to become a building superintendent! ("Придется переквалифицироваться в управдомы" - the last line of the book). Spoken after one's dreams have been crushed and harsh reality is setting in.
  • No, this is not Rio de Janeiro. ("Нет, это не Рио-де-Жанейро"). Used to describe anything that isn't quite all it's cracked up to be.


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