In "Master and Margarita", after hearing from Berlioz that Jesus was a fictional character, Woland starts to describe the meeting between procurator Pilate and prisoner Yeshua Ha-Notsri, saying that "he was there, hiding".

I always assumed that he indeed was somewhere in the background, but then I've found this fragment, that describes Pilate reaction, when shortly after deciding to let Yeshua go (well "imprisoning" him in procurator's mansion), he finds that Yeshua is also accused of questioning Cesar's rule:

Pilate another parchment. 'What else is there? ' enquired Pilate and frowned.
Having read the further evidence a change came over his expression. Whether it was blood flowing back into his neck and face or from something else that occurred, his skin changed from yellow to red-brown and his eyes appeared to collapse. Probably caused by the increased blood-pressure in his temples, something happened to the Procurator's sight. He seemed to see the prisoner's head vanish and another appear in its place, bald and crowned with a spiked golden diadem. The skin of the forehead was split by a round, livid scar smeared with ointment. A sunken, toothless mouth with a capricious, pendulous lower lip. Pilate had the sensation that the pink columns of his balcony and the roofscape of Jerusalem below and beyond the garden had all vanished, drowned in the thick foliage of cypress groves. His hearing, too, was strangely affected--there was a sound as of distant trumpets, muted and threatening, and a nasal voice could clearly be heard arrogantly intoning the words: ' The law pertaining to high treason . . .'

Is that supposed to be a vision of dead Yeshua (but then "golden diadem"?), the ascension of Yeshua-as-Jesus (but then I've never heard about mutilated Jesus described as "toothless") or maybe it is Woland/Satan that Pilate sees?

  • Unrelated to the question, but I had to reject your tag excerpt edit suggestion as it contained a definition rather than guidance. You're most welcome to propose it as tag wiki, though. Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 8:14

1 Answer 1


Canonical interpretation is that it was a vision of Tiberius - roman emperor of that time. One of the reliable sources for this is the Gasparov's text of about the structure of the novel, but no one argues with this interpretation.

And, as usual for Bulgakov, it also could be the reference to some real person from Bulgakov's time. Gasparov (and others) cautiously suggest that it could be a reference to Lenin. Some clues:

  • "Crowned head" is the head of the empire ruler.
  • Tiberius wasn't bald, but Lenin was. By the way in Russian text Bulgakov uses the word "плешивый", that means exactly "almost bald", "going bald". It's not the same as "completely bald" which is "лысый".
  • Also lost in translation, Bulgakov writes about "капрейские сады" meaning "gardens of Capri" (in your text they became "cypress groves"). That could be a reference to the meetings between Maxim Gorky and Lenin on Capri. (Meaning that Bulgakov's Pilate is Gorky, Gasparov elborates more on this topic).
  • Further in the novel there are Pilate's words to Tiberius. Gasparov assumes it is hidden quote from Mayakovsky's poem where the poet speaks about Lenin.
  • Tiberius is the name related to Tiber, Lenin is the name related to Lena, also river.
  • > "That could be a reference to the meetings between Maxim Gorky and Lenin on Capri." It could be. But please remember that Tiberius was the emperor who spent his last years in Capri, where he (already) had a number of villas (and supposedly gardens, too) //Wikipedia. I would say this rather reinforces the vision Pilates had as that of Tiberius.
    – Gnudiff
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 11:08

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